It was the decade when...
One of the more unlikely entertainment phenomena of the decade, High School Musical began life as just another cheaply produced Disney Channel diversion for the pre-teen set, hoping to distract the target demographic from their go-gurt long enough to land some synergistic product placement for Disney Inc. And like go-gurt these movies are usually cheap, contain no natural ingredients, are quick to consume, taste vaguely of polyurethane and can be disposed of speedily. There was little reason for High School Musical to make anymore of an impression on the general culture than Pixel Perfect or Return to Halloween Town.
The original High School Musical premiered on the Disney Channel Jan 04, 2006. By April the movie was a full-fledged sensation-the soundtrack of the film having soared to #1 in March. An army of devoted elementary school students - with phalanxes of confused, weary, deep pocketed parents behind them - consumed all things HSM with the ravenousness of starving, feral dogs. The merchandising tie-ins were ubiquitous. (Who doesn't need a High School Musical paddleball?)
I myself first became aware of the phenomena when in late '06, browsing through a Bop magazine (as one does), I was confronted by the same all-American smile and floppy locks looking back at me from every page. It was Zac. The Efron. I felt like Shelly Duvall in The Shining discovering what makes Jack a dull boy. Every page! I realized there was an earthquake happening in youth culture and I had barely felt a tremor.
The thing that no one seemed to notice is that High School Musical is WEIRD. How you ask? Let me count the ways:
1. It takes place in Albuquerque. Really? Albuquerque? I mean, how did that get decided upon? At what development meeting did someone suggest Albuquerque as the perfect locale for this all-American high school? It's not that it's totally inappropriate, it just seems strangely... arbitrary.
2. One of the characters name is named Sharpay. She is neither a Lhasa Apso nor a drag queen.
3. Our leading man's name is Troy Bolton. He is neither a 70's anchorman not a gay porn star.
4. Zac Efron became a major musical star thanks to High School Musical but he didn't even sing his own music.
5. The drama teacher, Ms. Darburs, is the broad who played Cassie in the movie of A Chorus Line. Should Donna McKechnie feel jealous or relieved?
6. The character Ryan Evans dresses like Isaac Mizrahi on a stroll down the Provincetown boardwalk. In the movie, he is neither gay nor teased. Oh yeah, sure, just like real high school. (He sings a song called Bop to the Top! I mean...)
8. The musical at the center of High School Musical is called...Twinkle Town. 'Nuff said.
9. The main love interests don't even kiss. HSM makes Grease look like Passolini's Salo.
10. They never get to the musical! SERIOUSLY. You watch a whole movie called High School Musical, and you never see the MacGuffin that makes the plot turn. The movie ends after the auditions. I don't know about you, but if I see a movie called Titanic the ship better sink.
Of course, we all know what happened: Two Blockbusters sequels, the latter of which was released in movie theatres only to break records in that medium as well. The leads became major Hollywood stars. The material found a whole second life in live theatre, first in professional tours and then in high schools across the country. Imitators have made various attempts to capitalize on HSM's success, some successful (like Fox's hit TV-Show Glee), others not-so-much (Broadway's "13"). Ultimately, it's kiddie-clap trap. But without HSM we would have never had this picture, and for that, well...I'm High School Musical's biggest fan.
You AUGHT to remember...