COVER

Tate McRae

Is All In

By Lara Ceroni

I

If you were to jump on the YouTube channel of Canadian pop singer-songwriter sensation Tate McRae, what might catch you first is not the over 3 million subscribers or cache of choreographed music videos, but instead, somewhat randomly, her About page: 

hi i’m tate. i’m 17. kinda crazy, kinda chill. i overthink a lot of things. bit of an introvert, also an extrovert. not really understood. but sorta relatable. care too much, but can also not care at all. if I like you, i love you. if i don’t, i don’t. i’m a dancer and a singer. mostly a director…of my own head. i write songs because it’s all of the things I never got to say.

Written in a stream of raw conscious truths, McRae spills on everything she is and isn’t; sharing intimate detail of what makes her, her. Even the fact it’s all written in lowercase feels intentionally honest, and at only 17-years-old it’s such a cultivated sense of self she’s sharing with the world that it can’t help but feel surprising given her youth. At the same time, her openness is also equally enviable to the rest of us. It feels brave—not only for a new musician on the rise, but for a young woman in the very public eye. But to McRae? Uh, not so much. It’s more about just being real. “I’m not perfect at all—I make mistakes every single day,” she says, “and I’m not good at a lot of stuff, but when it comes to music and my writing, that’s where I feel like I can be most like me, and where I feel most comfortable sharing about myself.” 

This duality of emotion is something McRae is very good at, and it’s best profiled in the music and, in particular, her songwriting. Her lyrics play between the tension of heartbreaking tell-all’s on love, relationships, boys, and teenage life, while simultaneously saying “fuck it” to all of it and everything in between. It’s a kind of youthful optimism in a way: Knowing you can ruin everything because nothing is that fragile yet, and the songs make her rapt audience relate to what it feels like to be that age, too. Streams of fan comments on her channel talk about how McRae makes teenagehood and all its messiness relatable, and it’s this very virtual chatter that has worked wonders to propel her music to a massive audience online and off. 

If you were to jump on the YouTube channel of Canadian pop singer-songwriter sensation Tate McRae, what might catch you first is not the over 3 million subscribers or cache of choreographed music videos, but instead, somewhat randomly, her About page: 

hi i’m tate. i’m 17. kinda crazy, kinda chill. i overthink a lot of things. bit of an introvert, also an extrovert. not really understood. but sorta relatable. care too much, but can also not care at all. if I like you, i love you. if i don’t, i don’t. i’m a dancer and a singer. mostly a director…of my own head. i write songs because it’s all of the things I never got to say.

Written in a stream of raw conscious truths, McRae spills on everything she is and isn’t; sharing intimate detail of what makes her, her. Even the fact it’s all written in lowercase feels intentionally honest, and at only 17-years-old it’s such a cultivated sense of self she’s sharing with the world that it can’t help but feel surprising given her youth. At the same time, her openness is also equally enviable to the rest of us. It feels brave—not only for a new musician on the rise, but for a young woman in the very public eye. But to McRae? Uh, not so much. It’s more about just being real. “I’m not perfect at all—I make mistakes every single day,” she says, “and I’m not good at a lot of stuff, but when it comes to music and my writing, that’s where I feel like I can be most like me, and where I feel most comfortable sharing about myself.” 

This duality of emotion is something McRae is very good at, and it’s best profiled in the music and, in particular, her songwriting. Her lyrics play between the tension of heartbreaking tell-all’s on love, relationships, boys, and teenage life, while simultaneously saying “fuck it” to all of it and everything in between. It’s a kind of youthful optimism in a way: Knowing you can ruin everything because nothing is that fragile yet, and the songs make her rapt audience relate to what it feels like to be that age, too. Streams of fan comments on her channel talk about how McRae makes teenagehood and all its messiness relatable, and it’s this very virtual chatter that has worked wonders to propel her music to a massive audience online and off. 


McRae wasn’t always known for her music-making; instead, it was dance. After becoming a finalist in So You Think You Can Dance at the age of thirteen, McRae decided to start her YouTube channel to upload her dance choreography. When the upload failed one day, she made the spontaneous decision to record and post a song instead. The result was “one day,” written in 20 minutes from her bedroom, and while it went viral (quickly), she had no plan to make it happen as it did. It had more to do with keeping the content consistent, which is an oh-so-social media thing to do. “I had no idea it was going to get that big, that fast. It was mostly that I promised my people who were watching my channel that I was going to post every week, and it was the fourth week, and I was like, well, I couldn’t just not do it, so it was mostly for that,” she laughs, “keeping the schedule.” 

Since then, McRae’s rise is something the press would be quick to call “meteoric.” She has collaborated with Billie Eilish and Finneas on “Tear Myself Apart,” she’s dominated the Billboard charts with her lead single “You Broke Me First,” which, propelled by her TikTok popularity, went platinum and has over 800 million streams to date. She’s landed a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 (the youngest ever), as well as being on Apple’s One to Watch list. She’s performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and just recently released her second EP “Too Young to Be Sad,” a six-track release which includes four previously released singles, and two new songs in “Wish I Loved You in the 90s” and “Bad Ones,” which includes a music video co-directed by McRae. 

It’s a lot, made even more so by the fact all of this—the music, writing, press, and popularity—have all come while she’s been stuck in isolation, dealing with a closed-off world locked down by a catastrophic global pandemic. “The most interesting part of my whole story so far is that I haven’t left my bedroom, and it’s a strange concept to grasp: that real things that would make me feel legit and like I’m really doing something I can’t do,” she says. “I don’t get to experience things in the full sense that I’ve dreamt about doing for such a long time because I’m stuck here.” Over the summer, McRae worked with many producers over Zoom, which “was weird.” She acknowledges missing all of the meet-and-greet opportunities she would have had with other artists, whether it was out on the road or potentially in the studio. She’s hungry to tour, play festivals, perform in front of a live audience, and do all of the stuff that musicians crave creatively. For now, she exists primarily online, and yes, she knows that’s brought great fortune her way, but it comes with a hell of a lot of pressure too, which has always been a pretty big dark spot when it comes to being on social media. It’s a whole other level of sweat equity. “I feel so much pressure, and I think it gets even more terrifying when it’s under a microscope because everyone tries to pick at the little things, and you’re only 17 and you’re still growing up and learning, so if I make a mistake, it’s going to be highlighted even more,” she says. “You’re walking on eggshells all of the time, trying not to slip up or do anything wrong. It’s scary.” 

 

What have we come to now?
We all wanna be like the rest
Can’t describe just how
But we’re all a beautiful mess

-Tate McRae, Teenage Mind

 

I have a side of me that overthinks everything; that cares so much about people and about what I do, and then there’s this other side that sometimes cannot give two shits about things."

 

We ask her if the title of her new EP is a commentary on life as she knows it (it’s not), but it is still about her in other ways, and it feels so earnest it almost hurts. “I took this title based on my two personality traits: I have a side of me that overthinks everything; that cares so much about people and about what I do, and then there’s this other side that sometimes cannot give two shits about things,” she says. “I definitely live my life like there’s a lot of things I should probably care about, but I brush off, and I think that’s a positive in a way because sometimes we focus too much of our attention on stuff that will be irrelevant to us in five years. Why waste time?” The one silver lining of living a life in isolation is that it’s taught McRae to live in the present and despite that sounded “super-cheesy,” she says, it’s a real thing, a natural feeling. “I have so many heartbreak songs, so many deeps songs on this EP, and I wanted a title that said alright, fuck that. Don’t do that. Don’t think about all of this.”

 

You’re up and down, I’m inside out
You ripped my heart right from my mouth
And then I had to go and pick it up
And play it like I didn’t give a fuck

-Tate McRae, r u ok


Although it’s not appropriate to call this kind of vulnerability “trendy,” it does feel as though a generation of growing female musicians are moving in this direction with their music and songwriting. They’re throwing personal truths against a wall for everyone to see and, with it, all the complex parts that go along with baring next-level infallibility. Everyone knows Taylor Swift is the OG—her lyrics have long been touted as a look inside her soul, but then came Ariana, Lizzo, SZA, and now, McRae. “Now there are songs out there that describe what people seriously think whereas a long time ago it was more about what they wanted everyone else to think they feel,” she says. “It was all about the perfect idea, showing a perfect life, and Taylor broke that barrier. I listen to her music sometimes and think, OK, how am I going to do this myself. She’s a huge inspiration for me when it comes to songwriting. I want to speak about life in a really authentic way.” 

If authenticity is on the agenda, how did a teenager write a nostalgic track about the heyday of the ‘90s when she wasn’t even born yet? On “Wish I Loved You in the 90s,” the EP’s last song, and best, McRae sings about the zenith of ‘90s love and relationships, informed chiefly from her mom’s own experiences, when guys went to the door to pick up their date (with flowers usually) and met the Dad instead of dropping a text and staying firmly planted in their car. “This whole song came from talking about the romance of the ‘90s and how dating was more traditional: there was barely any technology, and there was a lot more effort,” she says. “Nowadays, there’s a lot of parts of relationships that annoy the hell out of me. You text someone on the phone, and he’s texting 16 other girls at the same time. That’s the norm now. I feel as though if we didn’t have phones or social media, people wouldn’t be in so many toxic relationships all the time,” she says. Funny how universal that sounds to all of us. 

 

What happened to thе guy picking up the girl?
And now you speed down the highway
And don’t care to say a word

– Tate McRae, Wish I Loved You in the 90s

 

Despite the fact McRae has gained all of her early success from inside her home, she knows 2021 will bring her all the excitement she’s after: She wants to play the Governor’s Ball, meet other artists, have in-person writing sessions, and connect with her fans in real life. “There’s so much that I want to experience that I haven’t had the chance to yet,” she says enthusiastically. “I literally can’t wait.” 





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