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How Olivia Rodrigo & Joshua Bassett’s Two ‘High School Musical’ Songs Became One Duet

Courtesy of Disney

Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett in ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.’

Courtesy of Disney

Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett in ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.’

“This song originated in the writers’ room when our writing producer Zach Dodes said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Ricky and Nini kept missing each other on Valentine’s Day, and so they each call each other at midnight and play a song they wrote for the other one — and through the magic of showbiz, the songs blended together?'” Tim Federle, the series’ creator, showrunner and executive producer, says in a statement to Billboard. “Olivia and Josh are such talented singer-actors, and the songwriters struck the perfect note in writing this ‘accidental duet.'”

Disney Channel veteran songwriter and producer Mitch Allan, Chantry Johnson and Michelle Zarlenga knew going into the writing session in January 2020 that they were writing one song with two songs nested inside it. In a statement, Disney Branded Television vp of music and soundtracks Steve Vincent commended the team for taking on “the unique challenge of writing two songs that musically fit together when played simultaneously and [delivering] a ‘duet’ that captures the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and the voices of the characters expressing their love for one another.”

“We definitely knew we had some kind of mental gymnastics to do to get ourselves to a place where we could write two songs that happened to work at the same time and really work on the structure of each to make them flow like a unit,” Zarlenga tells Billboard.

But with all the hoops the team had to jump through to make the songs-within-a-song work, a completely unexpected leap happened an entire year later: Rodrigo’s debut single outside the Disney realm, “Drivers License,” became the runaway hit of 2021 after it opened and remained at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks. The 18-year-old Geffen Records signee’s smash also led both the Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Global Excl. U.S. charts for eight and nine weeks, respectively, and became the first song to surpass 1 billion global streams in 2021, according to MRC Data. Bassett’s single “Lie Lie Lie,” meanwhile, earned the 20-year-old star his own set of Billboard chart debuts: The song catapulted the Warner Records artist to debut at No. 33 on the Emerging Artists chart while also opening at No. 25 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart.

But before hopping on the express lane to superstardom with “Drivers License,” Rodrigo’s first trip to the Hot 100 was “All I Want,” an original song she wrote for the first season of HSMTMTS that peaked at No. 90 in January 2020. “Drivers License” propelled the song to enter the Global 200 and Global Excl. U.S. tallies in January 2021, with “All I Want” reaching 13.3 million streams globally and 8.3 million outside the U.S. in the week ending Jan. 21, according to MRC Data. Rodrigo’s High School Musical song is up to 199.5 million U.S. streams through April 22. She and Bassett also co-wrote their “Just for a Moment” duet from the first season, which has 34.7 million on-demand U.S. streams but didn’t hit any Billboard charts.

“‘Even When/The Best Part’ is a truly special duet,” Bassett tells Billboard in a statement. “I played guitar when we filmed it, and sang along to Olivia’s vocals in my ear while she shot her side separately! I’m stoked to see how it all came together and really think people are gonna love it! Hands down: one of my favorites this season!”

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