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AP Breakthrough Entertainer: Reneé Rapp has always known what she wants — and isn't afraid to say no

For a 23-year-old, Reneé Rapp has had a lot of practice telling powerful people no. Her first time came at 19, when Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels offered her one of the lead roles in the national touring production of the “Mean Girls” musical

Krysta Fauria
Wednesday 13 December 2023 14:13 GMT

For a 23-year-old, Reneé Rapp has had a lot of practice telling powerful people no. Her first time came at 19, when Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels offered her one of the lead roles in the national touring production of the “Mean Girls” musical.

Practically speaking, Rapp was hardly in a position to turn it down. She needed money to make the move from her hometown in North Carolina to New York permanent as she sought to realize her dreams of becoming a pop star.

Though she admitted the decision was, “in a way, difficult,” she was sure she could land something better, citing her upbringing, work ethic and financial security all as factors in that confidence.

“I was also really fortunate to have that delusion of like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing that,’” she said. “I really do have a certain level of trust in myself when it comes to work that I’m going to figure it out."

And it wasn’t long before she did. A few months later, Fey and Michaels came back to Rapp with an offer to play Regina George in the show’s Broadway production, the first of many opportunities to which she would say yes.

And although her initial big breaks were acting gigs, Rapp wasted no time in capitalizing on that fame to fulfill her dreams of being a recording artist. Her critically praised debut album, “Snow Angel,” has made her one of The Associated Press’ Breakthrough Entertainers of 2023.

She eventually starred in the upcoming movie adaption of the “Mean Girls” musical, set to hit theaters in January, and played Leighton, one of the leads in Mindy Kaling’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” a coming-of-age HBO comedy-drama series that helped turn Rapp into a recognizable name.

But she had another round of practice saying no this year when she decided not to return as a series regular for the third season, in a move she hoped would solidify her identity as a pop star — something she maintains has always been her plan.

Rapp demonstrates a savvy restraint of her Broadway pipes in “Snow Angel,” embracing a pleasing pop sound that balances easy listening with poignant, sometimes dark lyrics. Now, she’s giving her undivided attention to making music — often to the point where it becomes all-consuming.

“I think about music like every second of every ...,“ she trails off. “I could be going through the worst thing on planet Earth and all I’m thinking in the back of my head is like, ‘Oh, this is what my next album is about.’ I don’t care if that’s sick. That’s what I do.”

But it’s not just Rapp’s music that is vulnerable. In true Gen Z fashion, she has been frank online about intimate aspects of her life, including being bisexual and her struggle with eating disorders.

She is proud of that vulnerability, but Rapp said honesty in the limelight can be a double-edged sword.

“I get asked about my sexuality and eating disorders like it’s my right and left arm. And in a lot of ways, I love that because I’ve been so incredibly open about it and it’s something that I really, not enjoy talking about, but I feel like I want to,” she said. “Sometimes I think with that comes being asked a lot of really dumb questions and being asked things that make me uncomfortable and then having to reroute in my head and be like, ‘s---, did I ask for this?’ And then I’m like, ‘Actually, no, I didn’t.’”

Navigating her rapid rise to fame and these momentous life changes amid a pandemic would be a lot for any young adult to handle. But Rapp never lost sight of her initial goal of being a pop star, always calculating how each addition to her resume would help get her there.

“It was just like a welcomed blessing that was a means to get to what I wanted to do,” Rapp recalled of her experiences as an actor and Broadway star.

Citing what she sees as a double standard with men, Rapp said she’s gotten used to people calling her spoiled or worse for this mentality.

“If I’m not bending over backwards and am like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so grateful. I’m so lucky to have this opportunity,’ and like, kissing the hand that feeds me, then I’m a problem.”

But a problem is something she says she's happy to be.

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For more on AP’s 2023 class of Breakthrough Entertainers, visit https://apnews.com/hub/ap-breakthrough-entertainers

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