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A Beginner’s Guide to Reneé Rapp

If you’ve seen the new ‘Mean Girls’—or if you’ve just spent a second on social media in the past week—you may be wondering who this very talented, very chaotic person is

Paramount Pictures/Ringer Illustration

If the recent adaptation of Mean Girls—itself an adaptation of Mean Girls: The Musical, which was an adaptation of Mean Girls—is “not your mother’s Mean Girls,” then its breakout star is not your mother’s triple-threat Hollywood ingenue. Gone are the days of Disney Channel starlet turned pop star—here are the days of theater nerd turned TV actress turned singer-songwriter pop star darling turned movie star turned voice of a generation! Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but sorry, I don’t really think I am. Because while that maternal statement from the Mean Girls trailer may have been nearly incomprehensible, the new movie itself made two things completely clear: (1) Yes, it really is a musical, and (2) yes, you will be walking out of the theater with an irrevocable crush on Reneé Rapp.

It is extremely hard to be sexy while singing show tunes, and perhaps even harder to do so in a mesh shirt that has been fashioned to look like a corset but is not, in fact, a corset. But Rapp’s Regina George is sexy; she’s as captivating as a Regina George type should be, as compelling as a likable villain must be; she’s doing a lyrical lip curl the likes of which we haven’t seen since Elvis (or at least since Austin Butler as Elvis); and so help Reneé Rapp, her Regina George is queer.

Walking away from Mean Girls, I felt the full weight of a scene from the original Mean Girls when Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron notices her incessant rambling about Regina George: “I was a woman possessed. I spent about 80 percent of my time talking about Regina—and the other 20 percent of the time, I was praying for other people to bring her up so I could talk about her more.” Except I knew I would be fulfilling my Reneé Rapp quota at 100 percent. “I could hear people getting bored with me, but I couldn’t stop!” Except I knew they wouldn’t get bored—not once I made them watch that video of Rapp with Megan Thee Stallion, and that video of her on Late Night With Seth Meyers, and that video of her tearing a misogynist named Buddy to shreds, and that video of her singing “Snow Angel” sitting down, and that video of her being a PR nightmare, and that video of her singing “World Burn” while I screamed, “No, but she’s 19 in this!!!”

Me and my house? We’ve been possessed. And we’ve been referring to Twitter’s newest It Girl exclusively as “2018 Jimmy Award Winner Reneé Rapp” for half a decade.

And I want to be very clear: I am absolutely never on the cutting edge. I’m far too lazy to be that cool. However, when I hear something akin to “Wait, Leighton from Sex Lives With College Girls can sing?” I am forced to pull my beanie a little tighter, make my Doc Martens a little looser, and do the Gen Z equivalent of explaining Neutral Milk Hotel—which is, I guess, explaining that I first heard Reneé Rapp sing in a Vine (RIP Vine) doing a Bryson Tiller riff when she was in high school in 2016. Which is, of course, to say: “Do not cite the deep magic to me, witch. I was there when it was written.”

And yet I cannot, in good conscience, gatekeep Reneé Rapp. First of all, she’s not mine to gatekeep. I’m already an interloper. When I attended Reneé’s Snow Hard Feelings Tour in Washington, D.C., a few months ago, my friend and I decided to play a drinking game in which we took a sip every time we saw another person our age … at the end of that night, I could have parallel parked a Miata with a broken gearshift on black ice. Not a drink was drunk, and not a millennial was spotted. But a lovely young woman did teach me how to use the .5 zoom feature on my iPhone and ultimately took the best candid photo of me on record. (I want to assure other millennials that “OK, now do a crazy one” is still alive and well, unless, of course, that young woman was making fun of me, which is one of Gen Z’s many gifts: unending and potentially very hurtful ambiguity.)

Second of all, the star is out of the bag at this point. The new Mean Girls is colorful, fun, and sort of the CW version of camp. (Is it entirely necessary? Maybe not. Probably not.) Its cast is full of up-and-coming multi-hyphenates like Auli’i Cravalho, Jaquel Spivey, Avantika, and more, and even among all that talent, Rapp shines through like the spotlight that follows Regina George through a high school party in ”Someone Gets Hurt.”

And the central message of this movie musical adaptation is that calling someone else dumb won’t make you any smarter, and calling someone else ugly won’t make you any prettier. But I am almost positive that getting Rapp’s haircut and signature giant pants could. So for anyone less educated about this icon who has probably been seeing a lot more Rapp on their For You pages recently, let’s get to know this generation’s Regina George and see whether it make us any cooler:

Reneé Rapp Is … a Wunderkind

They said it couldn’t be done—but Rapp is a cool theater kid. She may belong to the Spotify streets now (6.3 million monthly listeners and counting), but the entire reason I was ahead of the curve on Rapp was because I am a somewhat reformed former theater kid who still follows the Jimmy Awards every single year to feel alive (OK, I am not at all reformed).

What are the Jimmy Awards, you, a non–theater kid, ask? Well, they’re the country’s preeminent national high school theater awards. (OK, they’re the country’s only national high school theater awards.) Qualifying teens travel to New York City each year to perform, compete, and presumably convene at any number of IHOPs for the after-party. The Jimmys are basically the Tonys for kids, and in 2018, Rapp sang “All Falls Down” from Chaplin and took home Best Performance by an Actress—wildly, the same year fellow wunderkind Andrew Barth Feldman won Best Performance by an Actor—and the rest is literal Broadway baby history …

Reneé Rapp Is … a Performer

Because on that same weekend in New York City, 2018 Jimmy Award winner Reneé Rapp also sang a quick line from Mean Girls’ “I’d Rather Be Me” in the award show’s opening medley—and a little less than a year later, it was announced that she would be taking over the role of Regina George from musical theater veteran Taylor Louderman in the Broadway adaptation. Headlining a Broadway musical at the age of 19—it’s giving future Tony Award winner Reneé Rapp. (Not for nothing, Rapp has spoken candidly about how difficult her time in Mean Girls was for her mental health and body image, making the amazing performances night after night all the more remarkable.)

Reneé Rapp Is … an Actor

In lieu of going to college, Rapp moved to New York City to almost immediately become a Broadway star. And then in lieu of taking a break when the COVID-19 pandemic cut that journey short, she just went ahead and pivoted to playing a college student on TV in the deeply weird but also super fun Sex Lives of College Girls, which premiered in November 2021. SLOCG is a sort of Undeclared-meets-Clueless ensemble comedy created by Mindy Kaling in which Rapp plays Leighton, a stuck-up New York City rich kid with a hidden heart of gold who also happens to be coming into her own as a lesbian, one hilarious hookup (and occasional look-alike girlfriend) at a time.

Tragically, in the exact moment when I finally became comfortable with Rapp as a perfect comedic actress who doesn’t use her perfect singing voice at all, she announced that she would be only a semi-recurring character in the show’s third season to continue pursuing her pop music career. (Oh yeah, she’d been casually doing that, too.) There will likely be many sacrifices made on the road to Rapp’s EGOT, but right now, none hurt worse than the loss of Leighton.

Reneé Rapp Is … a Singer

And you may say, “But Reneé! You were on a popular, critically acclaimed show! Why leave?” Well, because in 2023 Reneé also followed up a beloved EP and sold-out first tour with her even more popular and critically acclaimed debut album, Snow Angel, which became the biggest solo debut album for a female artist in 2023. And which some might also call the world’s biggest bisexual zillennial album named after a great-grandmother whose funeral Reneé considers her first big performance

Reneé Rapp Is … a Lyricist

Snow Angel and its resulting Snow Hard Feelings Tour are the reason that I—an extremely grown woman—am now the proud owner of a baby tee with the words “GOOD TITS BIG HEART” printed across the chest. Because really, how is a girl (woman) supposed to resist that at the merch stand? Or resist screaming it at the top of her lungs when Rapp, wearing just the biggest, sexiest pants you’ve ever seen, sings, “I just want some recognition for having good tits and a big heart.”

Reneé Rapp Is … a Triple Threat

And just when it seemed like we may never see Rapp on-screen again—to be clear, it’s been barely over a year since the last episode of SLOCG aired, which is too long—we were given the full-circle gift of Rapp singing, dancing, and acting in the movie adaptation of the musical adaptation of the movie Mean Girls. Her name is Reneé Rapp, and she is a massive deal, and her first feature film just brought in a grool $33.2 million at the box office over its opening weekend. Altogether, Rapp starred in the movie, cowrote one of its new original songs, and sang on its end credits song with the Black Regina George, Megan Thee Stallion.

Can a gay girl—and future Academy Award winner Reneé Rapp—get an amen? (Amen!)

Reneé Rapp Is … MOTHER

Rapp is a little bit scary, fiercely protective of her friends and her community, extremely hot, and queer. Basically, she is mother. And at no point was that more evident than when she immediately launched into defense mode to protect Drew Barrymore from a stalker who was approaching the stage during a talk at the 92nd Street Y.

It was a scary moment, but also a heartwarming one, and Barrymore later praised Rapp for going full Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard for her: “Well, I have a new definition of your sexiness, it’s that level of protectiveness.” Again, I say: MOTHER.

Reneé Rapp Is … a Menace

But to Rapp, I also say: MENACE! We’re now meeting her in the present day, as she meets the masses on a Mean Girls press tour that one might call … a publicist’s nightmare? A fan’s daydream? A perfect mushroom cloud of chaos?!

To be clear, this is standard practice. This Mean Girls press tour follows a slightly smaller but just as chaotic talk show tour for Snow Angel wherein Rapp made sure to tell Seth Meyers that she meant offense to the old white men of Boston, if and when they were offended by her song “I Hate Boston.” (Personally, I had the great privilege of beginning to date a person from Boston right when I went to my first Rapp concert, and if he had responded with anything less than glowing praise to the six individual videos I sent him of Rapp singing “I Hate Boston,” then I would have immediately broken up with him. This is the power of being a Rapp fan. We mean offense.)

And hey, some people really deserve it! Why shouldn’t more stars use their press junket platforms to call out misogynistic bus tour company owners like this guy named Buddy, whom Rapp completely and unpromptedly dressed down in front of her very shy but amused costar Christopher Briney during a random interview for Mean Girls: “If you’re watching this, I can’t stand you. I hope your business BURNS. You are so disrespectful, and so misogynistic … yeah, fuck you, Buddy!”

However, Rapp has now picked a much scarier enemy than some guy named Buddy or the men of Boston. This woman walked onto the battlefield that is Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen and, in that quintessentially Gen Z way, winkingly called herself an ageist while also saying Karen Huger is her favorite Housewife, while also saying she fears getting older one day, while also laughing her ass off in front of Gizelle Bryant, who was absolutely never in on the joke.

Taking on Bravo fans is tricky territory. But Rapp isn’t scared of public perception. Her no. 1 goals—beyond singing, acting, and slaying—are truth, humor, and having a killer haircut. And clearly, she just left the salon.

Reneé Rapp Is … Not Making Fun of You, Olds, She’s Just Like That!

Really, she’s just like that!

Reneé Rapp Is … a Future EGOT Winner

A week after the release of Mean Girls, Rapp is set to be the musical guest on SNL alongside fellow zillennial icon Jacob Elordi. She was also just announced as a performer at Coachella, which she responded to by tweeting that she used to do drugs at Coachella—and then immediately and totally seriously recanting that statement, presumably with a record label executive looming over her shoulder …

And even if it’s not what she’s focusing on right now, she always has her roles as a Broadway powerhouse, an on-screen dynamo, and a talk show terror in her back pocket. Now everyone’s just getting up to speed. See you at the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys, the Tonys, Reneé. To quote the woman herself: “If the shoe fits, lace that bitch up and run.