2021-02-11T13:40:19-05:00 2021-06-30T16:57:51-04:00

Jensen McRae is having a moment for Black artists in folk [Interview]

Not too long ago, Los Angeles singer-songwriter, Jensen McRae sat down in her bedroom and sang a parody verse on what it would be like if future Phoebe Bridgers wrote a song about finally getting vaccinated. In just a short span of time, this witty tweet managed to catapult McRae into a new limelight.

Grammy-nominated artist, Phoebe Bridgers, among other young singer-songwriters responded to the clip on Twitter gushing over the awesome ode to the wonderfully blooming generation of folky songwriters.

So, then it was on. She got together with her producer, Rahki (Kendrick Lamar, Syd, Travis Scott), and released a full version of the 'preemptive cover' and titled it, "Immune".

McRae graduated from USC Thorton School of Music in 2019 and started enjoying her post-grad life – and almost instantly, we were in a global pandemic. But it might have been the very thing that helped boost her following and internet presence. Though she made a TikTok account in the fall of 2019, she didn't really begin sharing much content because one, she thought that it was just for a younger audience, and two, people were telling her that she had to. So, for both of those reasons, she decided, "I'm definitely not going to do it."

Then, as we all know, the world changed in 2020. McRae tells EARMILK, "During the pandemic, I was at home and felt really stagnated by the lack of performing opportunities. I just knew that a lot of the progress I'd hope to make professionally was going to be halted, but I wanted to take back some of that power. And TikTok started to seem like a really obvious place that I can do that."

McRae has been making substantial waves in the past few months with her releases "Wolves", "The Plague", and now "Immune".

The 23-year old has been building her rapport in LA-county as a singer-songwriter throughout the last few years. She came out with an icy and brave number, "White Boy" as she described was about "wondering whether I'm truly so different from my white peers and finding a way to be okay with it if I am. It’s about unpacking what I’m looking for from love, how I seek it out, and why."

She grew up mostly surrounded by environments filled by white people. This can cause one's whole identity as a Black woman to have its effects. McRae, who was raised in Woodland Hills in a Black and Jewish family spoke to what her being a Black woman making folk music means to her and to the industry.

“The music that I'm making is a little bit left-of-center. Being a Black woman making basically folk-sounding music is not a usual trajectory. So, the fact that people are being really supportive of it, commercially and critically, is really cool. I'm glad that people are ready for that moment.”

She made mention of other sprouting Black artists occupying space in the indie folk genre, Arlo Parks & Joy Oladokun, saying, “There's a lot of Black women with guitars that are getting their shine right now, and I'm excited about that.”

McRae and Oladokun have actually recently released a collaboration together, "wish you the best".

"That's been so wonderful. Like, as a result of getting a bigger Twitter following – Instagram, TikTok, all these places – I see teenage Black girls, like 16, 17, 18 with acoustic guitars covering my songs, covering Phoebe Bridgers songs, and all these people that I love,” she continued. “And I'm like where were you! Why have I never found you until right now? I'm so glad that they're out there, because there's a real secret sub-community of Black folk fans and singer-songwriter fans, and for whatever reason, nobody's talking about it.”

In the current climate, it is globally timely to be able to see artistic expression from Black creators in all corners, whether it's conventional or not. “When they talk about that kind of music there's this assumption that the fanbase is entirely white,” said McRae.

Jensen McRae has partnered with YouTube through their Black Voices campaign to create visuals for upcoming music. “I have plenty of friends of plenty of ethnicities that listen to all this music, and it's pretty great that me having this viral moment is encouraging all these younger kids to come out and have their 'debut' as folk fans. I'm like, oh my God we would've been best friends if we were teenagers at the same time!"

The songstress has a special vocal ability – one that is resonant and clear. It's great because if one simply closes their eyes and listens to the music of Jensen McRae, they are forced to listen to her lyrics through hearing a uniquely husky, suave singing vehicle. Her alto capacity registers throughout her acoustic TikTok song renditions and in her own original music. 

“I've always been insecure about having a super deep voice. I hear girls with their beautiful, floaty sopranos belting out these crazy notes, and I'm like, 'I couldn't hit that if you paid me,'” she explained. She goes on to describe how they are definite times where she'd prefer a different voice – one that took up less space. “My whole life has been me coming to terms with the fact that I'm different from other people, and that's a good thing," she said. "My voice is just another one of those areas.”

The main draw to McRae's artistry is her songwriting. She has been able to strike chords with those who find her music especially when she dropped "Wolves". She described with the lyrical content of the song and through the video how the messy and broken manners of which stories of sexual harassment and assault get told and fetishized.

Track by track, we learn that songwriting is her superpower, and one that'll likely carry her into stardom. She was able to put together a thought that may have begun as comical, into a heartfelt, viral story in "Immune". "Immune" has been out for just two weeks and already has amassed over 500,000 streams on Spotify. A song was conceived as somewhat of a joke has now become a benchmark of success for McRae. As she does on each of her singles, she pens a small song description in her Youtube upload of said single. For "Immune", she writes “It’s about how the emotional stakes of our relationships have been ratcheted up in light of global calamity, about hipsters and science, and dogs and love.”

McRae told EARMILK that she has a lot of music coming out in 2021 and that her album has been completed since 2019. This year we will without a doubt be receiving her debut body of work. Be on the look out!

Connect with Jensen McRae: Twitter | Youtube | TikTok | Instagram

Folk · Interview · Main Stage


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Dorothy Bard
Dorothy Bard
5 months ago

Your talent is so impressive that I love hearing u sing and reading all the accolades. I hope i Iive long enough to see u appear at an award show celebrating your accomplishments . Beautiful and smart. Continued success.