Rapidly gaining fans worldwide as she falls in line with the surge in popularity of bluntly delivered tracks sung by a teenaged female narrator, Alberta’s Tate McRae has finally elected to stick the “debut album” label on i used to think i could fly after scoring a couple massive hit singles. While the 18-year-old has never offered much in the way of originality from a musical standpoint, mostly coasting on various trends of the time, her ear for a great pop melody, effective songwriting and unique vocal style have consistently made her stand out all the same. As she ventures further into the mainstream and links up with tried-and-true hitmakers – production wizards like FINNEAS, Charlie Puth, Louis Bell and Greg Kurstin all appear on this project – it feels like McRae has lost a little bit of the distinct personality that she started out with. Still, this is a solid set of pop tunes that sees McRae offering her own spin on the prevalent sounds of pop-punk and hip-hop in addition to her mournful melodies on teen troubles.
The project opens by with a sample of Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” – a song that dropped 2 years before McRae was born – on the track “don’t come back.” Decisively shutting down a former partner’s advances after a breach of trust with a couple vocal flips that essentially sound like an eye-roll in sonic form, the track coasts over a catchy syncopated guitar hook and some trap hi-hats. McRae has a voice full of eccentricities and quirks which unfortunately feel a little sanitized and ironed out on these heavily-produced bids at the airwaves, and it’s a big reason why the songs which experiment a little more with trap elements or heavier guitars stand out the most on this project – they add a little surprise. The following track “i’m so gone” feels almost like the reverse – it’s one of the songs where you can most evidently hear some real emotion creep into McRae’s voice, breaking as the instrumental cuts out, but there’s not as much in the way of a memorable tune. The track “what would you do?” is the first real standout as McRae ventures into the burgeoning modernized pop-punk sound with the assistance of Charlie Puth, who brings his razor-sharp harmonics to the table. The high-octane chorus feels like even more of a headbanging opportunity than some of McRae’s contemporaries who have scored hits in the same vein provide, and it serves as a delightful contrast to McRae’s voice getting about as squeaky and high-pitched as possible as she threatens revenge while still playing coy. After the somewhat meek persona of her past, the conversational, half-rapped breakdown is an invigorating renewal.
The album’s inconsistencies appear once again on the back-to-back tracks “chaotic” and “hate myself.” The former is described by McRae herself as the “saddest song” on the album, and seeing her break out of the typical surface-level lyrical musings about depression and get into some heart-wrenching specifics about her loneliness and other complicated emotions of the transition to adulthood is highly respectable. It’s a bit of a bland piano ballad without much of a chorus, but it feels like it’s right in line with a “drivers license” in terms of the hyper-relatability to people at any age as it captures a pivotal time in anyone’s life. “hate myself,” however, falls into the traps of being a little edgy for edgy’s sake without saying much of anything. It feels eerily similar to Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” in terms of its melodic structure, another track that Charlie Puth worked on, and the slightly frantic energy of the chorus feels out of line with the somber pianos in the back. The melody feels like it’s left hanging unresolved, which is truly bizarre for Puth. The track “what’s your problem?” is a trap-pop banger that feels like the biggest blend of the two newer styles McRae is experimenting with. A muted alt-rock and emo-inspired guitar progression lingers in the background as well, but the best part of the track is McRae’s breathless, seething anger as she spits out the track’s title to kick off the chorus. The genuine exasperated confusion at her mistreatment is something that feels underexplored in pop music, and building out the chorus with increasingly animated ad-libs tops it off nicely.
The biggest hit on the project, “she’s all i wanna be,” kicks off its back half with some more pop-punk energy. It doesn’t quite hit as hard as some of the other tracks in the same vein, but McRae’s high-spirited vocal performance as she turns a song that was a former ballad into a cathartic rager is sure to connect with quite a few listeners as she once again dials up the relatability factor. For all of the guitars flying around on the record, the most obviously Olivia Rodrigo-inspired song on the project is “boy x,” and it shows that even when McRae follows formulae, she’s pretty good at pulling them off. There’s something about the ghostly backing vocals and the absolutely crushed-sounding delivery from McRae, advising her ex on how to behave in his future romantic endeavours in order to not leave a trail of devastated McRaes in his wake, that makes the track sound like it could be a SOUR B-side.
“boy x” kicks off a pretty impressive run in the album’s back half as well, with songs like “you’re so cool” and “feel like s**t” measuring up pretty well. “cool” finds McRae calling out a love interest’s narcissism and ego with some pointed observations over a funkier backdrop from Louis Bell, while “feel like s**t” is the best of the project’s fully sad songs with a great melody that shows off McRae’s vocal talent better than any other song here as she convincingly sings about being unable to escape all the little things that remind her of a broken past relationship while in the very early stages of adjusting to a new life. The project fades out with “go away,” which feels a little sonically redundant after the track it follows, and “i still say goodnight,” a FINNEAS-assisted closer with some more painful lyrical specificity as McRae hits on a viscerally painful phenomenon that most listeners have likely had the misfortune of experiencing – the moment of panic when the daily affirmations and mundane routines in a relationship steadily fade away before the actual moment of heartbreak.
McRae is still a teenager, and while her debut studio album might be trying to capitalize on the hype by going along with a focus-grouped checklist of what is commercially viable, this project proves that she has more than enough talent to make something spectacular when she’s already scored her hits and made her millions. Keep watch on this rising star.
Favourite Tracks: what’s your problem?, boy x, you’re so cool, what would you do?, feel like s**t
Least Favourite Track: hate myself