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Reneé Rapp on Cara Delevingne, Drew Barrymore Stalker, and ‘Pretty Girls’ Video

This past week in surprise collaborations, Reneé Rapp dropped a new music video directed by none other than Cara Delevingne. It’s a major feat for the actor and singer, not only because of Delevingne’s celebrity status, but also because she’s one of Rapp’s teen crushes. (And, honestly, still is today.) “Seeing an openly queer person who was just super hot and out there was really exciting to me growing up,” the singer says over the phone, while sitting in New York City traffic earlier this week.

The video is for “Pretty Girls,” a track based on Rapp’s real experience that appears on her just-released debut album Snow Angel. It depicts her in a whirlwind romance with a beautiful blonde (played by the model Scarlett Leithold) who she meets in a warehouse party, only to find out in the end that she’s there with a guy. Before coming to the harsh realization, Rapp imagines a string of dreamy romantic scenes with her new paramour, snuggling at sunset and playing pool, which appear indistinguishable from her reality and keep viewers guessing. “That’s Cara’s genius,” Rapp says, crediting Delevingne’s idea for the concept.

Rapp, 23, who is beloved by TikTok users and theater kids alike, has broken through on Broadway (Mean Girls), television (Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls), and now pop music with the release of her 2022 EP Everything to Everyone and now Snow Angel. With so much ground covered so early in her career, she’s not ruling out ending up in the director’s chair one day.

Directing is “something that intimidates me a little bit, but ideally one day, I’d love to do it,” Rapp says. “But it makes it a whole lot easier when I get to watch somebody like Cara direct and be like, ‘Oh, okay. Wow. She fucking gets it.’”

Here, Rapp talks about filming “Pretty Girls” with Delevingne, welcoming the next chapter of her career, and her recent close encounter with Drew Barrymore.

I wanted to ask if you were doing okay because I saw that video of you and Drew Barrymore at the 92nd Street Y this week. It seemed really scary.

Yeah, thanks. Very sweet of you to ask. I really appreciate that. You know what? It’s so interesting to me because I was talking to my mom and my manager, Adam, about this, and I was like, I could not believe how, I guess the right word is, resilient she [Drew] is, just because she was like, “Let’s go. Yeah, yeah, I’m good.” But I guess the sad story is that she’s probably dealt with this her whole life, just by the nature of being a very famous person for a really long time. I, however, was super not used to it. She made me more comfortable, but it was very, very strange and she’s a pro, man, because had it not been for her, I’d been like, “Yeah, let’s chill I guess.”

I think you handled it very well. You got in front of her and led her offstage, so I’m glad you’re both alright, or as well as you can be considering.

Yeah. Thanks. I appreciate that.

In better news though, your debut album is out in the world.

I am.

When it dropped, you also released your music video for “Pretty Girls.” How did Cara Delevingne come to mind to direct it in the first place?

She is someone who I’ve always thought the world of and I’ve always really looked up to, and she was also a huge crush of mine when I was a kid—let’s be clear, still to this day, 100 percent. But seeing an openly queer person who was just super hot and out there was really exciting to me growing up.

We were talking about directors for this video and Adam just mentioned to me, he was like, “You know what would be really, really cool if we ask Cara to direct it.” And I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me? Of course.” And I’m pretty sure he asked and then the next morning we were on a Zoom and she was just so artistic and thoughtful and precious and so fun to talk to. And I loved all of her opinions and takes on what she thought the good frames would be and things like that. And then she was just a part of it and super down. And it was the best, coolest case scenario ever. I was so excited to get to work with her.

renee rapp cara delevingne

Courtesy Interscope Records

In the BTS footage, you call her “mommy,” which is a direct quote. And you say that she is one of many mommies for you. What is your personal definition of mommy? And who are your other mommies aside from Cara Delevingne?

Well, it’s interesting because Cara and I have been talking about [how] she’s the greatest mommy-daddy. I actually have a little revised answer because she’s really mommy and daddy, to be honest. We were talking about this the other day. To me, a mommy is many different things. I have a mother. I have a mother whom I love very much. And she’s the mother, right? Now, Beyoncé is also mother.

But if you want to go into mommy, that’s Cara. That’s like somebody who I’m like, “Oh. Jesus.” The heart will skip a beat. It’s just a presence. My best friend, Alyah [Chanelle Scott]: mommy. Oh, my God. She walks into a room and I just want to sob. So there’s mothers and there’s mommies and then there’s mommy-daddy. Cara’s super daddy too.

What was Cara’s directing style on set, behind the camera?

Absolutely perfect and so much fucking fun. I have been very blessed to be on a lot of sets run by many different people, whether it be on videos or jobs that I have, and that was the most fun I’ve ever had on a video shoot. I tend to get really anxious and really uptight. And I didn’t feel nervous not one time that day.

She was constantly playing music, and it was music that wasn’t the song, which I love because it just felt like exactly the environment that it should be in. And I think that’s something really special about when an actor directs, because they’re coming at it from a really specific perspective of, “Okay. I know what it feels like on that side. I also know what it feels like on this side.” Cara’s also just really, really, really artistic and quirky and beautiful, and it was just fun. The whole day just felt like a little party. She’s really, really thoughtful and has awesome opinions and also really speaks her mind, which obviously I think specifically as women, if you’re going to direct or pretty much be in any space, you have to speak your mind or else you’re going to get shut down.

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I was curious how the actual visuals came to be. What was on your and Cara’s vision board, especially when it came to you as the artist, the songwriter, translating the lyrics to the screen?

Well, it’s obviously a pretty straightforward song. That being said, we wanted it to feel high-concept and really interesting visually. So it is pretty much verbatim how the situation went for me in real life, where it’s just like: this girl was hitting on me and trying to do the whole thing and then was just with her boyfriend. And that’s not to say that bi girls don’t exist, I’m very openly bisexual, but this girl was straight and just wanted to kind of have this, I don’t know, homoerotic experience. The difference, however, was that in the video, you see Scarlett Leithold, who’s the other girl in the video with me who is gay—she at the end of the video looks longingly in my direction.

So it was to nod that yes, this situation that happened to me was with a girl who was seemingly straight and was just doing this for whatever reason, but this also happens with a lot of people who are just exploring their sexuality. And they’re like, “Oh. Okay. Maybe this is something I’m into.” That’s something I used to do when I was younger. So we wanted to make it really clear. I think that there’s two sides to this thing and they both can kind of blur together.

Where do you think “Pretty Girls” fits into the concept of your album and the story that you’re telling?

I think that “Pretty Girls” is the song on this album that is obviously the most pop-forward, but with the most depth to the lyrics. I think it’s one of the songs that I’m lyrically incredibly proud of…at least in my opinion, and I could be way wrong, I think that anybody who listens to it is like, “Oh, this is such a fun, little cute song.” And then you listen to the lyrics and you’re like, “That was actually kind of a jarring situation.” And it’s a nod to that experience for a lot of queer women and people.

Again, there’s two sides to it. There’s a side where it’s like, “This is something that you are objectifying me for,” and then it’s also like, “This is something that you’re discovering about yourself and you might be objectifying me in the process,” and that sometimes fuckin’ sucks, but that’s also sometimes the way it goes.

There’s a tweet that I saw recently with screenshots of lyrics from the album like, “You’re so small, I could flick you across the room,” and people talking about how creative your writing is. Have you seen similar posts?

No, I haven’t, but I love that. I mean, things like that, “flick you across the room,” there are certain things on the album that I just end up just ad-libbing and my team will fight to keep it in. And I’ll be like, “No, guys. It’s so embarrassing.” I’m like, “Guys, no. Stop.” And they’re like, “No. This is authentic. This is how the song is made. And I think that’s cool.” And so I’ve really come to love it. And then I also kind of like the dichotomy that there’s those silly moments, and then there’s also these really, really, in my opinion, very powerful, thoughtful, depth-filled songs.

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She’s giving range.

Range, baby. Range.

The release also marks a new chapter in your life and career. You’re in a period of transition where you’re saying goodbye to Leighton on Sex Lives of College Girls. How are you handling this new beginning?

To be honest, I think the biggest feeling right now I feel, and it will sound cheesy, but I feel overwhelmingly grateful for everything that I’ve been able to be a part of. And I hope that it continues in my life, and I hope that I’ll be able to get that lucky again. I have made the greatest friends over the last couple years and friends who have come to be my collaborators in music. My best friend, Alyah [who plays Whitney on Sex Lives], is somebody who I met on the job, and that’s my best friend in the whole wide world. She also is directing my videos. So I feel really, really, really lucky and I really am appreciative of the fucking lessons that I have learned because, my God, have I learned many.

What’s one off the top of your head?

I just need to trust myself. Whether it comes to my gut intuition, whether it comes to my craft, or whatever, I’ve got to trust myself a little bit more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There is a 75 percent chance she’s listening to Lorde right now. 

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