Billboard Canada's Breakthrough Artists of 2023: Tate McRae
It's been a few years since the Canadian music industry has produced a major pop star like Tate McRae, but her 2023 chart success puts her in the same breath as recent breakouts like Shawn Mendes and Alessia Cara.
It's been a good year for Canadian artists breaking through on the charts and in the industry. To celebrate, Billboard Canada is taking a look at a handful of musicians who made their mark this year, breaking through to a whole new level. First off is Tate McRae, a Calgary-born pop singer who broke out in a major way in 2023 and went to No. 1 on the Canadian and Global Hot 100.
It’s been a few years since Canada has had a breakthrough star on the level of Justin Bieber or Shawn Mendes. As she climbed the Billboard charts in 2023, Tate McRae showed she could be the next one and spent the year proving it.
Big shots like Drake and The Weeknd are still chart mainstays, but since the mid-2010s rise of Mendes and Alessia Cara, Canadians haven’t had a new major representative in pop’s mainstream — until this fall, when McRae took “greedy” to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Global and Canadian Hot 100. Suddenly, the Calgary-born performer was everywhere: showing off her dance background on SNL, bringing 2000s pop nostalgia to the Billboard Music Awards, and preparing to launch her second album, Think Later. This week, that album premiered at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.
The singer’s rise is not so sudden, though. McRae’s Billboard cover story traces her arc from So You Think You Can Dance contestant — she placed third in 2016 — to Calgary high school senior taking label meetings, to pop star performing at Madison Square Garden. McRae spent her teens building a following online, via her YouTube series Create with Tate. Though she envisioned a career as a backup dancer, McRae was compelled to follow a passion for songwriting.
In 2020, McRae notched her first hit: the sad girl bop “You Broke Me First,” which peaked at No. 17 on the Hot 100 (despite its release coinciding with the onset of the pandemic, meaning McRae couldn’t promote it the way she hoped). Two EPs, a series of collaborations, and a debut album followed. Those projects built McRae’s profile but didn’t spawn a single that could repeat the success of “You Broke Me First.”
In 2022, McRae tells Billboard, she knew she needed a change: the process for her debut full-length, i used to think i could fly felt disjointed, and McRae wasn’t sure she had the right people looking out for her. She changed management and put together a new songwriting team, working with Ryan Tedder, Amy Allen and Jasper Harris, setting the stage for 2023’s breakthrough moment.
“Greedy,” the first single off of her second album, Think Later, is a mix of old and new, borrowing some beat flavour from fellow Canadian Nelly Furtado’s 2006 hit “Promiscuous” and updating it with a steel pan riff and a contemporary sheen, not to mention McRae’s confident vocals. The song is a simultaneous warning to loser suitors to steer clear, as well as an assertion of McRae’s own appeal: “I would want myself / Baby please believe me,” McRae sings on the song’s catchy chorus, switching breezily from belt to falsetto.
She followed it up with “Exes,” another quick hit of pop sass that wouldn’t feel out of place on Ariana Grande’s thank u, next. The song hit the Hot 100 on Dec. 2 at No. 34, while the full-length album behind it, Think Later, arrived on Dec. 8.
As Canada’s first major new pop star of the 2020s, McRae indicates the ways the industry has changed since the rise of Bieber, Mendes and co. McRae has built her profile through video platforms like TikTok and YouTube, and her sound updates its throwback elements for the streaming era, resulting in short, moody songs that get straight to the point. Her relatability encourages her listeners to take on responsibility for her music and blow it up, as TikTok Canada's Kat Kernaghan tells us, with billions of global TikTok views coming from fan-created clips from her sounds.
In the Billboard cover story, Tedder said her social media savvy is a big part of her ascent. “Understanding that the world lives on the internet and understanding what people want to hear, how they want to hear it and how they want it to be presented, that is its own art form,” he said.
“She gets the internet.”
McRae is poised to keep the energy going in 2024, with the Think Later World Tour that will take her from Ireland, to Australia, and back home to Calgary for a hometown headlining slot at the Cowboys Music Festival. Whether she can maintain her chart presence — or build towards superstar status — will depend on a lot of factors, but she’s already establishing herself as a name off-stage, too.
This fall she became Spotify’s EQUAL Canada ambassador, a role dedicated to advocating for gender equality in the music industry. McRae told Billboard that she doesn’t just want to be a performer, she wants to be a businesswoman. “I’m 20 now and I’m still young, but I know what I want,” she said.
The charts are just the beginning.