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hey u x Katherine Rodgers , November 13th, 2020 09:38

The debut album by twenty-year-old pop sensation Benee has something for every playlist, finds Katherine Rodgers

If you are aged between 16-28 and currently have an internet connection, you’ve probably heard BENEE. No really, you have. ‘Supalonely’ has been one of TikTok’s Summer 2020 success stories, amassing billions of streams and sparking off a (deceptively difficult, FYI) dance craze. Not to be a dad about this, but BENEE is 20 years old –- what must it be like to be twenty and to see J-Lo and her brood goofing around to your track? To see it soundtracking Jason Derulo cinematically dunking an oreo? To see supermodel Emily Ratajkowski, working her way through the semaphore-esque dance moves so lifelessly that a tweet called her ‘CEO of not getting the beat’?

In the taxonomy of TikTok bops, ‘Supalonely’ falls under the category of sweet, off-kilter pop, a spiritual successor to ‘Coffee’ by Beabadoobee, or ‘Say So’ by Doja, rather than gross-out rap or mumblecore,, the two other genres which tend to do preternaturally well on the platform. It’s easy to see why ‘Supalonely’ took off so massively –- while the lyrics may be downbeat (the hook is literally “I know I fucked up, guess I’m a loser”), sonically ‘Supalonely’ is a bumping, breezy pop jam, with the insistent airiness of enduring summer hits like ‘Happy’ by Pharrell, or even ‘Uptown Funk.’ It’s ideal montage music –- proof that even in a summer marred by a national emergency, people still wanted to listen to music that feels like driving with the top down, wind whipping through your hair.

It helped that the lyrics were serendipitously relevant. Written as a break-up song, ‘Supalonely’s hook became an eerie reflection of the national state of mind during this long, torturous summer. “I’ve been lonely, mm, yeah” BENEE hums, before the drop (a sound effect of glasses clinking) kicks in. Cue a zillion nods of recognition from across cyberspace. Who hasn’t been lonely, this summer? Who hasn’t been drinking?

For some artists, having so much success concentrated in an early single has historically posed a bit of a problem. On BENEE’s debut, the strategy has clearly been to diversify. Hey u x is a rag-tag selection of songs, which swerve through genres, bolstered by some glittering features. Opener ‘Happen To Me’ is almost MOR, a noodling, morose indie rock number. ‘Sheesh’ (ft. Grimes) is throwback electro-pop –- and it’s fun enough, although Grimes is lost in it, buried under overbearing synths. The same problem occurs in ‘Plain’ (ft. Lily Allen & Flo Milli). BENEE and Allen have similarly languid vocal styles, and with a thick layer of autotune applied on top, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between them. At least Flo Milli is there to liven things up, her spirited verse bringing the themes of the track to life: “Oh, you into them plain Janes now? / Looks like your standards went way down.”

In another time, the reception to Hey u x may have been read, like tea leaves, as an indication of BENEE’s longevity and future success. In 2020, I’m not entirely sure it matters anymore. While the death of the album has been overstated significantly, its importance has certainly been reduced. BENEE may not necessarily be an album artist, but listeners will find that most bases are covered within Hey u x’s 13 tracks. ‘Snail’ is bouncy and hip hop-inflected, with some endearingly bizarre lyrics (“‘I’m a snail / You’re a guy / I’m just mad / I can’t fl”)y’, ‘A Little While’ is sugary sweet folk, and if you miss the pep of ‘Supalonely’, the beachy funk of ‘Kool’ will be to your tastes. There’s a song here for every playlist, even if consuming all 13 in a row becomes a bit of a drag.

BENEE’s biography speaks of her enthusiasm for A&R; she’s even launched her own record label, Olive Records. Those ambitions are evident in her curatorial shrewdness –- but while Hey u x may be the album version of throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks, the fact is, some of it does stick.