Snow Angel, the debut album by US musician and actor Reneé Rapp, doesn’t pull its punches. Three songs in, the 23-year-old is airing out an old friend with exaggerated, vitriolic vim: “You’re the worst bitch on earth,” she sings over Poison Poison’s breezy acoustic pop, “I hate you and your guts.”
Over the course of Snow Angel – which puts her firmly in the realm of emotionally candid young pop singers such as Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo – Rapp also criticises herself and ex-partners, writing raw, sophisticated songs in an attempt to make up for a childhood in which she was told she was “too emotional” by everyone around her. She has long been cursed with “really caring what people think, in a way that does not serve me”, she says. So, whenever she is worried about sending the wrong message with her music, she tries to remember: “I’m not making art to say this is my moral high ground and this is what I believe and agree with – I’m making art to be like, damn, this is what I’m feeling right now,” she says. “That doesn’t mean I’m proud of those feelings, but they are what they are – and that’s just art at the end of the day.”
Rapp anticipates criticism about Poison Poison. “Some people could listen to it and say: ‘How the fuck could you write a song like this? Why are you tearing down other women?’” She stresses that the issue is one of “women tearing down women in front of men. Trust me, I have not been out-girlbossed.”
It makes sense that she would be drawn to the subject: over the course of her relatively short career, she has made something of a muse out of mean girls. Rapp got her big break in 2019, playing the role of Regina George in the Mean Girls musical on Broadway; until recently, she was a lead on Mindy Kaling’s HBO show The Sex Lives of College Girls, playing the wealthy, preppy closeted lesbian Leighton. (Today she can’t discuss her film and TV work due to the ongoing Hollywood strikes.) On her popular TikTok account, where she has more than a million followers, she often adopts a disaffected, eye-rolling persona, speaking with the ironic detachment of the coolest bartender at the local bar you are a little too scared to go into.
The reason for her interest in that kind of character may be that, in real life, she couldn’t seem further from it. Speaking via a video call from her new house in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles – “It literally looks like a frat boy’s house,” she quips. “The only thing I have is alcohol and vinyl” – Rapp is funny and effusive, with a gusto that points to her theatrical background. Wearing a gigantic neon-green hoodie, she comes across less mean girl than prototypical gen Z-er, wry and ironic one moment, wide-eyed and profoundly earnest the next.
“Everything stresses me out. Since I can remember having thoughts and opinions and feelings, I’ve felt this way,” she says. Her music career has already taken off: she has sold out one of London’s biggest gig venues, Eventim Apollo, for a show in March 2024, but she is still on edge about it. “I’m so close to the album coming out, so my anxieties are high. I feel very prickly – like, if somebody touched me I would just like, blow away.”
Rapp was born in Huntersville, a town just outside Charlotte in North Carolina, to an accountant mother and a father who worked in medical sales. Her family wasn’t religious, but she felt as if music were akin to religion in their household, and remembers “being woken up for school as a six-year-old by the Gap Band”.
She was extremely emotional from a young age, and “for most of my adolescence was beyond shamed for crying and having as many feelings” as she did. Family members would call her a “ticking timebomb” – the kind of experience that led her to develop a veneer of resilience. “I was just so vulnerable because everybody was making fun of me all the time – which is not to say that I never made fun of anyone else, right? I’m no beautiful savant who’s never done a thing wrong,” she says. “I think it comes from a place of like: if you’re gonna burn me, you’re gonna burn me – whatever, you’re not the first bitch, get in line with the other people that have burned me as well. Please, start a club! Chit-chat among each other, have a group chat. I beg of you.”
A year ago, Rapp was diagnosed with a mood disorder, which unlocked a lot of understanding about why she has always felt so emotionally volatile. “Getting diagnosed made me feel – and this is a derogatory term, if you want to talk about mental health – like I wasn’t just stupid, like I felt for so long,” she says. “I used to beat myself up asking like: ‘Why can’t I do this?’ and, as a kid, hearing people say: ‘Suck it up and stop.’”
Rapp knew she wanted to be a performer from a young age. After winning a Jimmy award in 2018 – a prize given to the best high school musical theatre performers in the US – she moved to New York in 2019, to take over the role of Regina in Mean Girls. She says she views Broadway actors “like they’re gods” and relished the opportunity to work with seasoned professionals every day.
Although she was 19 and in a big city for the first time, she wasn’t tempted to live out a Carrie Bradshaw-style New York fantasy – in part because, at the time, she had an eating disorder, exacerbated by working with people on the production who, she claims, “would say some vile fucking things to me about my body”. She says it got so bad that, before the pandemic, Rapp’s parents flew to New York to try to pull her out of the show for fear of what it was doing to her health.
Rapp says that leaving Mean Girls was beneficial for her health, but now that she has shifted her focus to music, her parents are “more worried than they ever have been, because they know more now”, she says. “Eating disorders don’t just go away and like, you’re healed, like: ‘Sorry, I can eat again, ha ha!’ It’s a lifelong thing. There are battles with addiction and whatever everywhere. I still struggle with it, but at least my parents know that I’ve been taken out of environments that were really harmful to my sickness, which is awesome and a huge win. They worry like hell, but they’re chilling, I guess.”
Rapp says she is happy to talk about her eating disorder and mental health, in part because she “suffered in silence for so many years” (she has also previously spoken about her struggle to come out as bisexual, again fearing other people’s judgment). That same openness comes through on Snow Angel, a quality that Rapp says is generational. “My generation and the generation that will follow mine is much more open – especially women, non-men, queer people. I do think I’ve been afforded more opportunities than women before me, men and queer women before me,” she says. “This generation is still super mean to each other. But we are more outspoken – and give less of a fuck.”