I grew up on Disney Channel Original Movies. I own all three High School Musical movies on DVD and even have the kareoke CD for the 1st soundtrack. I have a very clear memory of watching the premier of High School Musical 2 at my friend’s house. I made him learn all of the words to “All for One,” the awesome finale, and we would sing it together. Recently, in all of the down time I don’t have I’ve been watching a bunch of Disney Channel Original Movies- I’ve already gone through both Camp Rock films and 2.5 of the HSMs. After listening to the songs again, I found a connection between one of the main characters in HSM and a minor character in Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Sharpay’s selfish tendencies remind me of Shan’s actions in the novel.
In “Fabulous,” one of the most memorable songs in HSM 2, Sharpay sings about all of the material objects she ‘needs’ to make her summer perfect. Some of the lyrics are as follows:
Sharpay and her brother Ryan sing
Nothing to Discuss
Everything’s got to be perfect.
Then, Sharpay pushes him back and claims:
Clearly, the obvious lyric is for both siblings to say “for us!” and rhyme with “discuss.” Sharpay’s interjection shows her affinity for her own needs. She wants to make everything about herself even if it means excluding her own twin brother. In fact, her selfishness makes her the main antagonist of HSM 2; she wants Troy to herself. She doesn’t want to share the boy she likes with anyone, including his current girlfriend or any of their classmates. Later in the movie (spoilers, I guess?), Sharpay learns her lesson about being selfish and accepts the people around her as friends.
The same can’t be said about Sharpay’s parallel character in Americanah. Shan is the brother of Ifemelu’s boyfriend. Shan “did not breathe deeply; she did not need to: the air simply floated towards her, drawn by her natural authority, until there was nothing left for others” (392). Ifemelu is immediately drawn in by this woman’s charm. She finds herself seeking Shan’s praise and feeling disappointed when Shan disagrees with her opinions. Ifemelu gets very nervous before attending one of Shan’s parties, or salons, and tries on a bunch of outfits. (A salon, by the way, was first created in the Renaissance. They were parties where a bunch of smart men would get together and come up with some of the first modern scientific ideas. The fact that Shan named her house parties after these historic gatherings quickly queued me in on her personality.) At this salon, Shan insults one of her guests and Ifemelu gets the impression that this woman “would… take this quietly only from Shan,” so clearly, our protagonist is beginning to break out from Shan’s spell (416). In fact, when Ifemelu tries to talk to Shan about Obama’s success in politics Shan tries to spin the conversation back to her personal problems. Ifemelu has to physically restrain herself from speaking her mind, that “for once, it’s not about [Shan]” (445).
Shan’s novel is not very successful in Americanah and she starts having a ‘hard time’ because she is not getting attention. This reminded me of Sharpay throwing a hissy fit over Gabriella and Troy being a cute couple and interfering in her time with her crush. Both women need attention to feel validated, but only Sharpay learns her lesson at the end of the day. We leave Shan having a nervous breakdown and calling for her brother’s attention, but Sharpay’s story ends smiling, surrounded by friends and family. Growing up, Sharpay was always my least favorite character, but now, I understand her insecurities and respect her ability to grow over the course of 3 movies (plus her own spinoff!). Even though East High is far from a typical American high school, the HSM movies did clearly did something right if a high school senior can still find new ways to connect to the characters.
TLDR; High School Musical is still an active part of my education and Sharpay is a strong, dynamic character.