Hi, I'm a millennial and I'm unabashedly obsessed with High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
So, I part my hair to the side, I didn't get my driver's license last week—more, like, 16 years ago, which LOL what is time anyway?—and I, like Hilary Duff, am thinking I'm most definitely "cheugy." (I like rosé, sue me!) But that has not stopped me from being 100 percent totally invested in the happiness and success of Olivia Rodrigo.
Like so many others, I wasn't all that familiar with the 18-year-old performer when I heard her smash hit "Driver's License" for the first time. It was Jan. 8, and per my weekly routine, I was listening to some of the newest releases of the week on Spotify. When that generation-defining anthem came on, I put down my coffee, intently listened to the oh-so-relatable lyrics and then immediately replayed it. "Who is this girl?" I wondered as flashes of a 17-year-old me driving around screaming along to one of Dashboard Confessional's emo anthems played in my head.
A quick Google search informed me that she was the star of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Disney+'s super-meta sort-of revival of the iconic TV movie whose poster may or may not have been on my college dorm room wall. (In my defense, I got it for free from the video store I worked at in college?)
I had watched the first two episodes of the show and thought it was cute and surprisingly funny, but had forgotten about it in the full-time job that is trying to keep up with yet another show.
But "Driver's License" reeled me back in...and not just because the song was pop perfection and signified she was Gen-Z's answer to Taylor Swift. (Exhibit B of my Cheug-status: Tay is my favorite artist.) No, no. It was also because the tune was seemingly inspired by Rodrigo's IRL-love triangle with her co-star Joshua Bassett and Sabrina Carpenter, another Disney-adjacent singer and actress from Girl Meets World, another revival.
I began reading everything I could about the alleged romantic entanglements of the trio like they were LC, Kristin and Stephen and I was a freshman at Laguna Beach High School. I even tried to watch some TikToks breaking down the drama. I felt kind of gross being so interested in the drama, but I was raised by Adam DiVello, the legend behind Laguna Beach and The Hills, and The O.C. and Gossip Girl creator Josh Schwartz. This is who I am!
It was also comforting to know, given the sheer amount of coverage the Rodrigo-Bassett-Carpenter triad amassed following Driver's License's release, that I was far from alone.
If it wasn't clear already, I was and am firmly Team Rodrigo. Not to be dramatic, but I may or may not have wrote "I would step in front of a bus for her" on my Instagram Stories at one point in time.
But I had to make sure I was, you know, on the right side of history, a.k.a. my opinion had to be validated by my younger cousin and her friends. So yeah, I texted her after Carpenter had released her own single, "Skin," just weeks after Rodrigo's record-shattering debut. While catchy and containing the rather savage line, "Don't drive yourself insane," I just felt I had to defend my new favorite star, like any proud stan would. (Bassett apparently also released several songs? Though I never listened out of solidarity.)
Our exchange follows (warning fellow millennial, you may need a Gen Z-to-adult dictionary):
Me: "This is your lame older cousin...I have important matters to discuss. This love triangle with Olivia, Joshua and Sabrina. Do you and yor friends care?"
Cousin: "Omg did u hear Sabrinas song about Olivia??"
Me: "Yes. I can't get over it! It feels mean?!"
Cousin: "omg ikkk"
Me: "It's, like, messed up! Olivia didn't say anything bad about HER."
Cousin: "i listened to it and i was wth"
Me: "It wasn't even a song about her. She complimented her in it!"
Cousin: "yeahh ikkkk!! like olivias song is abt Joshua not Sabrina"
Me: "So true. And it's Taylor Swift approved!"
Reader, I felt so vindicated by my 16-year-old cousin agreeing with me and we both agreed that no guy was worth these two talented young women being pitted against each other, though we appreciated the bops that the situation was giving us.
It feels fitting that this relative is the very one I took to see her first movie in a theater: High School Musical 3: Senior Year in 2008. It felt appropriate given that I had caused her to develop a massive crush on Zac Efron's Troy Bolton when I babysat her.
So, thanks to all this real-life drama, I had no choice but to watch High School Musical: The Musical: The Series' entire season in one sitting, looking for clues like it was 2007 again and I was a Zanessa shipper seeking affirmation of my belief that Efron and Vanessa Hudgens were, in fact, dating. IYKYK.
But my findings yielded a surprising result: The show is good. Like, really good? It is sarcastic and sweet, sincere and still in on the joke, while the music is legitimately good.
So, while I didn't love that the trio probably had to endure emotional pain during this ordeal, I was grateful that it led me, and likely many other nosy people, to revisit HSM: TM: TS.
And what a return trip to East High it was! The first season delivered everything a seasoned HSM fan would want, including many cheeky references to the OG franchise and a fun cameo from Lucas Graabel (a.k.a. Ryan Evans). Plus, it had compelling enough characters and relationships to go its own way, along with a Christmas special to tide us over until its second season.
Speaking of, the new batch of episodes from HSM: The Next Generation (as a life-long Degrassi fan, it's how I refer to this show in my head) prove there's no sophomore slump. We even have a rivalry with North High, led by none other than Derek Hough, and, ironically, trouble in paradise—or, you know, Utah—for Nini (Rodrigo) and Ricky (Bassett).
So, to answer your just-as-good second single's question, Rodrigo: Yes, yes we do get déjà vu.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is streaming on Disney+.