Aucklander Stella Bennet had many options at the end of high school. She could have been a water polo player, or got her communications degree at Auckland University of Technology. But she chose the risky path of music and for Stella, known on stage as Benee, it paid off.
Best known for her hit song Soaked, the 19-year-old is still soaking it all in.
"What the heck! Like, even when people talk to me about it - that I'm touring the world - I'm like, 'Wow, it's nuts. I don't understand it.'"
She's performed in London, Berlin and on the east and west coasts of the United States, but she's back home to headline at tomorrow's New Zealand Music Awards, where she's also nominated for four awards, including best solo artist and best breakthrough artist. Not bad for a girl who admits she was a bit directionless just last year.
"I went to uni for two weeks. By 2018, I kind of knew I wanted to give music a solid shot. I dropped out on the day that I could still have the free first year in university and mum was like, 'Score!'" Stella says.
Stella's mum understood, because she knew her daughter's passion was in the arts. The Grey Lynn teen grew up playing saxophone and guitar and sang in a choir. Apart from a small hiatus to play water polo - long story, but it didn't float - music was a constant in her life.
After getting positive feedback on SoundCloud, she assembled a team, including producer Josh Fountain - who won the Tui for Best Producer at the VNZM Artisan Awards - and got serious about making music.
Her first hit, Soaked, came as a surprise.
"We liked it and we thought, 'Yeah, it's cool,' but it was never like a favourite, to be honest. We were happy and we wanted to release it as a single, but some songs I think, 'Yeah! This is my favourite.'"
Some of those favourites are in a new EP she's releasing on Friday, called Stella & Steve.
"I want to make every song sound different from what I've made. It's got some sad stuff in there and some spice. One song, I'm just taking the piss out of myself."
Benee says inspirations for her songs come out of dreams, relationships and fears.
"I feel passionate about the work that I do. It's my art. And when you're working with other people, you've got to be like, 'This is my work and this is how I want it.'"
After the music awards, Benee is off on her Australian tour but is popping back to New Zealand to perform at Laneway Festival in Auckland in January.