Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand
If anyone could convince me to do a TikTok dance challenge, it’d be Stella Bennett. The NZ singer-songwriter (who makes music under the moniker ‘Benee’) went viral on the social media platform in December last year with her song ‘Glitter’, and then again last month thanks to a dance challenge featuring her track ‘Supalonely’. As it stands, the song has been used in over 10 million TikTok videos and streamed over 150 million times on Spotify, helping her earn upwards of 22 million monthly listeners on the streaming platform.
Stats aside, Stella’s authentic brand of melodic pop has garnered her some pretty impressive fans, too. Firstly, me. Secondly, some guy with two first names, ‘Elton’ and ‘John’. After releasing her second EP, Stella & Steve in November last year, the sunglasses enthusiast with a penchant for writing number one hits invited Stella onto his Beats 1 radio show, Rocket Hour. ‘It was pretty surreal. I still don’t really understand, like, why he wanted me to come on the show,’ she laughs. But her huge fan base—comprised of some 412K Instagram followers, including Gorillaz, Billie Eilish, and me—definitely get what all the fuss is about.
While the first half of 2020 has been the worst party the world’s ever thrown, Stella’s been making the most of her time in border-locked NZ. And now here she is, giving me the low-down on everything from recording her hugely anticipated debut album, releasing new episodes of her YouTube series, and pondering a new car purchase after learning the safety rating on her current wheels.
Hey Stella! So, I just finished watching the latest episode of your YouTube series, BENEEfied, which is part craft tutorial, part confessional. How did the idea for it come about?
Oh god! Well, we actually made those videos at the end of last year, but my people at Republic and I were wanting to come out with more video content stuff and they came up with this BENEEfied series idea. I kind of expressed how I loved ASMR videos and bedazzling stuff and everything, and so they put all of those things together.
My favourite two episodes are the baking one and Bitchen Clothes. I feel like it’s such a unique way to share personal anecdotes or inspiration behind your songs. Was having that distraction intentional so you wouldn’t feel as vulnerable divulging that kind of stuff?
I mean, yes? I guess it kind of worked in that way, definitely, because I was like, distracted by bedazzling while talking about a sad song.
You recorded a stripped-down version of ‘Supalonely’ right before lockdown took effect, which definitely seemed fitting. Had you always envisioned a pared back version of that song or did the circumstances inspire it?
I think definitely the circumstances contributed to me wanting to make a slow, sad version, but I also think when it did its thing on TikTok and got this bigger audience I was kind like, okay, these people are making a really fun dance to it and I was actually really sad when I wrote it, so I’m going to show the complete polar opposite side to it.
I actually wanted to ask you about your success on social media. You have a pretty big Instagram following and you’ve had two songs really blow up on TikTok. What role has social media played in getting your music out there?
I definitely think TikTok, for me, has been an incredible way to put my music in front of bigger audiences, and I think a lot of my listeners have come from there which is really great. A lot of my listeners who didn’t know about me found me because of a dance that’s gone viral, which is crazy. I love using Instagram to connect to people who listen to my music, which is sick. But yeah, I think it’s just another kind of tool you can use to get your music out there and connect to as many people as possible.
Are you a big TikTok fan? Were you already using it?
I wasn’t! I was actually a little bit late in understanding exactly what it was about. And I think it was when ‘Glitter’ kind of happened and people were sending me the videos, I was like, ‘What the fuck is TikTok?’ [Laughs]. And someone had told me it used to be Musical.ly and it changed to TikTok and people do dances and they go viral and they find songs they love and dance to them, and I was like, ‘What the…?’ But then ‘Supalonely’ happened and I was like, ‘Crap, this app is actually kinda fun,’ in the sense that a lot of the people are super-young. I thought it was fun that it was a bunch of really young, excited teenagers who love music and dancing and making weird videos of themselves. And they all kind of thrive on the app, which is quite cool.
Last thing I’ll say about socials, you recently Tweeted how sad it was that snails can’t hear, and you have a bunch of snail pics on your Instagram. Are they your spirit animal?
Definitely. I think if I was to be anything other than a human, I think it would have to be a snail. Yeah.
Do you want to elaborate on that?
I dunno, I’ve just had a weird obsession with them since I was like, five-years-old. I really, really hate it when I step on them on accident, like, it really, really crushes my soul. I also think they are cute, which is an unpopular opinion, I think?
I think they’re adorable, with their little houses on their backs. Anyway, you just did a Reddit AMA and you mentioned you do a lot of freestyle singing in the studio over beats, and then some of your ideas for melodies come from doing that. How much of your music is made that way?
Actually, I would say a majority of it has been made that way now. I was in the studio yesterday and it was a case of me kind of writing down my lyrics—and I’m working with this guy Josh Fountain, who I’ve made all of my music with, and also this guy called Jason Suskov—and, yeah, we get in there and they kind of work away at the beat and we’re all picking sounds and stuff that we like. Then I’ll write all of my lyrics down, and once the beat sounds good, I’ll just go in there and sing all of my lyrics and try to come up with cool melodies. I dunno, I prefer to work that way as opposed to, like, figuring it all out before—I feel like this way it’s nice and flowing. I usually write the lyrics beforehand and then go in and freestyle the melodies. But sometimes I’ll sing something and then be like, ‘Err, that sounds really bad,’ and I’ll tweak little things or add words when I’m in there freestyling.
Your last EP, Stella & Steve, is named after you and your car. If—god forbid—something ever happens to Steve and you have to get a new car, will you call it something else, or will the name carry on?
Ooh. Well, I recently found out that Steve has, like, a one-star safety rating. So mum and dad are like, ‘You really need to get a new car,’ but I don’t want to do it. But I’m probably actually going to have to, but it won’t be a really nice one because I actually quite like the idea of having a Steve-like car. But yeah, maybe I’ll call it, like, Stevie or something?
Okay, finally, now that you’ve got two EPs under your belt, I’m just going to ask the question everyone is wondering. Is there a new album coming?
There is! I’m allowed to talk about my album now! So yes, I have an album in the works right now, which I’m very excited about. I have a song that I only actually just decided I’m putting in it, that I made in isolation and produced and then brought into the studio, and then even yesterday I made a song and was like, ‘fuck it, this is going on the album too.’ I’m still arranging what songs I want to put on it, but yeah, it’s happening!