“wordgirl, crybaby, village idiot” is the self-coined description that Jensen McRae uses to introduce herself on Instagram; and while we can’t say much for the latter two, the first is instantly clear from the heartfelt lyrical depth which pours from the music of the LA-hailed singer-songwriter.
McRae forcefully explores themes of racial tension, sexual harassment and assault, bolstering the artist’s impactful and soulful pop, which she describes artfully as “Tracy Chapman writing music for Adele while studying for the vocab section of the SAT.” How can we not stan?
We caught up with the musician and talked early inspirations, hard-hitting topics and dream collaborations…
When did you first realise you wanted to make music?
I’ve been singing and writing poems for as long as I can remember, and when I was a kid people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, the answer was always “singer.”
Who did you grow up listening to?
My parents played me a lot of great singer-songwriters, so James Taylor, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Carole King. But me and my mom also had (and continue to have) an affinity for pop music, so a lot of 2000s pop – Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera come to my mind.
How would you describe the genre of your music?
If I were to get technical, I would probably call it “folk alternative pop.” But I recently described it as “Tracy Chapman writing music for Adele while studying for the vocab section of the SAT,” which is not a genre but is an accurate description.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
I journal a lot, pretty much every day, processing my feelings and writing about current events. So I often lift lines directly from those journal entries to write. But sometimes I’ll write music from the perspective of other people in my life, or about the plots of films or books I like. So it can really come from anywhere.
Who do you make music for?
I try to make music for hypersensitive people, because I am a hypersensitive person. My music tends to speak to people who are observant and opinionated and emotional, because I touch on controversial topics and tend to inject a lot of personal detail into my writing.
Your music delves into hard-hitting topics such as race or gender – does it ever scare you exploring topics so personal to you?
It only ever scares me in hindsight. Like with my single that just came out, “Wolves,” while I was writing it, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything particularly vulnerable in real time. But listening to it now, and reading the responses that people have been having to it, I get a little overwhelmed. The only song that I was afraid of having written before anyone ever heard it was my first single, “White Boy.” I didn’t think I would ever play it live. But of course it was totally rewarding and worth it to have it out in the world.
What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever had on your music?
A couple of people have told me I’m their favourite voice, which is obviously an insanely huge honour and compliment. And whenever I get compared to people like Joni Mitchell or Tracy Chapman, it’s a huge honour.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
Probably my dream collab would be Kendrick Lamar. He is just such a poet, and I’m completely awestruck by his pen. I’d also love to work with Chance; I’m really interested in working with rappers, just because it’s a genre with which I have zero facility but so much fascination. And in terms of other writers, everyone who knows me is probably tired of hearing it, but the top of the list is Kevin Garrett and Sara Bareilles and Phoebe Bridgers. Also, like, Corinne Bailey Rae or Moses Sumney or Frank Ocean. But Frank is so mysterious! And I am such a comically open book!
What’s next for you/What are you excited about?
I’ve got a video on the way for “Wolves” – due out March 4th, plus another single and then an album after that. I’m just really excited that my music is reaching an audience. I’ve been writing really seriously since I was 16, and in that time I’ve played dozens of shows with no people in the audience, or put up songs on Soundcloud that got a maybe a thousand plays in, like, a year. So the fact that now I have this incredible team forming around me, and people are actively seeking out my music and putting it on their playlists and coming to my shows, is remarkable. Plus pretty much every comment or DM I receive is incredibly articulate and thoughtful and analytical. Like I don’t have a huge fanbase yet, but the one I’m building is all really smart and generous people. I’m very, very excited about that.