On 13th November, 20 year old New Zealander Stella Bennett, known professionally as Benee, released her debut album, Hey u x. I’ve been fascinated by Benee since I first heard her single ‘Evil Spider’, maybe two years ago. Benee has a wonderfully quirky and visual sense of artistry that feels organic and joyful. I was lucky enough to see her perform earlier this year at the Brisbane stop of Laneways festival. Whilst that tent might have been the sweatiest experience of my life, the evening of dehydration following the performance was more than worth it. I haven’t seen such an inspiring stage presence since my days of The 1975 standom.
Running to 13 tracks, Hey u x is an ambitious collection, bold in its consistent curiosity for experimentation and striking visuals, and smart with its collaborations. For those of you who might be diving into the album looking for more of the clownish, larger-than-life mannerisms in Benee’s viral single ‘Supalonely’ (sometimes all you need is a global pandemic to get your song platinum internationally) or later track ‘Snail’, the relevant introductions have mostly been made by the singles. The new side to Benee that we access with Hey u x is darker, signalled by the choice to open with the skittish confessional ‘Happen to Me.’ Benee lays her cards on the table about obsessive thoughts and sleepless nights, showing she is an artist not only for your good times and jokes, but the less tiktok-able times too.
From the intimate late night space of ‘Happen to Me’, followed on by the lethargic flirtation of ‘Same Effect’, Hey u x manages to roam whilst always feeling consistent. Benee’s writing and longtime collaborator Josh Fountain’s production chases at bold ideas, but the songs still feel unmistakably like Benee tracks. Instead of a specific sound, Benee is in details, like vocal inflections or those addictive type of sonic flourishes that would have felt cheesy ten years ago. This opens up a freedom for all kinds to call Hey u x home: gamer sounds on ‘Snail’, comedic adlibs in grunge inspired ‘Kool’, and even DnB with Grimes collaboration ‘Sheesh’. ‘Sheesh’ sounds unmistakably Grimes but it feels Benee in title and frame of mind, wondering at the one-way affections of her relationship with a BMW driving Mr. Nice Guy. I think having someone else’s sound on your debut album says something really positive about the way Benee looks at her space as a creator.
There is only one track on Hey u x that I want to skip. I just can’t find a way to not feel uncomfortable about ‘Plain’, a drag track about the girl an ex is now dating. It’s awesome to have Lily Allen onboard, and I was glad to be introduced to Flo Milli, and I too believe that it’s important to build yourself up. But- and I’m not going to apologise for going all Florence Given on you- building yourself up never needs to be at the expense of others, let alone other women. I thought we, as a cultural consciousness, had this set with ‘Misery Business’. There is no need to be frustrated at an innocent woman, let alone use her appearance as a vessel for this frustration, just because the person she’s with matters to you. I can’t get behind the message or not mention it, no matter how lighthearted the song, because I think we always need the reminder that it’s not the other woman’s fault if the guy hurt you. Stop misplacing that emotion and putting another thing on a woman who has done nothing to deserve it.
‘Plain’ in no way overshadows anything I feel for the rest of the album, and I don’t want that to be your takeaway from this review. I still think Benee is cool, and no cooler than in collaboration with Mallrat on ‘Winter’. ‘Winter’ is my Hey u x standout song. This is a collaboration that has existed in my dreams for about a year and I thank all the spirits of the universe Benee and Mallrat had the good sense to do it. Written about feeling isolated and out of place on a writing trip to LA last year (when Benee wrote ‘Supalonely’), ‘Winter’ is a beautifully brooding gem of a track. It should be a single. Benee and Mallrat’s vocals complement each other perfectly, just as their melancholic sighs and vocalizing complements the scuzzy undercurrent of the production.
Hey u x has shown a side to Benee that is reaching past the mould of ‘young, viral hit-maker’ to reveal a creative force with hunger, and I expected nothing less of her. There are two observations I would like to leave you with:
No.1) A thirteen track album released on Friday the 13th. Coincidence? I think not, from the sometimes spooky artist who has been known to sing about creatures and monsters, and draw on Coraline’s visuals. I would like this detail to be recognised. I enjoy it a lot.
No. 2) I am dying to know: is the timing match with Billie Eilish a conscious decision? Hey u x was released the week Billie released ‘Therefore I am’, just as the ‘Night Garden’ video was released at the same time as the similar ‘My Future’ visuals. Is there a conscious pairing going on here? And from a marketing perspective, is this paying off? I’m fascinated. A collaboration between these two would be something else.
Anyway, go listen to Hey u x – its a gift that will only keep on giving.