With High School Musical: The Musical: The Series returning for its second season Friday, we here at The Ringer felt the urge to rewatch the Disney Channel Original Movies that an entire generation of kids fell in love with. We were quickly reminded that the music from the High School Musical trilogy freaking slaps!
It seems obvious, but 15 years removed from the first film’s release, we found ourselves singing, bopping our heads, and even dancing along to some of the hits. And we could not help but wonder: What is the best song in the entire High School Musical trilogy? A group of us—Jomi Adeniran, Sasha Ashall, Bridget Geerlings, Kate Halliwell, and Amelia Wedemeyer—convened to figure out the answer. Below is the result of the monumental undertaking.
Before we get started, a quick note: Only songs that featured in the three films’ standard-edition releases are included in the ranking—sorry, B5 and “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”—which leaves 32 songs from the trilogy to sort through.
Ready to get into it?
Let’s go. —Jomi Adeniran
I am largely pro–Sharpay and Ryan; I enjoy their flair for drama, their allegiance to all things glittery, and their affection for spirit fingers. But the absolute travesty that is High School Musical 2’s “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a” must be acknowledged, and Sharpay and Ryan must pay for their sins against the people of Hawaii. Also my eardrums. In an attempt to impress Troy (what else, after all, are these movies for?), the dynamic duo performs a number chock-full of cultural appropriation and harmful stereotypes dedicated to the state fish of Hawaii. It gets worse: “Come to me, my sweet one, and be still / I’ll grasp your tail and stroke each tender gill / My sweet prince,” Sharpay sings … to her brother. I think we all repressed our memories of this song, and for good reason. —Kate Halliwell
High school wasn’t meant to last forever, but this song sure was. The track is over seven minutes long, but it would make Stefon from SNL proud because it has everything: piano ballads, beating drums, synchronized dribbling, pink wigs, Shakespearean balconies, understudies, and dramatic stage exits reserved only for Britney Spears concerts. While this musical performance didn’t secure any Tony nominations, it did send the audience into a frenzy each time these kids performed a number. I hope that Albuquerque, New Mexico, provided more entertainment to its residents after this performance—and also that someone told these kids that they aren’t going to die the minute high school ends. —Bridget Geerlings
I understand why this version exists—it’s the original film’s “We’re All in This Together” set to a weirdly emotional, sweeping score that is supposed to remind us of “Pomp and Circumstance,” or at least Vitamin C. I respect that, but it doesn’t mean we need this version. The whole point of the original “We’re All in This Together” is that it’s upbeat and positive because the kids are all getting together, regardless of their social status and extracurricular activities. The graduation mix adds nothing, and ultimately makes a true bop lethargic and hokey. —Amelia Wedemeyer
29. “Just Wanna Be With You”
Imagine that the most popular couple in your high school performed a song about their relationship for a musical and you were expected to be interested. That’s what we have here. While the lyrics are fine, the melody isn’t exactly memorable. It’s also a little unhealthy that these two want to be with only each other and not the rest of their friends as they graduate and head into their great future. These two wildcats should perform a song that represents the state of their relationship at each high school reunion. Now that would be interesting. —Geerlings
28. “High School Musical”
You’d think the song that’s named after the franchise would be ranked higher. You’d be wrong.
“High School Musical” just doesn’t hit as hard as the other finale songs, and with the catalog as stacked as it is, it was always going to be tough to place it higher. It falls short of what you would expect from an ensemble song, especially coming from the High School Musical franchise. It’s unfortunate that it’s the last song we see the seniors sing; they deserved a much better send-off. —Adeniran
27. “Walk Away”
I care not what anyone else contributing to this list thinks: Every single solo Gabriella ballad is an immediate skip. I have not listened through an entire one since the mid-aughts, including for this assignment, where basically all I have to do is listen to these songs. It might be impossible to sit through “Walk Away” without involuntarily smashing the fast-forward button in 10 seconds. I’ll sum it up for you: Gabriella is sad outside, in bed, on the stairs, outside in a different outfit, and in the car. Troy is not singing, but he is also sad in his truck, in the street, in bed, and on the roof. That’s it, that’s the song. —Halliwell
I will be the first person to tell you that Sharpay was routinely done dirty across the High School Musical trilogy. That she was the villain of the films was always a disservice to her character. (Note: Gabriella was clearly the baddie of HSM 2, but we don’t have the time to get into that right now.) But there’s no defending this version of “You Are the Music in Me.” Its flash and tempo take away from the heart at the core of the song. It’s a shame because Ashley Tisdale, as per usual, brings her all to the performance. Alas, the song lets her down. —Adeniran
25. “Can I Have This Dance”
Although inferior to “Right Here, Right Now,” this HSM 3 duet between Gabriella and Troy is a solid showcase for their voices and dancing abilities. In a testament either to a delightfully orchestrated scene or my ability to remember insignificant moments, I can still vividly imagine the part in the movie when they’re singing this song atop East High School, dancing together beside a student garden (surely a green initiative started by Taylor McKessie). The song itself fits within the movie’s prom theme, and with lyrics like “It’s like catching lightning” and “Even a thousand miles can’t keep us apart,” it does a good job of capturing that Taylor Swift Fearless era of twee aesthetics from the late aughts perfectly. —Wedemeyer
“Do you want to hear how the duet’s supposed to sound?” pianist, hat pioneer, and iconic third wheel Kelsi Nielsen asks Troy and Gabriella after Sharpay and Ryan perform their jazzed-up version of her song during the first High School Musical auditions. What follows is a slower, more emotional, and objectively boring version of “What I’ve Been Looking For,” which viewers are clearly meant to believe is an improvement on what we just saw from the sparkly siblings. It’s not. Apologies to Kelsi, but the edits Sharpay and Ryan made to her song took it from snooze fest to smash hit. Sometimes it’s best to leave it to the pros. —Halliwell
23. “A Night to Remember”
The song doesn’t offer much, aside from providing fans with this incredible GIF, but it’s not all bad. The visuals are lively and the juxtaposition of the girls’ excitement and the boys’ trepidation brightens up the number. It’s a fun glimpse into what prom at East High might look like, considering we spend prom watching Troy and Gabriella dance in the quad at Stanford instead of Zeke and the rest of the seniors downing a handle of Tito’s outside the venue before entering. All in all, it’s a solid entry in the franchise, even though nobody actually remembers prom night. —Adeniran
With big-budget special effects and lyrics that reveal an emotional Troy Bolton searching for an answer, I consider this song an elevated version of “Bet on It.”
Once again our protagonist finds himself at a crossroads, unsure of what he wants and acting out in the only way he knows how: through musical theater. However, this time Troy Bolton is given a stronger song, as well as a really cool prop room reminiscent of ’NSync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” video.
21. “Right Here, Right Now”
“Right Here, Right Now” might be one of the only songs in the High School Musical universe that truly deserves its due—not because it’s a meme or because it’s so corny it’s ironically cool, but because it’s a song that could be in a Tony-winning musical. This gorgeous ballad could be at home in any American musical about the idealism of youth and the pull to always be with the one you’re with. Sure, I don’t have any legitimate music credentials, but I do have two ears and have seen my fair share of musicals, and I’m willing to die on the hill of proclaiming that “Right Here, Right Now” is worthy of being sung by the likes of Phillipa Soo and Santino Fontana. —Wedemeyer
20. “All for One”
We got ourselves one Albuquirky pool party here. This tune preaches living in the moment, so it’s undoubtedly Eckhart Tolle’s favorite track. Also, this is the only song in the High School Musical trilogy that draws Miley Cyrus in, so if that isn’t an argument that it needs to be ranked higher, I’m not sure what is. And while this hasn’t been confirmed, it would appear that Taylor Swift was inspired to make “Shake It Off” from this closing song. Special shout-out to Sharpay Evans for not twisting her ankle while performing this number in high heels near a pool. —Geerlings
There has been no finer ballad about failed high school romances since “There Are Worse Things (I Could Do)” from Grease. Gabriella takes us on a journey through the halls and stairways of East High with the help of the world’s most ginormous belt as she tells us about her “failed fairytale” with Troy, who for some reason is featured on a massive poster like he’s already playing in the NBA? Perhaps what’s even more concerning is the fact that Gabriella is roaming her high school alone. Are all those kids really partying outside? Do teachers work in this school? —Geerlings
18. “The Boys Are Back”
Does this song come with the highest-concept dance number in the entire trilogy? Think about it. Troy and Chad turn into 8-year-olds, they fight an evil car, and the entire junkyard looks like a leftover set piece from the WaterWorld show at Universal Studios. It can take you out of the film and have you wondering just exactly what in the hell you are watching. All that being said, it’s not a bad song! The guitar riff is legit, and anyone who says they can’t bob their heads to this is lying. —Adeniran
17. “You Are the Music in Me”
As stated above, Troy and Gabriella riffing next to a piano while Kelsi awkwardly looks on isn’t my favorite subgenre of HSM song. But “You Are the Music In Me” is catchier than it has any right to be, and it’s inherently better than their version of “What I’ve Been Looking For” since it’s actually Efron singing. Plus they get to dance around a little and have fun with this one rather than simply stare into each other’s eyes. Troy doesn’t quite get to “Bet on It” levels of emoting in this one, but his hand movements are just frantic enough to keep me interested. And why do I still know every word and harmony in this song? —Halliwell
16. “Work This Out”
“Work This Out” isn’t iconic because of how good the song sounds, but rather because it’s yet another essential cog in the chaotic, nonsensical High School Musical 2 soundtrack machine. In a song born from the disillusionment of summer work at the local country club, the teens of East High come together in said country club’s kitchen, and, led by Troy Bolton, they voice their concerns in sing-talk, two years before Ke$ha made the vocal style famous. I want to say this song is HSM’s stab at something experimental due to the use of a Stomp-esque, midsong percussion performance, but how experimental can you really be if you’re yet again starting a musical number with your go-to call to action? “WHAT TEAM?” “WILDCATS!” —Wedemeyer
15. “Get’cha Head in the Game”
I know what you’re thinking: “Get’cha Head in the Game” outside the top 10?! Here’s the thing … Zac Efron doesn’t sing this song! Some quick HSM trivia: Drew Seeley’s voice was mixed with Efron’s in the first film. It’s apparent when listening to other songs, but it’s unmistakable in this song, and that keeps it from being a contender for a top spot. Sure, the dribble moves are cool, but I cannot in good faith reward this song on those merits alone. Maybe if we get a Zac Efron rerelease for the 20th anniversary, but until then, it’ll stay right here. —Adeniran
You can’t look me in the eyes and tell me this isn’t the superior version of “What I’ve Been Looking For.” From the snapping hands in the intro to the sparkly mics and heavy sprinkling of jazz squares, Ryan and Sharpay didn’t come here to fuck around. (They never do. I respect it.) Every song is improved by an impromptu tap break; it’s just science. Ms. Darbus, the drama teacher, is in the palm of their hand from the first second, and I have trusted her ever since. Kelsi hates it, but Kelsi is the worst. The only downside is that they’re siblings singing a love song to each other, but that’s just something we’ve got to overlook to appreciate brilliance. —Halliwell
The song perfectly rounds out the story of High School Musical 2, with Troy leading solo on stage, then the Gabriella reveal, followed by everyone else joining in; it’s a great finish to a great movie. If we’re being honest, “Everyday” is ranked this low in the list mainly because High School Musical songs are REALLY good. “Everyday” is a terrific song, but with so many bops in the East High canon, it’s hard to put “Everyday” above them. —Adeniran
12. “Now or Never”
From the moment we open on Troy, dripping sweat in HD during the New Mexico boys’ high school basketball championship game, we realize that Disney has amped up the budget for one last HSM movie. (This should’ve been obvious from the start because it’s the only film that received a theatrical release.) This is further confirmed when we hear the first heavily produced synthpop of “Now or Never,” which sets the tone by declaring, “Yeah, we’ve actually added a dimension and perhaps the Wall of Sound,” as if the producers have finally realized how many eyes are on them and their franchise. —Wedemeyer
11. “I Want It All”
The money from the expanded High School Musical 3 budget went to good use in “I Want It All,” as Sharpay and Ryan transform the high school cafeteria into a series of imaginary future scenarios in which they are, of course, the stars. It gives them a chance to go full theater kid while the rest of the cast pops up in entertaining cameos—Troy is a Sharpay fanboy, Chad is an NYC police officer, Kelsi drives their taxi down Broadway, and Gabriella is Sharpay’s maid. It ends in a huge dance number that includes everything from the Statue of Liberty to fireworks to Rockettes. So yes, it has it all. —Halliwell
10. “What Time Is It?”
The complete ecstasy of summer vacation is captured by High School Musical 2’s “What Time Is It?” and for that alone we must acknowledge the movie’s intro song. But more importantly, this song marks the first time we hear the non-dubbed singing voice of Zac Efron, which does not disappoint. Beyond that, “What Time Is It?” also takes the catchy-song torch from its predecessors “We’re All in This Together” and “The Start of Something New” and assures fans of the trilogy that songwriting wasn’t just an anomaly, but one of the best put forth on a made-for-TV venue.
Also, as my colleague Bridget Geerlings noted, Zac Efron’s bootcut jeans at 2:04 are themselves something to note:
9. “I Don’t Dance”
Top Gun volleyball scene, who? You say homoerotic sports moment and I think “I Don’t Dance,” the baseball-turned-something-more moment from High School Musical 2 that launched 1,000 fanfics. (OK, it’s technically only 434 fanfics, but you get the idea. People were inspired.) “Hey batter batter, hey batter batter swing! … You’ll never know, if you never try,” Ryan sings to Chad as he insists that “I don’t dance.” It doesn’t take one of The Ringer’s baseball experts to see through these metaphors, ya know? They collide on home base and end up in each other’s clothes, as close to a happy ending in this case as Disney ever gets. The song is a banger, by the way, but the sexual tension is the main highlight here. —Halliwell
8. “Bop to the Top”
This is one catchy song about committing murder to achieve personal success. (What else could the phrase “bump the competition” mean?) You won’t be able to get the chorus out of your head, and you’ll certainly feel closer to being fluent in Spanish when singing it, but the lyrics remain downright wild. As much as I appreciate Sharpay and Ryan’s quest to achieve fame, they definitely deserve to sing a song that doesn’t reference rumps or mops. Also, I sincerely hope the success they’re seeking offers more than just a disco ball after climbing a golden ladder, like this performance suggests. —Geerlings
It’s honestly shocking that it took so long to get Sharpay her own solo song in the franchise, but it was well worth the wait. “Fabulous” delivers on the talent we’ve seen from Sharpay throughout the series. It’s a fun ballad documenting, among other things, just how bougie she is. The premise seems silly on paper, but when you’re listening to it, it’s impossible to not enjoy the vibes the song gives off. There’s a reason “Fabulous” has stayed in the zeitgeist all these years. If sitting by the pool living your best life with only the most premier items at your feet isn’t how you’re trying to live your life, then you’re missing out. —Adeniran
6. “Gotta Go My Own Way”
Upon first watch of High School Musical 2, “Gotta Go My Own Way” seems pretty unremarkable—it’s a nice, earwormy breakup song sung next to a pool, as Gabriella performs her traditional dumping of Troy after he’s been a bit too much of a dick. But in the years following the HSM series, “Gotta Go My Own Way” has, like several other songs on this list, ascended to meme status. People latched on to the overemoting in one particular sequence of the song (something that never really stops in HSM 2) and turned it into a TikTok trend in which lip-syncers switch back and forth between Gabriella’s and Troy’s parts as quickly as possible. It’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day, but it’s worth it. —Halliwell
The harmonies! The secrets! The high school stereotypes! An extremely clean cafeteria! Crème brûlée! This is the most Broadway-sounding song and I am absolutely here for it. All of East High gets into a tizzy when Gabriella and Troy receive a callback to audition for the high school musical because they are not conforming to this completely realistic representation of high school where a student can be a part of only one clique. I also enjoy this song because I respect anyone who is brave enough to announce to their friends how much cooler they find dancing to be than homework. —Geerlings
4. “Bet on It”
See what happens when you give Zac Efron singing lessons, a black polo, and a country club golf course full of space to operate? You get a banger that spawned a million memes. There’s a reason this is the highest-ranking solo song on the list: IT’S A CERTIFIED BANGER. The breakdown in front of the lake? And when the beat kicks back in? There are few things more soothing than singing this song at the top of your lungs when you’re having a tough time.
Is this song one of the best in the High School Musical canon?
You can bet on it. —Adeniran
It’s the song that started it all, and without its captivating chorus and the beautiful people singing it, who knows where we would be? In the first High School Musical, Troy and Gabriella meet at a resort and are forced to sing karaoke together by fate—i.e., some guy in charge of the hotel’s teen night. Regardless, the real importance of this number is that it signals the start of the greatest Disney Channel franchise and Zac Efron’s career, while also confirming the well-known fact that preteen and teen girls will pledge their undying allegiance to any conventionally attractive male.
2. “Breaking Free”
Here it is, the magnum opus. This song is one of the best, and it is the only one you would pick for karaoke. First, the performance is a visual masterpiece. Lil Nas X may have gotten Satan for his last music video, but Troy and Gabriella got a cardboard cutout version of the moon to show up on stage for this number. This unforgettable scene also features costume changes, chaotic choreography, and lots of clapping from fellow students, who I hope broke free from math class to see two students audition for the school musical. Second, this song is so good that its opening line is more memorable than any other lyric. You know what other song shares that same magical quality? “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I rest my case. —Geerlings
Was there any other choice for no. 1?
If you were to ask a random person to name one High School Musical song, the first thing out of their mouth would be “We’re All in This Together.” Even 15 years later, there are people who can bounce, bounce, left plant, clap on command. I don’t rate the first High School Musical film as highly as some people (HSM 2 supremacy until I’m dead and gone), but there’s nothing in the entire trilogy quite like sitting through High School Musical and ending on “All in This Together.” It’s the perfect capper to that film and the only song worthy of no. 1 in these rankings. —Adeniran