Reneé Rapp is stressed. Her debut EP, Everything to Everyone, is out today, and she’s been worried “no one’s going to fuck with it.” “I had a nightmare that I was playing the Hollywood Bowl and when I came onstage, everyone left,” she tells Rolling Stone a few days before the EP’s release. “And the only people that stayed were my parents, my best friend, and my manager.”
Talking to Rapp, who joins a Zoom call in her PJs not long before Everything to Everyone is out, you understand why she’s hella nervous: Everything she’s done in her career — from skipping college and briefly joining a girl group to playing Regina George on Broadway’s Mean Girls and Leighton Murray on HBO’s Sex Lives of College Girls, the second season of which debuts next week — has led up to this moment. “Basically, my whole life has been scheming to be right here,” she says. “Music was all I ever wanted to do.”
Everything to Everyone serves as an excellent introduction to the complex inner workings of a young woman who finally has “something to say,” as she puts it. Now, fans get to see the person behind Regina and Leighton — and Rapp wants her listeners to feel something when they listen. In fact, she wants them to “be fucking wrecked.”
Lead single, “In My Kitchen,” puts Rapp’s powerhouse vocals on full display as she mourns lost love, and tracks like “Colorado” and “Too Well” are sonically upbeat but lyrically honest about her mental health and how she sometimes “can’t stop overthinking.” “Not that I would ever wish someone to be sad, but if you’re going to listen to my music, you’re either queer, sad, or both,” she says, describing the record as a “bittersweet hug.”
From her “pinky promise” with Tina Fey to her love for Beyoncé, Rapp breaks down her swirling journey to Everything to Everyone.
How is waiting for music to come out different from waiting for the premiere of your show’s new season?
It’s exciting in a way. And it’s also really scary because I think there will be a lot of eyes on me from the show, which is going to be great if people fuck with the music. But if they don’t, then that’s just more eyes that don’t like it. Do you know what I mean? It’s just my inner anxiety and demons going off.
[Sex Life of College Girls] is such a different entity and part of my life that I don’t even really think about it like that. I’m more just like, “Oh yeah, that’s exciting, and that’s going to happen.” The music feels like I’ve been waiting 22 years of my life to do this. And so it’s a lot of exciting, nerve-wracking pressure, and I just want to make sure that I’m doing it right.
How did you get into music?
Music was all I ever wanted to do. My two biggest insecurities, as a kid growing up, were acting and songwriting. I was like, “I can’t act, and I can’t write songs.” But I wanted to be Beyoncé. I used to watch the award shows for music, and just cry after, because it was the greatest night of my life. But I was also filled with such FOMO and envy. I couldn’t watch it anymore. I was that jealous. My mom would turn American Idol on, and I would get viscerally angry. I’d be like, “We can’t watch this. Because if I watch it, I’m going to be jealous.” Music was the only thing I ever wanted to do, and it was the only thing that ever made sense to me. And I don’t even know why.
My parents wanted me to go to college, and I was like, “Well, I don’t want to fucking go to college. I want to fucking be Beyoncé. I don’t think Beyoncé went to college. So why the fuck would I?” At one point, I ended up in a girl group. I was just really grinding.
Hold on. You were in a girl group?
Yeah. I was in a girl group. Thank fucking God we didn’t drop music. The girl group was called Daddy’s Little Girls.
Are you serious?
I swear to God. I was 15, 16. It wasn’t good. The girls also just hated each other. And by hated each other, I mean they fucking hated me. But it was also great because I was in the studio, and I was writing, and I was working really closely with the producer. So I learned how to write songs. I had always been writing. I wrote my first song song when I was eight, and I still remember it. So, yeah, the girl group split up. I said, “OK. Well, this is something Beyoncé did.”
There you go. And what followed?
I just kind of kept going. And then the college part became a big conversation. At this time, I’m a sophomore in high school. I’m going up and back to New York, I’m already getting rejected by a shit ton of labels, and pretty much just getting glanced up and down by every old man in power. I’m like, “Thank you so much for your fucking misogynistic time. This was great, to fly all the way here to meet you and you to be a fucking square.”
Anyway, I knew this girl who had gone to a performing-arts high school in Charlotte, where I lived, won a regional theater competition, went on to win the national competition, and then went on to get seen by agents at this national competition in New York. And then got a job working on the West End and didn’t have to go to college. And I was like, work.
So that was my goal. I was very fortunate and I had a lot of support, but that is verbatim what I ended up doing: I switched to that school, won the regional competition, was very lucky, won the national competition, got seen by agents, and then got a job working in Mean Girls on Broadway and I got to move to New York.
But you wanted to do music? What changed?
The great thing about Mean Girls was originally I was unsure about the job. Because I was like, “What an amazing opportunity, but also, all I want to do is music. And so how do I make sure that any job I do serves what I most love in life?” I had a meeting with my bosses, who are very cool former bosses to have at 18, Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels, who are angels. I was like, “All right, I will do this show if you promise to help me in my music career. I know you bitches have connections.” And we did just that.
They are the greatest and took a really big fucking chance on me. So not only was I so excited I didn’t have to go to college, I’m also in New York where I can simultaneously work on my music and make a name for myself. So then I was in Mean Girls, and then the pandemic happened.
My agents at the time sent me an audition for Sex Lives of College Girls. They’re like, “You should do this.” And I was like, “Yo, I really don’t think I’m an actor like that.” They were like, “This would be good. It might put you in L.A. It might be good for music. The whole thing.” So I submitted for College Girls really early in the pandemic. They moved me out to L.A. It was another move to be like, “I will love this job through and through, but I still want to do music.”
I love that. And now we have this EP! What inspired it, and what was that songwriting process like?
I got out of a really tough relationship last December. And the first person I called when it ended was my manager, Adam. And he was like, “How are you?” And I was like, “This is going to be the best year of my life.” And he was like, “But are you good?” And I was like, “Honestly, no. But I can feel something in my body, that this was supposed to happen. And now I feel like my own individual and I don’t have to make myself smaller. And now I have something to say.” So the second that happened, I started writing in a different way and recording with a ton of people in January of this year.
Through all of it, I’ve been really trying to fix my mental health. Not fix it in the sense to make everything perfect. But “Colorado” specifically is a song that is only about mental health. And it doesn’t say, “I am sad, I am sick.” It’s like, “I want to fucking move to Colorado ’cause I want to literally get the fuck away from everybody, even the people who I love most and are so good to me. Because I can’t possibly be happy with myself right now. And I don’t fucking know why. So I’m going to move to a state where I no longer have a job like this.” So like that.
It wasn’t even until about a month ago, or two months ago, when I wrote the intro that I was like, “Oh yeah, this is what the project is.” I feel like I constantly am trying to be everything to everyone. And that doesn’t mean that I’m the perfect friend — half the time, I’m so unreliable it’s ridiculous — but that concept bleeds through the whole project.
Who were some of your inspirations in songwriting and sound?
So it’s interesting because my favorite artists of all time are Frank Ocean, Kacey Musgraves, and SZA. But my favorite singers are Jazmine Sullivan and Beyoncé. So in this last year, it was such a fucking weird process of finding my sound because I don’t make music like any of my favorite artists I listen to. But there’s nods to all of those people in my music.
Finding the sonic palette for this project was quite difficult. I think where we ended up is I just needed everything to feel good. So I don’t even know how to describe it. But I was an absolute cunt going through mix passes because I was like, “No, this has to be turned down and this has to be turned up.” I was just like, “I just know how this should feel on my body. And until it feels like that, it’s not right.” So we got the songs to a place that, for whatever reason, just feels good in every little fiber of me. I don’t even know if I can really describe it using words, except that they fucking feel good. Everything just ended up feeling like a hug.
I like that. It has to feel right for you in order for it to resonate with everybody else. Is there a song on the project you connect with most?
I think “What Can I Do” is the first openly gay song that I ever wrote. Though I’ve been out for many, many years, I never ever wrote songs about my queer relationships. I only wrote them about my hetero relationships. And it was wild because I really wanted to; I just didn’t know how. I honestly think, looking back, that’s a touch of internalized homophobia. But when I wrote “What Can I Do,” it was just about really, really, really falling super hard for a close friend of mine who is straight, but every now and again flirts with me and was in a relationship that was so not suited for her.
And so it was just me enviously and innocently watching her go through this relationship and not be treated properly. And selfishly, I was like, “I literally love you. I would never want you to feel like that.” It’s really just this feeling of yearning for somebody where you don’t know if you’re just friends or not. For me, that song is so important because it is the first queer song that I wrote that I was really proud of. And as somebody who’s bisexual, I think a lot of times it’s very easy for me to just exist in queerness as a bisexual person who only speaks on the hetero parts of my life. That song made me feel so good about the really colorful and gay parts of my life.
Destiny Rogers recently came out publicly as bisexual. We were talking about how she had to change the chip in her head to be like, “I can say ‘she’ in my songs.” It’s like codeswitching a bit.
Totally. It’s interesting too because I didn’t really realize necessarily why, but I was always so against using any sort of gendered term or pronoun in any of my songs. Even though I’m writing about these specific relationships, whether they be with men, women, or just a person, as somebody who likes everyone, I wanted to be able to fit the song with whatever. I’ll be damned if I write a breakup song and that song is for the person who I have now since broken up with. That is an absolute “fuck no” for me. I am never going to give somebody that much power that that song is for them. The song is for me.
So when it comes to using gendered terms, I only want to do it in a way that feels authentic and right. “What Can I Do” was a place that felt really authentic for it to reference that “your boyfriend is in the bathroom.” But it still leaves the other person’s gender or sexual identity completely up in the air. Which I really like. But obviously, I’m going to talk about it.
Is there a specific lyric that you’re super proud of writing on this project?
In “Colorado,” I sing “I’m addicted to the chip on my shoulder.” “Colorado” is special to me because the writing is so concise. The lyrics are everything to me: “I like it best breaking a sweat. So I go somewhere where it’s colder.” It’s a song about being addicted to the grind. Like I’ll complain about being, like, “Jesus fucking Christ. I’m so burned out and I’m so tired.” But I’m like, “I love that feeling,” which is probably something I need to work on.
It’s cool to get to know you as a person through the music, as opposed to getting to know your characters. Is that nerve-wracking for you as an artist?
It’s so nice. I just hope that people enjoy my music as much as they do my characters and then some more. Because, again, music is the only reason that I even started acting. It’s not that acting is a less important part of my life, but acting is a less important part of my life.
Music is the way I communicate, the way that I feel heard. And so I just really fucking hope that people love it as much as I do because I care about it more than I probably care about anything in the world, even my well-being.