We interview 21-year-old singer-songwriter Justus Bennetts on making music on TikTok in the time of COVID, the release of his latest single ‘Cool Kids’ and his upcoming EP Lifelong Daydream.
We got a chance to talk to Justus Bennetts, the rising Gen-Z artist whose songs ‘Bad Day’ and latest release ‘Cool Kids’ have gone viral via TikTok. Bennetts’ relatable lyricism and his eclectic blend of hip-hop and rock definitely makes him one of the new artists to look out for.
AsiaLive365: Hey Justus, how’s it going? You’ve only just started releasing music this year. Tell us more about yourself.
Justus Bennetts: Hey, I’m good! Yeah, so it’s been kind of a quick thing that has been happening for me. I’ve always loved writing music since I was 14. I’m 21 now, so it’s something I’ve been passionate about.
I started listening to lyrical pop music as my source of inspiration. Since then, I’ve just been working on my writing, how I want my voice to sound, what kind of music I want to make. It’s been a journey. Up until about a year ago, I wasn’t really promoting myself as an artist. But once I got confident enough to do that, I started promoting myself mainly on TikTok.
AL365: You’ve just released a new song called ‘Cool Kids’, and it’s one helluva fun sing-along song. What were you like back in high school?
JB: When I first got into high school, I moved across the country. I didn’t know anybody, I was just kind of a body walking through the hallways. I was the guy who went to class on time, turned in all my homework and did what I was told. I also played lacrosse growing up, but the team was new at my school. Everybody on the team were basically all the rejects who didn’t make it into the football team. We’re all just rejects. We all just had fun, just fitting as a group who all hung out with each other so that was cool.
AL365: Within the song, you sang about how the cool kids became ice-cream vendors, thinking to yourself how you didn’t turn out so bad. Was there a source of inspiration for that verse?
JB: In my songs, such as ‘Bad Day’ and ‘Cool Kids’, I like to have a very broad view of things. I want the listener to be able to put themselves into the songs and relate to them. I like being generally vague as possible to the point that anybody can fit whatever it is they’re going through into the song.
I draw inspiration from things that I’ve experienced in life. A lot of things get drawn out and blown up into proportion. There were a lot of cool kids in my high school, they represent all the ignorant people that you know were ‘too cool for school’. Although they were super cool in high school, throwing parties at their parents’ house every weekend, it was just downhill for them after that.
AL365: Good for them!
JB: Yeah, good for them I guess!
AL365: How was it like putting out music during COVID?
JB: Creatively, I think it really pushed me to actually get out of my box and start focusing on what I really wanted to focus on because things could just change. It really put me in a spot where I was like, ‘Damn, why am I trying to get a college degree for something that I don’t really want to do? Why am I doing all these things just to survive, and not living my life?’
AL365: A lot of your lyrics deal with what you’re going through and that’s what helps fans force connections with the music. Songs such as ‘Real Life Sux’ and ‘Bad Day’ garnered lots of plays and went viral on TikTok. Were you surprised when your songs reached massive streams?
JB: When I first started up the music, it was something that I was not confident about. I didn’t know what was going to go well, or if the songs were going to get lots of streams. But as I grew as an artist, ‘Nightstand’ was one of the first songs that went viral on TikTok.
After that, I devoted myself into figuring out what my music should sound like, I have a list of songs of which one should be next. There’s a strategy behind it, I know what makes a good song and what doesn’t make a good song. It’s really got me to a point where I know before posting a song on TikTok, I generally know how well it’s going to do. ‘Cool Kids’ was one of those things, ‘Bad Day’ was another.
AL365: Your music style takes inspiration from, I would say, 2000s-era hip-hop and rock. What were some of your influences growing up?
JB: I started listening to a lot of the music that my dad listened to which was like Linkin Park, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Papa Roach. When I moved over to North Carolina, I started to lean towards more hip-hop influences such as Chance The Rapper, J. Cole, Logic. Those artists really inspired me to start making my music, but I really love listening to classic rock. That’s where the whole blend of everything comes from.
AL365: What do you think of TikTok as a platform for aspiring music artists?
JB: I think TikTok has changed the music industry completely. It’s just been something that people can now turn to and use it as a legitimate business tool. The labels are using it as a legitimate business tool too. It’s not something that you just use while you sit there on your phone, but you can use it to develop whatever it is you want to do. Whether it’s to start an arts and crafts business or a music career, TikTok is something that’s really changed the way people view their passions.
AL365: Can we expect more songs by the end of this year?
JB: Hopefully by the beginning of next year, around February, I’ll be dropping a 12-track EP called Lifelong Daydream. ‘Cool Kids’ and ‘Bad Day’ will be on it. After the EP drops, I’m probably gonna either drop another project or drop some singles. Mainly, I’ll focus on touring and performing in front of everybody that’s been listening to my music.
AL365: Are there any funny stories you would like to share this past year?
JB: This one time I was in New York, it was like a super crazy day for me. I was hiking from Manhattan to go to the store to get these clothes so that I could go to a photoshoot. The only bus would take me as as Brooklyn, it was a mile away from where I needed to be.
So I needed to get off the train and walk a mile with like 20 pounds of clothes on my back. It’s just like a super stressful day for me but when I look back on it now, it’s just super funny. It was hot as hell in the subway, sweating my ass off trying to get to places.
AL365: Real life sucks, huh?
JB: Yep, real life sucks.
AL365: What would you like to say to people who are interested in starting a career in music?
JB: I think my best advice would just be to put everybody else’s opinion to the side and focus on what you really enjoy, and just do it. There’s nothing bad that’s gonna come from doing what you really are truly passionate about. There’s really nothing that can happen. You can fail, but even if you do, you’re still winning because you tried and you’re doing what you love. That’s winning in itself. You just gotta look at the bright side of things and believe in yourself.
AL365: Thank you so much Justus, wishing you the best in success!
JB: Thank you!