This thing—this mysterious thing—has been clogging up my Us Weekly for the past 26 months. I'm sure you've noticed it: acne-free teens and underage boobs and dubiously deviated septums, all springing forth from something called the High School Musical. It's a frightening feeling when, as a spry twentysomething, you realize that popular culture has wriggled free of your grasp. Why am I being updated on the mascara preferences of one Zac Efron? What is a "Hudgens"?

Imagine my relief, then, to receive a party invitation entitled, "Before We Drift into Cultural Irrelevance." Apparently my peers were grappling with the same dirty beast! "We are going to sit in my apartment and examine the complexities of High School Musical AND High School Musical 2. Who is gayer, Efron or the black one? What happened to Tisdale's nose? And most importantly, what is the appeal of this movie?"

Thank god. Thank GOD! At last, we would get to the bottom of this.

We settled down with our pizza and wine coolers. First up: High School Musical ONE. Nerdy Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) and basketbally Troy Bolton (Olivia Newton Efron), at a rustic lodge on New Year's Eve, launch into a romantic karaoke number. Wait, did we start this movie in the middle? No? Are you sure? Cut to East High School, where Gabriella is the new girl and Troy hasn't told anyone about his newfound love of singing—not even the boyz in his "sports posse"! Will Troy ever muster up the courage to debut his pipes of gold? (Answer: YES.)

This throws the school into a tizzy. "Do you see what's happening here, man?" cries the black one. "Suddenly people think that they can do other stuff—stuff that isn't their stuff! You're a hoops dude, not a musical singer person!"

Enter queen bee Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale—"Why did they make her look like baby Carmela Soprano?"), determined to sabotage the shit out of Gabriella and Troy's high-school-musical aspirations. Thanks to Sharpay, the callbacks are on the same day as East High's championship game against West High ("God, their lives are so vague")! FUCK!!! The end.

Up next: High School Musical numero dos. This one, we discovered, is EVEN BETTER. It makes less sense, there's more innuendo ("You are gonna get so wet!"), and everyone is much, much gayer. Funniest of all is the complete reversal of the just-be-yourself moral from HSM1. "This could change your life!" Sharpay tells Troy, encouraging him to go after a college scholarship. "I'm more interested in what my friends think of me," says Troy with contempt. Cha-cha-cha!

We sat there and looked at each other. We would never be the same. "It's like this was written by a factory of Taiwanese workers," somebody said. High School Musical 3: Senior Year comes out October 24, 2008. Chop chop, Taiwan!recommended