Do you know the name of the No. 1-selling album of 2006? Odds are — unless your household contains someone born during the Clinton administration — you don’t. It’s High School Musical, the bubbly pop soundtrack to a made-for-TV Disney movie starring a cast of unknown teen actors, which will likely hit the 4 million mark by the end of the year. But HSM is hardly a fluke. Despite a near-total lack of mainstream-radio airplay, spin-off albums from two other Disney programs, Hannah Montana and the made-for-TV film The Cheetah Girls, are pulling big numbers. Montana recently held the top spot on Billboard two weeks running, beating first-week sales of one-name acts like Fergie, Janet, and Diddy. The three Cheetah albums, on the other hand, have racked up 2 million-plus discs moved and the Girls are currently in the midst of a sold-out 85-city U.S. tour.
”We’ve always known TV sells music, from the Monkees to American Idol, ” says David Agnew of the Buena Vista Music Group, the home to these acts, who attributes the label’s success to ”good songwriters and lyrics that reflect universally relevant themes. It’s like Grease for today’s kids.”
And today’s kids, it seems, watch a lot of the Disney Channel; HSM‘s first broadcast reached 7.7 million; Hannah Montana regularly pulls more than 2 million. ”They’ve always been a strong brand,” says Billboard chart analyst Geoff Mayfield. ”And the channel has a fairly long history of being a catalyst for music sales, but High School Musical is something that I think caught even Disney by surprise.”
Currently, there’s an HSM sequel in the works for 2007, and Buena Vista is pursuing acts in the same vein — including a solo offshoot from HSM star Corbin Bleu, the all-sister band Everlife, and the fifth installment of the popular Disneymania series. And the label is even corralling ’80s acts like Devo and the Go-Go’s to target what Agnew describes as ”preschool rockers.” Could zygote rock be next? If so, expect it to wear mouse ears.