How to Be An Anti-Tate McRaecist
On new pop girl Tate McRae
Another white pop girl? This year has felt like a WB casting director got hold of the music industry with the rise of pop girls like Sabrina Carpenter, Addison Rae, and Renée Rapp. But Carpenter has only been singing variations of that damn “Nonsense” song (a bop, but still, I’ve had enough), Rae doesn’t seem to know she makes music half the time, and Rapp, well she’s vocals down... but she’s a singer not a pop girl. McRae on the other hand is giving you breathy cooing over pop beats, 2000s inspired hoe fits, and choreography. We cannot underestimate the third component. Choreography is what makes the pop girl.
When McRae appeared on Saturday Night Live and the Billboard Music Awards in rapid succession, she was met with bewilderment on social media. Who was this girl? Where did she come from? Was she… gasp… an industry plant?? The concept of an “industry plant” feels hilarious in this day and age, because the industry can barely figure out how to sell records, let alone pull a Twista and make you a celebrity overnight. As if an appearance on Saturday Night Live is tantamount to the Kennedy Center Honors!
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I first became aware of McRae in 2021, when she appeared on the single “You” alongside Troye Sivan. I had never heard of her before but her vocals were entrancing and perfectly paired with Sivan’s and the chilly, groovy pop track from Yugoslavian DJ Regard. It appeared in the top ten of my Spotify Wrapped that year. I sampled her 2021 EP Too Young to Be Sad, but ironically enough it was very sad, Tumblr white girl music and we already had a Madison Beer. So I didn’t pay her much mind until 2022, when Tiesto dropped the dance track “10:35” featuring McRae. Tiesto has a knack for making hits for the kind of pop girls who get mentioned on Who Weekly (Rita Ora, Ava Max) and “10:35,” while not a banger, was at least a bop. She released a debut album I Used to Think I Could Fly which has maybe a couple songs on it I like (“She’s All I Wanna Be,” “What’s Your Problem?”), but McRae didn’t really stay on my mind.
Until this year when she dropped “Greedy.”
Produced by Ryan Tedder, a pop hitmaker (I wish his band OneRepublic still made good albums), it wasn’t cool and moody, it was upbeat. It had bounce. I could envision someone dancing to it. And then I saw the music video and lo and behold, this girl was dancing. And I threw my hands up in the air and praised God because the one thing the pop girls have not been doing is dancing.
Yes, there are plenty of women in music giving us dance and vocals. Normani. Chloe. Victoria Monet. Tinashe. These names are brought up online in constant comparison to McRae, because there’s the insistence that she’s taking away the shine from more talented Black artists who don’t get enough industry attention. First of all, McRae’s career has just started. Her second album debuts on December 8 it makes all the sense in the world for a label to be pushing out her new single ahead of an album release. Just because you don’t watch TikTok where she gained much of her notoriety doesn’t mean she popped up out of nowhere, it just means you’re old. I’m old! She’s not being marketed to me, but I am a fan of the fact that she’s taking inspiration from pop icons like Britney Spears, like in her Billboard performance, which has several nods to Spears’ “Oops!” performance at the 2000 MTV Vide Music Awards. Or her music video for “Exes,” which nods to Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video.
Black women in the industry get compared to one another enough (and to Beyoncé, as if that’s who they all aspire to be) without having to compare them to a new white girl on the block who is firmly in the pop lane and not churning out R&B. When people praise a new “POP GIRL” emerging, they’re not discrediting Monet because Monet is not a “POP GIRL.” She sings R&B, is quite proud to do so, and she has the seven Grammy nominations to prove it, which also makes her tied the second most nominated act this year alongside Phoebe Bridgers (SZA is first). Monet is doing just fine.
Tinashe has also roared back into the public consciousness with “Needs” (it just hit 10 million streams on Spotify, her fastest to do so), maybe my favorite single of the year beside Monet’s “On My Mama.” Comparing Tinashe’s near 15-year career with the general ups and downs that come with being a performer to a splashy debut from McRae is stupid and does a disservice to Tinashe’s journey. Then there’s Normani, who actually does exist within the pop lane as well as R&B. “Motivation” was a pop song. Normani also had an incredibly splashy debut and for whatever reason (I’m gonna be nice here), has not capitalized on that. But it has nothing to do with McRae.
I’m not here to give brownie points to a white girl for doing the bare minimum. Maybe the new album won’t be great. But for now, she’s working as hard as the pop girls I grew up with on TRL and I’m ready to stan if she can deliver. The one thing she does have in common with artists like Monet and Normani is that if you’re gonna dance, you’d better do it right. And they all share a choreographer in Sean Bankhead. And Bankhead puts you out there in his choreography, then you must be doing something right.
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