Pop Culture Confessional is a weekly column where our writers can divulge and indulge in their most deeply embarrassing cultural passion — and then tell you why it actually rocks. Everyone has a few dirty little secrets. Only the truth shall set us free.
I like my man candy with a touch of femininity.
Sure, it seems strange to admit that I like the high cheekbones and vacant, mascaraed eyes of a man prettier than myself, but the thought of my tween sex symbols lounging in tanning beds doesn’t make me squirm with discomfort. It has never been a conscious choice, but I’m rendered incapable of resisting the full-bodied washboard abs and sun-kissed dimples of a so-called pretty boy.
And my biggest pretty boy crush? Zachary David Alexander Efron, boy wonder Troy Bolton from the High School Musical trilogy and champion of my fluttery, superficial heart.
My infatuation with Zac began, unwittingly, in his humble beginnings. Zac and I met on the WB. I spent most of my formative years enthralled by the gratuitous dramedies of the WB (the CW’s Gossip Girl era has nothing on the bitter self-righteousness of Popular or the metaphysical irony of Grosse Point). Because of my complete lack of discrimination of WB programming, I regularly watched Summerland, the terribly overwrought Jesse McCartney vehicle of the summer of 2004. Zac Efron was a sideman, a recurring character, but he stole my heart. His Cameron was a regular teenage Lothario, wooing the youngest child, Nikki, with his crooked, gap-toothed smile and big ears. He brought her small tokens of affection and was generous if a bit sappy in his courtship.
And he was perfect for me.
My advanced devotion, however, was a more recent development. It started, really started, my senior year. High School Musical 2 premiered on Disney to a flurry of post-adolescent glee, and my friends and I gathered for a viewing party. We all clustered close to the television, our eyes glazed over. I don’t know how it is possible, but Zefron had gotten prettier since the first film. My stomach grumbled, but whether from longing or from sugar overload I will never know.
When Zac catapulted back into my periphery, I was older, wiser, but still inclined to be entranced by the thrall of the prettiest boy in the room. I missed that adorably quirky gap in the front of his teeth, but I wanted to run my hands across his wide, flat, hairless chest. And when he graced the cover of Rolling Stone I wanted to follow his happy trail all the way to sweet, sweet utopia and lose myself in his cheeky grin and artfully-tousled hair.
Zac makes High School Musical. Let’s face it — Vanessa Hudgens would barely warrant a footnote in the tome of ’00s popular culture if she hadn’t bared her breasts in that gold lamé outfit, all Carrie Fisher in Return of the Jedi but less iconic. It’s Zac Efron’s mug front and center on all the HSM merchandise littering the cubbies of my room here on campus, and it’s Zac’s name on the tip of everyone’s tongue when they talk about the phenomenon. When the first film premiered on the Disney Channel, Zac was cast aside as the adolescent but incapable male lead. From the first film to the second, though, Zac grew and morphed into something of substance. He commanded scenes with a definite personality and a dramatic flair. Don’t believe me? Check out the video for “Bet On It”, and I dare you to deny the MJ-influence exuding from the anger and the melodious frustration.
There are, though, those naysayers who deign to suggest Zac will never be interested in me — perhaps because he prefers different equipment below the belt. My father, all sharp wit and infuriating banter, takes great joy in oh-so-subtly suggesting that my one true love is simply using that slutty girl as a beard, but I refuse to acknowledge their thinly-veiled jealous rambling. He’s simply well-versed in fashion and haircare, and he’s sexually conscious and confident. Zac is all Hollywood glow and implausible perfection. He is the thoughtful boyfriend, the compassionate friend, the athlete, the star, the fresh-faced boy next door, and, dammit, he wants you as his Tween Queen. Well, me, actually. He wants me.
Here’s the true thing that sets Zac apart — unlike my girlhood poster phases with Josh Hartnett or J.C. Chasez, Zac grew as I did and became a legitimate actor. “Real” directors like Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) cast Zac in roles in which he could flex his theatrical muscle — first as young Matthew Perry in the emotionally deep 17 Again as well as the upcoming The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud. And when Richard Linklater put Zac in the lead for his forthcoming Me and Orson Welles, where he plays (surprise!) a teenager, Linklater was surely pulling from Zac’s performance in Hairspray, in which he showed real chops as the drool-worthy Link Larken. Sure, it wasn’t much of a stretch for Zac to play a teen idol, but that doesn’t make his role any less deliciously impressive.
Ultimately, Zac has shifted from the belting charm of musicals to something arguably more substantive. He’s making the transition from endearingly naïve scene actor (he was in an episode of Firefly) to leading man. I think the future is bright for him, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he breaks the Mark-Paul Gosselaar mold of being pretty and memorable but not lasting. I think he’ll do okay — he’s got the look.
Zac generally gets a bad rap. Sure, he’s no longer the adorable boy next door, and his blemishless face may betray a bit of knifework, but he’s got talent. Well, at least, Hollywood talent — the pretty face that makes girls like me swoon.