The Significance of ‘Camp Rock’ 12 Years On

Camp Rock feature image
Camp Rock (2008) dir. Matthew Diamond. Disney.

by Charlotte J | September 21st 2020

On June 20th, 2008 one of Disney Channel’s most anticipated movies premiered. After months of advertising and hype, there was so much excitement for this film surrounded by romance, adversaries and music. Every day after school, I would watch the advert as I counted down the days until the long-awaited release: Camp Rock

The main selling point of Camp Rock was the Jonas Brothers. The heart-throb boy band, starring as music trio Connect 3, who’s lead singer Shane Gray (Joe Jonas), was seen to be a spoiled and arrogant lead singer, sent to music camp to clean up his image, with Nick and Kevin Jonas portraying the other two members, Nate and Jason Gray (respectively). The band had already risen to fame on the Disney Channel due to their work creating the theme song for American Dragon: Jake Long, their cover of Busted’s “Year 3000,” as well as guest-starring in Hannah Montana and her 3D concert film. Disney Channel were building them up to be the perfect boy band, which is something that Disney had not branched out with before, but with the successes of Miley Cyrus in Hannah Montana, they really drove this teen fantasy. The Jonas Brothers were the teenage girls’ dream. I had already been exposed to the Jonas Brothers through Disney Channel, while snippets of their band would appear in any pre-teen magazine.The fact that the band were doing their own film debut was even bigger, and fans, such as myself, couldn’t wait. 

Despite the Jonas Brothers being the main selling point of the film, it was also responsible for launching the career of another mega-star: Demi Lovato. Camp Rock follows Mitchie Torres (Demi Lovato), a young musician aspiring to be a singer. She is desperate to go to a summer music camp called, you guessed it, ‘Camp Rock,’ even though her family cannot afford tuition. Mitchie’s mother, Connie (Wizards of Waverly Place’s Maria Canals-Barrera), arranges her catering company to cater the food for the camp, which allows Mitchie to attend, as long as she assists her mother in the kitchen. Meanwhile, after receiving some bad press, Shane is assigned to be in charge of dance classes at Camp Rock by his bandmates, and is forced to record a song with the winner of the end of summer concert, the Final Jam. 

There is a romantic subplot which runs through the film, as one day, Shane overhears Mitchie singing at a piano, and falls in love with her voice. However, Mitchie leaves before Shane can figure out who she is, causing him to quickly obsess over finding this mysterious singer, “the girl with the voice”. Throughout the film, we see a connection form between Shane and Mitchie, as they get into a canoe together and laugh — But she never sings in front of him, which becomes increasingly frustrating.

So, why did I decide to revisit this film 12 years on? For starters, I’m still a big Jonas Brothers fan. When they reunited as a band last year, I was lucky enough to see them in concert, and with that, realised I still have a crush on Joe Jonas. They are still a great selling point of the film, even with Joe’s questionable flat-ironed hair, but, truly, one of the best parts of Camp Rock is the drama that accounts throughout the film. From Shane’s quest to find “the girl with the voice,” to resident HBIC Tess’ (Meghan Martin) backstage post-Final Jam breakdown. The gossip and rumour-mill like nature of the film really linked to what school is like, and for myself at the time was very alluring. 

Looking back now, it feels like a lot of overreaction, as I found myself laughing at this drama rather than taking it seriously like I would have when I was younger. Tess did everything and anything to ensure she got the Final Jam crown, which included framing Mitchie by hiding her bracelet to make it look like Mitchie had stolen it, therefore banning her from the competition. My personal favourite moment was when Mitchie gets exposed for lying about who her mother is, as she spent the summer telling everyone that she was a famous TV executive, to hide the fact that she only got into camp because her mom is the caterer. Fellow camper Caitlyn (Alyson Stoner) reacts to Mitchie’s dishonesty with such intense disdain, that she accuses Mitchie of “drowning in her lies” — after she slipped and fell on a bucket of water.

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Joe Jonas as Shane and Demi Lovato as Mitchie in Camp Rock (2008).

The music performances in which the campers’ blatant attempts to show off and pull focus from each other are endearing, rather than embarrassing, especially when they are pouring their heart out in the process. Self-acceptance ballad and Final Jam show-stopper “This Is Me” immediately cemented a place in Disney Original Song Hall of Fame, showing off Demi’s outstanding singing voice. As Mitchie begins to sing, Shane realises that she was the voice he had been searching for all along, and swiftly goes up to join her which makes for a heart-wrenching performance. I have found in the past year, the performance has been mimicked on social media, even Demi herself has roasted her Camp Rock performance. On rewatch, the performance does come across as awkward as she is belting her lungs out and has some robotic stage presence. Even if you have not watched Camp Rock, you may be familiar with it from the TikTok memes that have circulated the platform which highlights the strange, cringe-worthy scenes, dialogue and questionable dance moves. Nevertheless, this was a concrete moment for Demi’s career, and our childhoods, still looked back on (fondly and otherwise) to this day.

So, it’s over a decade later, and I find myself still loving Camp Rock, but in a very different way. It has become more of a guilty pleasure as it makes me feel very nostalgic, but there is something enjoyable about the more embarrassing scenes. There is no doubt that the film cemented careers for Demi Lovato and The Jonas Brothers, and the soundtrack remains significant and may I say, timeless, teaching us that “your music has to be who you really are. It’s gotta show how you feel, or it doesn’t mean anything.”

Charlotte is a film and culture writer based in England, originally from South Africa. She loves coming-of-age ventures and Back to the Future. You can follow her on Twitter @charlonfilm.