Her latest single has 12 million streams on Spotify – but 19-year-old singer Bene only began making music full-time last year.
The Grey Lynn-raised singer released her funk-pop tune Soaked in September last year, and the track skyrocketed to success, with Bene landing spots at The Others Way, Laneway Festival and a supporting slot for Lily Allen.
Bene has made music her whole life – but it was only last year, in the midst of a "quarter-life crisis," that she decided to make it her job. Fresh out of high school and two weeks into a communications degree at AUT, the Auckland-raised singer realised she was on the wrong path.
"The second Friday, I had gotten home, and I wasn't feeling very good about the course," she says. "I broke down, I was just bawling, crying my eyes out – (it was) so dramatic. Mum comes in and she's like, 'what's wrong?'
"I was just like, 'this is not what I want to do, I want to do music,' and she was fully supportive of it, and that was the best thing ever – I was like, 'f*** yeah I can do this, I'm going to do it.' Taking risks is the best thing ever, and that's what gets you anywhere."
Growing up, Bene would tinker away on GarageBand making "terrible beats". In 2017, her last year of high school, she posted four covers to her Soundcloud – "terribly recorded on my computer with no proper mic or anything".
But they caught the attention of Josh Fountain (Leisure member and producer for acts such as Openside, Matthew Young and Theia), and the two jumped in the studio together; later that year, she released her first single Tough Guy, a hazy, slow-tempo pop song intended as "a diss track to f-boys".
It was after Tough Guy that Bene dropped Soaked, an ode to the over-saturation of feeling comes with falling in love. When she played her first major gig at Laneway in January, she was staggered by the impact of the addictive single.
"I was expecting no one to come – I was expecting Mum and my little cluster of friends to be there, but it was crazy," she says. "The energy was insane, and the atmosphere, the trees… It made me feel very warm and fuzzy inside.
Bene says an EP is on the horizon – she's been working hard with Fountain in the studio to create new sounds. She takes to the studio lyrics and melodies she has scribbled in a diary, as well as playlists of songs she's found on Spotify and Soundcloud to work out the production styles she's aiming for with Fountain.
"I'm dyslexic, so throughout school I struggled with writing," she says. "I liked creative writing, that was what I loved, but I was always making mistakes, and I was confined to this way that I should write.
"Songwriting for me was this place where I don't have to be grammatically correct. Learning the craft with Josh, when he was sharing all his knowledge – something clicked, and I was just like, I love this. It's a great emotional outlet for me; I just love splashing what I feel on to a track."
Bene says it's an exciting time to be a musician in New Zealand, and the world is "sleeping on" a lot of our artists. "There are so many crazy talented musicians here… everyone's doing their own thing as well, which I'm liking; not being so afraid to take risks, because now we have the space and this canvas, and I think people are starting to realise that it's not just about the music, it's about the visuals and the person and it contributes to a bigger artwork."
And as for Bene's moniker – it's got nothing to do with eggs. "It's a nickname," she says. "It's part of my last name, but I've just been called that growing up. I looked up the meaning, and it's well and good in Italian or something.
"You don't know how many people have sent me photos of the chalk signs outside cafes with "BENE" in capital letters," she says. "I don't eat eggs."