Today’s Song: On “Massachusetts,” Jensen McRae Shows How the People Closest to Us Change Our World

Jensen McRae "Massachusetts" © Caity Krone
Jensen McRae "Massachusetts" © Caity Krone
Singer/songwriter Jensen McRae lists all the small ways the memory of a former flame stays with her on her gorgeous new single “Massachusetts.”
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Stream: “Massachusetts” – Jensen McRae

I’ll never forget how I bloomed for your gaze or your wall of guitars or your video games…

A few nights ago, I went for a walk through my neighborhood just after sunset.

As the sky darkened, the lights of dozens of fireflies began to flicker in the yards beside me, and I smiled. Although I was walking by myself, I suddenly felt less alone.

I felt less alone because one of the most important people in my life had recently told me how much she loves fireflies and how excited she was to see them again as summer approached. Now whenever I see fireflies, I think of her. That’s how the people closest to us stay with us, even when we aren’t around them — they permanently change how we see the world.

It’s this universal human experience of being marked by the people we love that Jensen McRae so memorably illuminates on her new single “Massachusetts.”

“I had a conversation with someone who mentioned a video game that my ex used to play, and all of a sudden, all these memories came rushing back that I didn’t even realize were still buried somewhere in my mind,” McRae tells Atwood Magazine about her inspiration. “To me, the song is about all those little moments where you realize a person who hasn’t been in your life for a long time is still impacting you and still, in some small way, making you who you are.”

Massachusetts - Jensen McRae
Massachusetts – Jensen McRae

Jensen McRae is a singer/songwriter who grew up in Los Angeles and is known for her immersive storytelling. Since the release of her debut album Are You Happy Now? in 2022 she has spent a lot of time on the road, playing festivals and touring with MUNA and Noah Kahan.

In addition to touring, McRae is back in the studio working on new music. Her new single “Massachusetts” builds excitement for her sophomore album, which she is currently working on and expects to release next year.

“The record will touch on those moments that are harder, less healed,” she says of the upcoming music. “But before we pull back the curtain it feels right to touch on this hopeful moment.”

Jensen McRae "Massachusetts" © Caity Krone
Jensen McRae “Massachusetts” © Caity Krone

From the very beginning, “Massachusetts” reminds us that it can be surprising which details about someone end up sticking with us.

Things that we might not have even thought of as important in the moment are brought back to our minds with renewed significance. Accompanied by acoustic guitar, piano, and light drums, the song’s first verse sets the scene by listing some of these resurfaced memories:

When someone tells me they’re from Massachusetts
Now I always ask, “what part?”
I wonder if you kept the pilgrim ashtray
If it’s still propped up on your bar cart
Could make a grand off of the chain you bought me
But goddamn, it’s not for sale
When someone asks me who’s my favorite Batman
I’ll think of you and say, “Christian Bale”

The chorus then brings the relationship into clearer focus and gives more context to how it dissolved. These are two people who didn’t end things on good terms, yet the lyrics reveal an emotional maturity in the way the singer is able to wish for the happiness of this person that is no longer in her life.

You broke me to pieces, but I root for you
Even though everything went up in flames
I’ll never forget how I bloomed for your gaze
Or your wall of guitars or your video games
Jensen McRae "Massachusetts" © Caity Krone
Jensen McRae “Massachusetts” © Caity Krone

Similar to other excellent lyricists like Phoebe Bridgers, McRae has an uncanny sense of how to bring in specific images to her songs in ways that get at universal emotions.

Even if you aren’t a big gamer or have never been in a room with a wall full of hanging guitars, you know exactly what McRae is evoking through the moments she conjures.

The song’s second verse begins with more reminiscing but then moves to the present with a reminder of how difficult it can be to be confronted by memories of someone in your past:

Pick up your phrases, now I say, “It’s aces”
But it always sounds so fake
I wonder if your tongue is turning over
Anything I used to say
Your sister’s trying for a baby lately
And your parents got new jobs
It’s getting darker, so I turn you down
But I can’t turn you off

The shift from the humor of unsuccessfully trying to use the phrase “it’s aces” to the melancholy of darkness falling is one of the song’s most poignant moments. It also reinforces the duality at the song’s core — it can bring a smile to your face to remember the good times with someone you don’t see anymore, but it simultaneously reminds you of their absence.

These conflicting emotions are something everyone experiences at one time or another. And this is why I find myself coming back to this song time and time again—in beautifully rendered detail, it tells a story we’ve all been a character in.

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:: connect with Jensen McRae here ::
Stream: “Massachusetts” – Jensen McRae

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Massachusetts - Jensen McRae

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? © Caity Krone

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