This year marks the 13th anniversary of High School Musical, a Disney Channel Original Movie (or DCOM for those in the know) that sparked the careers of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens and ushered in a renaissance for musicals, especially those aimed at teens. While I could write many words about the significance that High School Musical has had in my own life and to the larger pop cultural landscape, instead I am doing something a little more offbeat. I am boppin’ my own beat all the way to the top. As a fellow member of the class of ’08, I feel a special kinship to the HSM kids, and that means that this year (or early next year) Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay, and all the rest will be turning 30. And so I am going to rank every song in the High School Musical series based on how useful they will be to the Wildcats (and the rest of us) as they turn the big 3-0.
A note: I have included every song in the movies, including songs covered by Sharpay or Troy and Gabriella, and also that weird medley in HSM 3. I have not included songs that were cut, so that means no songs about the Hawaiian state fish made the list. Send all of your anger to me on twitter (@tadasborne).
Here’s the list:
31. A Night to Remember
This song’s sell-by date is “The Day After Prom,” so it will not be especially helpful post-high school. It also re-enforces outdated ideas about gender and fashion that should be long abandoned by the time you hit your third decade of life: “Dressin’ to impress the boys”? Kelsi, you should dress to impress yourself! Anyway, not super useful when trying to navigate home ownership or your career goals.
30. What Time Is It?
Similarly, summertime, while still exciting, does not have the same appeal that it does when you are a sophomore in high school who has nothing to focus on except for “a summer romance.” Look, that sounds nice, but some of us have to put some food on the table, okay Gabriella?
29. Bop to the Top
Much like Beto O’Rourke during the recent Democratic debates, this song is trying way too hard to convince you of its Latinx bona fides. It has a fun rhythm, and it might pump you up for a meeting or interview, but it might also give you an unearned sense of your ability to speak Spanish.
28. Right Here, Right Now
I love this song, and all of the other sappy ballads that Troy and Gabriella sing to each other throughout the series, but this is not a practical way to live one’s life! The HSM movies are, above all else, about chasing your dreams and what you want, which is a good idea in theory, but not as helpful when you are trying to pay off student loan debt. Sometimes you have to think about the future!
27. You Are The Music In Me (real version)
This is a great song, and is probably one of my top five songs in the whole series, but once again, it doesn’t really lay out how to do your own taxes, which makes it less helpful than it could be. Still, I love when everyone comes together to sing in the last chorus. Teamwork!
26. The Boys Are Back
This is the quintessential “We just saw each other for the first time in 10 years” song, and it is about as substantive as that sounds.
This kind of conspicuous consumption is not a good look, which hopefully Sharpay realizes after 10 years of co-teaching Drama at East High with Ms. Darbus. While protesting for higher teacher salary she has an epiphany and returns to her parents’ country club and personally apologizes to each and every worker. This is my head canon.
24. High School Musical (the song)
Look, I get it. When you are 18, you probably would want every day to feel like putting on a high school production of a musical about your own life written entirely(?!?) by one of your classmates feels. But also, no one’s life should be like a high school musical, and certainly not like High School Musical. As much as I would love to randomly burst into song while going about my day, it seems like it would really cut down on productivity.
This is a weird one, because Troy doesn’t expect Gabriella to be there (oh, spoilers for HSM 2), but when she arrives he is so happy and shocked that he can’t help but look around like the sad puppy dog that he is. Also, the song is called “Everyday” as in “ordinary,” but it should clearly be “Every Day.” Also, “If you get lost and lose yourself” is a lyric that sounds great but seems to mean basically nothing when any amount of pressure is put on it, like a reverse-diamond.
22. & 21. What I’ve Been Looking For (Sharpay/Ryan version) and You Are The Music In Me (Sharpay version)
I don’t particularly love the Sharpay songs in the HSM series, which I recognize is a heresy among the fandom, but these songs in particular grate against my sensibilities. As lessons to be taken into one’s 30s, there is something to be said about how art can be co-opted, but the bounciness of the songs obscures any deeper lessons that might be gleaned.
20. Walk Away
Of Gabriella’s songs about how sad she is, this one seems the least thought-out, while also being the most interesting from a musical standpoint. Ultimately though, Gabriella is “walking away” because…she got early admitted into Stanford? It’s a weird premise on which to build the song and makes it harder to pull any lessons from it.
19. We’re All In This Together (graduation version)
Sometimes, slowing things down and singing in unison as a big group does not make a song better than its original. That’s the lesson here.
18. Now or Never
It might feel like it is do or die time when the clock strikes midnight and you turn 30, but this song doesn’t necessarily convey that as well as it could, and it is so stuck on the details of taking place during a basketball game that the lyrics can’t really be abstracted for other situations. Too much discussion of being “in the paint” and the cheerleader breakdown is too much. Also, while Gabriella’s cry out to Troy is legendary, it also shows that Troy is too dependent on other people for his validation and he really needs to work on that moving forward.
17. When There Was Me and You
Speaking of co-dependence, what is this song trying to teach us? As Gabriella learns here, if someone is too afraid or ashamed to hang out with you while other people are around, then you should drop them. That Gabriella can’t seem to internalize that is why this song isn’t higher on the list.
16. Can I Have This Dance?
In my heart, this song is #1, but in terms of what we can learn moving into our 30s, this leaves something to be desired. It is a lovely ode to “dancing” with the one that you’re with, and the counterpoint between Troy and Gabriella in the 2nd verse does a lot to show how romantic partners should work with each other, but it still oversimplifies the difficult parts of love (as many songs tend to do). But also: that key change! Wooh.
15. All For One
This is another weird song, and its overall message feels like a blatant re-hash of “We’re All in this Together,” a lesson that many of the characters, including Troy and Sharpay, did not learn. That the songwriters decided to re-do that hit song, but just add in weird references to the pool does it no favors. Still, the lesson here is a good, if overly familiar, one.
14. The Musical and all its many reprises
This is one of the weirdest songs in the HSM canon, and the bittersweet entr’acte sung by Kelsi and Ryan perfectly sums up the themes of HSM 3 in a way that “High School Musical” (the song) can’t quite manage. The covers of all the previous songs, in which basically every song is worse than the original version, meets its nadir in “Night of Nights,” which is bad and then becomes a fun showcase for Sharpay. Also, Rocketman is the worst and everyone should feel bad about him being cast as Troy’s understudy. Still, the lesson here is obvious: often times, most times in fact, important roles will go to undeserving people. That’s life!
13. Stick to the Status Quo
The actual lesson of this song is bad—status quos are meant to be un-stuck to—but it does offer a pretty great example of a phenomena that everyone who is turning 30 will recognize: that person from high school who did one memorable thing and then disappeared for the rest of your life. That is the Skateboard Guy who plays Cello. While Zeke and Martha become recurring characters in the HSM series (leading to one of the worst lines, Troy’s during his speech at graduation about how a “Brainiac can break down”), Skateboard Guy is never seen again. Godspeed, Skateboard Guy.
12. What I’ve Been Looking For (ballad version)
Sometimes life surprises you. Open yourself up to wonder. The person who is right beside you might just be what you’ve been looking for, too.
11. I Don’t Dance
You can close yourself off to new experiences and be a total Chad, or you can be like Ryan and accept that life does not exist in black and white. Everything is more fluid than people like to think, which is really the whole premise of the entire HSM series. A basketball player can love musical theater (or baking) and a genius in the classroom can also sing (or dance). I know the filmmakers were really excited about adding baseball to the mix, and the choreography with the bats really does a lot to show that the line between baseball and dance is not nearly as wide as Chad thinks.
10. Breaking Free
You’re right, Troy and Gabriella, the world can see us in a way that’s different than who we are. And that sucks! So, we’re breaking free of those old expectations and moving into our 30s with a mind to be and do whatever we want. We’re soaring and flying.
9. Bet On It
All of Troy’s Dark-Night-of-the-Soul songs are great, and this one sets a high bar. The lesson is clear: be the person you say are. Don’t say that you’re going to hang out with your friends and then ditch them to hang out with college basketball players. Don’t let your friend’s rich parents persuade you to quit your more blue-collar job so that you can work as a golf instructor for kids (and also Sharpay). Uh, now that I’ve typed all this, this might be specific to Troy’s experience, but generally the ideas of “Bet On It” can apply to anyone who is trying to decide who they are. Also, Troy’s dancing throughout is a lesson on its own.
8. Start of Something New
Age is, of course, just a number, but there is a lot of emotional significance to leaving behind one’s 20s. One could even say it’s the “Start of Something New.” The optimism that this song exudes is something to carry forward.
7. I Want It All
This is the kind of spirit that everyone should have, but especially moving into one’s 30s. Don’t accept anything less than “all”. In the words of Sharpay, “Think bigger.”
6. Work This Out
Things won’t always go the way that we want them to, but as the Wildcats discuss in this song, all we need to do is “Work This Out.” While that is a bit reductive, the sentiment is a good one. Also, props to Zeke for sneaking in a cooking pun in all of his lines.
5. Just Wanna Be With You
A sweet ode to love, no matter how far apart, this song always strikes a chord with me, and the lesson is clear: sometimes all you need to make it through is that special someone.
4. Getcha Head in the Game
Focus is important. One can’t be split apart by a desire to both play basketball and be in the school play (or fall for the cute nerdy girl). While it is important to “Getcha head in the game,” it is also important to recognize that the binary that the song implies isn’t real! Yeah, getcha head in the game, Troy, but also allow yourself to feel your feelings!
This song is great. And honest. The only answer, sometimes, to all of the things that life throws at you is to scream. Or cry, maybe. But that is not nearly as catchy. So scream it is.
2. I Gotta Go My Own Way
It’s important to practice boundaries and to know when someone is not good for you anymore. When Gabriella snaps back at Troy in the bridge with “What about trust?” it is a powerful moment for her character. This song is for anyone who is in a crappy relationship and needs to move on.
1. We’re All In This Together
The obvious choice, and not just because it is one of the most indelible songs from all 3 movies. In this, the year of our Lord 2019, the lesson of this song feels more important and more perilous than ever. In a time when it feels like everyone is divided, it is sometimes important to remember that we truly are all in this together. Not in a way that excuses bigots or white supremacists, but in a way that recognizes the core humanity of each individual. This song is an ode to empathy—one that the series itself often forgets about in order to further the plot of the subsequent films—but one that is just as important in 2019 as it was in 2006.
Ok, all you crazy Wildcats, work this out, getcha head in the game, and never forget: we’re all in this together!