Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘Hey u x’ by BENEE captures tone of pandemic-era Gen Z

BENEE’s “Hey u x,” released on Friday, is a fascinating reflection of Generation Z music trends in 2020, with both its insight into the singer’s insecurities as well as it being a pastiche of various music influences.

New Zealand indie-pop singer BENEE released her new album “Hey u x” on Friday. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The 20-year-old New Zealand singer, having gained popularity since her song “Supalonely” went viral on TikTok, exudes a down-to-earth charm that rises above the sometimes-uninspired instrumentation on her first album.

“Supalonely,” in addition to appearing on her 2019 EP “STELLA & STEVE,” also appears on “Hey u x,” and blends well with the rest of the album. There’s a reason that song was one of the many quarantine anthems, and that’s because BENEE knows how to write a hook that’s simultaneously relatable and empowering — “I know I f—ed up / I’m just a loser,” is an honest admission of vulnerability that is rare in the pop landscape.

Unlike songs that were manufactured to be songs for quarantine — looking at “Stuck With U” by Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande — it feels grounded to reality without feeling pandering, and that type of honesty shines throughout the album.

Much of the sonic landscape on the album shows BENEE wearing her influences on her sleeve. Whether it’s the Harry Styles-esque Harry Styles on “Happen To Me,” or the Phoebe Bridgers-type of wistful melancholy on “Winter,” BENEE’s presence elevates these songs from derivative to inspired, thanks in part to her vulnerable lyrics and ability to shine vocally on most musical styles present on the album.

The variety of sound on “Hey u x,” combined with BENEE’s charming insecurity palpable throughout, is an accurate representation of the varying experiences of Gen Z and the existential dread so many Zoomers feel.

The song “Snail” would fall apart if BENEE weren’t behind the microphone. On the track, she nonsensically compares herself to a snail to describe her insecurity in a relationship, while also fluidly switching between singing and spoken-word. None of that would work if BENEE did not have a strong artistic identity, elevating the song from inane to whimsical.

“Hey u x” is at its best when BENEE collaborates with other artists. For instance, the song “Plain” — featuring fellow TikTok breakout rapper Flo Milli and British singer-songwriter Lily Allen, two very different artistic presences — meets a sonically hazy intersection for all three performers that allows each of them to ooze charisma while cathartically tearing down their exes’s new girlfriends.

While this topic can go down a toxic road, all three artists keep it lighthearted and keep the song, once again, relatable in its braggadocio without feeling bitter.

BENEE continues to shine collaboratively in “Night Garden,” where she vocalizes on Kenny Beats’ jazzy trap production and muses about nighttime paranoia, as well as the fear of being known and watched by others. The other artist on the track, Bakar, adds a welcome, if unnecessary, second vocal perspective in singing about trying to get home before the sun rises.

The only notable misfire on the album is the collaboration with Grimes, “Sheesh,” which sounds more like BENEE hopping on a Grimes demo than a genuine collaboration between the two. The song sounds chaotic in a disorienting way, and while Grimes can sometimes get away with this hectic sound within her own music, BENEE’s style of singing and songwriting is too smooth to work for this track. This results in “Sheesh” feeling convoluted rather than simply complex, and falls short of the quality present within the rest of the album.

“Hey u x” is a stepping stone for BENEE to grow into something special. The potential is there and her own sound rises above her influences. All she has to do is lean into her own quirks instead of alternating between various sounds. Her Gen Z sensibilities are what make her shine among her contemporaries, and that’s what makes her music compelling enough for listeners to continue to stream it.

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