Releasing original music for the first time was daunting for Reneé Rapp, who feels like she’s spent her life talking about how she wants to pursue music.
The Sex Lives of College Girls star, who spent nearly a year in Mean Girls on Broadway before the pandemic, released her debut EP, Everything to Everyone, in November. As she pondered the “risk” she was taking in the lead-up to its release — “I was like, God, I don’t want people to hate it” — she also felt the weight of 20 years of expectations.
“I’ve been saying that [music] is my thing my whole life, without having really done it,” Rapp tells PEOPLE. “I was like, ‘This is it.’ I’ve been professing that I wanna do this, I wanna play shows, I wanna make it, but it wasn’t until about a week ago that I knew I could actually do that.”
After so much build-up time, the positive response she’s received to the music has been reassuring, she says. “It definitely feels pinch-me, but it feels more like relief.”
A week after Everything to Everyone dropped, she announced a five-show tour in Los Angeles, New York City, Boston and Atlanta. All the shows sold out in two minutes, prompting Rapp to add extra shows in Los Angeles and Brooklyn.
While the tour, which concluded Sunday night in Atlanta, marks Rapp’s first time ever performing her own music, she’s not new to the stage.
In 2018, her rendition of “All Falls Down” from Chaplin propelled her to victory over 40 other high schoolers at the Jimmy Awards, an annual ceremony that highlights the best high school musical theater students nationwide. From there, she went to Broadway, starring as Regina George in Mean Girls for nearly a year — before the pandemic shut down the show’s run.
Rapp jokes that she’s played “some consistent roles,” between portraying Rachel McAdams’ iconic mean girl and rich-kid-socialite Leighton on The Sex Lives of College Girls. After landing the role in the HBO Max show following her stint on Broadway, she says the pressure was on when it came to releasing her own original music: “I definitely felt like there was a certain expectation, but I’m grateful for it. I think I wanted that.”
Both roles gave her the platform she needed to get her music into fans’ ears, but she says they also helped her learn to be less of a “people pleaser” — which helped her write music that’s more true to her.
“I wasn’t as authentically me at 18 as I am now at 22, and I think those jobs definitely prepared me for a lot,” she said. “Now I have expectations, which has been amazing, because now, going into my music career, I just know so much more about myself, because I’ve been through some s—t.”
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On Everything to Everyone, Rapp dives into some of that “s—t,” as she explores love, loss and some of the most important relationships in her life.
She kicks off the seven-song EP with its title track, a one-minute intro where she reflects on feeling exhausted by her need to support everyone in her life — even if it means getting calls at 3 a.m. She calls it the “most raw, scattered way to say what the EP is,” and as the rest of the record plays out, Rapp gets even more candid.
On the EP’s lead single, “In the Kitchen,” she mourns the painful end of a relationship, beautifully mapping how two people can go from strangers, to lovers, to enemies.
“Falling in love no it ain’t for the weak / So don’t try this at home,” she sings in the chorus.
It’s a heartbreaking and raw ballad, and she says it’s the song she’s most proud of. “‘In the Kitchen’ is my favorite song I’ve ever written, and also just like the best breakup song I probably will ever write,” she said. “It’s just really good.”
On “Colorado,” Rapp daydreams of “escapism,” imagining that life outside of Los Angeles or New York City would make her happier — even though she knows she’d never actually make the move, because she’s “addicted to the chip on [her] shoulder.” In the bridge, she admits: “I’d choose the devil I know over the heaven I don’t.”
Rapp calls the fourth track, “Don’t Tell My Mom,” a “love letter to” her mother, Denise. As the musician admits to having trouble sleeping and feeling guilty about burdening her mom with her problems, she admits the song prompted some of her mom’s friends to inquire about how she’s really doing. “A lot of my mom’s friends were hitting my mom up being like, ‘Is Renée okay?’ She was like, ‘She’s good, she’s good.'”
It was a nerve wracking song to release — not just for Rapp herself, but for her mom. “She was a touch nervous because, to be honest, not only is that putting my childhood self on blast, but it’s also kind of putting my mom on blast, in a sense. She’s a real one for letting me do it.”
“What Can I Do” is the only track where Rapp (who identifies as bisexual) makes explicit references to her sexuality, as she struggles to navigate a crush on a female friend who doesn’t feel the same. She describes it as a song about “gay sadness.”
On the final two tracks, “Too Well” and “Moon,” she returns to the feelings of loss and rejection she first explored on “In the Kitchen.” While she says “Too Well” is just “word vomit,” the latter is a song she wanted to write “for a long time,” as the moon has always felt like a “big part” of her life. “It just feels like a big part of who I am.”
She’s quick to clarify, though, that while the raw emotions she captured on the record were how she felt at the time, that doesn’t mean she still feels that way. In fact, she said there are some songs off the EP that she “hates performing,” because she no longer relates to them — a realization she’s just recently come to.
On December 6, Rapp kicked off her tour at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and while she says she has really “appreciated” the positive response from fans at each of her sold-out shows, performing live has come with its own difficulties.
“It’s a little intimidating because a lot of my life up to this point has been very public, and so sometimes when I’m talking about these things, it’s like, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, you guys just know every detail of everything.’ It can be a lot and has been a lot in my live shows.”
Even though she feels pressure, Rapp remains “excited” for everything to come in the new year — namely, returning to the role of Regina George for the recently announced Mean Girls movie musical, which is in production for Paramount+.
“I’m very excited about that movie because I think it’s gonna be a breeding ground for creativity,” she said. “It’s an amazing team, and it’s going to be so many people that I trust. I’m so excited to work with [a team of people] who, I know, are looking out for myself, cast, crew [and] everyone who works on the project’s best interest, health, safety, mental health — everything.”
The added plus? Playing the mean girl comes naturally to her. She said she was “always the Regina George of the friend group,” but is quick to clarify she wasn’t a bully — more of a strong headed defender of her friends.
Regardless, the role was one meant for her: “I definitely had it in me.”