Wednesday, January 20, 2016

BACK IN THE DAY: #HighSchoolMusical 10 Years Later

It's a fact, Wildcats. It's been ten years since the Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM for those in the know) to end all movies literally changed the teen pop game. Tonight, the Disney Channel will celebrate with a special *anniversary* reunion featuring the main cast (except Zac Efron who was too busy pretending he doesn't remember the lyrics & choreo and flexing his pecs).

Back in January of 2006, I was a college freshman that got suckered in to the weirdly wonderful Disney machine and a lot of it began with High School Musical. It was Grease (only slightly) re-imagined with super catchy bubblegum pop songs and super awkward banter. Did we really think then that so many of these "kids" would still be relevant stars to this day? Did we?!?

It's so awesomely badly good.

The overwhelming success of High School Musical literally took everyone older than their tweens by surprise. It's humble debut was the first few snowballs in the proverbial avalanche that became the Disney Channel in the mid-00's, one part of a Power Trifecta that also included Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers/Camp Rock (and would later include Selena Gomez/Wizards of Waverly Place and Camp Rock's Demi Lovato/Sonny With A Chance). Seemingly overnight, the soundtrack sold almost four million copies in one year and became the biggest TV movie in Disney's history. Out of nowhere, Disney found itself sitting on a gold mine.

Then came the onslaught. A live concert tour. Solo pop albums by more than a few of the franchise's stars. Another television movie sequel (with an arguably even better soundtrack). A theatrical third film. Followed by the "backlash" and over-saturation. Cast members stepping out of line of the Disney formula (by being young human beings) -- nude photo scandals, dating rumors, desiring to be less like Annette Funicello and more like Britney or Rihanna. Just like that, the "kids" were all grown up, on to new projects, and the tweens fell for something else.

Would Hannah Montana have blown up so huge without all the eyeballs drawn to the network for High School Musical? Would we have had Glee without it? Would it have been as successful if we did? America saw a revival of mass market/Broadway-influenced theatrical films afterward (Hairspray, Mamma Mia!, Sweeney Todd, Fame, Footloose). Did High School Musical help open the door for this? What about the return of live musical productions on NBC (The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz) and now FOX (the upcoming Grease, co-starring...Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame)?

Ten years down the road, let's see where our favorite Wild Cats are..

HSM Highlight:
 Considering Zac's singing voice was dubbed in the first film (by Drew Seeley), it's a no brainer his highlight is his solo pop monologue jam from the first sequel: "Bet On It".

I had a hunch Zac would stick around thanks to his teen idol aesthetic but I never would have thought he'd get as handsome as he has. Growing up has been good to him. Evolving into another Leonardo DiCaprio, not so much, but he has gotten quite a few comedy films under his belt -- including an upcoming feature co-starring Robert DeNiro so I guess...who are we to make fun? Beyond High School Musical, he basically stepped away from singing (with the exception of his role in Hairspray -- released during the eye of the HSM storm).

HSM Highlight: Gabriella's lament about how boys can be confusing from the original film, "When There Was Me And You" (strangely similar to Rizzo's lament about life, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", in Grease. Interesting.)

Baby V released two solo albums (2006's V and 2008's Identified) which saw some success but were still very much within the teen idol realm. She's arguably had the most range in her acting career, taking risks in her choice of roles (Sucker Punch, Beastly, Spring Breakers, Gimme Shelter) and even tried Broadway last year in Gigi. She's now gearing up for her role as Rizzo in FOX's live production of Grease so I suppose the circle is officially complete.


HSM Highlight: The diva of HSM should always stay "Fabulous". The lyrics for this song are just plain ridiculous (do kids say "tote" and "hair band" and "go for a float"?).

Ashley, already "famous" to tweens when the telefirm first aired for her role in The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, also released two solo albums (2007's fabulous Headstrong and 2009's Guilty Pleasure). Rather than really stretch her wings in her acting career, she had a more lucrative run with animation voice acting (Phineas & Ferb, Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch) and producing (Young & Hungry -- starring fellow Disney alumn Emily Osment and about to launch its third season on Freeform).

HSM Highlight: People like to pick on the second film's super jam "I Don't Dance" because it's basically about Grabeel's character -- a "theater kid" -- convincing Bleu's character -- a "jock" -- how cool and easy dancing is, despite the fact that Bleu has already shown in the first film he's a capable dancer. I'm pretty sure this proved my theory that all jock boys really do love Broadway tunes but are afraid they'll get teased for it. Right?

It's hard work to be the other male teen idol in a Disney franchise but in comparison to Efron, Corbin was more of an all around catch when it came to performance. He released two solo albums, too (2007's Another Side and 2009's Speed of Light). Fun Fact: his debut album included the Jay Sean jam "Deal With It", which was later bought and re-written with new Korean lyrics to become SHINee's smash "Juliette". Like Hudgens, he also tried Broadway but with better results in the award-winning musical In The Heights (which I saw -- he was fab). In 2013, he tried his hand at Dancing With the Stars  but was ultimately outshone only by the incredible Amber Riley of Glee fame (and to be fair -- she's pretty damn amazing, too).

HSM Highlight:
Beyond the group sing-alongs, Monique kind of got shafted despite being included as a "main" cast member.

I wish I could say more for Monique. It's a shame, too, as she's proven herself as a philanthropist, using her influence for good. Post-HSM, she -- like Corbin -- tried her hand at Dancing With the Stars and was pretty darn great at it, finishing in fourth place.

HSM Highlight: The its-so-bad-its-good "Bop To The Top" with Tisdale. That was the point of this number, right? Either way, the waves of secondhand embarrassment are so real with this one.

How to deal with being the somewhat stereotypical gay kid in a high school? Hmmm. Lucas was also a part of another Disney telefilm franchise that to this day remains to be a cult classic -- Halloweentown -- appearing two installments, the first released before High School Musical even aired. Like his DCOM sister Tisdale, he's done a lot of voice acting. He currently appears on the teen drama Switched At Birth, beginning it's fifth season on Freeform. 

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