Tate McRae, Think Later: sweet melodies and a sour attitude

Bright young thing: Tate McRae
Bright young thing: Tate McRae - Baeth
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If you don’t know who Tate McRae is, then congratulations, you’re probably not on TikTok being bombarded with clips of young women tossing their hair to the sound of McRae’s song Greedy – and, really, life is too short to try and explain that any further. Let us just say, McRae is very much on trend right now.

Greedy has been one of the hits of the year, an immaculate blast of upbeat dance pop with a cheerleader chorus on which McRae tartly rejects the sleazy attention of an older man (“lookin’ at me like I’m some sweet escape”) whilst purring about being so attractive “I would want myself.” The comically boastful hook was accompanied by a tightly choreographed video in which McRae performed moves that could make a yoga instructor’s eyes water. It marks quite a dramatic turnaround from the teen goth misery of McRae’s May 2022 debut, I Used to Think I Could Fly, which was packed with whispery ballads about the trials of youth, including songs called Hate Myself and I Feel Like S–t.

Although still only 20, the Canadian pop star has taken a while to find her niche. McRae started as a dancer, winning her first competition aged 10, and appearing on TV talent shows. At 14, she began putting songs on YouTube, playing a rudimentary keyboard and singing thoughtful lyrics about teenage desire. Her first effort, One Day, has now clocked up 40 million views.

She was signed by RCA and spent years working with over 30 songwriters and producers on a debut that offered a pale imitation of Billie Eilish’s sophisticated miserabilism whilst Olivia Rodrigo was striking gold with a more powered up version of the same genre. It is typical of the way big record companies work: sign an interesting talent and then hire a bunch of professionals to make them sound like someone else.

“I’ve been playing nice too long,” McRae sings on Cut My Hair, the opening track of her spirited follow up, Think Later, where the trained dancer locks into her own groove. McRae’s lyrical focus is still the tribulations of young relationships but she seems empowered by the thrusting beats. “Kisses to my exes, I know that I did you dirty / Little messed up, little selfish, we ain’t married, I ain’t 30” she chants dismissively on Exes. Even the ballads have bite, embracing the complexity of human interactions: “You tell me a lie, I’ll tell you five,” she purrs on Messier. Like many of her pop generation, McRae sings with soft intimacy rather than lung-busting projection, but the rhythmic attack gives her something to bounce off, resulting in pop with dynamism and texture.

Is this a more authentic version of McRae, or just another iteration for a rising star whose initial image didn’t quite gel? The album was produced by Ryan Tedder, a pop wizard who has worked with Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande. There are 14 co-writers, which doesn’t suggest McRae is yet calling all the shots. The mix of trap grooves and synth balladry is perfectly of the moment, lacking the boldness of a truly original talent. Yet there is something appealing in the sweet melodies and sour attitude of a singer who sounds like she might actually be starting to enjoy herself. “Sad girl bit got a little boring,” McRae teases on Cut My Hair. You won’t be able to escape it on TikTok.

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