BENEE is the epitome of a breakout star. The 19-year-old pop visionary came out of seemingly nowhere to deliver “Soaked,” a single which has gone on to be streamed over 20 million times and arrived as a very early contender for the soundtrack to summer wistfulness. More than just a one-hit phenom, BENEE has gone from making pizzas in her native New Zealand to delivering one of the most varied and exemplary debut outings of recent memory.
FIRE ON MARZZ is more than an eye-catching name or piece of surreal cover art; it is the distinctive expression of a pop chameleon, blending in and out of a range of moods and lush sonic textures. Whether a certain song calls for a sun-soaked groove or a nostalgic-yet-novel moment of introspection, BENEE is sure to bring an explosive flair to the whole affair. The initial excitement surrounding BENEE is not unlike that of the first time we heard tale of a young Billie Eilish, and while the sonics may vary, the level of talent is undeniable. BENEE is pop’s next big thing.
Ones To Watch had the pleasure hosting BENEE at our June Baño Flaco showcase (performance video coming soon!), and her live performance sealed the deal. The next day, I grabbed a slice or three of pizza with the pop star in the making to see exactly what goes on in the mind of a 19-year-old who just wrapped up playing her first-ever sold-out shows in Los Angeles and New York before even releasing her debut EP. From commenting on hypebeast culture, the quarter-life crisis that thrust her into music, to discovering a shared love for James Blake, this is BENEE.
OTW: What’s it like playing in the US for the first time?
BENEE: Pretty crazy. At the first show, I didn’t really know what to expect, cause I don’t really know what Americans are like, what their sense of humor is like. The New Zealand sense of humor is a weird one. But it’s been crazy and fun, coming from Europe was crazy as well. Getting out of New Zealand and just seeing things has been awesome.
OTW: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen thus far?
BENEE: We did a three-hour cycle in Berlin on a graffiti tour, and that was the craziest thing that I’ve ever seen in my life (laughs) not actually.
OTW: Not the Supreme line outside?
BENEE: No the Supreme line was also pretty crazy. I was just like what the fuck!?!? There are some in New Zealand but not that big, and not that big of a line.
OTW: Is hypebeast culture much of a thing in Australia?
BENEE: Not really, there are definitely some hypebeasts, we have a couple stores, but we don’t have a Supreme store. We have something that maybe features a tiny little range of Supreme stuff.
OTW: So, debut EP – why is it Mars, why is Mars on fire?
BENEE: Why is there a fire on Mars? Why is Mars on fire? Good freaking question. I mean, coming up with a name, I didn’t really have a word or a phrase that could describe all the songs in it. Cause they’re all kind of different from one another, and some of them are weird dreams or weird stories, so I didn’t really wanna sum up the whole thing so I chose to go with something completely irrelevant to everything in the EP.
It was a matter of coming into the studio like, “So what are we gonna call the EP?” I was just throwing out names, and I said, “painting mars,” and we stuck with that for a little bit, and then I was like no actually, it needs to be more aggressive, cause I want it to be visually appealing with the art, so I decided on “FIRE ON MARZZ.” It’s a little crazier than “painting mars.”
OTW: You mentioned how all the songs are different, and I think I really noticed that on the last single, “Want Me Back.”
BENEE: With that one, it was the first sad, really slow song I’ve ever written and the most vulnerable I think I’ve been with my songwriting so far. None of the other tracks on the EP are like that one.
OTW: Since it ranges so much, how would you describe your music without using any genre terms?
BENEE: I guess it’s just a mixture, it’s a big ole’ soup with different spices and vegetables, maybe some chicken, food, and colors.
OTW: Given your song “Evil Spider,” are you afraid of spiders?
BENEE: So, here’s the deal. I can deal with spiders that are up to the size of my thumbnail, anything bigger, big no-go. I was in Australia, and there was a huntsman spider on this plant pot, and I was like, (gasps) absolutely not. So no, I’m not really a spider-lover, unless they’re small. You’re the same?
OTW: Yea, I can’t. My partner went out of town once and there was a spider, so I just didn’t sleep.
BENEE: Yeah they’re not nice. Are there big ones here?
OTW: Probably not as big as in Australia.
BENEE: Yeah, Australia has some massive ones. Tarantulas? I don’t like tarantulas. I stay away from big hairy spiders.
OTW: If someone were to go to New Zealand who’d never been, how would you tell them to spend a day?
BENEE: Oh, it’s definitely the beaches. A few are in the north island; that’s where I live. There’s like a beach called Peha, maybe going there. It would be good to get a car so you could drive around, do like a little road trip. Or, go to the south island, which is the cold island. Really good skiing, or beautiful for hikes, if you like to hike. It’s a good place to go if you’re really needing the outdoors and want a chill environment.
OTW: Very Lord of the Rings, right?
BENEE: I don’t think I’ve even watched it, is that weird? Quite a few New Zealanders are like that, I reckon. Or maybe it’s just me.
OTW: Vacation recommendations aside, did you expect “Soaked” to take off like it did?
BENEE: No, I did not expect that at all. We released it as my second single. “Tough Guy” was pretty low key, chill. I was planning what I was gonna release, and it was one of those songs that I had that I was like, “Ok, I like this song and I feel like maybe it’s a bore cause it’s like too much of that.” But I definitely did not expect anything from it. It’s been fucking crazy, man. Fucking crazy.
OTW: Yeah, cause you went to opening for Lily Allen after that single.
BENEE: That is maaaaad. I love Lily Allen. And that was crazy. It’s all bloody crazy.
OTW: So who are your Ones to Watch?
BENEE: You too?
OTW: Well I’ve met him twice…
BENEE: SHUT UP! I DONT EVEN WANNA HEAR ABOUT IT. I’M FUCKING JEALOUS. Is he nice? (to the room) He’s met James Blake twice everybody, yea what the heck.
OTW: It’s not that cool… It’s pretty cool.
BENEE: It’s fucking cool. I’m gonna brag for you.
OTW: He’s my favorite person in the world. He’s really nice. But the first time I met him, he was just…
BENEE: Really shy?
OTW: He’s like very quiet, soft-spoken. Do you know Connan Mockasin?
BENEE: Yes, I fucking love him.
OTW: They’re best friends.
BENEE: Yea they did a song together! I love him, and I don’t even know him.
OTW: He’s so tall.
BENEE: Apparently he’s really tall.
OTW: He’s 6’5;” he’s like a football player.
BENEE: Woahhh, he’s a tall ass man. Damn, and he’s got a good voice. And a beautiful girlfriend.
OTW: He’s got it all.
BENEE: Yeah. (laughs) I’m going to cry.
OTW: On the subject of crying, let’s talk about your quarter-life crisis.
BENEE: Ok my quarter-life crisis. I’m such a fucking drama queen, oh my god. So basically, it was the end of my high school years. It was like my quarter-life crisis because I had enrolled into a University, I had released “Tough Guy” at the end of the year, and I was at Uni for two weeks, doing a communications degree. I lasted two weeks, and on the Friday of the second week, I was like, “I actually don’t think I want to do this with my life.”
I got home after that day, I was just bawling my eyes out like a little baby, crying to my mum and my dad, “Guys, I don’t want to do this with my life, I want to make music!” That was my quarter-life crisis. So I dropped out and started making music all year, making pizzas, and washing dishes. It was amazing. It was great. I don’t make pizzas anymore though, I just eat them.
OTW: Are you good at making pizzas though?
BENEE: Low-key… no (laughs). Maybe if I were at the place that I worked at, and I had all the ingredients… actually no.
OTW: Even then, no?
BENEE: Cause I can’t make the dough, and the dough is such an important part of a pizza. Like I just don’t think I’m that skilled at mixing the dough, and the yeast and shit. Nah.
OTW: Ok so last question, very important question: what are your ideal pizza toppings?
BENEE: It’s got roasted garlic, olives, feta, pepperoni, what else? Red onions on there, did I say olives? Put more olives on there. So, feta, olives, roasted garlic, red onion, pepperoni. And then chili flakes when it’s cooked. Oh! And jalapeños.
BENEE: Yes, a little spicy. Not really really really spicy, I can do like medium, mild. No, actually hot. Yes, spicy.