If you’ve laid eyes on any kind of screen lately, chances are you already know that Vanessa Hudgens is everything, everywhere, all at once.
On Sunday night, she was the host of the MTV Movie & TV Awards, an awards show that has failed to make a blip on the pop culture radar since the late aughts, when it actually attracted real star power and not just TikTok stars whose fame is as fleeting as a viral dance trend. But for Vanessa Hudgens, there is no bar that is too low.
Every gig is another chance for a photograph, another opportunity for her face to grace the screen of a rare television-watcher who still channel-surfs. Like any savvy star, she knows that maintaining fame is all about the right amount of saturation.
Her breakthrough was in Disney’s High School Musical as Zac Efron’s character’s beard, Gabriella Montez, who won the hearts of millions of impressionable young children and elicited the ire of parents worldwide who had to suffer through the CD soundtrack during long car rides. Since then, Hudgens has been carefully curating her own career. And by carefully curating, I mean she has been careful not to miss a single script that landed on her agent’s desk.
How many actresses can you think of that have been in both a Zack Synder film and co-starred with Mary-Kate Olsen in the same year? How many musicians can you name that have made bona fide-hit debut albums and followed them up with iconically cringey songs about dancing all night in your favorite ugly sneakers? She’s even running the gamut of Netflix’s vast spectrum of quality, starring in both three installments of a chintzy Christmas rom-com franchise and garnering awards conversation in tick… tick… BOOM!!
Vanessa Hudgens is creating her own myth and doing it all on her terms, with one very important guiding principle: she will show up to the opening of an envelope.
Along with all of those other ventures, you can also find Vanessa Hudgens covering the Met Gala red carpet for Vogue and the Oscars red carpet for ABC. Where other actresses might consider those kinds of gigs beneath them after two decades in the business, Hudgens will happily grab a mic at any industry event and just start chatting a fellow star’s ear off. Sometimes I wonder if she’s actually been booked to do these events or if she has just shown up in a gown and gotten to work, knowing that if she proceeds with enough conviction that no one will stop her. Someone had to fill Maria Menounos’ shoes while she remains trapped in the Noovie Arcade.
You can find Vanessa Hudgens just about anywhere you look — at one point, she’s proving herself as a rare reason for live television network musicals to exist with her roles in FOX’s Grease: Live and Rent: Live, and then she’s hocking birth control that implants into your arm during the commercial break. Unlike her High School Musical costar Ashley Tisdale — who, beyond a modest career in music and a steady gig in voice acting, has kept a pretty low profile — Hudgens has preferred to keep her star shining as bright as possible by working herself down to the bones of her perfectly- manicured fingers.
That’s also what makes her so slippery. Hudgens’ fervent desire to be so omnipresent that she has become inescapable has resulted in her making just as many visibly bad career choices as she has good ones. Unlike Ashley Tisdale, whose biggest media controversy lately was that she bought and filled her bookshelf with 400 books she had never read to prepare for an Architectural Digest home tour, Hudgens has become a tricky character when it comes to managing her own public perception.
More than once, Hudgens has been caught in the crosshairs of cultural appropriation accusations. She’s made flippant jokes about the expected COVID-related death rates on Instagram. She even took to Johnny Depp’s post-defamation trial Instagram post to throw a like his way, joining the ranks of several other celebrities who made their stance known quietly but firmly following last week’s verdict. I’m sure Depp was thrilled to see the star of such cinematic big-hitters like Spring Breakers and The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again lend her support to his wayward cause.
And yet, despite the constant missteps throughout the length of her career, Hudgens always manages to walk away unscathed. Nothing ever sticks to her. Like everyone in the 2010 Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle, you might be tempted to say, “I don’t know how she does it!” Maybe it’s pretty person privilege, maybe it’s her genuinely amenable personality and her willingness to do whatever falls into her lap no matter the size of the check. Whatever it is, it has turned her into one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.
Sure, Vanessa Hudgens’ roles may not be garnering Oscar wins or even Golden Globe nominations, but Hudgens has her hand in every pot, her face on every network, her foot in every industry. She’s got 45 million followers on Instagram and a bougie brand of cactus water worth more money than I’ll ever make in my life. She’s the sole reason that Coachella still exists, which may be her worst offense of all.
At this point, I lay awake in fear every night, thinking about all of the things that Vanessa Hudgens could do and get away with, surely starting with murder and just working her way up from there. She’s loyal to no moral boundary, only serving the art of chaos and cash.
Hudgens wields the power of her wide reach with a reckless abandon and an irrefutable charisma. Try as I might, I can’t help but find her to be a truly fun personality to watch whenever she lands on my television. Despite her long list of career faux pas, she’s managed to maintain a consistent level of relevance that has never wavered, unlike several of her other Disney Channel cohorts, something we should’ve expected when she stated her career ideology from day one — when it comes to a role, just “Say OK.”
Perhaps we have that philosophy to thank for being able to catch her starring as an 18-wheel-truck driver named Bertie in the sure-to-be-smash-hit film Big Rig, coming to a Tubi TV channel near you soon. Vanessa Hudgens knows what we need far more than we do.