How Tate McRae Went From Dance Superstar To Music’s Next Big Thing

Despite the pandemic’s persistent pandemonium, Tate McRae was able to turn the trash year of 2020 into a time of professional triumph. After the drop of her debut EP All The Things I Never Said last January, the 17-year-old Calgary native was christened “one to watch” by Uproxx, Rolling Stone, Forbes, and more. Following the release of the melodic “Tear Myself Apart” (written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell), and the Billboard-charting hit “You Broke Me First” (which would become 2020’s fourth most-streamed song by a female artist), she earned an MTV VMA nomination for Push Best New Artist during the summer.

McRae’s appealing, genre-bending approach is only bolstered by a winning combination of engaging lyricism and irrefutable stage presence. Although she became a music sensation seemingly overnight, her entertainment industry takeover is nearly a decade in the making, thanks to an impressive run as a commercially-successful dancer.

“When people say, ‘Oh, she dances,’ it blows my mind because that’s my original thing,” the doe-eyed multihyphenate tells Uproxx over Zoom. “I always used to say ‘I’m a dancer who sings, not a singer who dances.’ That’s how it always went.”

McRae began dancing at the age of six, and despite “hating classes” during that time due to the constriction of her boundless energy, she was able to go from being “a backrow dancer” to a front-and-center star. (“I was super terrible in the beginning,” she laughs before taking a sip of her Starbucks drink.) At age 11, she joined her mother’s company YYC Dance Project and underwent ballet instruction at the School of Alberta Ballet, the home base of the Alberta Dance Company.

Through “training [her] ass off” and learning her history, McRae’s control, awe-inspiring flexibility, and magnetic performance ability quickly developed. She’s not a one-trick pony either, as she’s shown great skill in the contemporary, jazz, and hip-hop dance styles. (Tate’s music videos and performances, choreographed by Michelle Dawley and herself, also feature her versatile moves. The visual for “Stupid” features hip-hop tinged isolations — movements independent from other parts of the body — while her contemporary chops are on full display in “That Way.”)

After taking over Canada’s dance scene, it only made sense for McRae to bring her talents to the United States. She was crowned “Best Female Dancer” at the Dance Awards in New York City, not once or twice, but thrice (2013, 2015, and 2018). In between her training and accolades, she found time to perform on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and on Justin Bieber’s Purpose World Tour. This merely scratches the surface.

In 2016, McRae became the first Canadian finalist on the hit reality series So You Think You Can Dance, working with Emmy Award-winning contemporary choreographer Travis Wall, husband and wife hip-hop duo NappyTabs, and salsa dancer Stephanie Stevenson during her time on the show. She was second-runner up overall, a massive accomplishment given the competitive nature of her season, which featured dancers ages 8 to 13 for the first (and as of now, only) time.

Post-SYTYCD, McRae continued to work on her own choreography by uploading videos to YouTube for a weekly series called “Create With Tate.” After a recording glitch during a late-night dance session in 2017, however, the segment inadvertently kicked off her music career.

“I had it set in my brain that I needed to post [something] because I made this commitment to my supporters, so I locked myself in my room and I wrote,” she says of penning the piano-driven “One Day” that night. McRae has had an interest in poetry and storytelling since she was young, and her interest in songwriting developed around age 14. However, uploading videos of her original work “wasn’t [her] intention.”

“’One Day’ was one of the first songs I wrote that was actually well put together and in the right structure,” she continues. “It was this round-up of emotions, and then an accident for it to even do anything.” By “anything,” she means garnering 35 million YouTube views, a gold certification in Canada, and a deal with RCA Records upon the track’s official release. Call it a modern-day, fairytale-like break into a notoriously-tricky-to-enter field.

These days, McRae is focused on the upcoming release of her second EP, Too Young To Be Sad, slated to drop on March 26. The six-track project features the calm, acoustic “I Wish I Loved You In The 90s,” the sunny, ukulele-assisted “R U Ok,” and “You Broke Me First,” which has over 800 million streams and has been used in over one million TikTok videos.

McRae says her first EP felt like an “intro” into the music world, and that her latest offering is a continuation of her developing style and sonic personality. While she’s got understandable apprehension surrounding the release of Too Young To Be Sad — “You never know how people are going to react,” she explains — she’s hopeful that fans will resonate with the content as she works to grow her artistry.

“The crazy thing is that I’m still trying to find my sound,” she reveals, adding that she doesn’t want to be “labeled” or placed into one genre. “I think there are a million different ways that you can play around, and a different million different artists [to work with] that will shoot you in different directions. But I can’t really define what I do [musically]. I think it changes every month… You can do so many things nowadays.”

What is definite, however, is Tate McRae’s natural affinity as a performer. Her experiences as a poised dance ingenue put her well beyond her years, resulting in her disciplined approach as she transitioned into a full-fledged musician. Though she’s an entertainment industry veteran at this point, she expresses her desire to continue elevating as an artist and creative force.

“I feel like I’m noticing now how much it all kind of pays off,” she grins while discussing how her passions have worked in tandem. “I’m the biggest workhorse, and that’s how dancers are. The dance mentality is working under pressure and working hard.”

“I’ve especially learned a lot about my voice — that has been super crucial for me,” she adds in regard to how her confidence has grown as an artist and person. “I get in my head a lot, and I think it’s because I’m so focused on what I’m doing that I doubt myself. But I’m super proud of everything I’ve done. I’m so happy that everything’s out there.”

Too Young to Be Sad is due 3/26 on RCA. Get it here.