How do you follow a smash hit like “Greedy,” which has spent nine days at Number One of Spotify’s Top 50 Global chart?
If you’re Tate McRae, you write the equally infectious “Exes,” with a chorus that’s catchy enough to put the same kind of success well within reach. Written with pop maestro Ryan Tedder, “Exes” arrives as the second single from McRae’s upcoming album Think Later. As a prelude for the album, which is out Dec. 8, it fits: “Exes” is an anthem for the unapologetic, even if those tendencies can turn destructive.
“This song was kind of like the last Hail Mary of the album, and we wrote it in like, I kid you not, 30 minutes, and recorded and produced the whole thing within 90 minutes,” McRae says. “It was basically just the last remaining thoughts in my head for the album.”
The bouncy pop track is biting and unabashed. McRae sings, “Kisses to my exes, I know that I did you dirty/Little messed, little selfish, we ain’t married, I ain’t 30.” The 20-year-old singer says “Exes,” like most of her music, is an amalgamation of a lot of personal experiences, some of them exaggerated or dramatized in the interest of a massive hit.
“People always assume that it’s about them,” McRae says, laughing, when asked if anyone from her past has gotten in touch since her music hit. “It’s funny, because I pull from a lot of different things. It’s never like ‘true, true, true,’ on the dot of what exactly happened.”
McRae’s fans have been clamoring for “Exes” since the social-media-savvy star (who created a very successful YouTube channel when she was a preteen) teased the track on TikTok. That video has 13.9 million views on the platform; another, where she teased “Greedy” before its release, more than 30 million views.
“I feel like we have the greatest advantage as artists right now, because we can firsthand see what people think of [a track] directly,” McRae says. “I feel like it’s just what I’ve been doing since I was 13 years old.”
In a 2020 look at how RCA Records was leveraging McRae’s social prowess, a digital marketing director at the label told Rolling Stone, “Tate’s really good at using the platform as a teen in her own time, but she’s also great at using it as a snapshot into a world for fans.”
As braggadocious as “Exes” might sound — like a dissertation in “talk your shit” — McRae says that’s the opposite of how she is in her day-to-day life. Enter her alter ego, “Tatiana,” which started as a joke but has now become a fitting moniker that fans refer to when McRae enters a different mode.
“I’m very awkward and Canadian…sometimes too nice for my own good,” she says. “I do feel like I step into a different body sometimes when I’m doing songs like ‘Greedy’ and ‘Exes.’”
For the music video, McRae worked with choreographer Sean Bankhead, who also worked on “Greedy.” McRae, who at one time danced competitively and whose mother owns a dance company, shouts out the ultimate Nineties pop star when asked about her choreo and stage presence inspirations.
“I mean, obviously I watch Britney’s music videos all the time, because I think no one really did it like her,” she says. “She always crushed her music videos and the dancing.”
Did she feel any pressure about releasing the follow-up to a song as big as “Greedy”?
“The biggest pressure is from myself,” she says. “I mean, every time I listen to a song of mine, it’s with the most critical ears ever. I feel like I can put pressure on everything…If I were to keep over analyzing it, I could have talked myself out of anything.”
We’re lucky she didn’t.