(Chau Ahn Nguyen/Staff Illustrator)

In “Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s,” Frank O’Hara wrote, “Let’s advance and change everything, but leave these little oases in case the heart gets thirsty en route.” This bittersweet declaration is one of my all-time favorite lines of poetry, in spite of my personal aversion to nostalgia. While many love the  poignant sensation of relishing in the warm glow of the past, I am steadfast in my charge forward, spending very little time looking back.

One of the few exceptions is returning to the most glorious time of my life, a time in which art was abundant, my dad prepared home-cooked meals nightly and my bedtime was 8 p.m. — the peak era for Disney Channel original movies. In the rare case where my heart longs a little, one of these films is the impetus. To celebrate the true classics, I present 10 of Disney Channel’s best original songs.

1. ‘You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home’ (2009) by Hannah Montana

For the homesick, the heartsick or the heartbroken, “You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home” is the perfect pick-me-up. Although Emory University is only four hours from my hometown Savannah, Ga., whenever I find myself craving the marsh-air and the cold nose of my dog pressed against my cheek, I turn to this track. This cheerful song reminds the listener that you can never stray too far away from the ones you love. “Your best friends, your little hometown / Are waiting up wherever you go now,” Hannah (Miley Cyrus) sings.

In “Hannah Montana: The Movie” (2009), the pop superstar Hannah struggles with her identity and maintaining connection to her country roots. She wants to make it big, travel the world and be a global hit, but she doesn’t want to lose her family along the way. As someone with only slightly less lofty aspirations, this song really speaks to me. “You can say ‘goodbye,’ and you can say ‘hello’ / But you’ll always find your way back home.” Somehow, I always find my way back to this track.


2. ‘Gotta Go My Own Way’ (2007) by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens

To say “Gotta Go My Own Way” altered my brain chemistry is an understatement. From “High School Musical 2” (2007), this beautiful, emotionally evocative ballad details the downfall of a relationship that falls victim to miscommunication and misprioritization. Hudgens’ delicate voice adeptly communicates her feeling of defeat and dejection as she sings, “We might find our place in this world someday / But at least for now, I gotta go my own way.”

Normally, when a man interjects in an argument, I am not amused, but Efron’s passionate verse imploring his partner to stay is genuinely beautiful. “What about me?” he muses, tugging at my heartstrings with the utter desperation in his voice. When the two alternate verses, a symphony of heartbreak, disappointment and remorse mingles. If only the song could include the stunning cinematography of Gabriella Montez’s (Hudgens) mom picking her up in a silver minivan after the last chorus.

3. ‘She’s So Gone’ (2011) by Naomi Scott

I have truly glorious memories of belting this Naomi Scott anthem in the shower after my first ever breakup. Granted, I was 10, and our breakup was an overreaction to my ruthless domination on the tetherball set at recess. Nonetheless, it stung. “She’s So Gone” is the standout track from the Disney Channel original movie, “Lemonade Mouth” (2011). On the track, the once-shy — but, of course, stunning — singer discovers her confidence and triumphs over her toxic ex-boyfriend. “Insecure in her skin / Like a puppet, a girl on a string,” Scott sings, acknowledging her once submissive role in this relationship.

This upbeat pop track is the perfect break-up anthem. The song details the metamorphosis of a young woman liberating herself from the shackles of an emotionally abusive romance. Scott taunts her old flame, “You can look but you won’t see the / Girl I used to be, ’cause she / She’s so gone.” Message signed, sealed and delivered.

4. ‘Don’t Run Away’ (2012) by Tyler James Williams and IM5

“Don’t Run Away” is part of the soundtrack for “Let It Shine” (2012), a film about a rapper’s journey from rags to riches with a romantic subplot. As a whole, “Let It Shine” has an incredible soundtrack that dabbles in the genres of rap, R&B, pop and soul. The lyrical quality of these tracks is suspect, but the vibes are immaculate. The confessional, romantic rap track professes a dedication to making a relationship work.

The track is energetic as it alternates between deadpan verses and soulful choruses. The rapper’s obsession with his subject is obvious, and his admiration only increases throughout the track. “You’re more than meets the eye / Girl, you pterodactyl fly,” Williams spits. Move over William Shakespeare, Tyler James Williams has taken your spotlight. 

5. ‘Wouldn’t Change a Thing’ (2010) by Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas

Among the many “Camp Rock” (2008) series hits, including “Introducing me” (2010) and “You’re My Favorite Song” (2010), one track that I find myself constantly coming back to is “Wouldn’t Change a Thing.” This powerful duet between Lovato and Jonas encapsulates the energy of teenage love. The singers acknowledge their inherent incompatibility, but they are nonetheless attached to this all-encompassing love. The lyrics are gut-wrenching, such as, “We’re like different stars / But you’re the harmony to every song I sing.”

The real strength of this track is the vocal prowess of Lovato and Jonas, which is proven by their genuine rise to stardom in their post-Disney Channel years. Lovato published powerful, confident pop bangers in her early music such as “Heart Attack” (2013) and “Sorry Not Sorry” (2017). Jonas continued his work in collaboration with his family in the group Jonas Brothers and with DNCE, a U.S. pop-rock band. The success of their individual careers demonstrates their undeniable talent.

6. ‘If Only’ (2015) by Dove Cameron

In my opinion, “Descendants” (2015) is the last Disney Channel original movie with the traces of the beauty, welcomed-cringe and celebrated innocence of the previous productions. Despite the moments when the movie falls flat, such as when Mal (Dove Cameron) gives Jane (Brenna D’Amico) a new haircut through which she discovers her untapped beauty, the soundtrack is absolutely perfect. Bangers like “Did I Mention” (2015) and “Rotten to the Core” (2015) reflect the inexplicable power of Disney Channel to produce honestly-horrendous tracks that somehow leave me wanting more.

“If Only” is not one of these silly, embarrassing tracks that invites only the inner child to relish in it. As a breathtaking ballad, the song explores motifs of self-sabotage, desire and personal identity in relationships. “If Only” is unironically one of my most played songs of all time. Cameron brilliantly performs the track with uninhibited passion. The lyrics are candid and mature while still capturing that Disney Channel mysticality. “Will you still be with me when the magic’s all run out?” Cameron sings. Against all odds and after many years, the magic of “If Only” still remains.

7. ‘Had Me @ Hello’ (2012) by Olivia Holt

“Had Me @ Hello” is the standout track from one of my all-time favorite Disney Channel originals, “Girl vs. Monster” (2012). After Skylar Lewis (Holt) faces her fears and defeats the evil ghost chasing after her soul, the movie culminates in this absolute banger. While the auto-tune is noticeable, the overlaid techno-beats ensure that Holt’s over-edited voice pairs smoothly with the tone of the track.

This song just makes me want to dance. It is spunky, lively and romantic. “I can feel you comin’ from a mile away / My pulse starts racin’ from the words that you say,” Holt sings, hinting at the sweat-inducing giddiness of a moment with your crush. “Don’t say, don’t say goodnight / You know you had me at hello,” Holt admits. This song had me at first listen.

8. ‘Me And You’ (2012) by Coco Jones and Tyler James Williams

Although it is another track from “Let It Shine,” “Me And You” demonstrates an entirely different musical palette. Jones delivers a stunning performance of this emotional ballad, her voice equal parts demanding and delicate. “Me And You” is more than a song — it is a confessional and a conversation between two people at a crossroads.

Tell me, are you who I thought you were? / Or who I wanted you to be?” Jones implores. The song alternates between her smooth voice begging for answers and Williams attempting to explain his mistakes. It is a fusion of R&B, pop and rap. My only qualm with the studio version is the omission of the desperate plea from Williams in the movie, “Roxie I’m sorry.” I still say it anyway, with my whole chest.

9. ‘Something About the Sunshine’ (2010) by Anna Margaret and Christopher Wilde


This song is a straight shot of serotonin. Every time I listen, I must fight the desire to skip across a sandy boardwalk, purchase a cookies-and-cream milkshake and bask in the sunshine. From the film “Starstruck” (2010), this track accompanies the unexpected budding of a relationship between pop star Christopher (Sterling Knight) and painfully normal girl, Jessica Olson (Danielle Campbell).

“There’s something about the sunshine, baby / I’m seeing you in a whole new light,” the pair sings. While the song is slightly overproduced, which is showcased by the aggressive manipulation of the singer’s vocals, it does not diminish the charm. “Something About the Sunshine” is a beautiful track that contemplates the giddiness of a new relationship. The song sees the world through rose-colored glasses, imploring its listeners to simply relax and enjoy the overwhelming optimism.

10. ‘Bet On It’ (2007) by Zac Efron

Despite the cringe dance montage that accompanies this song in “High School Musical 2,” “Bet On It” should be taken seriously as a stand-alone audio track. It tackles many complicated, ever-present themes in college environments such as anxiety and imposter syndrome. The song motivates listeners through both lyrics and sound. “I’m not gonna stop, that’s who I am,” Troy (Efron) declares over aggressive percussion instruments.

The track follows an intoxicating cadence. The tempo rises and falls in a reflection of the lyrical tone of the verse. During the bridge, the drums fade and the cymbals are employed to create a majestic atmosphere, preparing for an epiphanic resolution. “The answers are all inside of me / All I gotta do is believe,” Troy realizes. If only it were that simple.

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Catherine Goodman is from Savannah, GA. She is majoring in English and Art History. Outside of the wheel, Goodman is the President of Women’s Club Basketball and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. She loves listening to music, attending concerts, reformer pilates and reality TV!