Maddie Ziegler (18) and Eddie Benjamin (19) practise laser focus, work ethic and gratitude at every opportunity (I tallied their use of the word “grateful”, which came up no less than 30 times in our hour-long interview), and not in the woo-woo tonality often linked to Californians and Instagram stars. They share a thoughtfulness in their choice of vernacular, their mutual appreciation of each other’s work and the pursuit of their wildest dreams—though they make a point of not forgetting to do “kid stuff” along the way.
“It’s a thing, because we’re always working. We’re like, let’s go and do some kid sh*t today! I bought this electric bike and we’ve been riding around the neighbourhood—in a safe manner!” he says with his signature gap-tooth grin, which makes me question his assessment of “safe”.
Work for the pair spans every aspect of the creative arts. Maddie is arguably the most recognisable dancer in the world—she starred in the hugely popular reality TV show Dance Moms for years and cemented herself in pop culture history with a bounce-off-the-wall performance in Sia’s “Chandelier” music video when she was just 11. In 2020, she added actor to her repertoire, moving into multi-hyphenate creative territory with a lead role in Sia’s first directorial debut, Music, alongside Kate Hudson. She also has two highly anticipated films under her belt: Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, set to hit the big screens later this year, and The Fallout, which first premiered at SXSW (the South by Southwest film festival) earlier in March and is slated to make its way to on-demand streaming platform HBO Max.
Eddie, meanwhile, is a musician and producer who, even before releasing his first album (due to drop in the northern hemisphere later this year), has collaborated with industry heavy-hitters such as Sia—who discovered him through Maddie—and produced for Meghan Trainor and Earth Wind & Fire. He has also earned himself a self-appointed mentor in pop music royal Justin Bieber, who has taken Eddie under his wing publicly and invited him to feature in his YouTube documentary Justin Bieber: Next Chapter. Eddie, who relocated to Los Angeles from Australia just two weeks before the US went into Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, shares that it’s Bieber’s private guidance—his advice on his craft and the navigation of business, relationships and fame—that he values most. “From every conversation I’ve heard, [Justin] literally wants you to succeed, for you,” Maddie offers as Eddie tries to articulate the specificities of his mentor/mentee relationship. “He just loves you and your art, and he wants you to succeed. And he wants your mental health to succeed as well, which I think is really amazing!”
Eddie’s high-level collaborations at the start of his burgeoning career are reminiscent of many breakout success stories of the zeitgeist, where social media can fast-track the visibility of raw talent without the restrictions of old-world models. Social media, namely Instagram, is also a pivotal player in many a modern romance and in this case, it’s where a guitar-wielding surfer kid from Australia and the world’s most famous dancer met.
“It was so random. I was a fan of him on Instagram and we started talking,” Maddie says, admitting that she made the first move and slid into Eddie’s DMs. After back-and-forth banter, the pair set a date to meet up with friends at The Grove, a famous mall in LA. “He got on a flight back to Australia that very night,” she continues. “It was so quick, and we were friends for over a year before we got together.” Setting the foundation of their relationship on trust and friendship is something the duo credit for the strength of their partnership. That and a side of manifestation. Maddie lets on that after a tumultuous previous relationship, she had written a list of how she should be treated—“This is what I deserve,” she says. “And once Eddie and I started dating, I was like… [that’s literally how he treats me!]”
When I ask Eddie about how things were for him, he says: “I was just so drawn to Maddie as a person. She’s so warm and loving and artistic. There are certain people in this world who are just a little more colourful than others and she’s definitely one of them.”
Related article: What We Know Of Olivia Wilde And Harry Styles’s Relationship So Far
Observationally, it could be said that their relationship is history repeating, following in the footsteps of Eddie’s own parents. His dad is a session musician and drummer who has toured the world playing music, while his mum is a choreographer and dancer. The similarities are not lost on the young couple. “It’s weird, it’s great!” Eddie says. Maddie concurs; her explanation for at least part of why things work so well between them is practical and hinged on creative collaboration: “I need music to do what I do; [dance and music] really intertwine and it’s really cool.”
Maddie has been in the spotlight for more than half of her life, whereas Eddie’s experience with fame is new-found. When quizzed on his transition into the public eye, he says: “It’s pretty intense… it takes some time to get used to! Walking out on the streets with Maddie and getting paparazzied for the first time was definitely a shock. I came from a beach, so that shift was like, ‘Whoa, okay! What’s going on?’” The pair have collaborated on several projects since Eddie’s relocation to LA, most recently the music video for his song “Speechless” from his debut EP “Emotional”, highlighting the pair’s chemistry on screen.
With their craft intersecting with social media (which they use as a tool to showcase their projects and personal style musings as well as lend their voice to causes they care about), they are collectively vocal about their fear of making mistakes in the public sphere and in front of an audience. Maddie and Eddie boast 13.7 million and 425,000 followers on Instagram respectively. “I’ve always been afraid of failing in front of a massive audience. It’s a lot of pressure being a kid growing up in the midst of… everything—especially with cancel culture and social media. There’s so much pressure to continue on the right path without making any mistakes. But at the end of the day, we’re growing up at the same time as most of our supporters are. The only difference is if we make a mistake, it’s being broadcast in front of everyone,” she says. “I’m really trying as hard as I can to not beat myself up because mistakes happen, and we’re learning and growing.” As much as their fears have led to keeping elements of their relationship private as well as the careful, thoughtful curation of their public lives in a professional and personal context, they accept that with a platform and privilege comes responsibility. “I think it’s important to continually speak up and say, what the f*ck?!” Eddie says matter-of-factly.
Related article: Jennifer Lopez And Ben Affleck’s Official Relationship Timeline
During the Covid-19 lockdown, as artistes depleted of the usual sources of inspiration—in the form of travel, live music and packed schedules—Eddie and Maddie took stock of their goals and became active in pursuing them in their new environment. For Eddie, that meant harnessing a new skill set. “I was working in Meghan Trainor’s studio every day, by myself; all these producers were being annoying and cringey, so I was like, I’ll learn. I taught myself how to program and learned how to run a studio by myself within a couple of weeks. And I was just making songs every day,” he says somewhat proudly. For Maddie, it meant addressing an ongoing injury and healing. “I was able to work on my body and do physical therapy, and I was able to focus on acting. And now that I’m feeling good with my body again, I can start dancing and it’s cool that I can [combine] the two. A lot of the projects I’ve done have been dancing and acting, which I’m so grateful for because I love them both equally!” she says.
Like so much of their being, stylistically speaking, the pair also operate in the spirit of collaboration, consulting on each other’s purchases (read: buying clothes to share). They help pick out each other’s looks for milestone occasions such as premieres and releases, always through the lens of androgyny and bending the rules, with a deep appreciation and respect for the makers behind the garments. “We wear each other’s clothes a lot of the time. Eddie looks good in everything I own,” Maddie says. “It’s actually funny when we go into stores. I feel like I look in the men’s section and Eddie looks in the women’s.” On set, I see this in practice as the pair peruse the stylists’ racks and ask if they could wear the look assigned to the other. Considered in their real-life purchases, Eddie says: “When we shop, we’ll just buy something and be like, we’ll both wear it.” Maddie adds: “It’s cool; we’ll buy a jacket and the way [we each style it] will be completely different. Eddie definitely takes more risks with fashion and I admire that.”
Though they’re deliberately hazy on the details, what’s next for them sounds exciting. “I have a lot of dream-quenching things I’m about to do that I’m so excited about: Shows, showcases, touring, records with some of my favourite artists… there’s definitely a lot that I’m so excited and grateful for,” Eddie shares. Maddie, meanwhile, has “more makeup projects in the works” (she released a collection with Morphe last June) and is filming “a really cool project that I can’t say [more about]”.
Their rap sheets read more like success stories of artistes decades their senior, though the feeling of anticipation as they chase down dreams in new iterations is overwhelmingly thematic: This is just the beginning.