Bassett, along with his talented co-stars from the Disney+ series, rings in the holiday season with a 45-minute special, High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special, on Friday, where they share their favorite holiday traditions, sing iconic favorites and offer two sneak peeks of the upcoming second season. ET debuts a first look at Bassett's performance of his original Christmas song, "The Perfect Gift," which will be featured in season 2.
"It's an absolute treat and something that people are going to watch and rewatch and then maybe watch again. And also listen to the soundtrack afterwards, which is special to have something like that," the 19-year-old singer and actor exclusively tells ET of the holiday special, which he hopes has a "timeless" feel to it. "In terms of the music, as soon as it came about, [creator] Tim Federle called me and asked if I would sing the song that I had written for season 2 called 'The Perfect Gift.' He asked if I wanted to perform that in the holiday special and I was like, 'Oh, of course. That would be incredible.'"
"I'm excited for people to get a sneak peek from season 2 in the form of a song," Bassett says, adding that the ensemble musical number from the new season is "exciting." "This is absolutely a much-needed dose of joy for people and I'm excited to be a part of something that's really special and also is a way for people to get to know my cast a little bit better on a more personal level. I'm just excited for it all and I was stoked to be a part of it."
It was a phone call from Federle in between seasons that gave Bassett -- who earned his first HSMTMTS songwriting credit last season with "Just for a Moment," co-written with Olivia Rodrigo -- another opportunity to flex his writing muscle. (Bassett was coy when asked if he and Rodrigo had another co-written gem ready to go for season 2, only saying, "Not that I know of. We'll see. There are lots of great moments and a lot of sweet stuff that I can't talk about. But yes... I think we'll hold on that one for now!")
"The concept is that Ricky can't really afford a gift for Nini, so he does the second best thing he knows how. He writes her a song," Bassett explains. "The idea of the song... the main lyric in the chorus is, 'This song is the second best that I could do when the perfect gift is you.' And so, the idea is that the perfect gift you can give is a song when, in reality, the perfect gift is her. That's the song. I thought that was a really special sentiment and something I can relate to in my life, in terms of growing up with five sisters. Gift-giving, it was more about the thoughtful gifts and less about the flashy gifts. So I can relate to that. I really appreciate the ingenuity of Ricky having to figure out a creative way to give her a gift. I think that, ultimately, a song is way more powerful of a gift than AirPods."
Though Bassett has written his own music outside of the show, he believes writing "The Perfect Gift" has evolved him as a songwriter. (Bassett released singles, "Common Sense" and "Anyone Else," during quarantine. He is currently eyeing early 2021 to drop his first EP.)
"The first season was definitely intimidating because it was like, 'OK, wow. We've got to really win them over here and prove that we can do this.' Writing 'Just for a Moment' was [nerve-wracking]. 'The Perfect Gift,' I can't say it was any easier to write," he admits, detailing his writing process. "I had a hard time figuring out the lyrics, especially because it's a little bit harder when you're given a prompt versus writing directly about how you're feeling. I put myself in my character's shoes and figured it out. But yeah, I would say that it's a different process every time and this song was super special to write. It definitely took a little bit of time to get together but that trust that Tim Federle has put in me and also in Olivia, as she writes stuff as well for the show, that trust is vital. He does such a good job of reinforcing but also being honest."
"I remember I sent back a pass of some of the lyrics and he was like, 'OK, I love this, this and this but I think you can get deeper here.' And, 'These lyrics are a little bit surface level, give it another go and push a little bit harder,'" Bassett adds. "His ability to be honest and push and accept nothing but the best and be encouraging but also put his foot down and say, 'We can do better than this,' is so incredible and so rare. I just appreciate his honesty and his trust and encouragement."
Watch a first look at Bassett's performance of "The Perfect Gift" from the holiday special, exclusively at ET, below.
The holiday special also includes a delightful duet between Bassett and co-star Matt Cornet, who plays EJ, as they perform "Little Saint Nick" poolside at the Bachelor mansion.
"Our characters on the show don't necessarily get a lot of screen time together. We don't really get to interact too much, other than when we're fighting on camera. To be able to just share that with him as Josh and Matt, not as EJ or Ricky, was super special," Bassett highlights. "We really just had a blast. We were goofing off the whole time. It was the first time we'd seen each other since quarantine, so that was really special. But yeah, as fun as it looks, we really were having that much fun off-screen and also onscreen."
Filming resumed on season 2 several weeks ago in Salt Lake City, Utah, reuniting the HSMTMTS ensemble for the first time in seven months to continue production on the remaining episodes for the 12-episode run, which will focus on an in-show musical production of Beauty and the Beast. Bassett is as impatient for HSMTMTS to begin dropping new episodes as fans are.
"I'm waiting for it to come back. Obviously, we're shooting right now but I'm super proud of what we shot so far and I'm just overjoyed with how it's all coming out," Bassett says. "We're really finding our groove more and more because the first season we were still figuring out, 'What exactly is this show?' But now that we know what it is, it's so exciting to do that. I think that what people are going to really love is how each and every character gets their own special moments. Even more so this season, we're able to dive into more of their home lives [for] everyone else's characters."
"New people get songs that didn't necessarily get a song in season 1 and the characters that people already love, they're just going to fall so much more in love with because they get to know them so much more in season 2," he teases. "And there's also more dancing, there's more singing, we do some crazier stuff. People who haven't seen the show, even if they started with season 2, will absolutely fall in love with it. The fans who already do love it are just going to be over the moon when they see what's to come."