Sometimes, as any good comedian will tell you, it’s all in the timing. There’s a good chance that Benee‘s song Supalonely would have been a decent sized hit anyway – but when it started to gain popularity on TikTok in March 2020, just as the effects of a global pandemic were becoming clear, it brought a whole new meaning to going viral.
If a song about being lonely hit a chord during lockdown, it’s clear just from listening to Benee’s debut that the Auckland native would have been a huge success anyway. Already a big star at home (in one of the few countries in the world where you can go to gigs again, she sold out the city’s Spark Arena), her melancholy take on alt-pop clearly hits the current zeitgeist.
At times, Hey U X sounds more like a mixtape, with Benee happily colliding around various genres. The impressive list of guest stars reflects her up and coming status. As well as contemporaries like Gus Dapperton and Australian singer Mallrat, there are also appearances from Grimes and Lily Allen. It’s the latter that Benee most often brings to mind, and her appearance on Plain almost feels like a passing of the torch.
Happen To Me is a deceptively morose track to kick off the album, a downbeat dreampop number with an attention grabbing opening line of “hope that I don’t die inside a plane, I’d like to die a better way”. Although that sense of melancholy doesn’t really disappear, there’s a lot of attitude on display – Night Garden bounces about infectiously with a nod to Billie Eilish, while the Grimes-starring Sheesh is thrilling electro-pop which grabs you by the throat right from the off.
Kool is definitely an album highlight, guitar-heavy, danceable pop with lyrics about insecurity and feeling like an outsider, while the Lily Allen assisted Plain sounds like it could have been an out-take from Alright Still, a sardonic pay-off to an ex-lover who’s moved on with a new, plainer model (“What a shame your girl’s so plain, she’s got nothing on me”), with a blistering rap from Flo Milli stopping things getting too introspective.
The most impressive thing about Hey U X is that, despite being only 20 years old, Benee’s personality is stamped all over her album. It would be easy to be intimidated by figures such as Allen or Grimes, but here it’s clear that they’re just here as guests. It’s an album that’s full of poise and confidence, which bodes well for her future.
Inevitably, some tracks fail to catch fire in the same way – All The Time , featuring her labelmate Muroki, comes perilously close to bland MOR, and Snail treads that tricky line between quirky and annoying with nonsensical lyrics like “I’m a snail, you’re a guy, I’m just mad, I can’t fly”). These are mere quibbles though, as much of Hey U X is assured, confident pop from a name that’s bound to be big in the not too distant future. To the names of Lorde and Billie Eilish, you can now add Benee.