There’s many sides to Tate McRae. Whether it’s small town girl, LA rising star or prodigious creative spark, each part of her multifaceted personality is poised to take on the inevitable stardom which beckons. With dreams of reaching the heights of pop icons like Britney Spears, the Calgary native’s confessional, tender tracks like “You Broke Me First” and “That Way” have beamed into the homes of millions of teens over streaming platforms and apps like TikTok, where McRae enjoys a following of over two million. At just 18, she’s already worked with the likes of Khalid and Troye Sivan, now playing major festivals as pandemic restrictions lift. Following in the footsteps of teen idols of yesteryear, her ascent seems unstoppable – before this star reaches her apex, we catch up with her to talk TikTok, going viral and her first summer bop for our latest digital cover.
For those not familiar with your story, how did you get into music?
I’ve always been surrounded by music my entire life. My mom was a dancer and then she became a dance teacher so I was constantly around the dance studio when I was younger and was always singing and performing around the house. Then when I was six, I started dancing really intensely for a super long time. But it wasn’t until I was around 13, where I started to realise that writing, whether it was short stories or poetry, was one of my only outlets for talking about my feelings. I ended up singing and writing songs with the piano that my grandpa bought me and it kind of just happened from there…
Let’s talk about your song-writing process: how do you approach your lyrics and what do they mean to you?
My lyrics are very important to me, they’re legit like a journal, like my diary. With specific events that happen or things I observe from people, I’ll analyse it, get my perspective on it, and then write it down into a song.
You can really hear that personal touch in your songs, and the emotion you pour into them. “You Broke Me First” is an example of that and it ended up becoming such a phenomenon, what was it like to touch so many people’s lives with your words?
Honestly I’m only really realising the importance of that song now I’m performing at festivals. When you look into the crowd and see how intensely people scream that song, it’s the craziest feeling ever. They feel every single one of those lyrics so hard, which is a very satisfying feeling for an artist because you did something right with your lyrics.
Over the past year, your songs have been reaching new audiences across the world. What was the experience of having these career highs during a time like 2020, when a pandemic was taking place?
It’s been weird. It’s very strange when your song goes global and is all over the radio but you can’t leave your house. I was just so lonely. I was doing so many incredible things which I should have been very happy to be doing but I was just so sad. Nothing is really as exciting when you can’t celebrate with other people. And any late night shows or big performances that I’ve always dreamed of doing, I couldn’t actually do: it was like a fake version of it in a warehouse, still singing live, but not the real [concert experience]. I definitely am very grateful that we’re now easing out of it because it was a tough year, for everyone.
"It’s very strange when your song goes global and is all over the radio but you can't leave your house."
Despite the limitations of the past year you’ve also worked with some amazing artists: Troye Sivan, Khalid and more. What was it like navigating these collaborations during the pandemic?
With the pandemic, I couldn’t actually go into the studio with them so we were doing it all over phone calls and texting. That’s definitely weird, because you’re in three different countries and you’re trying to collaborate on something and both have your input. It was really interesting though because it was one of the first times that I’d actually gotten to see other people’s writing process and their outlook on certain situations. Like Khalid has a totally different perspective on love at this point in his life than I do, so it was just cool to be able to collaborate and obviously they’re incredible artists, so it was very inspiring.
Let’s talk a bit more about that Khalid track as it’s such an interesting move for you as a musician. What was the story behind it and how do you think it fits within your discography so far?
It’s funny because I never thought that I’d release a summer song, like a bop. But if you think about it, it’s very summery and fun but it’s a very sassy song at the same time. The lyrics talk about when you’re working and busy travelling and you love someone and miss them. Then, as soon as you see them in real life again, the vibe is off. It’s a very hard feeling to pinpoint so it was very interesting to be able to crack into that aspect of a relationship.
As your star rises, so does your follower count. How would you describe your relationship with your fans? It sounds quite community-orientated.
My fans are the best people ever and I’m not saying that because I’m biased. I mean, I’m probably a little bit biased, but genuinely every time I meet my fans they’re just very great people. I would definitely be their friend in real life.
Social media is a bit part of how you communicate with that audience of fans. Would you say there is any pressure that comes with that?
I have a very love-hate relationship with social media. I think that it’s incredible because you can put your work out there. It’s all in your hands and you can do whatever you want, so you have total creative freedom. On the other hand, the internet is the most toxic place ever. There are probably millions and millions of artists and pretty people and everything looks greener on the other side on social media, which is a thing that is very hard to accept, especially when you’re growing up and still questioning yourself. Even for me, it’s a struggle to stay off my phone. I can’t get wrapped up in my head like that, otherwise you can go into a really negative spiral.
"I would definitely be [my fans'] friend in real life."
The internet has also really changed the shelf-life of artists’ songs, with TikTok allowing songs from further back in an artist’s discography to go viral, like your song “That Way”. What’s it been like revisiting that song now?
I wrote “That Way” a super long time ago, probably two and a half years ago. It’s crazy now, because with social media songs from ten years ago can blow up out of nowhere. [“That Way” features the line] “friends don’t look at friends that way”, which is just a pretty relatable topic and I’ve always had a special place for that song. It’s cool to see people relating to it.
Definitely. More generally, how do you stay grounded as your career lifts off?
I have a very supportive and grounding family, they keep me very level-headed, and great friends who fill me up and aren’t just superficial people that you can’t trust. If you have a good group of people surrounding you, it keeps you level headed.
Is it weird for you speaking to relate to people your age who are just going to college and living a more traditional life?
It’s strange because I just moved to LA and when I go back to Calgary in Canada, it’s interesting to see how people act. It’s such a different lifestyle: performing at festivals and writing albums. I don’t think people really know what to say. It’s very weird to deal with because I graduated high school like two months ago.
Long term, what are your career goals? Where do you want to go with your career?
I’ve always dreamed of being able to sing and dance on stage like Britney Spears. I just want to make that a reality, to dance with a whole bunch of dancers and put on a huge show and have, like, a million albums out. That’s all I want to do.
Tate McRae’s new single “working” with Khalid is out now.