Pop star Tate McRae is the biggest music star out of Calgary right now. She’s sitting at 25,000,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and she racked up nearly one billion streams for her alt-pop bop “you broke me first” after it went viral on TikTok.
She’s the city’s phenom yet the pressure for success primarily comes from within and it fuels her, she told the Star.
“I feel like most of the pressure that I feel usually comes from myself and wanting to do better than an artist myself,” McRae said on a Zoom call. “I think it’s pretty awesome that I’m at least bringing some sort of creative scene into Calgary.”
McRae’s career is already in its second act at age 18. The first was as a dancer.
Trained by her mother, McRae won Female Best Dancer at The Dance Awards in the mini, junior and teen divisions making her the first dancer in the competition’s history to do so. She finished third on the 13th season of “So You Think You Can Dance” and performed on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in 2016 as part of the Jump Dance Convention troupe.
Then as a singer she’d grown a fan base on YouTube with her “Create with Tate” series posting original songs throughout her early teens. Eventually it paid of with her gaining label attention when her song “one day” went viral in 2017.
“I would definitely say my mom was a huge trendsetter and she’s always been one to be say, ‘you got to break the mold in order to get anywhere,’ and you got to try something new in order to be recognized,” McRae explained .
Since Tate McRae’s explosion in 2020 with “you broke me first,” she graduated high school, moved to Los Angeles, got her first apartment and was dealt her first real heartbreak. Not to mention she’s been touring since March, only to take a breather to release her debut album “I used to think I could fly” at the end of May and film music videos. She’s already touring again.
It’s been a whirlwind — enough to make a veteran artist want a vacation — but McRae uses it as fuel for her music. The constant swirl of emotions as a teenager is already overwhelming — and the intensity is only compounded when stacking fame, money, photo shoots, travel and heartbreak on top.
“I was trying to cope, cope with so much changing, by acting really, really calm. But on the inside, I was like, terrified,” she explained.
“And I think that that’s where the magic kind of happened later in the process of writing the album, because I think that started to clear up in my head for me and I started to realize exactly how I was feeling, but it did definitely take a second to get there.”
McRae describes herself as an old soul — someone who’s been 40 since she was 13. As such, she’s always had a penchant for observation and self-analysis to the point of over analysis.
On the track “hate myself” exhibits McRae’s balladry, replaying her thoughts amid solitary strings, then lonely keys. After a failed relationship she bounces between blaming herself, blaming her partner and admitting to self-sabotage singing, “I’d always act so selfish / Had s— I hadn’t dealt with / After I just put you right through hell / You couldn’t hate me more than I hate myself.”
What separates McRae’s debut album from her early projects are that most sad-girl songs have been displaced by prickly, over-it tracks like “don’t come back” and “she’s all I wanna be” that invert the void of a breakup.
Still, none of it strays from McRae’s reality.
“I could never try to manufacture or structure a song together, being like, this is how I want people to hear it, this is what I’m writing for other people,” McRae said.
“I write every song as if it wasn’t going to see the light of the day. I write because it’s like my therapy. I write because it’s my thoughts. It was just genuinely where my head was at and so that’s all my songs. They’re just great straight from my diary.”
Much like her introspective lyrics dueling their barbed sentiment McRae’s personality lives along a duality on and off the stage. Off it, she maintains her observations and ruminations. On it, she’s a completely different person.
Performing has been a mainstay of McRae’s career and while the stage is a place that needs to be conquered for most artists, whether it be their dance or vocal performance, it’s McRae’s “happy place.”
“If I’m on stage, my alter ego comes out and I’m the most talkative person ever, you know, hyping up the crowd. I feel like I (am doing) a rock show, like we just have so much fun up there,” said McRae.
“Then sometimes I feel like the real Tate is sitting at a dinner party and literally not saying one word the whole time because I don’t know what to say. It’s so wild. I feel the most free and the most like myself when I’m on stage and I’m in front of people who are just appreciating music as much as I am.”
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