“Sticking to the Status Quo”: Analyzing the Defence Mechanisms Employed by Select characters in High School Musical

Normality is disrupted when students in East High suddenly express realities about themselves which run counter to their perceived identity in high school. This ‘disruption’ to the status quo starts when Troy Bolton, East High’s top wildcat, auditions (and gets a call-back) for the Winter Musical. Indeed, Troy’s ‘revelation’ about his talent in singing influences all niche groups in school– jocks, nerds, and skaters alike to come clean about their hidden hobbies. These confessions intuitively add another layer to their seemingly defined character brought about by the invisible, yet clearly dominant identity politics in high school. This criticism, employing Psychoanalysis as its framework, seeks to analyze the defense mechanisms employed by select characters in the film after the break in normality. Aside from this, the paper also analyzes significant song numbers in the film which was highly elucidated the character’s subconscious.

Analyzing the Psyche of Selected Characters: Manifestation of Low Self Esteem, Insecurities, and Fear of Abandonment

1. Troy Bolton
Troy is the captain of the East High Men’s Basketball team. Although known to most as a popular kid because of his innate skills in basketball, the plot revolves around uncertainties which he experienced when he discovers his talent in singing. During his meeting with Gabriella, it is evident that he was reluctant to go through the process of singing in front of a lot of people. His facial reactions evoked uncertainty, which was reduced and eventually displaced when Gabriella started singing with him. Clearly, this manifests a break down in anxiety brought about by the cooperation of two unassuming and clearly nervous individuals. However, it is worthy to question whether or not the talent was recently ‘discovered’ or was it suppressed from a childhood event which transpired in Troy’s life? The film responded to this query when it is revealed that Troy’s father did not even know about his son’s singing ability. When asked about his singing experience during their first meeting, Troy implied that he would only sing in extremely private spaces (in this sense, Troy hinted that he sang in the shower). To this end, it can be argued that Troy’s talent in singing was suppressed by his own character—thus leaving it to be a secondary part of his identity. However, the situation and the circumstances during
his first meeting with Gabriella definitely triggered a suppressed emotion/ and or talent to be rekindled in his consciousness.

His consciousness about his singing ability definitely continued because of two factors: (1) Gabriella’s new found presence in his school (this means that the person who he helped him release his suppressed self may act as a catalyst for him to actualize his talent without feeling abandoned or rejected) and (2) Troy’s involvement with the Drama class helped him gain information about the audition for the Winter Musical. However, the process of accepting his love for singing was not easy. Troy had to lie to his friends because he feared abandonment from his peers. Basketball was the only thing that defined him and the group where the school sees him to belong—and it seems unimaginable to live in a school setting where those things were to be taken away from him just because he liked to sing.

His uncertainties were magnified when he sang “Get Your Head in the Game” with the basketball team. The lyrics of that song perfectly relayed how Troy’s consciousness was moulded into considering basketball as the only thing he can really call his own. This consciousness was manifested with the way he reacted when he sang the line “My head’s in the game, but my heart’s in the song…” As Troy was leaving the basketball court after this performance, it is evident through his body language that he couldn’t think things through anymore.

It can be argued that instinctively, Troy feared that his love for singing, even if it feels right to pursue it; it might end up betraying him in the end. Through this song, he was questioning the validity of his instincts in making sound and calculated decisions—because his father remained to be a big stakeholder in the decisions he would make. Troy assumed that if he tried to marry both worlds, he might end up disappointing his father in the long run. In fact, when he raised a rhetorical question “Did you ever think I could be both?” when he was a having an argument with his father, the frozen look on his father’s face and Troy’s knee jerk reaction to it solidified his fear that his dad really can’t imagine him having another talent rather than basketball.

2. Gabriella Montez
Gabriella Montez is a new student at East High. Upon entering the new campus, it was evident that her focus was to adjust and be normal. In her previous school, she was known as the “freaky science girl” because of her intellect. Appearing to be scarred by this previous experience, she strives to blend in to the sea of students at East High. During her first meeting with Troy, she discusses her insecurities about singing in front of a live audience stating that she nearly ‘died’ because of fear.
Perhaps, like Troy, she had trouble presenting herself as a singer to a lot of people because they always knew that she was just the smart girl.

Despite her excellence in academics, singing and performing was one facet that Gabriella had low self-esteem in. This was evident when she too was adamant in singing with Troy in the New Year’s Eve party. Aside from this, her lack of self confidence was also evident when she saw Ryan and Sharpay Evans perform their duet for the auditions. She seemed intimidated and defeated at the same time, because an opportunity seemed to be more than the person she is/was seemed to be slipping off her fingertips. However, in the scene where she and Troy were adamant about auditioning, it is worthy to note that she was the first one to volunteer to audition (and Troy was the one who suggested leaving). To this extent, the motivation to do and be more superseded her innate fear in performing. While this may be due to the lack of
audience (because free period was already over), the fact that she had courage to even speak up to Ms. Darbus about auditioning (when Troy cannot) showed how she tried to overcome her insecurities.

It is worthy to note that Gabriella raised a parallelism about meeting someone in Kindergarten for the first time and her meeting Troy. This parallelism presents a possibility that Gabriella might have experienced meeting someone like Troy from her childhood—and infinitely happy memories were similar derivatives of that meeting. Perhaps even her psychological history as a child—presumably interacting with different kids was pivotal in forging an immediate friendship with Troy. An added link to this is when Gabriella asked Taylor “Did you ever feel like there’s this whole other side of you that’s waiting for a way to come out?”—a possible allusion to how memories in her childhood (perhaps about singing) were rekindled because her meeting with Troy necessitated innocent feelings she had when meeting kids when she was in Kindergarten.

In her solo song, “When There Was Me and You”, she likened her experiences with Troy to a fairytale and a dream—because there seemed to be a difference with her feelings with the truth that was before her eyes. This song was pivotal in capturing Gabriella’s feelings towards Troy which (for the most parts of the film leading up to this song) were merely present in the forms of gestures, affectionate touches (i.e holding hands), and glances which generated a feeling of love and acceptance. Through this song, there was already a direct expression that what she felt was definitely more than friendship—and a lingering fear of betrayal was also expressed in the song. Right after this song, she was consistently avoiding Troy because it may result to a relapse in feelings or resort to a situation which would only make her
anxious , thus enabling her mind to formulate questions such as: “All along, did Troy think of me in that way?”.

3. Sharpay Evans
It was evident throughout the entire film that Sharpay held the upper hand in the relationship with her brother, Ryan. Sharpay’s personality was arguably tougher and she was more vocal about her performing abilities—even going to the extent ofcorrecting her brother after their audition duet. However, Sharpay confides with her brother regarding her fears (like not getting the lead role). Perceived as an “Ice
princess” because of her cold demeanor, yet confident bravado, Sharpay is actually one of the most insecure characters in the film.
Her insecurity and anxiety is manifested during the times that she displaces her anger to people who she thought she can easily handle. The first manifestation of this was when she snapped while talking to Kelsey after their audition. This indicates her anxiety that she may not be good enough (which is why Kelsey was telling her that a slower tempo would sound better) which is a direct blow to her ego. In this encounter, she felt the need to disclose that she has been in 17 different school productions and Kelsey’s compositions has only been chosen once. She did this to presumably secure her ‘artistic license’ as an East High Musical star. The second manifestation of her insecurity was when she was shocked to hear that the lead role was not given to her (because Troy and Gabriella auditioned as well), this was another blow to her ego which led her to construct a plan to fix the ‘problem’ at hand. Implicitly, Sharpay does not want her authority to be challenged because a tendency to feel like she is not enough of an artists will always linger in her mind—especially when in her past years in East High, she had artistic monopoly over the different school productions.

Her performance in “Stick to the Status Quo” magnifies her insecurity to its highest level. She saw the disruption of order as a threat to her artistic domination in school. She felt like people should not realize that they can do anything beyond their ascribed stereotype—alluding to how she valued the uniqueness of her talent and her innate fear of non-recognition in the event that even her talent in performing becomes a norm in members of niche groups.


High School Musical highlights the struggles of finding oneself in an environment where set roles are assigned because one looks and acts a certain way. Through this premise, the film’s narrative was clearly given more depth by the inner workings of the mind of the characters
analyzed by the author. More than their actions, the characters’ song were important because they contextualized the emotions and feelings which were high in specific scenes Indeed, in the process of identifying oneself in relation to other people, insecurities and certain rational or
irrational fears are inevitable.


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