Written by Molly Gorman
I’ve had the chorus to Reneé Rapp’s new single ‘In The Kitchen’ stuck in my head all week, although when I scream the chorus I definitely don’t sound like her. Her voice is a powerhouse. She can effortlessly execute a belt alongside a sincerely soft and innocent vocal performance all in one song. There’s something special about Reneé, too – not only is the 22-year-old Broadway star, actress, musician and songwriter incredibly talented, but she’s very down-to-earth and infectiously bright. I find myself deep in conversation with her and losing track of time within minutes.
‘I’m definitely excited and I feel good about it but it’s still horrifying, like… what the fuck is going on?!’ Reneé conveys both fear and elation about breaking into the music industry, as ‘In the Kitchen’ has already garnered over two million streams on Spotify since its release on July 22nd. It’s the follow-up single to her debut ‘Tattoos’, and Reneé hasn’t shied away from being open and vulnerable by releasing two heartbreak ballads: ‘And now it’s just me / And a hundred square feet of bittersweet memories / Deleted the playlist / But I still hear all your favourite melodies.’
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Frank Ocean, SZA and Jazmine Sullivan (all of whom have written iconic heartbreak anthems), Reneé appreciates young artists who have paved the way for writers to be open about their feelings and experiences. She credits Olivia Rodrigo and Kacey Musgraves with giving her the confidence to be honest in her songwriting, ‘I’m gonna say what the fuck I’ve been through and what the fuck I want. It gives me the closure you don’t always get after a breakup, and lets me say everything I never had the chance to.’
Reneé always had alternative plans to her parents, who wanted her to go to college. In fact, she’s been set in her own plans from early childhood, as videos show her putting on shows and singing for her family. Later on in her teenage years, Reneé struck a deal with her parents whereby they would agree to let her work on music after seeing a high school competition, which would allow her to perform in front of agents in New York. Her current manager was there at the time and Reneé was successfully cast in the Broadway production of Mean Girls as Regina George – a performance which earned her critical recognition at the age of 19.
But it was time for new opportunities when Broadway shut down due to the pandemic. Despite convincing herself that she was a ‘terrible actress’ when she was younger, she’s now starring in the HBO comedy series ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble. ‘My agent said that the first thing to come back [after the pandemic] would be TV, and the first tape I sent in was for Sex Lives of College Girls,’ Reneé exclaimed. “I plot and scheme, and I’ve faked my way through! And now I love acting too, which is a bonus.’ She admits that she only started acting so she could get into music, which felt easier after doing Mean Girls – ‘I felt like I had a lot more people in my corner.’ She reinforces that music is the only thing she cares about, ‘everything I’ve ever done has built up to me doing music.’
Reneé is very real, relatable and has those distinguishable Gen-Z traits of self-critical humour and being hyper-aware of herself, her art and how she presents herself to others. Having a combined follower count of over a million across her socials, she’s very aware of the public perception of her and how she interacts with her community of followers – which she acknowledges comes with its own set of responsibilities. She speaks very candidly and genuinely about mental health and how she suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, as well as going to therapy, ‘There’s definitely a way to talk about mental health to make people feel comfortable and safe. I know I have to be responsible but I also have to be myself.’
With public perception also comes her fear of judgement and people weaponising her vulnerability both on social media and in her music. She refers to comments she’s had recently – she’s often called the ‘sad girl’, or the girl that ‘always has something going on’. While social media has the benefit of letting people see snapshots of Reneé’s life, as we all know, it’s not always realistic, and they are merely snapshots. ‘I’m trying really hard to tow a line between privacy and openess. Being open is so important to me as it feels good, but I’m also not blind to the fact that a tonne of young kids follow me,’ she says. As part of this accountability, Reneé wants to maintain a mutual relationship with her fans, saying that she will reply to messages that are both nice and otherwise, ‘I’m so lucky to have a fan base that supports me but also holds me accountable. I absolutely want to be told when I fuck up. I respect creators that don’t look at DMs at all or don’t respond to them, but I’m just not into that at the moment. If someone comes for me I’m coming for them too!’
Interestingly, I mention an interview where Reneé is asked about her experience of playing Regina in Mean Girls, initially portrayed by Rachel McAdams in the 2004 film. She discusses the pressure of having to play such an iconic character, one who oozes confidence to the point of arrogance, and fits the bill of the stereotypical blonde, thin, Barbie epitome. In the interview Reneé states, ‘Regina does not have to be 115 pounds. I’m playing Regina and I am nowhere near 115 pounds – I never will be and I’m proud of that!’ Although she is certainly giving the right message to young women and aspiring actors or performers, on reflection for Reneé, her internal experience was very different at the time. ‘Throughout the [Mean Girls] process, I was preaching what I know to be true. But in reality, I was in the thick of an eating disorder and wasn’t doing okay. For transparency, I was struggling so hard and I would never talk to my friends the way I spoke to myself. I had an internal battle every day.’
I ask how she looks after her mental health now, which is where we circle back to music. Her love of music is clearly an intrinsic part of her being, ‘Music is the only area of my life where I’ve ever really known peace – this is all I really care about,’ she reflects. ‘Even when I was a kid – I couldn’t function when there wasn’t music playing. My parents always tell people that when I was younger I would have a full tantrum when there wasn’t music playing in the car – I would kick my shoes off,’ Reneé laughs.
So what’s next for Reneé? There will be an EP coming out soon, although she teases, ‘if I can keep mustering up the courage to keep releasing shit.’ I hope she can.