McKenna Grace’s “Natalie” Celebrates Love In Friendship

McKenna Grace has somewhat become known for playing young characters with troubled lives. The actress has turned in powerful performances across popular media, including as the young bride Esther Keyes in The Handmaid’s Tale and, more recently, as the kidnapped Jan Broberg in the true story adaptation A Friend of the Family.

“She portrays two young girls who have been violated and brutalized in unimaginable ways, and she does so with a remarkable level of depth, humanity and understanding,” writes Forbes Senior Contributor Dana Feldman about these roles.

But Grace is also a singer and songwriter, with much of her original music also channeling darkness, inner turmoils, and lived struggles that ring authentic in her voice. So it might be surprising, then, how Grace’s newest single “Natalie,” with its focus on the love behind one friendship, takes a more positive turn.

In a recent interview, McKenna Grace told me that she was at first writing a more negative song when beginning work on “Natalie.” She told me how the original lyrics weren’t exactly sad, but centered around the singer comparing herself, despairingly, to a friend whom she viewed as beautiful and effortlessly perfect. While not quite envious, the original song might have presented a story about feeling lesser than this incredible person.

And, as with much of Grace’s music, the idea to write this was based on someone she knew and looked up to.

“I hung out with this girl who I think is just like the coolest, most beautiful girl in the world. And I’m like, why am I not like you? Like, what am I doing wrong?” said Grace.

But as Grace continued along this thought process, she found that the negativity that was emerging here was not the whole story. That is, this angle was not authentically representing the friendship she wanted to write about. And it’s right there when, upon realizing how long she’d spent thinking and talking about how perfect this girl was, she found that all this energy would be better suited to a love song.

“It’s so easy to fall into this negative sense of comparison. But if I’m literally just sitting here going on and on about how beautiful this person is, about how lovely they are, and about how I’m just like, ‘Oh, I wish I was like you.” Why not just write a love song at this point? It doesn’t have to be negative,” explained Grace.

And so from there the final lyrics ultimately emerged, painting a very different picture. The song begins with the singer describing a friend, dubbed Natalie via pseudonym, who has this almost ethereal quality of being effortless to be around, someone who’s smile and eyes draw you in, and someone who is always willing to come forward with a helping hand.

The lyrics do preserve the idea that the singer wishes to be more like this person. But rather than to cast that desire as despairing, the final song describes Natalie’s presence as only making the singer feel “lighter.” That is, instead of bringing her down, the friend’s presence now works to inspire the singer to rise like her. And this leads the singer to, sincerely and without resentment, ask Natalie: “Could you teach me how to be so beautiful?”

Grace tells me that she always writes her music about actual people or events in her life, explaining that it is difficult to write without leaning on lived experiences. This song was no different, with the subject of “Natalie” being her real friend the actress Xochitl Gomez (who made her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut as America Chavez in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). But whenever Grace does opt to include a real person in her writing, she makes sure to always try and reach out to them before releasing it.

In the past this led to some tough conversations because so many of her prior songs took inspiration from real life events or people that have made her upset or angry. But still, after working on the songs, she made sure to call these people to try and settle things and make sure they were aware. But as difficult as those conversations could have been, Grace tells me that, for her, it was actually in a way more difficult to reach out to Gomez and tell her how she wrote her a love song.

“It’s a little bit scarier than being like, ‘Hey, I wrote this kind of mean song. But don’t worry. I’m not coming after you.’ But it’s—I don’t know. It’s like, ‘Hey! I love you!’” said Grace, laughing at how unexpected a declaration like that may sound for someone on the other end of the phone.

But when it came time for the call, months before the song’s release, Gomez loved the gesture from her friend.

McKenna Grace understands that she’s become known for singing sadder songs and playing darker roles. On that latter front she describes how she keeps a tally of the number of times she has through her characters, before turning 18, done some of the more bizarre things a child or teen might do. For example, she counts the number of times, in fiction, she’s been married or killed people. However, she doesn’t express any desire to move away from the challenging complexity of those roles.

“Is it like weird or wrong to be like, I really enjoy those characters? I think that it’s interesting to be able to dive so deeply into a character different than myself, because I find that I am very, very different than the characters I’ve gotten opportunities to play,” said Grace.

And so as Grace continues exploring the darker side in her music and her acting, and also now diving further into finding the parts of life that are more hopeful, what is very apparent to audiences is, and will continue to be, the sheer range of emotions Grace holds a command over in her art.

And we might see a bit of that mix again when Grace reprises her role as Phoebe Spengler, an intelligent young woman who struggles to connect with others but who ultimately finds a new family along the way to adventure. Phoebe Spengler returns to the big screen in the upcoming sequel Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.

McKenna Grace’s new single “Natalie” is now streaming. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire comes to theaters on March 22nd of this year.

For more on the latest in movies and TV, follow my page on Forbes. You can also find me on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Threads.

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