There is an undeniable charm and a certain uniqueness to 16-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter Tate McRae.
Sitting and chatting with the talented singer, songwriter, and dancer feels just like you’re hanging out with a younger sibling who you’d fight tooth and nail for, but she’s already preparing to take over the world so you don’t need to worry. Her mother is the first to say that even though she’s tagging along for the ride, Tate is the one in charge; she’s sharp, knows her craft, and is in charge of the direction of her career. No creative decisions are made without her knowledge, something that McRae is quite proud of. It makes sense given the singer’s origin story; Tate was discovered in a similar way to her Canadian counterparts, Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes, and that is by going viral through a video on YouTube. Each week, McRae would write, record, and upload an original song. Her song ‘One Day’ caught fire and record label RCA noticed.
Almost three years since McRae uploaded that video and 32 million views later, Tate has finally dropped what fans have been waiting for: her debut EP. The EP titled all the things i never said is an exploration into one of pop’s newest bright singers, but it’s also an insight into the mind of a teenage girl who is just trying to figure out who she is and what she’s feeling. Currently, McRae’s debut EP all the things i never said is at 53 million streams on Spotify since dropping less than a month ago. It’s something that is still a bit mind-blowing to the humble 16-year-old.
Although her self-penned bio on YouTube reads that she’s ‘not really understood’, Tate’s fans think otherwise; her gigs are full of fans giddy and excited at the thought of seeing the girl who wrote the songs that make them feel seen and understood. They sing all of the words (sometimes louder than Tate herself), prepare for post-gig selfies with their friends, and share personal stories with the singer. It’s the fans that propelled McRae into stardom and she loves spending time with them when she can.
The morning after the last date of her first-ever headlining tour, 1883 caught up with the Canadian sensation to talk about her debut EP all the things i never said, what it was like to have her entire tour sell out, and how she feels about being the new face of Canadian music.
Your debut EP, all the things I never said, was just released. As a new artist, what does this collection of songs represent to you?
This first EP is very much an introduction of myself. It’s somewhat of a fresh start with RCA; it’s the first time I’m putting out music that is produced and a full story and a whole picture of who I am in the current moment. It’s pretty cool because I feel all my songs right now that I have on YouTube are so random; this is the first time I’m able to release work that I put a lot of time and thought into. It feels like the start of a new vision.
Does it feel you’re somewhat starting a new chapter? Would you say the EP has a thread that connects each song?
Sort of! [Laughs] It represents the last year of my life. I have 35 songs I’ve written in the past year, and this was the strongest batch. They all had the best transition from my songs on YouTube.
Why do you think the songs are resonating so much with listeners?
I’d probably say these songs are super personal to me and they are super personal stories; I feel like all my lyrics are really honest and I think that’s the only way that we’re going to connect if something is actually authentic to yourself. Otherwise, it’s just random words put into a melody and it doesn’t really make sense to me and people will eventually be able to tell they aren’t real, personal stories. Other than that, I feel all my songs have a very distinct story; I can take all my songs and literally explain them each by each, letter by letter, and be able to tell exactly how I was feeling at that moment.
Something I love about your beginnings in music is how you got started, which was just posting original videos each week onto YouTube. How did you get into songwriting? Was it just something that you stumbled upon?
Yeah, I’ve always kind of loved poetry and writing in school, but I’ve always just been the kid who never shuts up!
That’s exactly what your mom said twenty minutes ago!
[Laughs] Of course she said that! Since I was 2, I’ve never stopped talking. I was one of those kids who started talking at a really abnormally young age, so my mom was like ‘Gosh, she never stops talking!’ I just always had stories to tell and I had the biggest imagination ever. I’ve always had things to say, but then I just ended up singing them instead. I started singing and writing songs that never made much sense. Then about three years ago, since I was older, I started to put the pieces together and finally create structured songs because before that they were just my random thoughts and feelings.
So you’ve never been trained in songwriting or anything?
Well, Tate, what is it like being that talented?
Aw, stop! [laughs]
35 songs is an incredible feat and you’ve had so many hits on YouTube already! How do you think YouTube and social media have helped amplify your voice?
The industry is so crazy now because it’s changed so much in the last 20 years. It really used to be record labels could only find you if they literally saw you in person in your life. Now, with social media and the internet, it’s a different situation; they’re scouring through the Internet for hours upon hours every day. I don’t even know what catches fire or what doesn’t, it’s just rapid content people are putting out and seeing what does well. Without it, I don’t think I would have any platform whatsoever. I mean, I was found by releasing one original song! What are the chances I put out a random song, it does well, and it becomes the start of something for me. It’s just so random how much social media can actually affect exposure. I think some people don’t actually understand how much of an important factor it plays nowadays.
As a fellow Canadian, how does it feel to be joining the ranks of Drake, Shawn Mendes, and other Canadian artists making it big in music? How do you feel about being the new face for Canadian music?
Oh, jeez! [Laughs] That’s a lot of pressure but it means a lot, thank you! I love being Canadian, I’m such a fan of so many Canadian artists, so it’s super cool to even be put in that mix. To think that people who listen to my music online and they can be like, ‘Wow that’s an amazing Canadian artist!’ and being recognized as one is super cool. I strongly feel it’s important to be proud about coming from your country and be able to know that Justin Bieber did the exact same thing, Shawn Mendes did the exact same thing, you know? I’m such a big fan of Drake and Jessie Reyez, too. To know there are so many good Canadian artists out in the music industry now is really great.
You also hit over 7 million monthly listeners on Spotify!
How does that feel?
So weird. I only just hit 5 mils only a week ago! I remember we all were freaking out in December when I was doing this shoot because I hit 2 million. I didn’t even check for such a long time, my band members Carter [Vaughan] and Zach [DeGaetano] posted it and I flipped and screamed. It’s surreal to think about it.
When do you think you’ll hit 10 million? Next month?
Oh my god, don’t say that! [Laughs] I don’t even know the pace because Spotify is so random. Those monthly listeners could go from 7 million to two in one day.
Let’s not say that, Tate! Knock on wood. [laughs]
[Laughs] I’m just saying the facts! You never know! It’s not like it’s followers where it’s a certain number and it basically stays there. It’s just really random.
You’re going to be releasing more and more stuff though, so it’ll go up!
Yeah, I have a lot of music coming out soon so hopefully, it’ll sustain itself for now! Knock on wood.
Your song ‘tear myself apart’ was co-written with Billie Eilish. What was it like working with her?
I didn’t actually write the song; it’s the first song I’ve ever released that I didn’t write. It was written by Billie, FINNEAS, and Eric Palmquist. They sent it over and said they wanted me to see the song. Immediately I was obsessed with it. I put my own twist on it, and they really liked it. I’m such a big fan of all of them.
Your first headline tour just ended in London 5th February.
As a rising artist, how does it feel not only starting your first headlining tour ever, but also completely selling it out? I know the second part is almost all sold out too!
It’s so weird. Honestly did not think that anyone was going to show up. I remember asking why we were doing a tour to my managers right before the tickets went on sale. I was like, you realize no one is going to buy tickets right? They were literally like, ‘you have people that are listening to your music!’ I promise you, I did not think people were going to show up. Then, the first day, all of Europe sold out.
Wow, that’s crazy.
I just remember thinking how insane it was.
Especially for Europe to sell out, too. Typically artists need to build a huge audience in North America first and in their own cities before they venture to another country.
Exactly. It’s so weird. I honestly did not expect anyone to come so it was such a shock when it actually sold out.
The London show was packed. I was in the back completely smothered by other people.
And that was one of the more emptiest shows, too!
Toronto was packed, too. I heard Amsterdam was crazy.
Amsterdam was insanity. It was crazy. The minute I came out, they were chanting. I came out at the end and I got literally tackled. It was like the first crazy fan experience.
Now you’ve had one, it can only go uphill from here.
You bet! [laughs]
One of my favorite moments of the show is when you sing ‘One Day’, the song that started it all, and the fans start singing it before you even started.
They are my choir!
I love it. Does it feel strange to have people singing your songs back to you or is it now kind of something that you’ve just embraced?
It’s so sick. It’s the best feeling ever knowing that people know every one of your songs. People were singing along to some of my new ones before they were even officially out! They were finding them on YouTube and learning them before the show.
Tate McRae fans are dedicated.
It’s amazing, they are amazing. To know they care that much to the point where they want to know every single one is hard to describe. The energy you get from them, staring up at you, is such a weird feeling you could never explain. Being on stage and knowing they are right there, full support, is something I never thought I would experience.
You mention the fans and their dedication. I noticed at the Toronto show you spent a lot of time afterwards meeting and talking to them and it reminded me of when I met Taylor Swift when I was 16 and the amount of time she spent with me. Why do you think it’s important to build that personal relationship and spend that time with them?
I love meeting them. They’re the coolest fans ever, and I’m not even lying. Every time I meet them I’m like, damn I would be your friend. You know, there are people you meet and you see how normal they are and it’s easy to connect with them. It’s weird to think people might come up to you and start shaking and crying and be like, I can’t believe you’re real. That’s confusing because I don’t want them to think of me as someone who might be like that, you know?
Especially as somebody that posts so much original content, I feel like we’re really getting an insight into just regular Tate.
Exactly, people know so much about me because I literally put my entire life online, so!
You’re also a really talented dancer. How has it been kind of blending those two forms of art?
It’s kind of been hard so far because it’s the beginning stages of the process, but RCA has been amazing with it. In videos and stuff, I’m slowly building up to more and more dancing. I just released a video and there’s lots of dancing. I have all of these dancers who are insane and they are some of the best dancers right now, and they are some of my best friends. It’s been cool to translate it to my own music and be able to dance to my own lyrics and bring it to life.
Besides music and dance, what are your other hobbies? I feel like you’re very busy.
I am! I go to school… but I guess that’s not a hobby. [laughs]
Hard to be a hobby when you’re kind of forced to go.
[Laughs] I know! I hang out with my friends, I go eat, and I watch Disney+.
What are you watching?
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series! I love it!
It’s so good.
So good! I mean, there’s not much time; I still train 20 hours a week in dance, then I have my calls, and I travel. I make time to write music, too. There’s not much time for other things, so I suck at every other thing I do. [Laughs] I’m either good at things or terrible, there’s no in-between. But I think I’m doing okay at music!
Last question: what else is coming up for you in 2020?
Creating the second EP as we speak, and that’ll be released in a month.
It’s crazy. The first single of that EP will come out in a month or so and then the full EP after that. Besides that, there’s the second half of the tour in America, some summer performances, school is in there somewhere, too!
interview by Kelsey Barnes
Listen to Tate McRae’s all the things i never said below.