BENEE’s approach to genre has the same potential as Pure Heroine’s impact on the industry
Alex Rigotti
17:35 10th November 2020

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It’s been seven years since the world saw the meteoric rise of Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a girl from New Zealand who would write a little song called ‘Royals’ and establish herself as a pop queen under her pen-name Lorde. There would be no Halsey, Billie Eilish or Tove Lo without the spacious, minimalist beats of her debut Pure Heroine. One can’t help but compare the trajectory of Lorde’s career with rising star and fellow Aucklander, BENEE. Her song ‘Supalonely’ went viral on TikTok, garnering over 450 million streams on Spotify. On her debut hey u x BENEE’s approach to genre has the same potential as Pure Heroine’s impact on the industry.

Some of hey u x’s sweetest moments stem from the small glimpses of personality that occasionally shine through. The wonderfully quirky ‘Snail’ sees BENEE combining her bouncy vocal rhythms with the syrupy bedroom-pop production that’s becoming en vogue. On ‘Winter’, she duets with singer-rapper Mallrat about the joys of being cosy: ‘Wanna be told a bedtime story/And not wake up in the morning’ she croons.  

That’s not to say that BENEE’s appeal is niche; ‘Supalonely’, after all, is an ode to the feeling of loneliness and the anxiety that comes with relationships. Much of hey u x talks about young love: ‘Same Effect’ is a love song featuring twinkly marimbas, woozy jazz chords and gentle acoustic strumming. BENEE takes a simple approach to the song, but she executes it well with its clean production and charismatic vocal delivery. Album closer ‘C U’ is a folk-tinged guitar ballad in which she bids her lover goodbye, letting them know how pleasant their time has been together. It’s a warming album closer and a beautiful song in its own right. 

However, not all is rosy on hey u x – BENEE spends a good portion discussing her anxiety issues. ‘Night Garden’ is an excellent story about eventually befriending a monster in a garden. Its rumbling bassline and stripped back production (courtesy of Kenny Beats) brings delicious intensity and suspense to the narrative. ‘Kool’ is an excellent homage to new wave that attempts to drown BENEE’s insecurities with overly peppy guitars. However, album opener ‘Happen To Me’ is a song about catastrophising, let down by its obvious lyricism and boring instrumental. 

Whilst BENEE is unafraid to experiment, her gamut of ideas occasionally don’t pay off, usually occurring on tracks with features – such as in ‘Sheesh’, which is arguably the worst track. BENEE’s overly compressed and obnoxiously auto-tuned vocals muddy what is already a claustrophobic track with its coked-up hyperpop synths and suffocating breakbeat. Grimes’ incomprehensible yet ethereal vocals are somehow a welcome breath of fresh air. ‘Spaced Out’ features her label signee, Muroki, but there’s hardly any vocal chemistry on top of being a mediocre recreation of lazy psych-rock.

hey u x is an album that can be inconsistent in substance – most of these songs are lyrically straightforward in their approach to pop themes. Its main achievements lie in its genre-blending: BENEE’s seamless mix of hip-hop vocal lines, drum rhythms and retro genres will undoubtedly foreground what will haunt the future of music. It’s no doubt that this maximalist approach to genre is in total opposition to Lorde’s legacy, but hey u x will come to define the sounds of the 2020's much like Pure Heroine defined the 2010's.

hey u x arrives 13 November via Republic/UMG.

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