Also, Leonardo DiCaprio.
In Elite Daily's series Buffering…, musicians reflect on the songs and albums that left a lasting impression on them in their formative teen years. Here, singer and dancer Tate McRae shares the best of mid-2010s pop music.
Tate McRae has a very specific barometer for good music. “I just genuinely love when I'm listening to a song and, like, the car shakes or the stage rattles,” she tells Elite Daily. One of the first artists to pass her car test? That’d be Post Malone with his 2016 debut album, Stoney. “This was one of the first albums that I actually took the time to put on in the car, and I obviously fell in love with him,” she says.
Tate was just 13 upon Stoney’s release, and the rapper’s influences are interspersed throughout much of modern pop, including Tate’s critically acclaimed debut record, i used to think i could fly, which dropped in May. Like Post, her raspy voice yearns and shines over hazy trap beats on the standout tracks “i’m so gone” and “go away.” It’s a record that finds universal appeal in sweeping production and lyrical specificity and debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard 200. All this has established Tate as a Top 40 harbinger of modern teendom alongside Olivia Rodrigo and The Kid LAROI.
Also like Rodrigo, Tate is a lowercase pop star, exploring diaristic and therapeutic themes in her songs. She got her big break in 2020 when her ubiquitous song about teenage heartache, “you broke me first,” became a TikTok, Spotify, and radio hit. You know the song. It was everywhere on TikTok for a few months and garnered her a Top 20 placement on the Billboard Hot 100.
Tate is no one-hit-wonder, as her 26 million monthly listeners on Spotify make clear. i used to think i could fly is a layered, uncanny valley exploration of first loves and self-esteem. This is crystallized in her album cover, which depicts her standing on top of a burning plane about to crash into idyllic suburbia. She wanted an intense, panoramic vibe for the record and found it in a movie older than she is, of all places: Catch Me If You Can. The film came out in December 2002, about six months before she was born.
“I would definitely want Leonardo DiCaprio to act in it if I was doing a movie,” she says, laughing. “[Catch Me If You Can] has so much movement, depth, and so many different storylines but also so many different parts of [Leo’s] personality.”
Tate explores many aspects of her personality on the record, including her theatricality. Or, in the words of a recovering teen pop star, her melodrama. As she makes clear in the song “chaotic,” growing up is all about constantly oscillating between big and small feelings.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Tate joins Rodrigo, Conan Gray, and many fellow Gen Z pop stars in citing Taylor Swift as a lyrical guide. “If I listened to her music, I would feel inspired to write a song,” Tate says before rattling off her favorite Taylor songs. Of course, “All Too Well” makes the cut; however, her favorites all come from the Fearless era. She thinks “You Belong With Me,” “Love Story,” and “Mr. Perfectly Fine” are “golden songs,” and that’s called taste.
Have the two pop stars had a chance to meet? “No, I wish,” Tate says. “I love her.”
Taylor released Fearless at 18, which is the same age Tate dropped i used to think i could fly. Both albums see the singers grappling with teenage relationships and insecurity. Like Taylor, Tate also turns to music to help make sense of her emotions. It’s only when Tate is feeling calling your therapist-level feelings that she’s compelled to write. It’s been like this since she was 13.
At the time in 2016, she competed as a trained dancer on Season 13 of So You Think You Can Dance, where she finished third. She found herself in need of another creative outlet and turned to poetry; Music wasn’t even on her mind. “I had a really hard time putting my feelings into words, so I felt like the only thing I could do was write,” she says. After her grandpa bought her a piano, Tate soon realized she could transfer her poems into songs. So she started by teaching herself how to play piano and sing technically. Over time, her poetry came to lyrical life. “I never thought of myself as a vocalist,” she says. “It was more of just, ‘Oh wow, I can feel things when I sing these songs.’"
Her music, and with it her feelings about being a teen, are resonating with audiences. She just finished a tour in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Next, she’ll spend much of September and October opening for Shawn Mendes on the North American leg of his Wonder world tour.
Playing arenas isn’t a skill one can learn ahead of time, so Tate has taken on an alter ego when she’s performing live: Tatiana. Tate is an introvert, while Tatiana is “uber-confident.”
“I feel like I black out on stage,” she says. “Sometimes I'll be like, ‘What the f*ck is up Boston?’ And I'm like, ‘When would I ever walk into a room and say that?’ Only when I'm on stage.”
This leads Tate back to airplanes. Jetting across the globe means she’s cultivated an in-flight playlist, called “Ouch,” and it perfectly sums up her varied musical influences: Billie Eilish, Daniel Caesar, Rex Orange County, The 1975, and Jeremy Zucker. There are also a few rappers interspersed into the mix, such as Juice WRLD and NF. “My music taste is all over the place,” she says, laughing, “This sounds like chaos to me.”
With the record now out, her songs may now be on other people’s in-flight playlists. In fact, Tate may have gotten her album title wrong, at least when it comes to her career. If i used to think i could fly is any indication, her career isn’t just flying. It’s soaring.