Welcome to “...for Ya Old Ass,” an occasional series in which Jezebel endeavors to understand things that very young people like. In this edition, we learn about Benee.
A few months ago, something astonishing happened. I was trying to make sense of the TikTok algorithm, as I do so infrequently (and always end up forfeiting), when I first heard Benee. It was the song “Supalonely,” itself not unprecedented but certainly joyful-sounding in a way I like—played over yet another dance choreography video. I stopped to do some research. And then I felt old, because judging by her artistic aesthetic and performance wardrobe, she is the mall goth to Billie Eilish’s ’90s-goth, a friendlier teen talent with an ability to turn angst into a delicious hook and an ironic celebration. And then I felt like a dinosaur, because surely the world isn’t already post-Eilish, and surely I’m better than all the surly rock critics who came before me and lazily compared all musicians who happened to be women to one another. (You know the type who consider gender to be a genre when genre isn’t even a genre anymore.) It’s like, get with the times! And so I did. Here’s Benee, for ya old ass.
Benee (pronounced like “Benny”) was born Stella Rose Bennett, in Auckland, New Zealand on January 30, 2000, which makes her 20 years old. She debuted in 2017 under the spelling “Bene,” with a forgettable tune called “Tough Guy,” and then in 2018, “Soaked,” which did well in her native country but failed to leave a lasting mark overseas. The former sounds a little like Lily Allen, which makes sense because she opened for Allen on her 2019 No Shame Tour. Benee has two EPs under her belt: 2018's Fire on Marzz and 2019's Stella & Steve, the latter of which features the aforementioned “Supalonely,” the song that made her viral career. Even though she took home four awards at the 2019 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards—Best Solo Artist, Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Best Pop Artist, and Single of the Year for “Soaked,” which went platinum in the country)—her real international break came from TikTok, which, I assume, is how all hits are made these days.
The biggest pop hits and trends tend to emerge from TikTok. Once an easily repeated and mimicked dance—partnered with an undeniably catch tune—goes viral, people become curious about the song behind the moves. (I also imagine you must grow to love a song if you have to listen to it on repeat to recreate the TikTok yourself), which is an easy way to learn to love something. As far as I am concerned, “Supalonely,” which features American artist Gus Dapperton, is a bop not unlike Doja Cat’s retro roller rink tune “Say So,” another disco-lite song of the summer that exploded once it made the rotations on TikTok.
Also, apparently the first song Benee remembers hearing is Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet,” because her parents are probably impossibly cool, according to New Zealand publication RNZ. I wouldn’t give them credit for her effortlessly dope ’70s R&B sound, but I could not imagine hearing Bjork at 9 and having it leave an imprint. That’s admirable. Most of us can only dream of being so precocious.
I know, I know. It’s confusing. But basically a teenager in New Zealand uploaded some songs to SoundCloud, caught the attention of a manager, blew up in her homeland, and then found international success once TikTok made “Supalonely” the soundtrack to a viral dance. She signed to major label Republic Records in the U.S., and it’s easy to see why: “Supalonely” opens with Benee singing, “I know I fucked up/I’m just a loser,” and what’s more universal than an effervescent, self-deprecating pop song about an unfulfilling relationship?
Well, to repeat, I think the song is charming and delightfully ironic, as much Gen Z humor appears to be. She’s leaning into the “sad girl after a breakup,” trope, while also poking fun at it with playful criticism. “Sometimes when you’re sad you’re just like, ugh, get over it! I think when I listen to music like ‘Supalonely’ where it’s making fun of the feeling of being sad, in a way it kind of makes me feel good in a very weird way,” Benee told i-D. “When I hear ‘Supalonely’ now and when I perform it I feel happy.” Is it the most revelatory idea? No, but it sure is effective... to the point where it hit No. 39 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. For a teen whose music was obscure even two years prior, that’s impressive.
Like all editions of this series, I don’t really know nor do I care. I imagine that if you fancy yourself as someone who likes to keep up-to-date with all that is happening in the world of music, art, culture, and technology, you’d benefit from this information. I simply think Benee makes fun music, and I wish I had an organic understanding of her instead of one that required a deep-dive. At any rate, I’m closer to death than her age, so there’s probably a reason for that. Happy listening, and make sure to brag to your nieces and nephews that you know all about her now.