Jensen McRae’s new EP ‘Who Hurt You?’ has only been out just over 24 hours when she Zooms in from her California home, and already it’s clearly making a mark. “I was Number Two on the Singer Songwriter chart on Apple yesterday, which is wild! I was second only to Joni Mitchell, who’s celebrating the 50th anniversary of ‘Blue’, so there’ll be no topping her…” she laughs.
And while chart positions and accolades have never been much of a concern for Jensen, it was, however, a poignant moment for the singer on several levels. “My manager pointed out that to have a Black woman at Number Two on that chart is astonishing,” she continues. “I’ve never been a person who’s particularly interested in those kinds of metrics, but when I realised it was an option to chart, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’. So when my fans responded, it was just really cool to see that chart order - with Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, all my heroes. It was really cool that my work could be in conversation with their work.”
It’s little surprise that she’s already keeping such excellent company. Having learned the ropes during a stint at GRAMMY Camp - yep, those GRAMMYs - during high school (“They want for you to leave with some sense of what it would be like to be a musician and that was a real turning point for me”), she went on to study Popular Music at The USC Thornton School of Music, where she first began to write. That’s where ‘Who Hurt You?’, and her forthcoming debut album, first came to life.
“One of the things I’m always trying to do in my work is to provide as broad a portrait of my experience as possible."
“When we were talking about releasing an EP ahead of [the album], I didn’t want to at first, as I didn’t want to break apart this very large, cohesive body of work,” Jensen explains. “But I’d always wanted to have a project called ‘Who Hurt You?’ - that title came to me a long time ago for something - and I thought I could use it for this.” From ‘Wolves’, her raw and arresting track about sexual assault, through to ‘White Boy’, a vulnerable exploration of racial injustice, via ‘Immune’, a Phoebe Bridgers parody track about love in the pandemic that quickly went viral, the EP is a multi-faceted response to the title.
“One of the things I’m always trying to do in my work is to provide as broad a portrait of my experience as possible,” she nods, on what kind of songwriter she hopes to be, “because I feel like the representation for Black women - especially in folk music, but really across all genres of music - is really limited,” she explains. “I want to acknowledge every single aspect of my personhood: sometimes that’s political, sometimes that’s about love, sometimes it’s about mental illness, or gender, or gender violence.
“Coming of age is a really important theme to me as well, and I wanted to make sure that the music that I put out at least touches on all of those things. It’s a tall order, but I realise that, for better or for worse, I am an ambassador for my entire demographic,” she says, with a profound but light touch. “I want to make sure I’m providing as much variety as possible in terms of subject matter, because a lot of people genuinely do not think about the inner lives of Black women in that way, and I really want them to.”
As featured in the July 2021 issue of DIY, out now.