McKenna Grace – Bittersweet 16

Photo Finish Records

Release Date: March 3rd 2023

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

McKenna GraceBittersweet 16 (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Ugly Crier
  2. City Leaver
  3. Checkered Vans
  4. Buzzkill Baby
  5. What If?
  6. Post Party Trauma
  7. Collapsing Stars
  8. Bittersweet 16

McKenna Grace has been in and around our movie screens for years. In my own honest opinion, McKenna’s the next Dakota Fanning (or maybe even Elle), as she (and other young stars like Kiernan Shipka and Millie Bobby Brown) reminds us all, of the quality and calibre of young stars around the world, and the talent these people possess which is indeed uncanny and remarkable to say the least. Here’s hoping these young stars (especially young girls and young women) stay grounded in the years to come (and not become like other former child stars who are speaking up now against their own treatment when they were young- see Alyson Stoner’s own revealing interview with Christy Carlson Romano in a podcast below). And while we can respect and admire McKenna for her acting chops, this is not the purpose of this ‘review’- but rather, here we see and discover a whole new talent that McKenna has in her proverbial bag of ‘arrows’- her ability to sing. While she’ll still be remembered first and foremost as an actress in years to come; she has released plenty of songs to date. ‘Haunted House’, ‘do all my friends hate me’ and ‘You Ruined Nirvana’ are all in a review that I wrote just a little while ago, while McKenna this year unveiled a vulnerable and emotive debut album (long-ish EP), culminating in the title Bitterswet 16. Released when she was indeed sixteen, a lot of these songs are nothing but different from each other musically and even thematically; yet, McKenna manages to utilise each of these songs’s musical differences to her own strength, reminding us of how versatile a pop singer she really is, and to really heighten and strengthen her own talent as an emerging force within the pop music industry. Is she the next Olivia Rodrigo, musically, after Olivia herself? Only time will tell, but the way these songs are delivering to us so far…maybe.

Released originally as a single, earlier on during the year, ‘Post Party Trauma’ was unveiled way back in July 2022, and with it, we saw someone who is indeed becoming a household name in terms of her musical skill- evidently shown in songs like ‘Haunted House’, ‘Do All My Friends Hate Me’ and ‘You Ruined Nirvana’. And ‘Post Party Trauma’ is no different. A moody 3 minute track about a persona (most likely herself) who relays her own social anxiety in the form of a song, we see McKenna deliver vulnerability and emotion as this song is a reminder for us to connect with people on a deeper level and not just on a surface ‘hi how are you’…so as to avoid what is being described in this song. Nevertheless, this is how some young people feel, and we have to understand that just because we have access to a lot of technological advances and the ability to connect with people around the world and around the country, doesn’t mean that we are connected at all. We may have 5000 Facebook friends, but we may not feel connected to our family and our face-to-face friends at all, and that can lead to social anxiety if not properly treated and diagnosed for what it is. Social anxiety happens when we feel as if we are all alone, even in a crowdful of people, when we feel as though we can’t relate to people of our own age, especially the generation we’ve grown up in. ‘Post Party Trauma’ is acknowledging that we have something inside of us that can’t relate to others, and that acknowledgement is the first step towards us unearthing trauma and seeking counselling and healing in the process. Maybe this song can play a part in our own inner healings in the upcoming weeks/months ahead. Well done McKenna for this song, most definitely a track that we feel that’s needed for society, especially when people feel connected and so alone in a dichotomous way, both at once.

Throughout the rest of this 8-track EP, McKenna continues to deliver poignant themes of hope, realisation, and resilience, as we continuously press forward towards healing, confidence, optimism and possibilities as the months and years progress. Standing as track #1 on the EP, ‘Ugly Crier’ was unveiled as a single in early 2023, a song that potentially serves as a melody that showcases caution, against the constant barrage of negativity, hateful comments and loneliness that people of today would often feel on a consistent basis. Written about a persona experiencing a night out and feeling out of place from the get-go, McKenna showcases the persona feeling as though they are a fraud in said situation, leading to feelings of inadequacy and a downward spiral from there. As McKenna herself relays, ‘…I wrote this after I went to a party and felt super out of place. Everyone was dressed up in suits and cocktail dresses, and I showed up in my Taylor Swift cardigan with a Slimer purse (last slide is a picture of that night). I cried in the taxi on the way home (post party trauma) and ended up writing a ton of songs over the next couple weeks about the feeling of not being good enough no matter what I do or how hard I try. I’m an advocate of always loving yourself, but sometimes it’s def easier said than done…’ A great way to start the EP, this first track starts to take us all on a journey of self-discovery, as we, hopefully alongside McKenna, delve deep into our own insecurities and inadequacies, understanding that sometimes it’s our faults and flaws that make us more relatable to other people on a regular basis.

‘City Leaver’ enters in at #2 on McKenna’s EP; and is about a persona and their partner who used to do everything together, until when their partner upped and left without any indication, moved across the country without mentioning it to the persona. Throughout the song, it is brought to light, that this person who left had been lying, instead unveiling the fact that the person leaving, didn’t even miss the person that was left. McKenna uses the themes of this track to create a metal-pop track about a ‘city leaver’, someone who extremely attached to someone, and then leaves for whatever reason, without any contact, rhyme or reason. ‘Checkered Vans’ was a pre-release track unveiled at the beginning of the year, released prior to Bittersweet 16, and a song that serves as a pop-punk teenage rage/angst/heartbreak track about feeling ‘free’ after a breakup, portraying that feeling through a metaphor of skating and skateboard references; whilst ‘Buzzkill Baby’ is an upbeat anthem where we see the persona declaring that that other person that didn’t love them back (especially when she told them that she loved them- with no response) is such a buzzkill, someone who couldn’t see beyond themselves and love the other for who they are, unconditionally. ‘What If’ is a song of lament, wondering ‘what if’ – ‘what if I never did _____, then I would never have met you, then I would never have fallen in love, and now I would never feel the heartbreak that I’m feeling now’. It’s a song that reflects on toxic relationships that people have, as we realise that when people are in the middle of the relationships, they may not consider them to be toxic, but only in hindsight and with time. The EP is then rounded out with ‘Collapsing Stars’ and the title track ‘Bittersweet 16’- the former showcases and highlights the complexities of a broken relationship and the reflection that comes when time heals certain wounds, and you look back and wonder if authenticity, trust and love on your part, was placed into the right person, or if they themselves weren’t more of a loving person than you were led to believe. The latter is ‘Bittersweet 16’, the title track and is about a girl who has turned 16, feeling uncertain, confused, and underprepared in life, feeling unloved and scared that life itself isn’t going anywhere.

McKenna’s rise musically is only going to continue to increase, as this new EP Bittersweet 16 is only just the beginning. Some say she’s the next Olivia Rodrigo. I myself see a lot of artists like Avril and Alainis in McKenna- people that pioneered pop-punk all those years ago, and have carried and crafted it, to where it is today (I also see influence from other artists, like Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson, and yes…McKenna does have some Olivia Rodrigo vibes about her, even just a little!). With her standalone songs (‘Do All My Friends Hate Me’, ‘You Ruined Nirvana’, ‘Self Dysmorphia’, ‘Haunted House’), alongside her songs on this EP, showcasing various sides of McKenna’s musicality, here’s hoping to more people being aware of this underrated artist in the upcoming weeks and months to come. Well done McKenna for this EP. Looking forward to a full-length album in the future, whenever that may come.

3 songs to listen to: Post Party Trauma, Collapsing Stars, Ugly Crier

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Sabrina Carpenter, Sofia Carson, Dove Cameron, OneRepublic, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morrissette, Olivia Rodrigo

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