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Reneé Rapp’s debut album ‘Snow Angel’: an artful symphony of vulnerability

The cover of Reneé Rapp’s first album “Snow Angel.” The album navigates various themes of sexuality, difficult relationships and vulnerability. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Released on Friday, Aug. 18, Reneé Rapp’s debut album “Snow Angel” navigates themes of complicated relationships, sexuality, authenticity and vulnerability.

Rapp collaborated on the album with producer and singer-songwriter Alexander 23, who co-wrote “Bruises” and the extended version of “Everything to Everyone.” Both of these songs are featured on the deluxe edition of Rapp’s extended play “Everything to Everyone.” Rapp and Alexander 23’s album debuted at No. 44 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, marking the biggest solo debut album for a female artist in 2023 so far.

The 23-year-old singer first came to prominence after winning a Jimmy Award for a prestigious high school musical theater performance, and for her performance as Regina George in the 2019 Broadway musical “Mean Girls.”  Through her music, Rapp has represented the various chapters of young adulthood in honest and witty ways, but her latest album better reflects her identity today. 

“Sonically this album makes a lot more sense in my brain — it’s much more like music that I would listen to,” Rapp said in an interview with The Line of Best Fit. “This album has a lot of different themes. Thematically, it’s more defiant and I’m sure of myself, even if it’s in situations where maybe I didn’t necessarily come out on top.”

The 12-track album opens with “Talk Too Much,” which features a gentle drum beat that gains intensity as it approaches the chorus, along with a crisp electric guitar that strums in a staccato fashion. Layered with an upbeat tempo and intricate sound production is Rapp’s description of a blossoming relationship that is doomed to fail due to her tendencies to overthink and self-sabotage. “I Hate Boston” serves as both a love letter to the capital city of Massachusetts and a resentful ballad towards one of Rapp’s ex-lovers. The track embodies Rapp’s Broadway background as it begins softly and gradually builds up in a crescendo after the initial chorus. As it transitions into a soft rock instrumentation by the second chorus, Rapp effortlessly showcases her vocal abilities.

Both “Poison Poison” and “Pretty Girls” incorporate vibrant musical production with a touch of lyrical sarcasm, with Rapp using humor to depict her feelings. “Poison Poison” delves into themes of betrayal within a platonic relationship and was written in response to a former friend who stabbed her in the back. While her sarcastic tone of voice shines through, the lyricism is simple, rarely digging into anything too deep, and leaves listeners underwhelmed. One of the more remarkable tracks, “Pretty Girls,” is a song that encapsulates the soaring highs and the excruciating lows of a queer individual’s experience — specifically one in which a straight woman will lead an LGBTQ+ woman on. 

Rapp truly shines in the titular track, “Snow Angel,” where she perfectly showcases her wide range of powerful vocals and introspective songwriting skills. Her intimate use of raw harmonies and gripping notes captivates her listeners as the song touches on sensitive topics like substance abuse, heartache and loneliness. “Snow” refers to both the burning sensation on the tip of her nose in cold and hot contexts, as well as the act of making snow angels, alluding to addiction.

“The Wedding Song” and “I Wish” are both nostalgic, with the former being a song Rapp wrote for someone special that could be played at a wedding. The latter is a love letter to the idea that Rapp remains blissfully unaware of the concept of death. However, “So What Now,” is seemingly the opposite; in the song, Rapp seems to be talking to a former lover about what will happen if they accidentally reconnect, which culminates in a playful outro. This song is one of album’s weaker tracks due to the straight-forward lyrics and the lack of rhyme scheme.

Maintaining Rapp’s sense of humor, “Gemini Moon” is an apologetic track about dissonance, detailing the intense struggle of choosing to love someone again after having a falling out. The opening of “Tummy Hurts” blends 21st-century pop elements with the alternative indie genre, introducing different melodies and a modified chorus that veers from her more notable balladic tracks. Playing on the childlike phrase of someone’s “tummy hurting,” Rapp manages to capture the adult feeling of unrequited love. However, the underdeveloped lyrics take away from the raw experience and emotional range of the song, and give it a more a light-hearted tone.

The album ends with the tracks “Willow” and “23,” which encapsulate Rapp’s raw vulnerability. In “Willow,” she looks down at her younger self in a bedroom pop track that gains tempo as it reaches the first chorus. Rapp personifies a willow tree as her younger self, establishing the track as another reflective sentiment toward her childhood. In terms of production, the song intertwined the bedroom pop genre with elements of R&B, where the lyricism is noted for being inspired by Frank Ocean — Rapp’s all-time favorite songwriter.

The final track, “23,” is an ethereal ballad that details the day before Rapp turned 23. In this incredibly honest song, she hopes to stop overthinking and begin living freely and carelessly; being that the song feels like the beginning of something new, it is a perfect mix of melancholic birthday blues that provides listeners with a renewed sense of peacefulness by its conclusion.

“Snow Angel” offers listeners an authentically vulnerable and humorously petty experience. However, the album does shy away from any major artistic risks, sticking to the traditional pop debut album approach. While her natural charisma and emotional range shine through her vocals, she is occasionally underwhelming and her weak lyricism can put her at risk of being another washed-up 21st-century pop star. Despite these setbacks, the musical production and humorous verses find ways to intensify the therapeutic, heart-wrenching songs that could put Rapp on the map.

Rapp is set to embark on an international tour titled “Snow Hard Feelings,” supported by Alexander 23 and Towa Bird.

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About the Contributor
Clare Gehlich
Clare Gehlich, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
Clare is the Assistant Arts and Culture Editor for The Statesman and a senior journalism major with a minor in political science. Since transferring to Stony Brook University in 2022, she has written for both Herald Community Newspapers and WSHU Public Radio.
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