In 2006, “The Real Housewives,” SoulCycle and, most importantly, “High School Musical” were born. 15 years later, the world is a vastly different place, but the legacy of the Disney Channel Original Movie lives on.
The musical, directed by Kenny Ortega, captured the zeitgeist of millennial teens and Gen Z kids upon its Jan. 20 release date, in turn shaping the generations. “High School Musical” walked so “Glee” could run — except “Glee” tripped and fell into a ditch.
“High School Musical” let all of us live vicariously through Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens), Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale). The film single-handedly crushed toxic masculinity by allowing Troy to be a basketball star and a sensitive theater boy all at once. Not to mention, Gabriella was a STEM girl who got the most popular boy in school without compromising her intellect. “High School Musical” stomped on tropes and came out with some solid bops to boot.
Disney Channel was flipped on its head with the smash success of the film (and 2003 release “The Cheetah Girls” deserves credit too, to be fair). As a result, so were our childhoods. While past hit television shows and films on Disney and Nickelodeon left their characters rather plain jane, the success of “High School Musical” shifted the networks’ mentality to toss singing and fame into any and all shows.
The impact also led to the greenlight of “Camp Rock,” “Lemonade Mouth” and “Starstruck,” among other films. “High School Musical” influenced a generation of childhood content and we should all be eternally grateful for that. Without it, where would our pitchy, delusional selves be? Not doing Sharpay’s vocal warmups for no reason but to do them, that’s for sure.
It’s been 15 years, yet you could ask anyone between the age of 18 and 30 about the franchise and they’ll respond with the best of the trilogy, their favorite song and if they’re a Sharpay or Gabriella fan. I’m a “High School Musical 2” purist who blasts “High School Musical 3” track “Scream” and recognizes that I’d rather be Sharpay but be friends with Gabriella (because I could steal the spotlight from her).
I remember the night of the “High School Musical 2” premiere, watching TV hyped beyond belief, bouncing on my mom’s yoga ball. The Disney Channel Games, a star studded annual competition show featuring the biggest names of the channel, led into the event, creating an all-around night of nostalgic overload.
I’m not alone in that hype, either. The premiere of “High School Musical 2” drew 17.2 million viewers, becoming the highest-rated cable broadcast ever at the time. Talk about impact. From the premiere of “High School Musical” in January 2006 to August 2007’s sequel release, the franchise had cemented itself as a cultural landmine.
Flash forward to 2008 and “High School Musical 3” was upgraded to the theatrical release treatment, grossing over $250 million worldwide. And it did all that while being the worst in the series from a quality perspective.
Here we are in 2021 — many children who grew up singing “Bop to the Top” in the shower now legal drinkers — and the legacy lives on. We can’t go back to the simplicity of childhood, of wondering if we want to be Troy or be with him, but we can always reminisce.
Why not harken back to a simpler time in life with a rewatch? Serenade yourself with “Everyday,” cry over “Gotta Go My Own Way” and embrace glam with “I Want It All.” And don’t forget to root for the Wildcats more than we have ever rooted for the Ramblers. School spirit at East High is no joke.
As we officially acknowledge “High School Musical” as a remnant of the past, Disney+ has launched “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” a successful television show that helped bolster the career of overnight sensation Olivia Rodrigo. Thus, the Disney circle of life continues.
“High School Musical” is streaming on Disney+.