After what feels like an age – despite the fact she’s still only 18-years-old – Tate McRae’s debut album is finally here. It’s been worth the wait.
Words: Martyn Young.
We’re currently living through a golden age for young, engaged, super smart and super creative new pop legends and shining as sparkly as any of them in 2022 is chart-bothering icon-in-the-making Tate McRae. In many ways, Tate’s rise feels like it has been both insanely swift yet equally slow-burning. It’s been a mixed-up few years. Now though, we’ve arrived at the point where Tate is ready to drop her definitive statement with the release of her debut album, ‘I Used To Think I Could Fly’, and Tate can finally live her pop star life in all its glory.
Sometimes in the new tech and social era, people like to downplay the importance of the album. For Tate McRae, though, it’s a special moment. It’s the realisation of a journey from dancer to music artist. “I’m 18 years old, but I feel I’ve been working towards this for so long,” she begins from her tour bus in the glamorous location of Nebraska in the middle of the USA. “It’s wild because I started posting original music on the internet when I was 13. I have millions of songs out in the world, so it’s very bizarre to think that I haven’t even officially done an album yet. It’s really crazy because I feel that I’ve been around for so long. I’m growing up and generally figuring out what my sound is and what I want to do with my life.”
The past couple of years have allowed Tate the freedom and space to experiment and find her sound and her voice. Her previous EPs, 2020’s ‘All The Things I Never Said’ and 2021’s ‘Too Young To Be Sad’, were perfectly realised examples of talent in the making. Indeed, Tate even graced the cover of this here magazine after only releasing one EP. We know an exciting pop star when we see one. It wasn’t quite a seamless transition for Tate, though. “When I released my first EP, I was 16 years old,” she explains. “I didn’t know anything about music. I was a dancer. Music to me was just poetry sung. I had no idea about this whole industry and no idea about touring, even what an album necessarily was. I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s really difficult to come into a career where it’s your future; every single decision you make and every single song you release is what you do for the rest of your life. That’s sometimes stressful. I literally just graduated high school last year, and a lot of people take time to go to college for four years and figure their shit out and get their head screwed on straight; I’ve started doing that really young. I didn’t even know who I was as a person, and I feel like I still don’t. I’m constantly evolving and understanding how much you have to keep yourself strong in the midst of the craziness of the industry.”
“Writing is nothing if you don’t have experiences in life to talk about”Tate McRae
As Tate found her feat, her artistry emerged through her songs as she honed a beautifully honest and authentic approach to writing in which nothing was off-limits, and all her emotions and feelings were ramped up to the extreme. There are no boundaries to what she can do. She also worked incredibly hard at her craft. “The more you write, the better you get,” she says. “I just wrote hundreds and hundreds of songs, and then picking down to the final few for the album was the hardest part. What I realised is it’s always going to be the same. Writing is nothing if you don’t have experiences in life to talk about. I went through a phase where I was like, I need to write this debut album, and I genuinely wasn’t doing anything other than writing. I started to realise that once you start doing that and it takes over your whole life, you have nothing to actually write about. There are no real feelings. There’s no real shit. That’s what I’ve had to process. You have to go out and live your life, and you have to do things that you’re scared of and attempt things that you’ve never done before in order to write a song that you’ve never written.”
All those experiences, both good and bad, inspiring and heartbreaking, go into the album. It’s a swirling cauldron of feelings and desires, experiences and fantasies. It’s also an incredibly accomplished pop record. “My album is all over the place,” laughs Tate. “I have so many emotions in that album. I would walk into the studio some days, and I would be pissed out of my mind, just so angry. You can hear it because there are some songs on the album where I genuinely show hatred for people. It’s something I don’t do as a person, but I can get out in my writing.”
The album also highlights a more sensitive, tender side, best exemplified on her recent single, the heartbreaking piano ballad ‘Chaotic’. “That song talks about some of my biggest fears, and a lot of that inspired me to put the whole album together,” she says. “There are some really delicate pieces where I show a really vulnerable side of my writing. I feel like all around the album captures the feeling of growing up and facing reality for the first time.”
Tate’s willingness to delve deep into her soul and express her innermost feelings and emotions is one of the reasons her music resonates so deeply with so many people. It’s a kind of elemental connection, the way she channels her emotions to make such compelling music. Ultimately, though, she’s so relatable because she expressed the feelings we all share and express in our own, perhaps more everyday ways. “It’s the same way people channel those emotions when writing a text,” she says. “If they’re really pissed off, then the first thing they’re gonna do is call someone, talk to someone, text someone, and the first thing that I do is get in the studio and write about it so that afterwards I don’t really need to text them. It’s very therapeutic because it stops me from saying a lot of things I shouldn’t say,” she laughs.
An example of how much Tate’s star has risen is the sort of collaborators she can work with, and this album features songs written with fellow pop legends Charlie Puth and Billie Eilish’s big bro and accomplished producer and artist in his own right, FINNEAS. Tate shares an example of working with them on two different songs that highlight the different emotional dynamics at work on the record. “There’s one song called ‘What Would You Do?’ that I wrote with three really talented people: Charlie Puth, Blake Slatkin and Alexander Glantz,” she explains. “It was a really fun process because we were in this room, and I was doing all the lyrics. I was sitting in the corner just fuming and wanting to talk about this one situation, and Charlie’s going at it doing his magic that he always does, and it’s super angry. The last track on the album is called ‘I Still Say Goodnight’. I wrote it with FINNEAS; it is honestly one of the most heartbreaking songs I could ever have written. It’s talking about looking at someone in their eyes and watching them lie in front of you. There’s a lot of different sides on the album, and it’s not just one mode all the time.”
“I have so many emotions in that album. I would walk into the studio some days, and I would be pissed out of my mind, just so angry”Tate McRae
When it comes to collaborating, it’s very much a two way street in terms of both artists learning from each other and taking different inspirations. “I have so much to learn. Any session you get into, you should never feel like you know everything,” says Tate. “There’s so much to learn from people. Watching genius minds inspired me to want to do my best work. What I brought into the room a lot of the time is that I have no filter when it comes to talking about stuff. A lot of people write songs just to write songs because it’s their job. I genuinely have a lot of real shit to say a lot of the time. It hasn’t been manufactured or touched, and I’m not overthinking it. I walk in with a very blunt 18-year-old’s perspective, and that’s what they got with me.”
Perhaps that bluntness represents the new generation of pop stars that Tate is leading the way in. They have grown up in an era of anything goes openness and fearless expressionism. They’ve also grown up in an era of almost constant turmoil and flux in the world. Bluntness is required just to survive. “This generation is crazy, especially with TikTok,” she says. “There’s so much talent out there. So many people are coming out of the woodwork. Some of these people are obviously my peers like Conan Gray and Olivia Rodrigo, who I feel are doing the same thing as me. They’re trying to say real stuff and put it into a real crazy world right now. We’re honestly all trying to share our music the same way, so it’s really wild to be beside them and learn from them.”
The one thing that connects and binds these Gen Z artists is a relentless desire to capture every emotion and every feeling. The thing that makes them stand out is emphasising their own personalities and their own stories and telling them in a captivating way. It’s a principle that Tate is acutely aware of. “By now, we have heard every single song from every point of view with every single lyric. There’s literally nothing more you can say, and if it’s not real to you, then it’s just another song with the same set of words,” she says. “If it’s not connecting to a story, then other people aren’t going to be able to relate it back to their own lives. You want your music to touch other people so they can put it into their own situations. If you don’t do that, then it’s just another song.”
Tate cites Lil Nas X as someone who is pioneering a new way of being a pop star. “He broke all the stereotypes and walked into this industry, and there’s a whole bunch of songs where he explains how everyone thought he was never going to make it,” she says. “When you read through the entire album, you realise he talks about every single detail and every situation that’s so personal to him. You can tell he put his blood, sweat and tears into it, and I think that’s what made it a successful album. You’re reading the diary of another person’s life. If it’s not true, then there’s no point in listening to it. People being very vulnerable is what makes you stand out right now.”
Tate McRae’s vulnerability, coupled with her inherent magnetic star power and personality, have already made her a formidable pop force, but ‘I Used To Think I Could Fly’ firmly takes things to the next level. The new experiences are now coming thick and fast after two years of pandemic stasis, and Tate is experiencing the wild pop ride in all its glory. “I’m so excited because the last time I came to London, I played a 175 capacity room. Next time I’m coming back, and some of our shows are 2200,” she beams excitedly. “It’s really wild being on tour. You think it would have hit me two years ago when I had my first song out, but it’s all hitting me now. It’s the first time that it’s not just numbers on the screen. Actual faces. I’m on my headline tour, and every time I step into a room, I’m like, ‘Why the hell are you guys here?’ I was stuck at home for so long that I couldn’t believe what my life was turning into. A lot has changed. It’s really crazy.” ■
Taken from the June 2022 edition of Dork, out now. Tate McRae’s debut album ‘I Used to Think I Could Fly’ is out now.