Tuned out

A guide to surviving High School Musical
By CARLY CARIOLI  |  June 2, 2006

060602_musical_main1
Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens

One definition of feeling old is that sensation you get when the #1 album on the Billboard 200 is the soundtrack to a TV movie you never heard of. And so the response of most college-aged adults to High School Musical — which is regularly the most watched movie on cable whenever Disney decdes to re-run it, and has spawned a cast album that has topped the charts not once but twice — was to scowl and wonder aloud how their younger siblings’ generation has suddenly taken over the universe.

It’s been a generation — or at least an administration — since the Disney Channel cancelled its New Mickey Mouse Club, thereby creating the most profitable unemployment line in entertainment history: the one that included Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and, of course, the future Mrs. Federline. That cast became so famous that it’s easy to forget they were all once unknowns. Disney’s dream factory may have gone dormant for a few years, during which period American Idol cornered the amateur-singer market and Kidz Bop undercut playskool-friendly Top-40 by recycling adult hits as G-rated pop. But High School Musical is a reminder of what Disney still does best. It’s a breakout vehicle for teen talents whose biggest Google results are imdb entries for The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Anyone who cares about pop culture would do well to examine HSM for clues to the immediate future of music and television: some 24 million discrete viewers watched the movie before its home-video release last week; soundtrack sales have eclipsed 2 million, and the DVD sold over 400,000 copies in its first day of release. That’s right: 400,000 in a fucking day, dude. Its single, “Breaking Free,” topped the download charts even though Disney gave the song away as a promotional mp3; likewise, DVD sales do not appear to have been hindered by Disney’s decision to release the movie early as a digital download on iTunes. A High School Musical sequel is in the works, as is a Broadway adaptation, and actual high schools are clamoirng for the sheet music so they can put on their own productions. The young-adult novelization is zipping up the Times bestseller list. Once again, young minds have chosen safe, low-budget, formulaic entertainment over older, smarter, more cynical options — as well they should, because that’s what kids are supposed to do, dammit. Adults can take heart in recalling how that tendency has been exploited and celebrated by great songwriters from the Brill Building’s denizens up through Max Martin and Linda Perry. A Pulitzer-winning creation HSM isn’t, but if you think grown-ups aren’t watching, you’re crazy. Twenty minutes of Googling have failed to reveal the songsmiths behind “What I’ve Been Looking For” and “Breaking Free,” but if anyone knows where to find them, please give them Liz Phair’s phone number.

It’s too late now, anyway: given HSM’s saturation of the marketplace, you will be at some point forced to watch the damned thing. Here’s five reasons why that experience won’t totally suck.

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