Tate McRae’s ‘You Broke Me First,’ a tender break-up ballad inspired by the styles of Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey, was one of the rare few breakout hits of 2020. Racking up over 400 million streams on Spotify alone it saw her go viral on TikTok, and became Tate’s first top 5 single in the UK.
With a new single, ‘r u okay?’ already released and a second EP on the way, it must be an interesting time to be Tate McRae: you’ve successfully cultivated a fan-base of 22 million monthly Spotify listeners and over two million followers on TikTok, but you can’t legally drink.
Included in this year’s coveted NME 100, 100 essential emerging artists for 2021, the 17-year-old Canadian pop upstart joins the ranks of some of music’s most exciting new voices, including fellow Gen Z newcomers Conan Gray and Griff (both NME 100 alumni from last year).
We sat down with the streaming smash to discuss her upcoming EP, the pressure of following up a huge hit and how Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ will inspire her debut album. Here’s what we learned.
New single ‘r u okay?’ represents a change in perspective inspired by quarantine
Tate describes the sassy ‘r u okay?’ as representing a “totally different perspective” to ‘You Broke Me First’, a change in pace having been dictated by living in lockdown. Formed around an ear-worm ukulele hook, it sees an ex trying to weasel his way back into Tate’s life now she’s thriving after a messy breakup, with Tate asking with an eye-roll: you OK, hun?
“I’ve been trying to write songs from totally different perspectives just because there’s not much to grab from at this time,” Tate explains. “I’m not seeing people, I’m not getting involved in any drama in my life, so I think it’s honestly just playing from a different character and seeing how other people would react. ‘r u okay?’ is super cheeky and there are a lot of people who deal with relationships like that!”
The tracklist of her second EP has been “constantly changing” for months
Tate says the outlook of her upcoming second EP is one of change, encompassing her growth from 16 to 17, a jump that can feel exponential even when you’re not a pop star.
“I look back at [the first EP] and feel like a completely different person… Sometimes when I look back on things that I did a year ago, it feels like six years ago” she admits.
Tate’s currently undecided as to which songs will appear on the EP, though. “Every single month it’s a completely different set of songs!” she says of the track listing, naming collaborators like Charlie Puth hitmaker Jacob Kasher and Canadian singer-songwriter Lowell as those involved in EP’s creation. One thing that is planned though is the next single. Tate remained coy about what it would sound like, but did tease that it’ll be “slow bop”.
TikTok has been integral to her success – but she’s actually quite bad at social media
At the time of writing, Tate McRae has over 2 million followers on TikTok, as well as over 33 million likes on the video-sharing app that is proving to be an essential tool for up-and-coming artists. But, surprisingly, she admits: “I’m bad at doing social media. I don’t feel like I post enough. My content is so random. It is most random shit I’ve ever seen.”
Despite being modest about her current social media output, some of Tate’s earliest success in music came through her YouTube channel, where she racked up millions of views and caught the attention of RCA Records (the label she later signed with). Like the rest of us, though, she sometimes looks back on past videos and cringes.
“I was very obnoxious when I was younger and made some crazy videos [on YouTube], and some of my intros I’m like, ‘Oh god!’ – they’re brutal to watch,” she jokes, but adds it’s nice to be able to look back on the tunes she used to share, explaining: “It’s cool to see the growth in my songs”.
The pressure to follow-up ‘You Broke Me First’ is tough
“It was very interesting,” she says of the ‘You Broke Me First’s’ viral success. “I didn’t even know it was happening because I was in Calgary, like living my best life, you know? Working, doing schoolwork. I hadn’t even noticed what was going on around me!”
But now an even bigger challenge awaits – topping the breakout smash with another hit. It’s a hurdle many have fallen at, and Tate names the pressure “a hard mentality” to live with.
“I put the most pressure on myself,” she says. “I’m so critical and I think that’s a hard mentality to live with. You’re not really satisfied with anything you do.”
Work on a debut album begins this year – and Frank Ocean, Billie Eilish and The Weeknd will influence it
We might not have heard Tate’s upcoming project yet (an as-of-yet untitled second EP), but she’s already got plans to start working on her debut album later this year. For inspiration, Tate’s turned to some modern classics in preparation for her first LP.
“I like to try to analyse structures of different albums and see what kind mine might be similar to,” she explains, naming the labyrinthine structure on Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ as a reference point, as well as Billie Eilish’s debut ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go’ and ‘After Hours’ by The Weeknd.
“The cool thing about ‘Blonde’,” she adds, “is that I don’t think I’ve heard one song that sounds anything the same to him and, you know, the cool part is it kind of just makes you want to push yourself.”
As for a dream collaboration for the new material? Tate says it’s got to be Kid Laroi who’s top of her hit list.
– Tate McRae’s new single ‘r u okay?’ is out now, an EP follows later this year