Tate McRae Reveals Britney Spears Inspired New ‘Exes’ Video — and the Song Was Written in 30 Minutes! (Exclusive)

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The pop star opens up to PEOPLE about her new album 'Think Later,' out Friday

<p>Baeth</p> Tate McRae


Tate McRae

Tate McRae has it.

Three years after breaking out with “You Broke Me First,” Calgary, Alberta, native Tate McRae, 20, is one of pop’s most exciting rising acts — and she’s got the hits (“Greedy” went Top 10 on Billboard Hot 100) and dance moves (she was a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance in 2016) to back it up. Last month, she made her performance debut on Saturday Night Live. And on Friday, she'll release her new album Think Later.

"This has been the biggest whirlwind of my life, and honestly just the coolest thing I've ever experienced," McRae says of her mainstream arrival. "I have a very hard time wrapping my head around it."

Long before she hit the stage as a pop star, McRae made a name for herself as a competitive dancer, performing and placing second on So You Think You Can Dance when she was 13.

"I always thought I’d grow up and be maybe a backup dancer," McRae says.

But after she began sharing videos of original songs she'd written in her bedroom in 2017, she scored a record deal. Her sad-girl anthem "You Broke Me First" cracked the Top 20 in 2020; she grew her fan-base with last year's debut album I Used to Think I Could Fly; and now she's in her pop-princess era with the arrival of her sophomore dance-pop album Think Later, which evokes peak Britney Spears and thank u, next era Ariana Grande.

"I kind of just want to write fun songs. I feel like I've created my best stuff just being like, 'I would never say this ... I should say it.' And I definitely have been trying to find beats that make me want to move," McRae says of fusing her passions for songwriting and dance. "For the first time in my life, I’m able to put the two sides of my identity together, and it’s so satisfying."

McRae's latest single, "Exes," is a prime example of that synergy. Over a driving beat, she rap-sings, "Kisses to my exes who don't give a s--- about me / Kisses to the next ones who think they can live without me." A delicious kiss-off, the track spilled out in record time when McRae wrote and recorded it with cowriters Ryan Tedder and Tyler Spry.

"The last song we did was 'Exes.' We wrote it in 30 minutes — finished the whole song in 60 to 90 minutes, had it fully produced and vocal tracked and everything. We send it to the label, and they said, 'Next single.' It was the quickest process ever," McRae recalls of the track. "Ryan was like, 'This would be the fastest song I've ever written in the history of my career.' I have no idea what happened. It was like the Hail Mary of the album. We were finishing up the track list and were like, 'Okay, let's just go in [the studio] for literally 30 minutes — that's it, no longer,' and we ended up writing a full song and finishing it."

Within two weeks of recording "Exes," they also shot and released its music video, which — thanks to its tight group choreography — drew comparisons to beloved early-aughts pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

"We were obviously taking inspiration from the greats, like Britney and Christina, and really wanted to just do a full dance music video," McRae says. "I've been dreaming of doing a dance music video with full choreography — dance being the most prominent thing in the music video — for so long. So that definitely referenced by some of my biggest idols."

As for the comparisons to Spears, "it's obviously an honor," McRae says. "I mean, Britney’s the queen. People are going to compare newer artists to things that have happened in the past, so obviously it's very cool to hear comments like that."

<p>Baeth</p> Tate McRae


Tate McRae

As her star grows brighter, McRae is also tirelessly working on her craft.

"Whenever I'm out of breath on stage, I'm always like, well, f---, Beyoncé can do it — I don't have an excuse!' She's figured out a way to run on the treadmill and sing at the same time. You watch back to Coachella, and she was dancing and singing that whole time and figured out a way to sound phenomenal and nail it," McRae says. "That's just a part of figuring out how to put the two together. It's a really, really hard thing to do. I'm constantly trying to get better."

To that end, McRae's live performances are electric. And she even has an onstage alter ego that comes out when she hits the stage: Tatiana, whose become an inside joke amid her legions of fans.

"I’m a pretty reserved Canadian who's pretty shy in big groups. But I get onstage, and sometimes I’ll black out and be like, 'What the f--- is up, Boston?' And my mom’s like, 'Whoa, where did this come from?'" McRae says. "Just a totally different side of me. She’s feistier and doesn't really give a s---."

But McRae, of course, takes her career very seriously.

<p>Will Heath/NBC via Getty</p> Tate McRae on SNL

Will Heath/NBC via Getty

Tate McRae on SNL

"I suffer from impostor syndrome really bad when I show up to places like SNL, like, 'Why am I here?'" she says. "This is just a big dream."

Now as she navigates the music industry — and Hollywood — she's grateful she's surrounded by a supportive group of girlfriends, including Olivia Rodrigo, whose "Bad Idea Right?" music video she appeared in this fall.

"I feel very fortunate. I's hard to find real friends in L.A. But I will say I've been so impressed with how our generation right now is really about hyping other women up. At least my circle of friends — me and my girlfriends have nothing but love and support for each other, and there's no competition or jealousy that's involved," she says.

Adds McRae: "It just feels like the industry is slowly turning in a way where it's becoming less vicious and a little more supportive and loving. I feel really lucky. I have a really incredible girl group that I love so much, and I'm just very happy that I have them by my side to talk through all the craziness."

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