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Another splashy event for the kids

Adults might dismiss the songs ..... but the little girls understand

August 12, 2007|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

"HIGH School Musical" was the most popular album of last year that featured no truly memorable music. The bestselling album of 2006, it generated only one Top 10 single (the drippy ballad "Breaking Free") and received little airplay beyond Radio Disney, the network owned by its parent conglomerate. Ask anyone who's not a pre-tween or the harried parent of one to hum a "High School Musical" song, and chances are they'll come up short.

But this music can't be judged by the usual criteria. Though created by a highly skilled crew of music industry pros, it's not meant to impress critics -- or adults in general. It's meant to be loved and fetishized by kids. Repetition is the essence of kid-oriented pop culture, and families buy the "High School Musical" soundtracks as a way to relive the movie. Singing along is a primary way kids memorize the "High School Musical" experience; their voices connect them to the characters and help them empathize.

Like its predecessor, "High School Musical 2" is about not being afraid to sing and dance like a Broadway star. It draws kids in by romanticizing the experience of being a drama club nerd. (Even jocks find their inner hoofer here.) The music has to be very singable and not too challenging, because to live the fantasy, kids have to be able to grasp it easily. Its ideal audience is an 8-year-old, sitting next to the boom box on her kitchen counter, watching her mom making dinner and singing along, feeling a part of the phenomenon.

"High School Musical 2" has plenty of singable moments, and its songs slightly anesthetize radio-friendly sounds and make them easier for young ears to grasp.

Ashley Tisdale's snotty star moment, "Fabulous," is Fergie lite. "You are the Music in Me," the lead lovers' big duet, vaguely recalls the Elton John-Kiki Dee love fest "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." And "Everyday," the climactic ballad that brings everyone onto the talent show stage for a group hug, resembles "American Idol" song contest winner "This Is My Now."

Though it fails to introduce kids to the best side of show music -- its drama, its striving toward timelessness, its gams-flashing pizazz -- "High School Musical 2" does have one showstopper. "I Don't Dance" turns a baseball diamond into the audition stage of "A Chorus Line," as Corbin Bleu and Lucas Grabeel share a boy duet that rides on a handclap beat, DJ Premier-style sampled horns and a chorus almost worthy of Michael Jackson's moonwalk. For a split second, "High School Musical 2" works real musical-comedy magic. Then it's back to the Disney template for another singalong.


Powers is The Times' pop music critic.

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