There’s no denying that discussion around gender in music is at an all-time high - in a world where Ariana Grande headlining Coachella this year marks the fifth time a woman will headline a festival that has been going for 20 years, female musicians are standing up and talking about issues more than ever before, whether it be calling out misogyny and abusive behaviour in the industry, or banding together with fellow women in the industry to become more inclusive and supportive of one another.
At St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival this year, a number of established and up-and-coming female artists took to the stage - from Florence + The Machine headlining, to performances by Courtney Barnett and Jorja Smith, to local acts like Bene wowing her audience at the Thunderdome Stage.
As part of International Women’s Day, we’ve teamed up with Converse, who recently launched their Love The Progress campaign under the umbrella of the All The Stories Are True campaign, which is celebrating female trailblazers from around the world who are re-defining what it means to be young women in 2019.
Right here in New Zealand, no one is re-defining being a young woman more than up-and-comer Bene. With only two songs to her name thus far, Bene has already received close to 10 million streams, and as well as making her festival debut at Laneway, she’s performed at Spark Arena opening for Lily Allen, sold out an Australian tour, and has a busy year already planned for 2019.
We caught up with Bene to discuss the important women in her life, the music industry, and how her style might be helping to change what is expected of young women in music today…
[Bene wears the Chuck 70 Hi-Top in White throughout]
COUP DE MAIN: You played Laneway Festival in January, which was your first ever festival performance! How did you find that experience?
BENE: IT WAS BLIMIN' INSANNNNNNNE! The energy was crazy. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in like five years scattered throughout the crowd. Albert Park is an incredible location, the weather was mint, and where I was playing, shaded under a bunch of beautiful old plane trees, was surreal.
CDM: In a world where so many music festivals are dominated by men (i.e. Coachella has had only four women ever headline the festival - Ariana Grande will be the fifth, plus the youngest) - how did it feel being part of a festival that strives to be progressive with its gender balance in the line-up?
BENE: I’m glad that they strive to maintain a gender balance in the line-up because there are so many fantastic musicians of all genders who deserve to be seen by wider audiences.
CDM: Do you think it's important that festival line-ups reflect the world we live in (i.e. equal women and men)?
BENE: Absolutely, but I also think that it’s important in this day and age to also include individuals from the LGBTQIA community as there are so many different people out there with incredible talent, so I do think it's important to include everyone.
CDM: To celebrate International Women’s Day, who are some of the most important women in your life?
BENE: MY MOTHER! She’s incredible… The actual coolest person on the globe. She’s ma best friend and I look up to her in every way. I’ve always been surrounded by strong opinionated women who have always spoken their minds and encouraged me to do the same.
CDM: What does it mean to be a girl in the 21st Century, to you?
BENE: Being a girl in the 21st century means so many different things to so many different people. In some countries it means the freedom to pursue an education and chase your dreams, and in other countries girls are still slaves to their sex with no opportunity to escape their situations. I think those of us born into incredible privilege have to do all we can to support those still fighting to be free.
CDM: Do you think that definition of being a girl has changed, for instance since your mum was your age?
BENE: My mother's generation benefitted from the women’s rights movement and were used to seeing their mothers as part of the workforce. I think perhaps being a girl in the 21st century means slightly more freedom to express yourself in different ways. New forms of technology can be helpful and harmful. We have greater exposure to different outlooks, opinions and images of what it is to be a young woman, but there is even more pressure to look good. In particular, being transgender or genderfluid was not so out in the open as it is now.
CDM: For you, how do you define being a girl? Is being a girl something you’re aware of/thinking about all the time?
BENE: I think that everyday occurrences remind me that I’m a woman. I define myself as a young woman not as a girl. I think "girl" can be quite a belittling word… We’ve all witnessed politicians and people in power dismissing women and their opinions by referring to them as ‘girls’. Most women can’t escape being aware of the fact of their sex and I think a lot of this stems from the more negative aspects of being a woman. We have to think about our personal safety in terms of walking around at night and being careful when we are out at bars and nightclubs etc. I often find a simple walk down the road can attract unwelcome attention that leaves me feeling uncomfortable.
CDM: You have the coolest stage outfits! How do you go about putting together outfits that you want to wear on stage?
BENE: Some outfits I’ve designed myself and I’d love to do more of that in the future, but more recently I’ve been fortunate enough to have some super cool New Zealand designers support me and my work by allowing me to wear their clothes.
CDM: I also love that the outfits you wear aren’t traditionally feminine - you wear suits, big denim pieces etc. Do you like being able to flip that idea of what people expect from a young female pop singer through your style?
BENE: Absolutely! I want to feel comfortable and confident and I think that’s important for us all. Everyone has their own taste in clothing and they know what makes them feel good, and for me I’d much rather wear a pair of baggy pants and a T-shirt than a dress.
CDM: The outfits you wear are also things that I feel like your fans can take fashion inspiration from (e.g. artists like Christine and the Queens and Haim's styles are sometimes hard for their fans to emulate, but I feel like you and Billie Eilish wear outfits that are much more accessible) - like you wearing a long tulle skirt with black glittery Chucks at Laneway! Do you like that idea that your fans take style inspiration from you?
BENE: I would be flattered if my supporters took inspo from what I wear. I'd love them to take inspiration from me in any way! If they come away feeling that they would like to explore their own creativity or if I just shift their mood, that’s something that means a heap to me.
CDM: Do you think that style, and imagery is important for musicians when creating a brand for themselves?
BENE: I feel strongly that I want to represent myself in as many ways as possible; not only through my music but also with physical art, visuals and fashion. I want people to know something about what I’m like by just looking at me. I’d hope that a stranger could look at me and get an idea of the sort of person I am... I'm quite the free spirit.
CDM: If your pair of Converse shoes were a song, what song would they be?
BENE: A song not yet released of mineeeeeee…. hint…. I own three pairs of "glittery" Converse (,:
CDM: If B.E.N.E. was an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
BENE: Bouncy, Electric, Naughty, Egg.
CDM: What can you tell us about upcoming music that you’ve been working on?
BENE: I’m really excited to release more of my work this year!!! I think I’m a good space creatively at the moment and I love getting into the studio.
Converse’s ‘Love The Progress’ collection is available now - either online at converse.com.au and in-store at Converse Sylvia Park, Converse Manukau, Converse St Lukes and selected retailers across the country.
Check out more photos from Bene at Laneway below...