Benee talks channelling OCD into art with new song 'Doesn't Matter' ahead of huge world tour

Last time I chatted with Benee it was late 2020, when she let me gatecrash her soundcheck at Auckland's Spark Arena. At the time, she was quite possibly the only musician in the world playing sold-out shows thanks to Aotearoa's efforts against COVID-19. 

Just over a year later, after the country's unfortunately long dance with Delta, we meet in a park. We're socially distanced and still suffering the lingering brain fog of many months of lockdown. 

"What was I just saying?" she asks me on more than one occasion, as our interview is punctuated by the comings and goings of her beloved dog Tui. 

"Honestly? I can't remember," I reply apologetically. 

Still, amid the now obligatory mantras of 'cautious optimism' and 'unprecedented times' we're all so familiar with, Benee is excited about 2022. 

"I'm so keen to get out and meet people!" she declares about her recently announced world tour, which will see her jet across the globe to places like Australia, Russia, Mexico, Canada, the US and Europe - pandemic dependent, of course. 

"I have a good feeling about this one. I feel like it's going to go ahead and it's going to be good." 

This might sound like a classic pop star soundbite, but Benee's enthusiasm for getting back out there is extra impressive coming from someone who earlier this year couldn't bear to go outside. 

"I wouldn't want to leave the house because I'd think that someone was gonna kill me," she says. 

"I couldn't open the windows when it was hot because I thought someone was going to come in and kill me. And every time I'd drive, I thought 'I'm gonna crash' and would have to count." 

These, along with weekly "sad showers", were some of the symptoms that prompted the 21-year-old to seek professional help.  

Benee has long been an advocate for speaking up about emotional struggles, sharing crying selfies with her fans on social media and maintaining a refreshingly honest dialogue about mental health issues both in the media and through her music. 

She knew she was always an anxious person, she tells me, but was "relieved" when she was diagnosed with OCD earlier this year. Her latest single, 'Doesn't Matter', is written from a dark place while she was battling with her own brain.  

"Mentally, I was in a very different place to the place that I'm at right now," she explains. 

With lyrics like "what's it like / to not have to think about it? / it seems nice / not a care, so quiet", the Aotearoa Music Award winner writes of being "consumed by her mental" and recognising that outsiders just can't understand the way her mind works. 

"If I medicate, would it help me?" one line asks. "Cause I'm hurting, I feel unwell." 

As it turns out, yes - medication did help. So much so that when it came time to film the music video for 'Doesn't Matter', which Benee also co-directed, she couldn't make herself cry on demand. 

"It was fake!" she tells me of an emotional scene that sees her sing through tears from her car. 

"I mean, I was like, 'I'm on my antidepressants! I haven't cried in two months!"  

Having originally been somewhat against the idea of taking medication, Benee says she realised it was about addressing a "chemical imbalance in your brain", and the results speak for themselves. 

Despite the obvious catharsis that she gets from making music about the hard times, her latest release is far from a purely self-interested endeavour. Benee wanted to release 'Doesn't Matter' now because she's keenly aware of how many people might be feeling unstable themselves, given the circumstances. 

"I thought now was a good time because, boy. I think everyone is kind of struggling at the moment, and fair enough," she says.

"It's such a weird thing that we don't talk about it, because it leads us to feel more alone. Not everyone is going 'Oh, I'm depressed! Let's talk about it!' But we should." 

Benee will hit the road in February 2022 to play shows in Nelson, Dunedin, Invercargill, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Napier and New Plymouth before taking off overseas. 

Where to find help and support: 

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584