Amy Kaufman: Reneé Rapp is remaking young female stardom. But can she enjoy it?

Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Approximately 50,000 people move to New York City every year with a dollar and a dream. In 2019, Reneé Rapp was one of them — a 19-year-old unknown from North Carolina ready to join the legions of aspiring performers willing to live in an overpriced closet or wait tables while chasing their big break.

Like, say, being offered one of the lead roles in the national touring production of a Broadway show. That's the stuff dreams are made of, right?

Not if you're Rapp. The teenager — whose resume, at that point, included winning a high school musical theater competition and filling a YouTube channel with pop song covers — told Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels "thanks, but no thanks." She did not want a job in the traveling version of "Mean Girls." She wasn't ready to leave the Big Apple so soon, not after convincing her parents to let her defer her first semester of college at Texas State University and sleeping on the floor of her friend's cramped dorm room at the Parsons School of Design.

Miraculously, it was the right call. A few months later, her presence was requested at 30 Rock by the "SNL" veteran and Fey, who'd created the stage adaptation of her hit movie.

This time around, they had a different proposal for Rapp: replacing the Tony-nominated actor who originated the part of queen bee Regina George in the Broadway production.

"That sounds more appealing to me, but I want to be a pop star," Rapp replied. "Look, I would do this Broadway contract, and I would be very excited to do it — if you guys would agree to help me in my music career. I know you guys know everybody. You book 'SNL.' I'm not stupid."


It seemed brash, naive, maybe even career-ending — and yet somehow, the industry veterans didn't kick Rapp out of Rockefeller Center. They agreed to the quid pro quo, eventually hosting a solo singing showcase for her at a local supper club when her "Mean Girls" casting was announced.

Now, four years later, Rapp is actually on the cusp of pop stardom. She has a deal at Interscope Records, which released her first album, "Snow Angel," in mid-August. She performed at the MTV Video Music Awards in mid-September, where she was nominated for best new artist. And on Sept. 15, she embarked on a 30-date North American tour that has sold out more than 70% of its venues.

None of which makes her a meteoric success, like Billie Eilish or Olivia Rodrigo. But in just four years, Rapp has blown through a seemingly immovable wall of time-honored rules about how young female artists are meant to behave.

At 23, she's part of a generation that rejects the notion that one should just politely accept whatever they're given, never ask for more, remain quiet in the face of thwarted dreams or mistreatment.


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