This article first appeared in Harper's Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The September 2021 issue is out on newsstands now.
Maddie Ziegler and Eddie Benjamin 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, but not in the woo-woo tonality often linked to Californians and Instagram stars.
In the pursuit of their wildest dreams, 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 s*** today. I bought this electric bike and we've been riding around the neighbourhood - in a safe manner." says singer-songwriter Benjamin, 19 with his signature gap-tooth grin.
Work for the pair spans every aspect of the creative arts. Ziegler, 18, is arguably the most recognisable dancer in the world. She starred in the hugely popular reality TV show Dance Moms between 2011 to 2016 and cemented herself in pop culture history with a bounce-off-the-wall performance in Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler'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 Furler's directorial debut, Music, alongside Kate Hudson.
She also has two highly anticipated films under her belt. One is Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, set to hit the big screens later this year. The other is The Fallout, which first premiered at South by Southwest - an annual music, film and interactive conference in Austin, Texas - in March and is slated to make its way to on-demand streaming platform HBO Max.
Benjamin, meanwhile, is a musician and producer who, even before releasing his first album later this year has collaborated with industry heavy-hitters such as Sia - who discovered him through Ziegler - 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 invited him to feature in his YouTube documentary Justin Bieber: Next Chapter.
Benjamin, 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 and advice on his craft and the navigation of business, relationships and fame that he values most.
Social media, namely Instagram, is a pivotal player in many a modern romance and in this case, it was where a guitar-wielding surfer kid from Australia and the world's most famous dancer met.
"It was so random. I was his fan on Instagram and we started talking," Ziegler says, admitting that she made the first move.
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 says. "It was so quick, and we were friends for over a year before we got together."
Meanwhile, Benjamin 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."
Their relationship mirrors that of his 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," Benjamin says.
Ziegler concurs and says 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."
She has been in the spotlight for more than half of her life, whereashis experience with fame is new.
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 his relocation to LA, most recently the music video for his song Speechless from his debut EP Emotional..
They are vocal about their fear of making mistakes in the public sphere and in front of an audience.
Ziegler and Benjamin 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."
Their fears have led them to keep elements of their relationship private, but they accept that with a platform and privilege comes responsibility.
During the Covid-19 lockdown the pair took stock of their goals and became active in pursuing them in their new environment.
For Benjamin, that meant developing 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 proudly.
For Ziegler, 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 do 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.
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," Ziegler 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."
Benjamin says: "When we shop, we'll just buy something and be like, we'll both wear it."
Ziegler 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."
They are deliberately hazy on the details, but what is 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 artistes... there's definitely a lot that I'm so excited and grateful for," says Benjamin.
Ziegler, meanwhile, has "more make-up projects in the works" (she released a collection with cosmetics company Morphe last June) and is filming "a really cool project that I can't say".