On Aug. 25, dance-pop artist Benét received the kind of out-of-the-blue accolade that can change the course of a career.
“What am I looking at right now?" he remembers asking himself. "Who knew about this?”
This was Benét’s reaction after a friend texted that he was pictured on the cover of Fresh Finds, a Spotify-curated playlist with more than 800,000 users tuned in.
“I just kind of started, and I’ve had this lucky streak of people being receptive and supportive of what I’m doing," he says. "But I’m still so fresh in the game.”
Benét’s string of successes includes an EP titled “Game Over!” released on Bayonet Records earlier in August, a follow-up EP of remixes shared in November, and a new partnership with the management arm of the Richmond-based Spacebomb Group. It’s been a whirlwind. “It’s just so shocking,” he says. “I’m so shocked all the time.”
Benét recently got to be the one doing the surprising. Last weekend, on Dec. 11, he teamed with Spacebomb founder Matthew E. White for a show at the Broadberry, which had advertised a “mystery guest” on a poster. Indie-pop singer-songwriter Kate Bollinger performed between White’s rocket-ship of an opening set and Benét’s high-energy, highly engaging closing one.
Backed by a five-piece band, Benét’s bright and soaring voice captivated the crowd. “This is a moment,” he pointed out early on, noting the significance of headlining the Broadberry. The division between stage and audience melted away as the singer acknowledged familiar faces and led joyous, danceable renditions of tracks from “Game Over!” and 2020 release “Stan Account,” as well as a new song that brought lyricist Alfred onstage for an electrifying feature.
Connecting with listeners is an aspect of performing that Benét holds dear. “I love socializing. I got pretty lucky being pretty sociable and being a performer,” he explains. “I’m always excited to meet new people and maybe get them to buy me a drink or two. I’m just into it ... I have such a rush from performing. I’m just on 10, going all over the room and having a blast.”
Benét has already started building a following outside Richmond, thanks in part to a pair of recent shows in New York City -- the first a solo set with backing tracks, the second a full-band affair. In both cases, he returned home with new validation.
“A lot of people came out for me, more than I would have thought,” he recalls. “I know if I play in Richmond, I’m going to get a crowd. At this point in my career, I can expect a nice amount of people to come and support. But it’s always something to go out to a whole other state and have at least 10 people that are coming up to you after, [saying], ‘I’m so happy I finally got to see you,’ and ‘I love your music.’ That’s pretty wild.”
Finding a place for pop
Benét -- full name Benét Nutall -- was born in Richmond and lived on the North Side for a short time before settling in Henrico County and attending Henrico High School. His mother sang at home and pushed him to find a complementary harmony when joining her, nurturing his gift for song.
But Benét hasn’t always been sure his city would sing along.
“Living in Richmond, the scene is so ... I hate to say it, it’s pretty indie,” he says. “And so a lot of the time, I’ve felt like I wasn’t going to fit in, or people weren’t going to like what I was doing, because it’s so not that. It’s pop. It’s dance pop music.”
As it happens, dance has helped him thrive in a burgeoning relationship with Spacebomb. Benét choreographed the music video for “Let’s Ball,” one of the songs from White’s album, “K. Bay,” released earlier this year. The video-within-a-video features a troupe of White impersonators (Benét included) being filmed by an overly exacting director played by White. In a case of life imitating art, the experience was demanding in new ways for Benét, as it was his first time leading choreography.
“He’s always kind of pushing me,” Benét says of White. “It’s good to have him as a friend.”
Benét's working relationship with the Spacebomb Group is still taking shape. “Right now, we’re just organizing and planning things for next year” -- but being on their management roster is already paying intangible dividends.
“It’s such a relief,” Benét says. “You can start to really feel all the tension of having to pretty much do everything yourself [go], and to get some of the weight off my shoulders, I have to say, is amazing.”
That support positions Benét to make the most of a momentum-building 2021. And to embrace whatever surprises await.
To hear the “Game Over!” EP, visit benantics.bandcamp.com.