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Reneé Rapp: ‘Songwriting is like therapy for me’

The rising US star on selling out her debut London show, the power of her fans and her musical loves

By Nick Reilly

Renee Rapp (Picture: Erica Hernandez)

Rising star Reneé Rapp has opened up on her musical influences, and how huge demand for her debut London show meant she was forced to upgrade the venue twice.

The fledgling US star was set to play London’s cosy Lafayette last month, but was forced to upgrade to the bigger room of Heaven in Charing Cross when that show sold out. When it became clear that Heaven still wasn’t big enough, a date at London’s O2 Forum beckoned. Rather impressively, it meant that her debut show ended up becoming four times bigger than originally planned.

“My fans are just the fucking best,” the 23-year-old tells Rolling Stone UK. “We would all go to bat for each other. I’ve never had people who are so honest and love me this much. We’re all like a fucking cult.”

It’s testament to Rapp’s talent. While she might be known to some for her role in HBO’s The Sex Lives of College Girls, her debut EP, Everything To Everyone arrived late last year and proved her to be a huge musical talent. A mixture of honest break-up stories and arena-tailored pop hooks, it secured over 20 million streams. At its centre is Rapp’s heart-on-sleeve songwriting and tales of Gen Z angst that have secured her a captive audience among people of a similar age.

“I have tried every type of therapy. I’ve had crystals, I’ve had weird witches coming to my house, I’ve had fucking everything!,” she says. Nothing works for me, but songwriting does work for me.”

Rapp’s first breakthrough came when she won the Jimmy Awards, a US musical theatre competition for high school students. After triumphing in that competition, a role as Regina George in Tina Fey’s Broadway adaptation of Mean Girls came calling.

“I felt really protected by Tina and she was always looking after me,” admits Rapp. In fact, it was SNL legend Fey who first gave Rapp some advice on how to navigate some of showbiz’ murkier waters.

“Tina had met someone I was working with before I accepted the job and told me I had to be wary of them,” she said.

“She pulled me aside and said ‘hey, by the way. You need to get away from that person. I love you, but they are not good for you’. The anonymous person, Rapp explains, was a music manager It was something I’d been struggling because it was a music manager struggling with substance abuse.

“They were struggling at the time with mental and physical problems and she could tell that and people around them were going to take advantage of me,”. Tina really kept an eye out for me and she still is. My parents let a 19 year old girl from North Carolina move to the city because she really made them feel so comfortable. That made me happy.”

Rapp will reprise the role in an upcoming big screen adaptation of the musical, but admits that her music career is now the main focus.

“One day I’m gonna be the full lyrical and musical package, but I know I have to enter this way to appease a lot of people. There’s a lot of dance, monkey dance and I’m not gonna end up here, but I love being here now,” she says.

I’ve learnt a lot, but there’s a lot of songwriters I truly love like Kacey Musgraves, Frank Ocean, and vocalists like Jazmine Sullivan, who released my favourite ever song. That’s the music I like. This music right is not where I’ll end up, but I’m just loving playing the game.”