Reneé Rapp is late to meet me at Manhattan’s August Wilson Theatre, but for good reason. Her publicist says something happened, but “nothing bad,” which could mean anything. When Rapp finally arrives, slightly breathless but with nary a bright blond hair out of place, she’s apologetic — as it turns out, during a walk to Central Park, she witnessed a man fall; his arm was left looking “like a squiggle,” she tells me with a grimace. The only option for her (and objectively right thing to do) was wait with him until he was loaded into an ambulance. (She even chatted with his wife, who was annoyed that he was being sent to Bellevue Hospital, a fact that Rapp reports back with some Angeleno confusion.)
Being back at the August Wilson Theatre feels weird, she says, absently drumming her chrome nails on the armrest of a theater chair. She hasn’t stepped foot inside the nearly 100-year-old Broadway institution since early 2020, when the theater — as well as its running production of the Mean Girls musical, in which she played the seminal queen bee Regina George — shut down in the first sweep of lockdowns. Now 23, Rapp is remarkably forthright, her outlook on the place where she launched her career strictly pragmatic: “The idea of doing the same thing every single night is not lost on me,” she says coolly. “This became just something I had to do, and then, by the time I did it, I was happy about it.”
It’s easy to see why Rapp has been cast as Regina George not once but twice. (She recently wrapped on her reprisal of the role in the film adaptation of the Mean Girls musical.) She’s got a shrewd gaze and robust confidence that gives Rachel McAdams’ early aughts interpretation a run for her money. It seems like her role as the acerbic, private school lesbian Leighton Murray in Mindy Kaling’s Sex Lives of College Girls was written specifically to hit her strengths. Rapp brought Leighton out of the closet, fully realizing one of the show’s most vulnerable storylines while landing every biting joke; Leighton also shares Rapp’s gentleness, something that’s immediately apparent in person. After Rapp announced that she was exiting the show this summer, fans bemoaned her departure; the cautionary hazards of being a fan favorite. (Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes, Rapp couldn’t speak on her sudden departure.) As seen in this very theater, Rapp is a classic triple threat; she’s been singing, acting, and dancing for practically her whole life. And now she has her heart set on one thing: becoming your new favorite pop singer.
In a massive black Escalade on the way to our next location, Rapp and I discover we have one crucial thing in common: Neither of us are ever well-rested due to being regularly tormented by our dreams. For Rapp, at least, they make for good songwriting inspiration; “Talk Too Much,” the bellowing opening track off her debut album Snow Angel, out August 18 via Interscope, is inspired by her terror dream world. Specifically, one in which she slaughtered her girlfriend.
“I just started dating [them], and I was like, ‘I had a dream that I murdered you in cold blood. And I do feel like I have to tell you about it, and I don’t know if that means we shouldn’t be together or what, but I’m not sure if this is a gay girl thing?’” Thankfully, Rapp’s girlfriend was understanding of her unconscious slaughter, immortalized in lyrics like “Tasted blood in my mouth / And left you there to bleed out / It didn’t feel like a dream.”
Snow Angel is a big deal for Rapp. In fact, it’s been her capital-D dream since she was a child growing up in the NASCAR-loving suburban town Huntersville, North Carolina. Acting was always meant to be leveraged into a music career; producers challenged her pivot from acting to music, she challenged them back. “Yes, and I hear you, but also you don’t understand,” she recalls saying. “I started doing this so that I could do that.” She’s learned to love acting, but it doesn’t hold a candle to her true love. “[Music] is everything I’ve ever wanted to do,” she says. “I thought once I started doing this, all my insecurities would go away, and it just actually didn’t happen, which is great.”
Rapp’s wry nature is front and center on Snow Angel. The record is confessional but never cloying; she sings about surviving heartbreak on the cinematic “Snow Angel,” only to quickly shift gears for a jaunty track like “Poison Poison,” in which she contends with a grating archetype we all come across at some point in our lives: “Yes, I am a feminist / But b*tch, you’re making it so hard for me to always be supporting all women / I hate that b*tch!” she sings with a warbly chuckle. It goes without saying for a Broadway star, but Rapp can really belt it out; Snow Angel shows off her vocal control as she stretches her rich voice from thunderous ballads to rockstar howls to honeyed exaltation with ease.
After some standard Midtown traffic, we finally make it to our next stop: the Friki Tiki, the Hell’s Kitchen bar that looks like it was blown north from the Fort Lauderdale shoreline in a freak Floridian hurricane. We’re confronted with motel-esque mirrors, an enormous photo of Farrah Fawcett holding a martini, and a neon sign that asks “Why aren’t we having sex right now?” in drippy, hot pink cursive. I hope the tequila soda — or at least the fish tank filled with fake jellyfish — is helping soothe Rapp’s nerves, which seem marginally more frayed than when we met an hour earlier as we talk more and more about the album. Snow Angel is becoming more real by the day. Earlier that morning, she had an album listening party with her New York-based superfans in Midtown, which she called “Young Ex-Wives Brunch,” a nod to her “Colorado” lyrics; a few days after we meet, she’ll be at Rockefeller Center at an ungodly morning hour to perform on the Today show; this fall, she’ll hit the road on a whopping 40-city tour across North America and Europe, most of which is already, impressively, sold out.
“I am so panicked about this album. I love it so much, and the thought of something that I love so much having other people’s thoughts on it really scares me,” she says. “It’s just weird. I feel like a different person from when I wrote the EP to the album.”
The EP in question, Everything to Everyone, a career “stepping stone,” landed in November 2022 and brought Rapp in contact with the famously scuzzy nature of the music industry. “I feel like a lot of what I was dealing with was people that were very sure of what they thought I could do, and I really don’t like when people claim to understand me and they don’t. Especially if they’re an older guy,” she says. “I felt like they thought of me as their little sister who they could just f*ck around with. And I’m really not in the business of that. I have a little brother; I’m good on siblings.”
Rapp’s experience with Snow Angel was a complete 180. She finally found someone she clicked with, who not only understood her humor but also her ambition and creativity: Alexander Glantz, the singer-songwriter and producer known professionally as Alexander 23. She’s effusive about working with Glantz, whom she calls her “baby, best friend, and No. 1 collaborator.” (Glantz also comes with some heavy-hitting credits of his own, including work with artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Selena Gomez, and Tate McRae.) Not only can he take a metaphorical punch, but he can hit back — a critical personality win for Rapp.
“Working with him made me trust myself a lot more. I also learned a lot. He’s phenomenal to watch. He’s an incredible musician,” she explains. “He hears things that I don’t hear, and I hear things that he doesn’t hear, so it makes for a really amazing complementary pair. I just felt very respected by him.”
The majority of Snow Angel took form at the top of the year; by industry standards, it was a speedrun of writing, recording, and mixing to have everything ready in six months. “So many people were like, ‘Oh, that’s so quick. What a cute little quick turnaround.’ And I was like, ‘Are you f*cking kidding me? This feels like it’s taken 20 years off of my life,’” she laughs. “But it was also the most emotionally satisfying six months ever.”
A few of Rapp’s friends descend upon the bar, giddily anticipating their next stop for the evening and hottest ticket of the night: Drake’s It’s All a Blur tour at Madison Square Garden. The girls chat about the potential set list and what the sartorially adventurous rapper will be wearing; one friend admits she’s more excited to see 21 Savage perform and is met with exaggerated incredulity from another friend. As Rapp gathers her things, a Friki Tiki waitress sheepishly approaches her. Is she that actress from that show? Yes, she is. But soon, she’ll be that singer with that album.
Photographs by Jade Green
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert