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Chartbreaker: How Baby Tate’s Transformation of a Timeless ‘80s Hook Became a Rap Hit — Seven Years After Its Release

todayMarch 7, 2023

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While 26-year-old rapper-singer Baby Tate had her eye on music stardom since she was a little girl, she also had an even more pressing childhood dream: becoming a cheerleader. “I was a huge Bring It On fan,” she says of the 2000 cult classic film. “I wanted to be a cheerleader real bad but I went to a performing arts high school, so we had no sports at all.”

Although she never had the chance to yell “go team!” from the sidelines at a high school football game, she still achieved her pom-pom filled dreams on her own terms when the cheer-tastic “Hey, Mickey!” — her 2016 single interpolating Toni Basil’s 1982 Billboard Hot 100-topper “Mickey,” which itself was a cover of 1979’s “Kitty” by British pop group Racey — began bubbling up on TikTok, seven years after its initial release. “It’s really crazy the things that that app can do,” she says today, biting into an egg roll at Hollywood’s Luv2eat Thai Bistro.

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The latest example of the TikTok-virality-to-charts pipeline, “Hey Mickey!” began racking up listens in January, after a few K-pop fans began using the sound on edits of their favorite acts, including Stray Kids and BIBI, and posting to social media. Soon after, Quinn Goydish — who manages Tate alongside LVRN partner/executive vp/GM Amber Grimes — noticed a bump in the song’s daily plays, from dozens of streams to a few thousand. “I feel like for Quinn, checking my Spotify for Artists is his daily newspaper,” jokes Tate. Since, the song has accumulated more than 1.6 million user-created videos on TikTok and grown into her first entry on multiple Billboard charts.

At the time of the song’s inception, she was a budding artist performing as Yung Baby Tate and living in her hometown of Atlanta. She recalls rocking “synthetic wigs,” seeing some SoundCloud success and bringing in a couple hundred dollars per show. “I remember a song doing 300 streams in a day and I was so excited,” she says. “It’s so crazy how [our] perspective of success can change.”

Baby Tate photographed on February 22, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Baby Tate photographed on February 22, 2023 in Los Angeles.

After receiving the beat from a producer who often sent sounds her way, Tate recorded Basil’s famous “Mickey” chant atop the wonky production on a Snowball USB microphone, and it stuck. The lyrics tell the story of an attractive guy named Mickey that Tate meets and goes out with, only to find out that he’s gay. “My whole schooling was in performing arts and I was always surrounded by LGBT culture and community, so for me, the people that I was dating in high school were gay,” she explains with a giggle. “[‘Hey Mickey!’] was the best song of all of my old songs to go viral.”

Since then, she’s dropped the “Yung,” signed a label deal with Warner Records in 2021 and management deal with LVRN in 2022. Warner initially approached Tate in 2019, she says: “I wasn’t ready mentally. I was kind of all over the place as far as where I wanted to go with my music.”

But Tate says she grew a lot during the pandemic, and in December 2020, she released one of her most successful singles “I Am,” through a partnership with Issa Rae’s label Raedio, as part of her EP After the Rain (Tate is no longer affiliated with Raedio). Her monthly Spotify listeners have ballooned to 10.6 million and gone are the days of a few hundred dollars per show.

Baby Tate photographed on February 22, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Baby Tate photographed on February 22, 2023 in Los Angeles.

As soon as Tate’s management team caught wind of “Hey Mickey!” bubbling up, the dynamic pair of Goydish and Grimes — who have known each other for over a decade — kicked things into high gear, meticulously planning TikTok strategy, rereleases and remix ideas. “Tate immediately leaning in on TikTok was the first thing that helped,” says Goydish. “We also decided to invest in a TikTok campaign. The second we saw an opportunity, we put money into outside influencers.”

By early February, “Hey, Mickey!” had reached Nos. 21 and 40 on Billboard‘s Hot Rap Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts, respectively, as well as a No. 5 high on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 list.

Tate’s “Hey Mickey!” visual — directed and choreographed by Nicole Kirkland — then amassed nearly two million views in a week, following its Feb. 20 release, and perfectly portrayed the story of Tate’s almost-boyfriend, Mickey. “Jumping on a [music] video as fast as we could made all the difference,” Grimes says. “We were able to capitalize in less than three months off of a visual to keep this going.” The same week, Tate’s team also released Hey, Mickey! — Full Pack, an EP including sped up, bass-boosted and slowed down versions of the song, a new strategy popularized by TikTok.

Two official remixes for the track are also set to release, the first being a Jersey Club mix from the famed DJ Smallz, paying homage to Tate’s East Coast roots, where she spent summers in New Jersey with her mom’s side of the family as a kid, learning the latest dance crazes and sharing Atlanta staples like Dem Franchise Boyz’s “Lean Wit It Rock Wit It” with her cousins. The second remix will arrive with what Tate calls the “official” music video (with a possible cameo from Bring It On star Gabrielle Union) and include one or two surprise features, including a fellow woman rapper. “It’s super cute and fun and girly,” she says. “But if the other person gets on, it’s still gonna be fun but not so girly. It’ll be gworly.”

Ahead of an album on the horizon, which she hopes to release this year, Tate moved to Los Angeles last month. “This is the first project that I’m beginning from scratch with both Warner and LVRN by my side, so I’m really excited to get into the creation of it,” she says, adding that she has yet to make a single song for the album. “There may be some songs that I’ve created throughout my long history of making music that might fit, but for the most part, I want to just start with a clean slate.”

Amber Grimes, Baby Tate, and Quinn Goydish photographed on February 22, 2023 in Los Angeles.
From left: Amber Grimes, Baby Tate, and Quinn Goydish photographed on February 22, 2023 in Los Angeles.

A version of this story will appear in the March 11, 2023, issue of Billboard.

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