May 16, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘High School Musical’ turns 15: A ranking of every song

Today marks the 15th anniversary of “High School Musical,” which means the time is now or never to revisit our favorite showtunes from the TV movie that started it all.

That’s right — it’s been a whole decade and a half(!) since basketball guy Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and freaky genius girl Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) were brought together by destiny and the karaoke gods at a ski lodge on New Year’s Eve.

Since then, prolific director Kenny Ortega’s cinematic masterpiece of a Disney Channel original movie has spurred multiple sequels, stage productions, countless memes and even a spinoff series for a new generation on Disney+ — that has recently taken on quite a cult following of its own.

Starring Efron, Hudgens, Corbin Bleu, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel and Monique Coleman, the 2006 family film followed Troy, Gabriella and their fellow East High Wildcats as they sang and danced their hormonal hearts out on stage, through the halls, in the lunchroom and on the basketball court.

In honor of the film’s 15th anniversary, we’ve ranked every musical number in the movie from bravo to brava.

9. “What I’ve Been Looking For (Reprise)”

Yes, this brief reprise is pivotal to the plot, (spoiler alert!) securing our protagonists a fated callback in East High’s winter musicale. And the harmonies are sweet. But frankly, it’s a snooze-fest compared to Ryan and Sharpay’s lively arrangement (see: No. 5).

Still worth a watch, though, solely for my favorite part (at 0:20) when Gabriella flashes her best “B—, I’ve got this” smile as student composer Kelsi (Olesya Rulin) cues her in. Classic.

8. “Bop to the Top”

While “Bop to the Top” holds a special place in my heart, I take my job as a “High School Musical” critic very seriously. And the hard truth is, any song with the lyrics “zig, zag, zop / bop like a mop,” must objectively bop, bop, bop to the bottom of this list.

But hey, props to Sharpay (Tisdale) and the unsung hero of the “High School Musical” series, Ryan (Grabeel), for giving this doomed callback their all, complete with a flashy golden ladder and disco ball.

7. “We’re All in This Together”

Presenting the hottest take of this ranking: “We’re All in This Together” is overhyped and overplayed! Somewhere down the line, the school-spirited, feel-good finale became the definitive theme song for the whole “High School Musical” saga, and that’s a shame. Because there are so many better options (see: Nos. 1-6).

The solos are fun and energetic, the message is inspiring — albeit extremely cliche — and yes, I’ve had The Dance memorized since I was 9 years old. (Haven’t we all?) But it’s still a rare hard skip on a soundtrack full of gems that never get old.

6. “When There Was Me and You”

No “High School Musical” movie would be complete without a deliciously melodramatic breakup ballad from the queen of teen angst, Gabriella Montez. It’s no “Gotta Go My Own Way” from “High School Musical 2,” but “When There Was Me and You” is deserving of a prime spot on this list for the ridiculously large hallway poster of Troy Bolton alone. (Skip to 2:17. You’re welcome.)

5. “What I’ve Been Looking For”

Sharpay’s sparkly half-shrug! Ryan’s bedazzled hat! The obnoxious vocal warmups! The co-presidents of the drama club really delivered on this upbeat, superior rendition of “What I’ve Been Looking For.” Sorry, Kelsi, but everybody loves a good jazz square. It’s a crowd favorite.

Speaking of the jazz square: Forever grateful to this scene for gifting us the greatest “High School Musical” meme of all time. Let’s just say Disney would not approve of us including said meme here, but true “HSM” stans know what I’m talking about.

4. “Stick to the Status Quo”

For anyone who hasn’t seen “High School Musical”: First of all, sounds like it’s time for a quarantine viewing party. And second, it’s no spoiler that the entire plot hinges on the absurd idea that once you join a clique in high school (like, say, the basketball bros), you are permanently barred from dabbling in any! other! interests! (like, say, musical theater) if you want to maintain any semblance of a social life.

These strict rules are laid out with theatrical flair in the cafeteria showstopper “Stick to the Status Quo,” which basically sees the students of East High lose their damn minds and repeatedly shame their classmates for having cool hidden talents, such as playing the cello or baking (justice for Zeke and his mean crème brûlée that none of his fake friends deserve!).

3. “Get’cha Head in the Game”

Two words: basketball choreography. Ortega and his creative team really outdid themselves with this certified bop of an “I Want” number for Troy that perfectly encapsulates that feeling when your head’s in the game but your heart’s in the song. We’ve all been there.

2. “Start of Something New”

OK, seriously, how cute are baby Z and baby V?! I sincerely hope the casting director who discovered Zac and Vanessa is still getting paid handsome royalties, because their chemistry on screen is truly unmatched. It’s immediately clear from the opening number of the “High School Musical” franchise that Disney struck solid gold with its leading sweethearts, for which the TV movie was indeed the “Start of Something New.”

(Side note: If you haven’t seen “Drivers License” hitmaker Olivia Rodrigo cover this song flawlessly for Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” you should fix that situation. Here you go.)

1. “Breaking Free”

Easily clinching the top spot on this list is “Breaking Free,” the dynamic pre-finale finale to end all pre-finale finales. The movie never addresses the fact that Kelsi and drama teacher Ms. Darbus (Alyson Reed) mercilessly sabotaged Ryan and Sharpay’s callback (see: “Bop to the Top”), but we are so glad they did.

Not only is Troy and Gabriella’s final audition song the best in the series — it’s the best in the entire “High School Musical” canon. What do the lyrics mean? Absolutely nothing! And it doesn’t matter, because watching the most iconic star-crossed lovers since Romeo and Juliet soar and fly across the stage in their matching East High track suit and lab coat is pure Disney magic.