Jensen McRae may be an unfamiliar name to you now, but trust this is temporary. At 22, this Los Angeles native and recent grad from USC’s Thornton School of Music already has within her quiver the full-length debut, Are You Happy Now? ready for release this fall. The work, produced by Grammy®-adorned producer Rahki (Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller), is fully packed from start to finish with strong, gripping songs penned with a touching sensitivity and delivered with an unapologetic force. The genre is fluid, self-described by McRae as “Folk Alternative Pop,” but also and more specifically as “Tracy Chapman writing music for Adele while studying for the vocal section of the SAT” and begs the question of why genre-pinning is even necessary as her poetry is universal.
Brutally honest, this self-described “Word Girl” who says, “Everything I do is about, and in service of, words and stories,” draws off themes each holding their own power. From the personal impact of race relations, the unsettling disadvantages inherent within femininity, to growing up under the threat of the active shooter, the topics are difficult but laid bare when confronted with McRae’s powerful yet gentle and uplifting delivery. In “White Boy,” McRae navigates insecurities inherent in questions of race asking, “If I stand down, if I bleed, if I am what you ask me to be, white boy, what will you make of me?” Then there’s the heartbreakingly all-too-familiar predator and prey stories in “Wolves,” their ramifications vastly shared epidemically by far too many women. It is impossible to listen without being moved to compassion by McRae’s soul-baring honesty.
The music itself matches the lyrical moments in clarity, standing back when it needs to and running forward when called like on the quintessentially catchy “With The Lights On.” With her tour and scheduled appearance at the 2020 JBE SummitFest preempted by the current COVID-19 environment, the delay will undoubtedly only give her more time for thought provocation through song, something else to which we can all look forward.