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McRae is celebrating the release of the new LinkBuds S and WH-1000XM5 headphones with Sony Electronics, who recently hosted an exclusive, in-flight listening session for her upcoming album, I Used to Think I Could Fly. The new audio lineup might just give the AirPod Max a run for their money, which promises more spatial, immersive sound quality, and updated processors that take a swing at enhancing the already industry-standard noise-cancellation. And McRae would know — she’s had them on since coming back from hitting the road on her world tour.
But it wasn’t always like this. The artist’s first hit single “you broke me first” rose up in the charts after a viral run on TikTok in the middle of lockdown during 2020, with a DIY music video she filmed herself. Now, though, she’s blocking out the noise and bumping Gracie Adams or One Direction while jetting off on the next leg of her tour. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride transitioning from being a certified pandemic artist to performing in front of thousands of fans, but McRae’s fans keep her humble (as well as a healthy reality check while scrolling through Instagram).
Tate McRae talked to Rolling Stone about imposter syndrome, the universality of heartbreak songs, and how social media can accelerate the process of self-reflection.
A lot of vocalists tend to be self-proclaimed audiophiles — what’s special about this partnership, and what do you think the LinkBuds S bring out in your music?
One of the things about a really bad pair of headphones is that you feel super disconnected from the music. I like to compare it to being able to pick up on everyone and everything outside of you, like you have no privacy. And first off, these are super noise-canceling. So they kind of block you off in the world. I usually like to listen with [the LinkBuds S] on planes or in cars, just when there’s a lot of noise around me. That combined with the surround sound makes you really feel like you’re in tune with the artist.
You’ve come such a long way since your YouTube channel “Create with Tate”. Do you think that there are any similarities for creating content for the small screen, such as YouTube, versus planning such a massive tour such as the one you just finished?
Totally. I think being one-on-one with fans is, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters. You think that when you go on tour that you’ll lose connection with the people who were there from the start. But it’s the total opposite — the people that are really in the front row, who are screaming all your lyrics, are the ones who were there from day one. That’s what I’ve been realizing is so special. I’ll ask people, ‘how long have you known me?’. And they’re like, ‘we’ve been following you since you were 12 years old’, which is crazy. So they’re all growing up with me, and it’s a very personal experience. At one point I’ll start singing and I’ll look up and everyone’s holding up this huge banners with things like ‘we knew one day you’d make it’ and ‘we’re always here for you’. And like, ‘you saved us’. Which was really unbelievable.
I know you recently joked on Instagram that you were waiting to drop your latest album so that you could listen to Harry Styles’ first. So how does it feel going from being a fan of artists like Shawn Mendes and Billie Eilish, to working with them or supporting them in their music?
It feels very unreal. I think sometimes I don’t even process that. That I’m an artist myself. I think it’s mostly because the majority of my career has been through a pandemic, right? Where none of it felt real to me. All of it was online, so I couldn’t even process the fact that I was an actual artist that people were listening to. Yeah, obviously it’s now clicked since I’ve been on tour a bit more and I feel like I’m actually doing something, but I don’t even know how Billie and Shawn know my music. Especially since I was a little girl and listening to them. It’s so, so crazy that they even know my name.
What was so challenging about coming into prominence during a pandemic?
It was so strange, because I have really bad imposter syndrome whenever I walk into a room. So I genuinely just don’t believe that anything that I’ve seen on the Internet or numbers or music is real until it’s real. Even when I did my first festival, Lollapalooza, the first time I saw people singing back my songs, I was genuinely so taken aback because I’m like, ‘this couldn’t have happened over the last two years.’ I think like even my first time singing You Broke Me First, I was like, how the hell did this song go global, right? What? Till now? Wow. I didn’t even realize the impact until now. And that’s kind of what’s been happening on tour. It all just feels like a fever dream.
It’s interesting that you mention You Hurt Me First as a viral hit. To what extent do you think TikTok has the power to democratize music, or at least help out the rise of new artists?
I think it’s a blessing and a curse. I mean, social media just is, right? It’s insane because just like YouTube was for me, you can write a song, put it out there the next day, and have millions of views. That’s the craziness of it, the morality of TikTok. You can literally go viral in one second. That’s always my biggest advice for young kids is don’t be embarrassed to just put yourself out there, because you can do it now. Everyone can do it, and everyone gets the same platform.
You’re right, it’s so much easier now to go viral now than ever, but it still takes so much work. I know your background is specifically in dance and choreography, along with music. How much does your experience with choreography still influence your work?
Whenever I’m dancing, that’s when I feel 1,000% like myself. I think it contributes the most on tour because I usually dance for my entire show. I have two dancers on stage, and we basically put on a full show, dancing-wise. It’s crazy because I have this full on alter ego on stage when I’m dancing, and I just feel like 100% sitting in my pocket. I’m an artist, and if I wasn’t dancing, I would feel a little out of place. Sometimes singing scares the hell out of me.
Really? How so?
Yeah, because I would think of myself as I write songs, and then my voice is just like an instrument to support the writing. That’s how I see it, other than me being a vocalist.
When I was listening to your set, you mentioned that one of your songs was dedicated to a guy you knew in Grade 10. What do you think is so universal about your songs that transcend both age and experience?
No matter the age, all of these feelings of heartbreak are so universal. I don’t think you can put an age on music. That’s also why you want to go into the studio and create something timeless. Because I’m not trying to sing towards my 14-year-old self, or towards a 50-year-old, I’m trying to just write about real shit that’s happening to me in the moment and hope it resonates. People don’t realize how similar people are. Everyone is like, ‘oh, I didn’t know to feel this.’ Then you hear a song and think, ‘oh, that’s exactly what I went through’. No matter how old you are, how young you are, people have gone through all of these situations so many times before.
So what do you think might be the focus of your next album? Because I Used to Think I Could Fly is very centered around coming to terms with yourself, your love life, and how you relate to other people when you’re growing up.
I’ve been like thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve been sitting on these songs for so long, and now all of these songs the world hasn’t even heard yet are so old to me, really. It’s crazy how much you can change as a person, especially when you’re like, 16, 17? I listen to songs that I wrote six months ago, and I was a totally different person. Now I feel like I’m in a space I’m a little less lost in who I am as a person. When I just turned 18, I was like, ‘who the fuck am I? Oh, my god’. And I wrote a whole album based on me saying, ‘well, who the fuck am I?’. Now I have a bit more of an idea of who I am, so the next album will probably have some more consistent sounds.
You said that social media before is both a blessing and a curse. Do you think that has anything to do with accelerating this sense of self-reflection?
Honestly? Social media has accelerated my growth since I was, like, 12 years old. It forces you to micro-judge yourself on so many different levels. You don’t just look at yourself and accept who you are now. You think about every other person on the Internet looking at you, which can totally affect what you think you like. Sometimes I’ll look at someone’s post and think ‘oh, I love that!’, because they love that. And then I’m like, ‘I actually don’t. What am I saying?’. That’s where you need to try to just live your life without the influence of others, which is why so many people unfollow everyone and try to just focus on themselves.