Tate McRae used to close her eyes and manifest her future: a career in the spotlight, her dream apartment, an overflowing closet. It might be a stretch to suggest that wishful thinking is what took the 20-year-old from budding Canadian dancer to international musician, but mix raw talent with perfectionism, add the lively, impulsive YouTube posts of a 13-year-old McRae, and her recipe for stardom seems pretty solid.
McRae’s first taste of success came with cameras and a whole lot of pressure. She made her television debut on So You Think You Can Dance at just 12 years old, winning over the hearts of America’s voters with her sky-high extensions and signature smile. By the final episode, she was the highest-ranking Canadian in the show’s history. “I became a psycho-analyzer,” she confesses of her dancing. “I was wanting to be perfect in so many ways.”
After the whirlwind of reality television, McRae returned home to Calgary and found herself stuck in a rut. She needed an outlet less hyper-critical than her dance career that would still allow for creative catharsis. “Reality started to kick in that I wasn’t on this show anymore,” she remembers. “So, one day I locked myself in my bedroom and wrote my first ever song. I posted it online and it went viral overnight.”
Since that song, “One Day,” McRae committed to her new form of expression: making music that weaves plaintive, emotional lyrics between soft beats and harmonies. “It was the only way that I could tell the truth,” she says. “I realized that I could have two shades of McRae, where I could be a performer and put on a show, and also break down and talk about everything going on in my brain.”
Such candor has launched McRae’s rise as a member of the next generation of global voices thanks to last year’s debut album I Used to Think I Could Fly, featuring hit single “she’s all i wanna be,” which has amassed over 330 million streams to date.
The intimacy of the singer’s music is what keeps listeners hanging on to every note. A narrator of her teenage years, McRae is now entering her twenties and her fans are growing up right alongside her. “As I’m working on this next chapter of music, I’m coming to the realization that I’m a completely different person than I was two years ago,” she says. “I’m writing about concepts that I never thought I would talk about.”
Still, perfectionism is hard to shake. It’s what drives the 20 audio mixes she’ll make before releasing a single, or the 60-plus unheard songs she’s written so far this year. But it’s also what generates confidence in her craft.
“I’ve never fallen into something with my heart as much,” she says of her new material. “At the end of the day, I would much rather take a risk and feel embarrassed by it, or have people judge me, than not do it at all.”
“Greedy” releases on all streaming platforms on September 15, 2023. You can pre-save the track here.
For more on Tate’s creative process, musical upbringing, and future plans, read below.
V MAGAZINE: What was the moment when you realized your music was going to be bigger than just a hobby? That it could become something that would stand alone from your dancing?
TATE MCRAE: I was definitely a perfectionist when I was younger. In my head, it was very black and white to me: If I put in hours of training and if I worked super hard, I saw a result. And that was super satisfying to me when I was a dancer. I became a psycho-analyzer of myself as a dancer. It was really interesting because that perfectionist side of me was the dancer, and that was me on the outside. It wasn’t until middle school that writing became a huge fallback for me. I was wanting to be perfect in so many ways and writing was the only way that I could tell the truth. When I started posting YouTube videos and realizing the other people felt the same way as me, it started to explode a bit online. That’s where I realized that I could have two sides of me, two sides of Tate, where I can be a performer and feel like I’m putting on a show–and then I could also break down and feel like I’m talking about everything that’s going on within my brain at the same time.
V: Do you feel like that perfectionism has followed you from dance training into music?
TM: For sure, I’m definitely my hardest critic. Even this year, I wrote around 60 or 70 songs. I want to be in the studio every single day and write so many songs, but then there’s only five that I relatively like. My friends will be like, “Dude, you’re so hard on yourself.” It’s definitely something that followed me as a dancer. It’s just that type of sport, looking at yourself in the mirror every single day and everything needs to look flawless. That’s a really strange psychological thing that I obviously have been trying to work on as I’m getting older.
V: With these upcoming releases, what are some things you hope your listeners learn about you?
TM: My fans have kind of grown up with me. They’ve seen a really sensitive side of me, a really competitive side of me. Just recently, as I just went on my first ever tour, I was like, “Oh my god, I have an alter ego.” When I get on stage, I’m a totally different person than when I’m at home. I feel like I’m such an introvert, and then as soon as I get on stage I want to talk to every single person in the room and I never want to leave. I feel like I’ve been tapping into a bit of that in this album, my alter egos and feeling other sides of my personality that my fans honestly don’t know about me. I’m getting to the age where there’s a whole other side of my personality that they aren’t even aware of, and I’m excited for them to see that.
V: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to break into the music industry right now?
TM: At the end of the day, I would much rather take a risk and feel embarrassed by it, or have people judge me than not do it at all. For anyone, one of the biggest battles is feeling as though what you’re doing is embarrassing, or cringy. I think that’s the biggest obstacle a person can have is not putting themselves out there and not following what they’re passionate about because they’re afraid of how people are going to view them. I’ve done the most embarrassing things, I’ve put out the most embarrassing songs ever. I’ve posted so many things I’ll probably look back at and be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s not who I am at all.” But I wouldn’t be in the spot that I am now if I hadn’t taken those risks and honestly not given a fuck. I think that’s what people do, they get too embarrassed and they get too scared. I think if you love something, put yourself out there and commit to it. You’ll never know where it takes you.
Tate’s ‘Are We Flying’ North American tour kicks off next week. To buy tickets click here.
Sept. 5 – Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL
Sept. 6 – The Fillmore Minneapolis, Minneapolis, MN
Sept. 8 – The Fillmore Detroit, Detroit, MI
Sept. 10 – MTELUS, Montreal, QC
Sept. 12 – HISTORY, Toronto, ON
Sept. 14 – The Fillmore Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Sept. 16 – Citizens House of Blues, Boston, MA
Sept. 18 – The Fillmore Silver Spring, Silver Spring, MD
Sept. 20 – The Rooftop at Pier 17, New York, NY
Sept. 23 – Marathon Music Works, Nashville, TN
Sept. 25 – Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA
Sept. 27 – House of Blues, Dallas, TX
Sept. 29 – Bayou Music Center, Houston, TX
Sept. 30 – ACL Live, Moody Theater, Austin, TX
Oct. 2 – Summit, Denver, CO
Oct. 4 – Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles, CA
Oct. 7 – The Van Buren, Phoenix, AZ
Oct. 9 – The Masonic, San Francisco, CA
Oct. 11 – McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR
Oct. 13 – Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA
Photography Dennis Leupold
Fashion Matthew Mazur
Makeup Lilly Keys (A-Frame)
Hair Clayton Hawkins (The Visionaries)
Production Vanessa Vossen (Art Department)
Digital Technician Kevin Leupold
Editorial Direction & Casting Czar Van Gaal
Editor Kala Herh
Photo assistant Marco Bravo, Allison Lopez
Stylist assistant Nia Shambourger
Makeup assistant Elaina Karras
Hair assistants Sydney Staehle
Retouching Venus PP
Location Dust Studios