Between Billie Eilish And Olivia Rodrigo, There Was Tate McRae
Tate McRae is already famous among teens and their parents; now she’s aiming for everyone in between.
In one sense, the 17-year-old Calgary native is in the process of breaking through, as “You Broke Me First,” her biggest hit to date, infiltrates American radio and rapidly ascends the Hot 100. In another sense, by storming to third place on So You Think You Can Dance five years ago, McRae permeated an out-of-touch old folks bubble even the biggest modern pop stars often cannot manage. It may be hard to believe, but despite five #1 hits over the past half-decade or so, there are grownups who had never heard of the Weeknd before his Super Bowl gig yesterday. I can anecdotally confirm this because I spoke to some of them at an informal virtual gathering of friends Saturday. And not just Boomers! Borderline Gen X-ers and old Millennials as well! There are people out there who just simply aren’t paying attention to pop music. McRae, who spent her entire childhood training to be a pro dancer, made herself known to a subset of them with her So You Think You Can Dance run and an assortment of related TV appearances on shows like Ellen.
McRae then set about winning over her peers by posting content to YouTube, including a recurring vlog segment called Create With Tate. In 2017, she debuted a song called “One Day” in one of these clips. It began with your usual YouTuber banter — “What’s up guys, it’s Tate,” followed by some expository talk about how she whipped up the song in an hour the previous night — and then launched into a performance of a precocious lovelorn piano ballad. The song is solid work for a 14-year-old, boasting a strong topline melody and lyrics that stick with you, even if they feel a bit juvenile: “Oh, it’s impossible to get you off my mind/ I think about 100 thoughts, and you are 99.” By 2019, the YouTube clip had gone viral (35 million views and counting) and McRae had signed a recording contract with RCA, who released her debut EP in early 2020.
All The Things I Never Said slid into that post-Lorde, post-Billie Eilish lane that’s been flourishing lately, especially with the release of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License.” All five tracks on the EP are minor-key slow jams of a sort, be it trap-informed “All My Friends Are Fake” or the minimal keyboard ballad “That Way.” One song, “Tear Myself Apart,” was actually written by Eilish and her brother/producer Finneas, and it features their signature blend of swooning melodrama and edgy electronic production, with a slightly sweeter and poppier chorus than they’d probably put on an Eilish record. The finger-plucked guitar mirage “Happy Face” presents the strange spectacle of longtime Weeknd collaborator Doc McKinney producing a track with such exquisitely PG-rated teenage lyrics as, “I know I know you better than your parents/ I heard about ’em, you don’t gotta be embarrassed.”
But she was smart to lead off with “Stupid,” the project’s most surefire single. It’s all fairly boilerplate — the spindly guitars, the ominous synth swells, the rapid-fire Halsey-esque verse melody — and the lyrics are merely passable: “Oh my god, I’m a fool/ Keep on coming back to you/ I’m so stupid for you.” Sampling a Bebe Rexha song that itself sampled Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch,” it’s sort of a Russian nesting doll situation. Yet the song has a winsome propulsion to it, and when that chorus hits, it hits.
In the past year, McRae has continued to kick out new songs and videos at an impressive clip. She’s dropped six more singles since the EP’s release last January, including the hard-hitting, EDM-infused banger “Vicious” with Lil Mosey and “Lie To Me,” another bit of darkly quavering Eilish-core alongside Iraqi–Canadian singer Ali Gatie. The first of them, last April’s “You Broke Me First,” has kept building and building all the while. After spending most of 2020 picking up steam via TikTok circulation and performances at various MTV awards shows, the track has surged to the top 10 at pop radio and is rapidly ascending the Hot 100. (It’s at #27 and rising.) Even more so than “One Day,” it’s cementing its place as McRae’s breakthrough hit, and deservedly so.
Written with Victoria Zaro and producer Blake Harnage, “You Broke Me First” once again pulls inspiration from the likes of Lorde, Eilish, and Halsey, but it’s the first McRae single that feels like it belongs in those artists’ company. Like those artists’ early work, the song pulls from teenage experience without playing into outmoded teeny-bopper sounds. With a few more years of lived-in darkness and accumulated quirk, it could almost pass for Purity Ring, or at least one of the many fame-seeking clones that sprung up in their wake.
As it stands, the song does outsized teenage melodrama more stylishly than “Drivers License,” albeit without a tabloid-friendly teen-star love-triangle backstory to fuel public interest. With gargantuan synth bass, crisply dramatic less-is-more drum programming, and a brightly expressive, digitally charred vocal performance, “You Broke Me First” successfully envelops you in McRae’s adolescent despair while never ceasing to sound like a full-fledged pop song. “Now suddenly you’re asking for it back/ Could you tell me, where’d you get the nerve?” she emotes on the chorus. “Yeah, you could say you miss all that we had/ But I don’t really care how bad it hurts/ When you broke me first.” Sonically speaking, this thing is a tidal wave; it’s beginning to follow suit in terms of commercial impact, with no apparent crest in sight.
With the ascent of “You Broke Me First,” McRae has entered the realm of Fallon performances, Billboard features, and Forbes 30 Under 30 lists. Given her clear abilities as a singer and songwriter and her long-honed skills as a dancer, she seems positioned to blow up big time now that she has a foothold on the pop charts — not bad for someone who is still studying for high school exams in between homebound recording sessions and video shoots, who has been essentially running her career from her bedroom due to the pandemic. She seems like a missing link of sorts between Eilish and Rodrigo in this sound’s mainstream dissemination; her songs are a few degrees more saccharine than “Bad Guy” yet not nearly as hokey as they could be. I’m excited to see where her music grows as she ages into adulthood and potentially taps into a wider, weirder slate of influences. And if the pop star thing doesn’t work out, I guess there’s always reality TV?
Morgan Wallen suffered intense career repercussions last week when a neighbor leaked footage of the country star using a racial slur. Yet despite disappearing from radio and losing his choice placement on streaming platforms, his Dangerous: The Double Album remains the #1 album in America for a fourth straight week — the first country album to spend its first four weeks atop the chart since Shania Twain’s Up! in 2003. Per Billboard, Wallen’s streaming figures remain more or less unmoved, and his sales have actually surged since the incident. Make of that what you will! The 30-song Dangerous put up 149,000 equivalent album units and 25,000 in sales; the latter figure represents a more than 100% increase over last week. The rest of the top 10 includes Lil Durk, Pop Smoke, the Weeknd, Juice WRLD, Luke Combs, Taylor Swift, Lil Baby, Ariana Grande, and Megan Thee Stallion.
Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” likewise spends a fourth straight week atop the Hot 100. It’s followed by former #1 hits “Mood” by 24kGoldn and Iann Dior at #2 and “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd at #3. The latter extends its records for most weeks in the top five (39) and top 10 (48), and don’t be surprised if it jumps back to #1 next week on the heels of his Super Bowl performance. Holding steady at #4, #5, #6, and #7 respectively are Ariana Grande’s “34+35,” Dua Lipa and DaBaby’s “Levitating,” Chris Brown and Young Thug’s “Go Crazy,” and Grande’s “Positions.” The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” rises to a new #8 peak, becoming his 12th top-10 hit. Justin Bieber and Chance The Rapper’s “Holy” slides to #9, and CJ’s “Whoopty” climbs to a new #10 high point — his first visit to the top 10.
Cardi B – “Up”
Don’t take for granted the way Cardi B and her team can make hardass rap music like this feel like pop.
Martin Garrix – “Pressure” (Feat. Tove Lo)
Some good no-bullshit dance-pop here: a commanding yet uncharacteristically understated performance from Tove Lo, and Garrix’s beat is like having your own personal earthquake that follows underneath you like Olaf’s flurry at the end of Frozen.
Sam Fischer & Demi Lovato – “What Other People Say”
Demi can still wail like a proper gospel-inflected diva, but these lyrics are a bit pedestrian, no?
Daya – “Bad Girl”
Been waiting a minute for Daya (best known for the Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down”) to have a legit hit again, and this sleek, catchy electro-pop track could conceivably be it.
G-Eazy – “Provide” (Feat. Chris Brown & Mark Morrison)
Not really how you prefer to see the Mack return.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Dua Lipa will release a new song, “We’re Good,” next week. [Twitter]
- Drake starred in a State Farm ad during the Super Bowl [Twitter]
- Avril Lavigne collaborator Mod Sun got an “Avril” tattoo on his neck, fueling speculation that the two singers are dating. [TMZ]
- Olivia Rodrigo gave “Drivers License” its TV debut on Fallon. [YouTube]
- Morgan Wallen has been barred from 2021 ACM Awards eligibility in the wake of last week’s video that caught the country star using a raciar slur. [EW]
- Ariana Grande earned her 20th Guinness World Record, for most songs to debut at #1 (“Positions” was her fifth to do so). [USA Today]
- Grande also teased a deluxe edition of Positions with four new bonus tracks. [Twitter]
- The Weeknd has rescheduled his After Hours Tour for 2022. [The Weeknd]
- Country star Mickey Guyton performed “Black Like Me” in her late-night TV debut on Colbert. [YouTube]
- Cops shut down Maluma’s meet-and-greet in Miami because it wasn’t COVID-safe. [TMZ]
- Bebe Rexha denied rumors she died of a drug overdose. [Complex]
- Utah’s fantasy-themed amusement park Evermore is suing Taylor Swift for copyright infringement. [KUTV]
- Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby released a video for “Cry Baby.” [YouTube]
- Ashnikko made her TV debut on Kimmel with “Daisy.” [YouTube]