Fifteen years ago, something even bigger than High School Musical arrived on Disney Channel: High School Musical 2, directed by Kenny Ortega. Disney had quickly turned around a sequel with all the beloved East High Wildcats, and 8th grade me was here for it. I didn’t love that this summertime movie came out right as I was going back to school, but at least it gave us all something to talk about. I went to a private school where certain students occasionally had big birthday parties at neighborhood clubhouses and community centers. I’ll never forget going to one of these when a High School Musical 2 dance contest took place. But Disney knew this would be an even bigger phenomenon. My merchandise of choice was the “Disney Channel: Sing It” game for the Wii. My sister and I would sing our hearts out to the HSM edition. The best part was our favorite duet, “Gotta Go My Own Way.” My sister sang Gabriella’s part, and I attempted Troy’s. Then I would also mimic Troy on “Bet On It.” Sorry Zac Efron, but you were fun to reenact in 2007.
It’s not uncommon for fans to say that the second High School Musical movie is the best one. I think that’s a fair assessment, even though Troy is a sellout for most of the movie. The third HSM was theatrically released, so number two was the only chance to level up that DCOM magic (until Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure, I suppose).
The songs in HSM 2 fit the characters so well. Sharpay’s “Fabulous” feels like the core of her personality, more so than “Bop to the Top” or “I Want it All.” The Wildcats’ “Work This Out” is so fitting for the perky group of teens; “Everyday” isn’t my favorite, but it does make for a nice ending and a reminder to hold tight to your loved ones. As previously mentioned, Troy’s mad-at-the-world moments are golden here. I struggle to decide if “Scream” from the third movie tops “Bet On It.” I don’t think so. Gabriella always has a “this is over” or “I’m leaving” song: “When There Was Me and You” in the first movie, “Gotta Go My Own Way” in the second, and “Walk Away” in the third. The second choice is the most fantastically dramatic. Vanessa Hudgens even duetted a TikToker on “Gotta Go My Own Way” early in the pandemic.
Another musical parallel between the first and second movies lies in Kelsey’s musical compositions. HSM gave us “What I’ve Been Lookin’ For”: Kelsey’s Version and “What I’ve Been Lookin’ For”: Sharpay’s Version. Same thing in HSM 2 with “You Are the Music in Me.” I’m getting a bit emotional thinking about the movies in this way, when they were such a seamless part of my middle school life. I wasn’t even the biggest High School Musical fan that I knew, but I loved the movies and quickly incorporated their music into my little world.
Every High School Musical film somehow deals with dissonance between main characters. The second movie further explores college and career goals tearing these teenagers apart while they work at Lava Springs Country Club — well, not Sharpay and Ryan, whose parents own the club. Ryan gets to do yoga with his mom, but Troy gets to play golf in Italian leather shoes and sling free-throws with bball stars, since Sharpay’s family is bribing him so he’ll sing with her. But I’m sure most of you know all that. Maybe you were one of the 17.2 million people who watched the 2007 premiere. I will add that the Miley Cyrus cameo on “All for One” was a brilliant move, only making the Hannah Montana fans want to watch this movie even more.
In the end of this movie, Jason, Martha, Kelsey, Zeke, Ryan, Sharpay, Troy, Gabriella, Taylor, and Chad light up the screen with their paper lanterns and their zest for life. We can’t all frolic with lanterns at country clubs, but maybe we can be inspired by the joys of youth. As Gabriella says, “I want to remember this summer, Troy.” That was one summer many of us remember to this day.