Rising Pop Star Tate McRae Talks About Her Debut Album, Her Hit Songs “She’s All I Wanna Be” And “You Broke Me First,” And Her Songwriting

Tate McRae
Tate McRae
(photo credit: Lissyelle Laricchia)

18-year-old singer/songwriter & dancer Tate McRae has already accomplished much in her young life. Two years ago, she had an international hit with her breakthrough single, “You Broke Me First.” Currently, her single “She’s All I Wanna Be” is moving up the charts. And this week (on May 27), she’s releasing her debut album, I Used to Think I Could Fly, on RCA Records.

Impressively, McRae co-wrote every song on her new album, and she collaborated with several top songwriters, producers & artists. She wrote her current hit “She’s All I Wanna Be” with Greg Kurstin, a Grammy-winning writer/producer who’s worked with Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Halsey and Sia. This song, among other popular Tate McRae songs, showcases her versatile talent and distinct voice. She also teamed up with Grammy-winning writer/producer Finneas (known for his work with Billie Eilish) on the song, “I Still Say Goodnight.” And she wrote two songs (“What Would You Do” and “Hate Myself”) with hit artist, Charlie Puth.

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Tate McRae, who tells how she co-wrote her hit “You Broke Me First,” and she discusses the making of her debut album, I Used to Think I Could Fly.

Her album, I Used to Think I Could Fly, is a solid debut that showcases her strong, expressive lead vocals and her range as a songwriter (from high-energy dance & pop/rock songs to thoughtful, heartfelt ballads). Highlights include the uptempo songs “She’s All I Wanna Be” and “Come Back,” and the ballads “Chaotic” and “Hate Myself.”

McRae was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she learned to play piano at a young age, and she wrote poetry and started writing songs. Interestingly, she also became a highly-skilled dancer. Notably, she was the first Canadian finalist on the American TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. Many of her TV appearances as a dancer can be found on YouTube, and she dances powerfully on the video of her single, “She’s All I Wanna Be.”

As a music artist, McRae’s made her first impact when she independently released her song “One Day” when she was 14. The song’s video went viral on YouTube and has been viewed 38 million times. The success of ‘One Day” caught the attention of music execs, which led to her signing a label deal with RCA Records. She subsequently had her debut hit “You Broke Me First,” and she released two EPs: All the Things I Never Said (in 2020) and Too Young to Be Sad (2021).

Here’s the video of Tate McRae’s hit, “She’s All I Wanna Be.”

This year, McRae has embarked on her first concert tour. In April she completed a tour of the U.S. & Canada, and this month (May) she’s played shows in several European countries. Then in September, she starts a new U.S. tour.

Tate McRae Interview

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Tate McRae. She tells how she got started with music and dancing, and she discusses the making of her debut album, I Used to Think I Could Fly.

DK: I read that you’re from Calgary, Canada. How did you get started with singing and dancing?

Tate McRae: My mom was my dance teacher growing up, so she got me into dancing at an early age. I also love writing stories and poetry, and so music was an outlet for my songwriting. I taught myself to play piano, and I guess I was always creative. So those were kind of my safe places.

DK: As a dancer, you appeared several times on the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. What was it like to be on that show?

McRae: That show was an experience, for sure (laughs). It was crazy, because I was so young and it was such a high pressure scenario. I think I was a competitive kid, so being on the show inspired me to keep working hard. It was a cool experience to be on TV in front of the cameras and in front of millions of people.

DK: When you were growing up, was your goal to be a singer & songwriter first, or to be a dancer?

McRae: I thought I would grow up and be a backup dancer. I had no idea that I had a chance to be in the music industry, and writing songs was something that I did as a hobby. So when it started to become a reality, it was a very cool transition because I realized that I could do both at the same time and still have creative control.

DK: As a young artist, you released several songs independently before you signed with RCA Records. Can you talk about your song “One Day” that went viral?

Here’s the video of Tate McRae’s song, “Chaotic.”

McRae: That was the first song I posted on the internet. I called it “I Wrote A Song,” and the video ended up attracting 40 million views, which was surreal because I hadn’t written a full song before. And from there, I posted original songs every Friday on my YouTube channel, just for fun and as an outlet for me. I ended up building up a fanbase without even realizing what was happening. Then a whole bunch of labels reached out and I ended up signing with RCA.

DK: Two years ago, you had a breakthrough hit with “You Broke Me First.” Can you tell the story behind writing that song?

McRae: It was my last in-person writing session before the pandemic broke, and we wrote this song. I had this little catchphrase, with the line, “I don’t really care how bad it hurts ‘cause you broke me first.” I thought it was a strong line. I brought it to the session and we ended up writing the song fast. It was an easy writing session and I jelled with the other writer, Victoria Zaro, and I love her so much. Then the producer, Blake Harnage, came back six months later and he had turned this simple piano ballad into this crazy cool big trappy song. We released it and it was crazy what happened to it.

DK: You’re about to release your debut album, I Used to Think I Could Fly. Can you talk about making your album?

McRae: I’ve been working on it, and tt was a stressful process because there’s always a lot of pressure for your debut. I wanted to make sure that it’s perfect, and I’m telling the stories that I needed to tell. I feel like I put every single ounce of emotion left in my body into this piece of work, and I hope that people can feel that in the songs because it’s a really personal album. It’s genuinely like reading my diary.

DK: On your album, I like the two songs you wrote with (top writer/producer) Greg Kurstin, “She’s All I Wanna Be” and “Chaotic.” What was it like working with Greg and writing those songs?

Here’s the video of Tate McRae’s song, “What Would You Do?”

McRae: He’s an icon. He’s such a genius…he can play every instrument and do it so well. It was a cool process because he just let me write the songs. He played piano chords or guitar at the front of the room, and then I would write the songs really fast (laughs) and I would go into the (vocal) booth and track it. Then he would finish the song production-wise. So it’s a cool partnership because he doesn’t interfere too much with what I have to say, and he makes it sound like magic.

DK: The title of your album is, I Used to Think I Could Fly. How did you decide on this title?

McRae: I’ve always been obsessed with the concept of flying. It correlates back to the message of when you’re younger, how nothing seems impossible. And no kid seems to have a fear or an insecurity of what real life is like. And I think it’s really shocking when you grow up and you realize…the harsh reality of growing up. For me, I’ve been a pretty fearless person, but for the first time I’ve experienced a lot of self-doubt. I had a big identity crisis, and this was in the middle of writing my album. It was the first time I questioned my worth, and I think that happens when you get older. The people around you start to influence how you think about things and how you live your life. So I wanted to represent that in my songs, about an 18-year-old who got smacked in the face of reality for the first time.

DK: The last song on your album is the pretty ballad “I Still Say Goodnight,” which you wrote with Finneas. How did you connect with Finneas to write this song?

McRae: I’m a huge fan of Finneas…it was an honor to write with him. We ended up getting into his studio and jelling quickly, and he’s an easy guy to talk to. So I was opening up pretty fast, and he starts laying down these beautiful piano chords that almost sounded jazzy and as if I was in Paris. I started singing into the room and I came up with this concept of “I Still Say Goodnight,” which I think is a painful thing in a relationship when you’re still holding onto the last words and the last hope of something still being there. We wrote it pretty quickly—it was just the two of us improvising in a room and singing and it was magical. I’m so happy that I finished off the album with this song. I think he nailed the production and it made it feel like the end of a movie.

Here’s the video of Tate McRae’s hit, “You Broke Me First.”

DK: Besides the songs we’ve talked about, what are your favorite songs on the album?

McRae: I think “What Would You Do?” and “Hate Myself” are two polar opposite songs that I ended up writing with incredible people: Alexander 23, Charlie Puth and Blake Slatkin. And I wrote these songs in really vulnerable places…one of them ”What Would You Do?” being in a really angry, and a kind of revenge-like aura about me when I was in the room. And I think that was necessary to get off my chest. And on the opposite side of that, you have “Hate Myself,” which is basically taking the blame in a relationship and pointing out all your own flaws, which is a hard thing to do as a songwriter. It was a vulnerable place to be in and it felt super real at the time, so I’m really proud of those two records.

DK: You’re known for being an excellent dancer, and your video for “She’s All I Wanna Be” has great dancing in it. Do you like merging together your music and your dancing?

McRae: Oh it’s a dream. I think that’s all I ever wanted to do, is write music and be able to dance to it in front of a crowd. It’s cool because I’m able to incorporate my dancing into my live shows, and when I’m dancing I feel the safest…I feel 100% myself. So it’s special when I can do the two and feel appreciated and loved for it.

DK: With your live show, you recently completed a tour of the U.S., and you’ll be going to Europe and then back to the U.S. for more shows. Can you talk about your live shows?

McRae: I head to Europe, and I’m curious to travel the world and see how people are over in Europe. I’m so excited. My U.S. tour was way past my expectations. I didn’t think that anyone would show up, and the whole tour was sold out and the fans were crazy and rowdy and knew every single lyric. So it was shocking for me because I’d never really toured before. And since the pandemic, it was my first time coming out and experiencing the real life of an artist. I was blown away with it.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima