At the age of 17, Tate McRae gained fame in part by posting hundreds of original songs on her YouTube channel.
Tate McRae spent the last 45 weeks with her single “You Broke Me First” on the Billboard Hot 100 list and the last 52 weeks with her parents in Calgary, Canada – and became famous from her nursery. On Friday she released her second EP, Too Young to be Sad, with two previously unreleased songs: “I wish I loved you in the 90s” and “Bad Ones”.
17-year-old McRae, the youngest member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Music list from 2021, secured her spot thanks in part to the success of her single, which she performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But before she was a commercial hit, she was a reality TV star and won So You Think You Can Dance when she was 13. The attention she received from the show led to views for her YouTube channel, where she had posted her covers of songs for six years. Her career as a singer-songwriter began.
Forbes spent a Friday night with the rising star on Zoom learning how she uses social media to grow the brand she idolizes and her biggest goal.
Forbes: You signed your recording deal in 2019 and you’ve seen this meteoric rise ever since. How did the pandemic affect this?
Tate McRae: The crazy part is that I don’t really experience it because I’m home. I performed in my very first awards show and wasn’t actually there. On the other hand, I can just sit in my room and concentrate on my work. It was crazy that everything exploded while I’m in my room and not really experiencing life because I don’t listen to the radio and I don’t go out and see people.
Forbes: Getting stuck in your nursery is like …
McRae: There is nothing inspiring about it.
Forbes: Tell me how your parents reacted and rose to fame when you switched from dancing to singing.
McRae: You have given us great support. My mother is my right hand.
Tate McRae (right) stepped into the limelight for the first time in 2016 as a finalist in “So You Think You Can Dance”.
FOX image collection via Getty Images
Forbes: Was there a moment when you thought, “My career is really taking off?”
McRae: It started when I was doing the cover of today’s top hits on Spotify. It was like Justin Bieber before me! I remember seeing it on billboard. I saw a tweet and it was like, “Tate McRae is on the hot 100.” I go: ‘This is a fake. That must be fake news. ‘But it literally kept growing.
Forbes: As an entrepreneur, how do you want to develop the ‘Tate McRae’ brand?
McRae: I really want to start pushing my goods. I want to design something related to clothes one day. I think that would be really sick.
Forbes: Let’s talk about social media. What’s your strategy for TikTok, Instagram and YouTube? Do you have any advice for singers and dancers looking to rise above these platforms?
McRae: It’s easy to say, “Be yourself,” but there have been many times that I’ve literally questioned my entire identity. I’ve changed it a million times. Just give out content that you love. When I was 13, I started posting songs that I had written every week. They weren’t fantastic, but people were kind of connected to them. And that’s the only way I can enlarge my audience as a writer.
Forbes: Who do you look up to the most?
McRae: Post Malone is one of my greatest inspirations. I love his songs and his writing. He is a genius. Then personally, I’m a huge fan of Zendaya. I love her. I watch her interviews and everything she does all the time because I think she’s just such a crazy good person.
Forbes: What social issues are you passionate about?
McRae: I really focus on my Covid YouTube livestream every month trying to choose charities to support and singing unreleased songs. As a 17 year old, I still form my mind about things. There are so many things going on in the world right now. It’s crazy to pick just one thing. I am constantly doing as much as possible with my platform. Doing fundraisers and livestreams – I think that’s really, really important.
Forbes: What’s it like to really live your life online and do those livestreams where people can interact with you and see you all the time?
McRae: There are many advantages and disadvantages. The negative aspect is that your whole life is being shown – so everyone can make up their minds about you. Part of me is super private and I’m put in a position where it’s scary at times because you never know what people are going to think. It’s just about making sure you are showing what you want to show and that you are always showing off your best self and making the right decisions. This is hard because I’m 17 and grew up online in public, which is terrifying, but I honestly think it forces me to mature faster and make smart decisions about the future.
Forbes: Do you want to be a household name?
McRae: Yeah, I really do. I always dreamed of doing something iconic. One constant thought that I’ve had in my brain is not necessarily fame, but making sure I can get my work across to everyone in the world. That’s just my biggest goal.
This interview has been compressed and edited for the sake of clarity.