Reneé Rapp is one of four stars of HBO Max’s excellent comedy, The Sex Lives of College Girls. But she really only started acting so that she could do music.
“I just got told ‘no’ a lot. I got told that people didn't understand me, and I was really frustrated by that,” Rapp tells LA Confidential. “And so I was like, ‘All right, bet. So I'm gonna create a platform for myself, and then you will be forced to understand me because it will be shoved down your throat.’ And so I'm very grateful that has happened.”
When Rapp hops on a phone call in early November, she’s two days away from releasing her debut EP and two weeks out from the premiere of College Girls season 2.
“I am currently in my gates of heaven,” she says. “I'm in New York for a couple of press things and today's my last day, so I'm walking in the park. So I'm in a great f****** mood.”
A Broadway alum, NYC is more than familiar territory for Rapp. The North Carolina native’s career went into overdrive when she landed the role of legendary mean teen queen Regina George in the Mean Girls musical. Her reign began in 2019, but was cut short by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She pivoted and started looking to film and television roles, which led to a successful audition for Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble’s The Sex Lives of College Girls.
Rapp’s talents as a performer are clear given her dexterity across the industry. But her relationship to music is unparalleled. She thinks back to a family ski trip in Colorado when she was a pre-teen and listening to Frank Ocean’s debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra.
“I was at the top of a mountain and I put my headphones in and I was playing ‘There Will Be Tears’ and “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots,” Rapp says. “I was going down the mountain and I was sobbing and I remember being like, ‘Holy s*** I finally feel OK.’ I don't really know how to understand it, but I felt very comfortable with those two songs and being completely weightless just going down a mountain. And I was like, ‘Oh, nobody can hurt me here. I can't hurt myself. I don't even have the time to, nor do I have the capacity.’”
“It was the first time I really felt connected to music in that way because I remember being like, “Oh, holy s***. Now I feel fine.”
The regular family trips to Colorado as a kid, Rapp says, were her “only moments of peace and having zero anxiety.” She sings about it on her song “Colorado,” through which she imagines starting a utopian mountainside life.
But Rapp knows better. “Who am I kidding, I’m addicted to the chip on my shoulder,” she sings
“Colorado” is on Rapp’s seven-track EP, Everything to Everyone, that debuted on Nov. 11. The new slate of songs joins singles “In the Kitchen” and “Don’t Tell My Mom.” Both slow-tempo tracks swell on pain and vulnerability with the former about romantic heartbreak and the latter unveiling the emotions a daughter hides from her mother.
“I feel more understood.” Rapp says of creating Everything to Everyone. “I feel like my emotions are kind of difficult to explain and I think the only way people genuinely understand me or have the capacity to do so is with [music].”
Signed by Interscope Records, Rapp has been talking about putting out a project for at least five years. She admits she had felt afraid in the past to release music and that she was only now able to put out the EP because she works with a label.
“It feels like a culmination of the really high and really low points of the last year. But I also am really, really lucky that my chosen art form and style of life is something that takes the worst f****** moments in my life and makes them into my art.”
The same is true for College Girls. “I think I found a lot of therapy in season 1,” Rapp reflects.
In the debut season, Rapp’s character Leighton takes on her first few months at the prestigious Essex College in New England. While balancing courses, new friends and living away from home for the first time, Leighton is also grappling with her sexuality. She comes out to one of her roommates by the end of the season, but is also dumped by her secret love interest, Alicia (Francis Midori). Last November, Rapp explained to Vulture that Noble asked her and Midori how the show could “model this to fit your lives and experiences” as two queer young women.
When Rapp returned for season 2, she arrived to set with confidence.
“For a long time, I tried to make myself smaller and more palatable in spaces especially dominated by men or just older people in general,” she says. “In this season, I felt like I was more sure of myself and I felt capable of saying what I felt and acting how I felt and not being anxious about it. I definitely felt more confident in the character and in myself.”
“I show up, say my s***, do my lines, laugh, play with my friends. And then I just leave, and then I go to the studio or something. It really just feels like a little playdate whenever I go to work,” she adds.
Early in season 2, Leighton comes out to her other two roommates and then publicly— or at least at school (we have yet to see if or when she’ll come out to her parents). She finally gets to lean into the most fun part of college: embracing who you are and hooking up with as many people as you want.
“I’m excited for [fans of the show] to see Leighton’s ho era,” Rapp says. “It's so much less that she's out and more that she's owning herself and living her own life. And she's just like, All right, I don't really give a fuck.’ I like how she navigates spaces. I feel like she's very confident, even though she's insecure and very sure of herself.”
With music, TV and theater conquered, Rapp is setting her sights on film next (alongside an already sold out, five-show tour). Details are still under wraps, but her excitement even over the phone is palpable.
“I'm really grateful that the next project that we're doing is something that is super full circle,” she hints. “It feels very nostalgic and really, really, really special to me and where my career is gonna go, hopefully.”
The Sex Lives of College Girls is now streaming on HBO Max and Everything to Everyone is available on streaming platforms.
Photography by: Courtesy of Universal Music Group