For a hot minute, it seemed as if pop music was dead.
The pop princesses who commanded the genre for so long such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Beyoncé, began falling off of the public’s radar as they released fewer new singles and fewer new albums. This led fans of the icons to lose hope for the future of pop.
Fast forward to the rise of Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift who, arguably, single handedly saved the genre and continue to evolutionize it.
However, Gen Z has blessed the pop world with a few new household names, too, such as Olivia Rodrigo and Tate McRae. The two gained a large following through TikTok but have proven to be profitable and influential over teens, young adults and the music industry outside of the social app as well.
The 18-year-old Tate McRae has yet to make as great of artistry strides as Rodrigo has, but with the sheer success of her hit single, “she’s all i wanna be,” in addition to the release of her debut album, i used to think i could fly, her time as a popstar is undeniably near.
It’s almost hard to believe i used to think i could fly is McRae’s first album ever, given she has been releasing bangers for a couple of years now. Her 2020 breakup ballad, “you broke me first,” resonated with listeners alike, resultantly playing an integral part in her launch as a singer-songwriter.
In regards to her new album, McRae tells Apple Music in an interview, “I wanted people to have moments where they could cry and feel like they could relate, but I also want them to feel like ‘I’m a bad b*tch’ at the same time.” McRae’s self-identified statement couldn’t describe her style and music any better, as it has cultivated itself as a blend of relentless, bold, passionate, angsty tunes and profound, complex, confessional ballads. Essentially, McRae has mastered the recipe of a successful breakup album.
McRae opens her album with a 16-second voice memo accompanied by sound effects, where McRae opens up briefly about growing up, being a teenager and being more scared of things she never once was. The track titled “?” sets the tone for the rest of the album as the 11 tracks that precede it, delve into the struggles of adolescence, young love, heartbreak and McRae’s transition into adulthood.
Following the opener, McRae starts strong with that savage energy of hers discussed prior, on tracks 2 through 4, titled, “don’t come back,” “i’m so gone” and her single, “what would you do?”
On all three tunes, McRae acknowledges her own worth as a romantic partner by stating clearly that she is no longer putting up with half-ass energy, essentially, nor is she settling for partners who cannot meet her expectations as a lover.
In “don’t come back,” she sings, “When you see that I'm better off / When you’re all broke down and / you’re missing us / When you finally figure out just what you lost / I hope you don’t come back.” Undeniably, these lyrics are an ode to her own worth and her newfound mental state without her ex.
Track 2 is ridiculously catchy for a song paired with somber lyricism, and that is in part due to the fact the popstar’s rhythmic lines, “If you wanna go ahead and lie to me / Throw it all out now, that’s fine with me, uh,” are sampled, from Nelly’s hit “Ride Wit Me,” lyrics, “If you want to go and take a ride with me / We 3-wheeling in the fo' with the gold D's.”
McRae sings about being done with a partner who seemingly can’t celebrate McRae’s success nor be happy for her, and therefore, brings her energy down with theirs on “i’m so gone.”
Similarly, McRae continues these themes on the upbeat and daring “what would you do,” making for one of the album’s standout tracks, given the tempo change and McRae’s collaboration with Charlie Puth.
McRae is very open about the fact that her first real heartbreak inspired and helped write this album. Through the ups and downs of punchier tunes and more poignant ones, the emotional rollercoaster the young artist experienced in her breakup is plainly present in her work, causing the album’s storyline to appear and sound all the more authentic.
This couldn’t be truer for tracks “chaotic,” “hate myself” and “feel like shit.”
Both “chaotic” and “feel like shit” were released as singles so fans have already had the chance to cry to the lyrics in both songs which are lined with utter confusion, grief and suffering. However “hate myself,” adds a new perspective to the stages of heartache.
McRae tells Apple Music in regards to “hate myself,” “I feel like in [failed] relationships, the first thing people will do is make themselves a victim, because the easiest way to heal from things is to blame something on the other person. And I feel like I’m really opposite in that sense -- a lot of the time, I’ll take the blame for everything, and I’ll overanalyze everything that I did wrong to wreck something.”
Because in said relationship, McRae blames herself, the pain is unmistakable in this ballad. For those who have been in a similar situation, or have felt the same sense of guilt and harshness, the song will resonate on a different level.
Truly with new lively tracks like “you’re so cool,” thought-provoking ballads and fan-favorites like “she’s all i wanna be,” there isn’t one song worth skipping.
However, one track manages to stick out amongst the rest. “go away” feels like a euphoric trip through feelings of obsession, lust, compulsion, fascination and ultimately delusion as it depicts, vividly, the very common theme of becoming immersed in another’s whole life, being and entity.
The feeling is equatable to a never-ending road trip: it’s so enjoyable, so time consuming, so much so that there is nothing else to do, yet it ultimately goes nowhere.
Lines, “I should be on top of the world but I've been falling down / And each day gets a little bit worse when you're not around (Oh, oh) / Was driving and I thought that I saw you and I almost crashed / The sad part is if the roles were reversed, you would've drove right past,” detail the agonizing and unfortunate tragedy that is unrequited love.
It’s a love that hurts so badly, you’d rather it “go away,” but it simply can’t.
McRae says in regard to the song “It’s so wild to me that if one person is stuck on your mind, it can take up all of your thoughts and distract you from anything going on.” This confessional alone proves just how toxic the spiral into fixation can become, which is something a lot of listeners will be able to relate to, as there isn’t a song that has been released, quite like this one.
Closing out the album is the dreamlike “i still say goodnight,” in which McRae had the opportunity to work with FINNEAS on. McRae describes the classical piano chord as ones “that felt like rolling credits in an old movie,” making the track an idyllic and ironic closer as goodnight kind of is, like saying goodbye.
The sounds and synths in the last track alone sound fit for a Disney princess film, but paired with lyrics like, “You stopped saying goodnight / That was the first sign that you were letting go / Now you don't see me the same way / You're looking at me like I'm only getting old,” it’s a song that is sadly for a princess who doesn’t get her happy ending.
McRae’s debut album i used to think i could fly, was well worth the wait, given its confessional lyrics, its balance between ballads and buoyant tracks and nevertheless, McRae’s alluring voice that makes every line of every song, sound that much better.