- Words Solly Warner
At just 17-years-old, Apple Music's Up Next artist Tate McRae exudes quality beyond her years. It's no wonder she's found herself soaring amongst the stars.
From being placed into dance classes by her mum aged 5, Tate McRae spent her entire childhood training to be a professional dancer. Fast forward a few years and with multiple National dancing titles under her belt, Tate made herself wider known by becoming one of the finalists in the American TV show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ at just 12-years-old.
Thriving under pressure and not wanting to lose this momentum, Tate moved straight onto the next thing; creating her own YouTube channel with a recurring segment called ‘Create With Tate’. To the surprise of her parents but perhaps not to her growing group of online fans, Tate’s very first song in the series, “One Day” went viral and now sits at over 35 million views.
Continuing to create songs through her early teens, Tate says, “Sometimes you feel so trapped in your own head…Music was the only way that I could really speak.” Signing to RCA Records, next came Tate’s debut EP ‘all the things i never had’ in early 2020. With minor key ballads, melodramatic guitar strums and ominous synths, the EP beautifully fit into the minimal slow jam lane of pop that has been flourishing lately. The project even received support from Billie Eilish and her brother/producer Finneas who wrote one of the tracks, “tear myself apart”. After the success of her debut and a tour that sold out in two weeks, Tate was looking without a doubt, unstoppable. That’s until, of course, the world stopped for everyone.
Despite the momentary pause in Tate’s life and adapting to a life of working from home, her next single certainly didn’t disappoint. “you broke me first” pulls from teenage experience and expresses a complete representation of what honest, youthful pop music sounds like today but in its own unique and authentic way. After picking up traction through TikTok circulation and performances at various award and late-night shows, Tate found herself on Forbes 30 Under 30 list and with the track currently sitting at over 635 million streams worldwide. Gaining huge support and racking up such crazy numbers, “you broke me first” will quite rightly be remembered as Tate’s truly major breakthrough song.
Following a steady stream of impressive singles and videos in 2020, such as “lie to me” and “r u ok”, which radiate such enticing darkness and quirk, the young singer-songwriter has shared her latest offering ‘rubberband’. The soaring, heavy-hitting and instantly catchy song is met with Tate singing about snapping a rubber band on her wrist while trying to overcome an attachment to someone or something. The concept stems from a rubber band that Tate wears every single day and occasionally uses it to, quite literally, snap herself out of a feeling or moment.
Continuing her promising ascent, Tate McRae has been selected as Apple Music’s Up Next artist for March – Apple Music’s monthly artist initiative geared towards identifying, showcasing and elevating rising talent.
Given her standout raspy voice, songwriting abilities, and dancing prowess, Tate is positioned to blow up big time as pop’s next big thing. All the more impressive when you remember she is still studying for high school exams, whilst balancing an extensively busy schedule, all during a global pandemic.
Notion spoke with Tate McRae about how she’s her own worst critic, what it was like performing at the EMAs, why she’s glad there’s still many more new experiences to be had and much more.
First of all, I wanted to say congratulations with your latest release “rubberband”, a lot of people seem to be loving it. When you release a new song, do you find it hard to grasp if it’s been received well? Especially in this day and age when you can’t see fans face to face?
Totally. I think unless you really search through comments on Twitter and Instagram and stuff, it’s hard to grasp what people think of it. So, it’s just out in the blue and left to numbers, which also is hard to process as well.
You obviously open up quite a lot in your music. What has kept you going during these particularly hard times?
Writing has been a huge part of keeping me sane during this pandemic and staying at home. I think without it, I would have gone crazy by now. I know there’s a lot of people who have other jobs who literally can’t do anything at home, so I’m very fortunate that I can at least do everything from my bedroom and be able to, you know, still express myself and still release things.
You reference trying to overcome hardships on the track. Does expressing these emotions through music allow you to grow even further, or is it still quite difficult laying it all out for the world to see?
It’s always difficult. It’s super nerve wracking releasing anything that’s that personal. But then again, it also feels like a bit of a relief, because no one actually knows anything. That’s with any song, it could be super clear what the story is, or what it feels like, but it could be a totally different, you know, was written about something totally opposite. I think that’s the cool part about songs. There’s so much creative freedom, where it can be interpreted in a million different ways and no one can truly ever know.
What do you think has caused this shift in music, where we now see a lot more, young artists in their teens that are able to share and convey these types of emotions? Do you think there’s anyone in particular who’s really pushed this forward?
Yeah, for sure! I mean, you look at artists like Khalid, he was super young when he released his first album, he was 17, and that was a huge thing! Then there’s Billie Eilish, there’s Jessie Reyez. There are so many artists. There’s The Kid LAROI. I think there’s a lot of young individuals who are just kind of pushing the boundaries and making it easier for people to release things online or put themselves out there on YouTube or something to even just experiment.
I’ve seen in a few previous interviews that you personally struggle with being satisfied with your music and you’re constantly analysing it. I feel like that shows that you’re constantly looking to improve who you are as an artist, but I’m sure it’s also quite frustrating.
Yeah! I’m probably my worst critic. I analyse everything to the bone. Even if I love a song of mine, and I feel super satisfied, 10 minutes later, I will hate it. At some points, my managers will be like, “alright Tate no more listening for you. * laughs * You don’t get to listen any more times.” It’s kinda good, but I need that because otherwise, I will stay hands on forever and I probably wouldn’t release any music because I would get too paranoid on what isn’t perfect, or what doesn’t sound great. I think all vocals have some sort of rawness that, if you really broke them down aren’t perfect sounding. But there’s emotion behind it and things that you need in there. So, I mean, it’s definitely a struggle, makes it kind of impossible to create records sometimes. But also, I think, it makes me proud of my work once I am satisfied.
Yeah, definitely. Do you think moving on to the next thing; the next track or the next performance, is the best way you get over worrying about your songs?
Totally! I just keep on creating. Because then sometimes I feel like when you put fresh things in your brain, fresh lyrics and fresh songs, then you can go back to something else and really see how great something is.
Awesome. Going back to ‘rubberband’. I love the new music video that goes with the song. It’s clear that you like to put a lot of attention and effort into your videos. What is the creative process like when coming up with the choreography, or the concept as a whole, and why is that important to you?
I think music videos are super important. It’s like the whole visual that ties to things and sometimes when I create, I have this whole Pinterest board pulled up just so I can have visuals to look at. I think that’s what I imagine music videos to be, just a visual for people to look at next to the song. But yeah, it’s a long process. There are so many calls I have to get on and so many treatments have to ride and then me and my choreographer will probably spend eight hours in the studio, getting choreography done and then a whole nother different rehearsals. So, it’s for sure a long process to nail it down. But it’s worth it too. Because I want to keep dancing in my videos and doing that kind of stuff.
Yeah, definitely. It’s quite a specific question, but I don’t know if you listen to any KPOP or watch any of their music videos, but their performances and videos are filled with intricate choreography. So, I was just wondering with their growing influence in the West and with new, exciting artists like yourself, do you think we may start to see more and more up and coming artists who can dance as well as sing?
Yeah. I mean, I saw the BLACKPINK documentary and I was shocked by how precise they are with all their performances. The same with BTS, too. They’re all perfect… Their performances are perfect. I think it’s really rare to find people who are motivated enough to put together dancing and singing because it’s one of the hardest things and it’s definitely takes a lot of patience to get it perfect and practice and work. So, I think that’s the hard thing, is that you need to find those specific people that have the dedication to do that. But then again, obviously it’s pretty inspiring, too.
With dancing and singing, how much experience do you have with those two things together? Obviously, you’re very experienced with dancing and singing has become part of your life in more recent years. But what’s the experience that you have with doing both components at the same time?
Um… Well one of my first times doing that was at the European Music Awards * laughs * It was so hard, I didn’t realise how much energy it took because I had to live sing and I was like, “Oh my god, I breathe so much!” and that totally affects your singing voice. It took a second for me to get used to it. It was really hard. I’ve heard that people like Beyonce, runs on a treadmill and sings at the same time to be able to nail it down. It’s hard. It’s definitely cardio. But it’s fun.
You mentioned it there, the EMAs. So that happened at the end of last year and also more recently you’ve performed on Jimmy Fallon as well. What were those experiences like? Particularly the EMAs. Where was that shot? The space looked huge!
So, the EMAs was shot in this huge warehouse in Toronto with five of my dance friends. It was in a puddle of water, which made it also really hard because there was a resistance on the floor to be able to walk. Our whole boots were filled with water the entire time. The stage was also super skinny. So, you know, my mic pack was falling in the water a million times. One of the girls totally slipped and fell. There were so many things that could have gone incredibly wrong. Very grateful they didn’t but it was for sure a challenge. It was hard.
It sounds like it! Going back to your music, I’ve noticed that each one of your songs seems to explore a slightly different type of sound. Are there any specific genres of music that you’d like to experiment with in the future?
I have this thing… I don’t know if I’ll ever get into it but I’m super into punk rock right now. Like Machine Gun Kelly. He’s just epic. He’s so good. I think it’d be really cool to do a song, almost like pop punk because that emo guitar is so cool. I think that’d be cool to experiment with.
Yeah. We’ve seen Miley [Cyrus] do it fairly recently. She brought out music at the end of last year that explored that heavier side of things.
I feel like with some young artists who are starting out their careers, everything can happen quite quickly, and it can be a lot to take in and enjoy properly. But the fact that the pandemic has halted performing to crowds and meeting fans. In an almost ironic way, are you glad that you still have special experiences like this to look forward to?
Yeah! It’s been really interesting, because I’ve done some of my biggest dreams over the past six months but haven’t because I haven’t been there and haven’t really experienced them. So, you know, there’s still that balance in my life where I’m at home, and I can at least see my family. I can’t even speak on that, because I don’t know. It was right before things got crazy and then they were like “stay in your house.” I am kind of lucky that I do get a little bit of those moments where I can just sit still. Even though it’s all work driven. Sometimes travelling can be exhausting! So, it’s definitely been weird for me because I’ve experienced things kind of halfway. I don’t even know how to describe it.
Yeah, well, 2020 seemed like such a busy year for you. So, I guess you were hinting at it there, but did you feel like you were still able to take a step back and take everything as it happened?
A little bit. There are a few moments that I was able to, where you got to actually watch the performances on TV and really get to see things like that. That was lucky because I think otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have been able to.
I see that you’ve got a tour coming up this year with some European dates. How excited are you for this?
Oh, I’m so excited. I can’t wait to get back on the road! It’ll be really fun.
Can you give a sneak peek to any fans of what they can expect from the live shows?
I mean, we haven’t started preparing anything at all or thinking through it but I’m so excited because before… My first tour I did was super small and also, I didn’t have that many songs out yet. They were really fresh and now I’ve released so many more songs. Then after my EP, and by the time next fall rolls around, I’ll be in the process of working on an album. So, we’ll see! I might be able to have a whole new set, and it’ll be fun to experiment with that!
Are there any particular venues or events that you’ve always dreamed of playing at?
I want to perform at Lollapalooza one day. * Laughs * I mean, my dream…My dream would be to perform at the Grammys one day. But that’s far, far, far. But that’s one of my favourite events to watch.
Amazing. Definitely not out of reach. You’ve got to have those sorts of goals.
Exactly. You gotta put them out there.
You’re very active online with things like your YouTube channel, which has been growing over the years, and more recently with TikTok. How has it been for you being able to maintain a connection with your fans over the past year or so?
Oh, it’s super important! I think social media is the main source to be able to communicate with your fans. If I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have any source of connection with me because there’s no tour or nothing in person. So, staying engaged online and talking to them and seeing what they think of songs is really important.
Nice. Just to wrap things up, what does the next year have in store for you? Do you have any particular goals for 2021? Maybe an album?
Yeah. So, I’m really hoping to start working on an album in April or something and start writing and see how it goes and then hopefully release it 2021 late or 2022. We’ll see. But that’s a big goal of mine. I can’t wait for that.
So, is that your main focus?
Yeah. Mostly focus on the album and tour. We’ll see what happens with the pandemic. We’ll genuinely see if things open up and there’ll be festivals or anything. So, fingers crossed!