REVIEW: ‘Immune’ masterfully transforms a Twitter parody into a heart-wrenching tale about the myth of closure
In the age of separation and global devastation, it’s been extremely difficult for many of us to entirely pinpoint and grapple with the emotional trauma inflicted from this time.
In her newest single, “Immune,” USC alumnus Jensen McRae proves that she’s no stranger to this struggle. Once a hypothetical Phoebe Bridgers parody about “… hooking up in the car while waiting in line to get vaccinated at dodger stadium,” “Immune” by McRae took its own form instead, with the early acoustic version receiving 2.3 million views on Twitter following the named artist’s retweet. Now a heart-wrenching, yet soft folk-rock tale, McRae seamlessly weaves together a conclusion to the emotional build-up over the pandemic, performing it as if she were in a cloudy, warm coffee shop, completely alone.
She sets the scene against a softly strumming guitar: “Traffic from the East side got me aggravated / Hotter than the day my brother graduated / Wait for hours in the sun / In line at Dodgers Stadium.” She declares, shortly, “I’m not scared of dogs or getting vaccinated.”
Now adding reserved bongos to the muted track, her blunt disdain and annoyance sticks out sorely into the second verse. She sings “With the seat back, turn this place into a bed / Someone’s smoking in the Camry just ahead / Yeah, I know the irony / Would never be lost on me / You don’t have to point it out / Again.”
Immediately, it’s captivating how she juxtaposes the recognizable, calloused aggravation in her lyrics against the softened nature of the instrumentals. If anything, it demonstrates her mastery of songwriting, as she quickly captures the multi-level emotion behind the past year: the washed-out quiet of staying at home, the numbness to the once-painful events we’ve had to process and the sharp, edgy irritation that leaks out once provoked.
Just as we’re settling into the tranquility of the verse, the song suddenly crescendos. Sharp drums mirror even sharper vocals as the song rapidly transforms into a soul-stirring, anxious cry for clarity, questioning what follows the endless pain we’ve so effortfully acclimated ourselves to. Her voice soars: “What will we say to each other / When the needle goes in? / What will we be to each other / If the world doesn’t еnd?”
The second verse transports us right back into her imaginary car. Returning to the subtle, pastel-like nature of the instrumentals, she describes, “Radio is static through the Taylor song / Think a college football gamе is comin’ on.” Introducing several dramatic notes of violin, she bristles once again, “God you hate Top 40s shit / But as the sports preempted it / Your mouth in my ear / You hummed along.”
Now launching into the second chorus, the urgent trepidation of her voice becomes much more pronounced. Utilizing the rushing suspense of violins, the song begins to show a similar ambiance as early 2000s alternative-pop-rock artists like Anna Nalik or Michelle Branch. While remaining rushed and pronounced, her voice continues to convey emotional soreness, like a soldier’s final battle cry before surrendering to the enemy.
Her final verse returns to quietness, as she reels from the regrettable events that just occurred with her friend. “Think the nurse that gave our shots is judging us / Can she tell that we just fucked the friendship up?” She remarks, apprehensive yet all-knowing, “As we leave, I turn to you / Ask how it feels to be immune / And you know what I mean a bit too much.”
The song concludes with a fully-built-out chorus, absolutely devastating its listeners. She cries out and repeats the lyrics, “What will we say to each other? / What will we be to each other?” The violins swell, and she vocalizes softly until the dramatic, pulled-back instrumentals close the story.
Listening to “Immune,” it’s shocking to realize that the song wasn’t autobiographical. In fact, on many levels, it doesn’t feel like it was imagined at all. Remarkably, as McRae sings about listening to Taylor Swift on the radio and bickering with her friend, you can smell the interior of the car, hear the crackled radio as Top 40s play and feel the AC fighting against the smoldering, Los Angeles summer.
But “Immune” didn’t need to be autobiographical to make its point. It was the real emotion that brought the story to life. The car might have been imaginary, the song itself might’ve been schemed on a hypothetical Phoebe Bridgers album, but the frustration and anxiety brought forth is about as real as it gets for anyone living through these troubled times. It helps greatly that every element of the song worked excellently to concoct the perfect storm. The muted, subtle nature of the instrumentals brought out the scarred aggravation in her lyrics. The crescendoed emotion of the chorus and added violins towards the end instilled dramatic resonance. Topping that off with an agonizingly flawless vocal performance created a perfectly devastating conclusion to an even more devastating saga. All elements considered, “Immune” is nothing short of masterful, devastating storytelling.
(And I will almost certainly be crying listening to it as I wait in line at Dodgers Stadium to get my vaccine.)