i used to think i could fly

Tate McRae

i used to think i could fly

“Growing up is chaotic,” Tate McRae sings on her debut album—and that’s especially true when you’ve logged a Top 10 single in multiple countries and racked up over a billion streams before you’ve graduated from high school. After her devastating 2020 ballad “you broke me first” transformed the former aspiring dancer into Billie Eilish’s honorary Canadian cousin, McRae spends much of her debut album offering us reassurances that success hasn’t changed her—in that she still feels as confused, anxious, and messed up as any other 18-year-old. That sense of turmoil is baked right into the album title: i used to think i could fly, a phrase that, for McRae, signifies the loss of innocence and idealism that occurs on the journey to adulthood. “When you're younger, everything seems completely possible,” McRae tells Apple Music. “You wouldn't assume that heights are scary, because no one's told you what they're scared of. No one's left a mark on you yet. I’ve always been interested with the idea of how life makes a mark on you as you get older, and how the people you surround yourself with shape you as a person.” In McRae’s case, those transformative and traumatic moments often play out in the context of toxic relationships plagued by substance abuse, infidelity, and gaslighting. The singer has a forensic eye for those subtle turning-point moments in a partnership—like a boyfriend forgetting to wish her good night for the first time—that spell inevitable doom. But while i used to think i could fly is built upon McRae’s familiar foundation of aching acoustic melodies and atmospheric trap-infused R&B production, the album also uncorks a pop-punk energy that breaks up the pity party. “I didn't want this album to feel like a sulk-for-me album,” McRae says. “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 bitch' at the same time. I just wanted to cross off all aspects of my brain.” Here, McRae talks us through her mental checklist, track by track. “?” “I basically pick up my phone and record everything. I was on a plane, and I was scrolling through all of my voice memos because I was super bored, and I found this one clip. I cut it up and put a whole bunch of effects on it. And I thought, ‘This could be a really cool way to start off the album.’ I used to hear Juice WRLD do this kind of stuff a lot, and I was really inspired by that. I wanted to give people some sort of context of what the album title meant to me.” “don’t come back” “A lot of my songs on this album are super self-analytical and self-deprecating at times—they're some of the more intense songs that I've ever written. But I wanted the album to start with something lighter, and something that felt kind of empowering. It’s an interpolation of a Nelly song [‘Ride Wit Me’], which is super cool—I’ve never done something like that.” “i’m so gone” “‘don't come back’ feels like more of a vague opener, but ‘i'm so gone’ definitely talks about a real situation. I'm the type of person who, when I'm moving on [from a relationship], I'll be like, 'I'm gonna stick my head up and keep trudging on with my life and I'm not gonna let you ruin the things that I've been doing recently.' I wanted [the two songs] to be on the same kind of line, but you can tell this song touches on a more vulnerable side and gets a little more sensitive compared to 'don't look back'—I thought that was a cool dynamic.” “what would you do?” “I had no idea what this song was gonna be like when I was writing it. I wrote it with Charlie Puth and Alexander 23, and it was a really interesting situation, because I had no idea what Charlie was creating on his million different instruments that he was playing. I just started writing about these real feelings, and then, by the end, we were all like, 'What the hell did we just write?' This is such a crazy song. Writing with a tempo change was so foreign to me. It felt like a big risk for me to take as an artist.” “chaotic” “I was at Greg Kurstin's studio. I had been writing with a lot of people and I wasn't getting songs that I really connected with. And I think it was because there was a lot changing in my life—I had graduated high school and turned 18 and moved to LA and I was kind of settling into my own skin for the first time. I had no idea who I was. And I feel like this was one of the first times that I sat down in a session and I was like, 'Okay, I need to really talk about where my mental state is at right now, because I don't know if it's looking too good.' I didn't even think I would end up releasing this song, because it was so personal to me. I was really nervous to put it out. I wrote it really quietly on my computer, and then an hour later, I walked across the studio and gave Greg a high five and left.” “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. There's that line ‘After I just put you right through hell/You couldn't hate me more than I hate myself’—I think that was a really cool way to approach this situation. I had just recently gone through a fresh breakup the day I wrote this. You can hear my voice cracking because I was actually crying while recording it. I take the blame throughout the song, and I feel like I make myself the villain in the story. But then you get to the bridge, and there's this point where it's like, 'I know that you're gonna be happier with another person, and that's the most painful thing in the world for me.' That's what makes the song so heartbreaking.” “what’s your problem?” “I think this record is such a great description of me as a person, because I feel like I have so many different sides to my personality, and they can switch at any second. It's crazy, because I wrote 'hate myself,' and then a couple months later, I came to the realization where I was like, ‘Oh, so this is why I was blaming myself—because he made me hate myself!’ So when I was writing this song, I put in the line ‘You made me hate myself just so that I can love you more.’ It was really cool to just talk about the perspective of a manipulator and how that can really mess you up mentally.” “she’s all i wanna be” “This one actually started out as a ballad. I was writing with Greg Kurstin—again, I was sitting in the corner of the room with my computer, and he was playing these really depressing piano chords. I had been scrolling through social media all day, and I was going through the worst feelings of comparison—I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Right now, I would rather be anyone else in the world.’ It was just a moment of feeling those really toxic feelings of envy and insecurity and jealousy. I wrote this song in like an hour—and then four days later, I emailed Greg, and I was like, ‘Hey, is there any way you could turn this into an upbeat, poppier song?’ He came back with this kick-ass guitar part and totally made it into this really cool punk song. It totally shifted the energy and brought a whole new life to it.” “boy x” “It was my first time writing with Alex. And I just had this one line in my notes: ‘But when you get bored, like you always do/Just tell me that you'll let her go before you look for someone new.’ I wanted to write a song about wandering eyes—when a person's eyes start to wander before they actually end the relationship. Alex and I were sitting in this garden, and he was just strumming on his guitar, and I started describing this girl and we started writing this whole story around this line that I had wrote. And then by the end, we slowly realized that this whole time that I was improvising and writing, I was reallly talking about myself.” “you’re so cool” “This song talks about a lot of different people—so don't worry, I'm not just ripping on this one individual! I had never really experienced how awful it is to be around people with huge egos. Because I'm from Calgary, Alberta, I feel very grounded—I sometimes joke that I have a negative ego. In this song, I really wanted to just talk about how it's so wild that you can look at yourself in the mirror and just be so obsessed with yourself and think you are just the shit and want to treat everyone else around you like they are the worst things to exist. I was kind of shocked to meet people like that.” “feel like shit” “I hadn't actually gone through my first-ever real heartbreak until this summer. I always knew how to write about small things and blow them up. But once I actually went through a big thing, I had no idea how to write about it. And it took me forever to actually process what was going on, until I went to the studio one day and said, 'I genuinely feel like shit.' So I wrote this song about it.” “go away” “It's a really crazy thing how you can get so caught up on one person that no matter how great your life is, this person will still be the only thing on your mind. I was going through some experiences that I always dreamed of—moments that I should have been super present for, where I should have been happy and feeling on top of the world. 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 good going on. This song was a cool way for me to sum up the album: I should be enjoying everything right now, and I should feel like my life is going great, and I don't because of you—because you're the only thing I can think of.” “i still say goodnight” “Obviously, FINNEAS has been a big inspiration of mine for quite some time, and getting to work with him on this song was an honor. He started off playing these beautiful, classic piano chords that, to me, felt like the rolling credits in an old movie. I'm a very visual person—I feel like I can watch a movie in my head when I sing. What I see is what I write, and so in this situation, I was envisioning this one thing that I remembered from a specific person: Whenever they would lie to me, they would always twitch their eye a certain way. I specifically remembered that look that they would give me. Trying to have hope in something but just knowing it's all a lie is a really crazy feeling. And at the end, I feel so stupid because I still think saying good night to each other is just the last bit of hope in a relationship. It's sometimes the last thing that people hold on to before you cut ties.”

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