Tate McRae on pop music during the pandemic: 'People just want to see normal people and good music'

She was a former backup dancer in Justin Bieber’s Purpose World Tour in 2016-2017

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1390A -- Pictured in this screengrab: Musical guest Tate McRae performs on January 19, 2021 -- (Photo By: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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You could have felt sorry for Tate McRae.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the Canadian singer and dancer, 17, was about to embark on a European tour promoting her successful EP All the Things I Never Said.

With the bruising ballad tear myself apart – written by  Grammy Award winners Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O'Connell – riding high in the charts, the tour was meant to showcase McRae as the next big thing.

However, with the shows being cancelled owing to Covid-19, McRae decamped back to her bedroom, where it all began.

"When the pandemic started breaking I felt I needed to continue working. While a lot of people were in a kind of shock over where the world was at, I was writing every day," she tells The National.

"I know how to work from my bedroom because I have been doing so since I was 13 years old on YouTube."

From Oman to Justin Bieber

It's the kind of resilience that comes from a childhood and teenage years spent in transit.

Born in Calgary, Canada, McRae's family moved to Oman when she was 4.

During that spell, her mother was providing dance lessons to children in Muscat and family holidays were spent travelling the region, including a short break in the UAE.

While the memories are fuzzy, McRae recalls that period with fondness.

She's praised that experience in numerous interviews, by saying it broadened her outlook, both personally and professionally.

This is just as well, because when McRae returned to Canada, she fully immersed herself into the rigours of the ballet world.

The intensive training paid off: she won a string of dance competitions across North America and earned a stint as a backing dancer during fellow Canadian Justin Bieber's 2016-2017 Purpose World Tour.

That same year, she was also front and centre in the reality TV dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance. Her third place finish remains the highest position achieved by a Canadian contestant.

The leap to pop stardom

With such national profile, McRae had the dance world at her feet.

However, her initial creative outlet of posting self-composed songs on YouTube made great strides of its own.

"I have always wanted to be a singer ever since I was 3 years old," she says. "But I didn't really know how to get there at all because I became a dancer and that world seemed so inaccessible.

“So I thought I would start my YouTube channel because I was already writing songs at the time and I wanted to showcase that.”

Her 2017 YouTube series Create with Tate, was home to the sultry ballad One Day. Its 35 million views was enough for Sony Music Entertainment to snap her up in a major deal.

The move paid off with McRae's bouncy paeans to teenage romance and angst garnering a growing fan base.

She says tracks such as her hit rubberband and the recently released slower have been informed by dance experiences.

"You can hear it in the beats which comes from trap music," she says of her creative process. "In the beginning, I spend a lot of the time focusing on the lyrics and after that I look for a deep-rooted beat to give the song its power."

Music that connects

McRae will showcase more of that style in her second EP, too young to be sad, out on Friday..

In noting some of the upbeat nature of the songs, she says the work is informed by genuine introspection.

While McRae's songs often explore teen-centric material such as crushes, heartbreak and big hopes, they are underpinned by the kind of genuine emotions listeners demand amid the pandemic.

Escapism is not enough, McRae says. More than ever, pop music today needs to make you feel something.

"People respond to things that are more relatable and feel that maybe they can also try and do it themselves," she says.

"If Taylor Swift can sit down with a guitar in her room and create songs, then maybe someone else can, too.

"That whole world of money and fame and cars is all overdone . People just want to see normal people and good music."