Jensen McRae brings laughter, tears and her trademark resonant vocals to the Social

The 24-year-old singer-songwriter leaves an emotional crowd behind her as she heads off stage

Walking out of the Social after Jensen McRae’s Tuesday night set, you’d think that the singer had personally offended every member of the crowd. There are teary eyes, trembling lips, friends crying into other friends’ shoulders. As they start to file out, McRae steps away from the mic and turns towards her family – mum, dad and two brothers – sat on the side of the stage. She too looks emotional, but more than a little triumphant.

This is the aftermath of McRae’s encore track ‘Make You Proud’, a letter to her thirteen-year-old self that details all the mental health struggles she has ahead of her. It’s far from the only tear-jerker in her set, and also not the only time she will be wiping her own eyes when the song is over. After ‘Wolves’, which as McRae succinctly puts, is about “being a woman and being afraid”, she has to step away from the microphone for a few seconds. Again, there is a similar response in the crowd.

Jensen McRae - Wolves (Official Video)

McRae’s songwriting is intensely communicative, not telling a story so much as sharing a feeling, and it’s hard to escape the pull of it. There are men in the audience looking shaken after ‘Wolves’, white girls misty-eyed as McRae describes how invisible she can feel as a woman of colour in ‘White Boy’. And then there’s her voice: a deep, resonant instrument with a uniquely emotive strain. It’s the kind of vocal you feel in your stomach.

That’s not to say that it’s a heavy set – McRae knows when to inject a little levity. Much of her music is sad, but the origin stories she gives the crowd are often unexpectedly funny. She jokes that it’s harder for her to make music after heavier events – “But a song about the time someone was mean to me in traffic? That one’s coming fast.” ‘Immune’, one of her biggest Spotify hits, began as a Twitter joke, with McRae doing her best impression of how Pheobe Bridgers would write a pandemic hit. McRae tells this story with enthusiasm, her audience laughing along, before she breaks into a beautifully constructed vaccine-era love story, made all the better for the fact that it’s ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Jensen McRae - Immune (Official Music Video)

There’s a grin on her face when she finishes it, because the crowd have been singing along. As a relative newcomer from across the pond it’s hard for her to believe that this small venue in the UK is full of people who actually know the words to her songs. She pauses, and makes an impromptu change to her setlist, swapping out a new track for her first song she ever wrote on guitar. “I feel moved to play it,” she says. Cue an approving whoop from her mum.

Perhaps this is what tips us all over into tears. “If you stick around, I’ll make you proud,” she tells her younger self in her closer, with her family sat just a little way away from her and a tearful crowd at her feet. It’s evident that McRae can’t quite believe how far she’s come. Here’s hoping that we see her back in the UK soon on some bigger stages.  

Find tickets to upcoming gigs and tours here.