ABC/CRAIG SJODIN

Mal, Carlos de Vil, Jay and Evie are ready to make a villainous return in Descendants 2 very soon! The anticipated sequel to the 2015 is premiering tonight (July 21). But before it hits your screen, we caught up with Steven Vincent, Vice President of Music and Soundtracks for Disney Channels Worldwide, about working on the new movie. And of course we snuck in some nostalgic goodies about High School Musical, Teen Beach, The Cheetah Girls and more.

Read on for more of our chat with Vincent and look out for the Descendants 2 premiere (starring Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart, Sofia Carson and China Anne McClain) at 8 p.m. EST simultaneously on Disney Channel, ABC, Disney XD, Freeform and Lifetime.

FUSE: What should fans should be most excited about Descendants 2?
Steven Vincent: The new music and the way it’s presented, as well as adding the new character Uma allowed us to get into an even broader variety of music. Once we casted China Anne McClain, who is such a fabulous actor, we tried to change it up. We wanted to continue to surprise the audience with the musical numbers, and find moments for comedy as well as emotion and excitement. I think they’re really going to love the music for the second movie.

I was listening to “Ways to be Wicked” earlier and wanted to know the story behind that song. It’s so fun!
“Rotten to the Core” was such a huge song in the first movie; I think its one of the biggest songs we’ve ever had. It so identified the villain kids right? It was when we first met them. So when we started talking about how we will create a new moment for the four core villain kids to do a song together, we came up with the concept of “Well what if we open the movie as if they really had gone bad after all and had taken over Auradon?” So that led us into this world of watching them turn everybody else evil. Musically we didn’t want to try and repeat what we did with “Rotten to the Core,” which is kind of an EDM/dance track. It felt like this wanted to be a youth anthem, which led us into more of the pop/rock direction. Kenny [Ortega] had references to “Bad” by Michael Jackson and a rousing “we’re gonna take over” theme. You combine all of that with the Fall Out Boys of the world and other people doing pop/rock, put that all together in the stew and come up with your take on modern youth anthems about fighting for power.

China’s "What's My Name" song is also more soulful and different from the sounds we heard in the first movie. Did you use other artists as inspiration to create the soundtrack?

I’ve worked with China on her A.N.T. Farm series, so I knew her voice really well. We looked at other people like Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. But this was going to be a villain song, this is where we meet our new villain. So Kenny and I always go back to classic references, like “what if we were meeting Cruella de Vil?” Or if we met Maleficent in a modern music, what would she do? We also had the song “Evil Like Me” with Kristin Chenoweth in the first movie and we obviously wrote that song for her. So once we had China and her voice, we knew we could go in the pop/urban space and come up with something really hook-y. The songwriters came up with that wonderful chant. It’s very pirate-like and Disney fun. We also looked back at Scar’s song from The Lion King, where he’s telling everyone his intentions and how thing are gonna be. So this was really about her staking her claim to what she’s gonna do and her mission for the movie. And we also wanted to dance, so hip-hop pirates felt like a cool way in and something different than people have done.

DESCENDANTS 2 - Recording session. (Disney Channel/Matt Petit)
CHARITY DAW, KENNY ORTEGA (DIRECTOR, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AND CH
Disney Channel/Matt Petit

So what character do you related to the most in Descendants 2?
Me? [laughs] Wow, surprising question! I like Carlos a lot, and not because I grew up with a Cruella de Vil ordering me around! But I think his journey in this movie of finding love for the first time and finding the joy of that…he really comes into his own. In the first movie he was kind of the tagalong kid and always the last one running after the other three, and in this movie he has a number of scenes where he takes control. He grows up in this movie, so I can feel that coming-of-age thing he goes through. He’s a really fun character.

Can you take me through the process of actually creating soundtracks? Do you choose the producers and songwriters?
My job is a combination of providing inspiration to our filmmakers and producers as well as being a resource person when it comes to finding great songwriters and composers. Then I work at the script stage to try and help them make the moments where the songs should go. I help the talent with recording all the way to the final mix of the movie. So it’s kind of a “soup to nuts” gig as they say. It’s such a great opportunity for me to work with such great and talented people.

You’ve been working with Disney Channel for almost two decades now, but what is your favorite movie that you haven’t worked on?
Well I’ve done about 80 of them. But before, probably Brink! That was one they had me watch when I first got here. That and the first Halloweentown [movie]. That established being able to explore the fantasy world but in a contemporary way. I mean Auradon is a fantasy place, but it also feels like real kids and I think that’s what makes it so relatable for our audiences. They don’t feel like animated characters; they feel like real teenagers.

DESCENDANTS 2 - Recording session. (Disney Channel/Matt Petit)
CHARITY DAW, KENNY ORTEGA (DIRECTOR, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AND CH
Disney Channel/Jeff Weddell

Stuck in the Suburbs is one of my favorite movies, and Zenon is a classic as well.
I actually worked on the music for Stuck in the Suburbs. That was really fun. Ah another one of the early movies was the one about the hologram girl singer…Pixel Perfect! That’s going back a ways but after The Cheetah Girls, that was one of the firsts that was more performance-driven where the characters break into song. It’s always fun to go back and check out some of those older titles.

And you also worked on another favorite of mine, High School Musical. The sequel will be celebrating its 10th anniversary soon and I always thought it changed the way DCOM were presented.
I’ll tell you a story. It was great seeing the original cast for the 10th anniversary reunion last year. When we were talking about the future of it, they decided to test the original movie with kids who are in our demographic. They asked them what they thought of a guy who wants to be a basketball player but who also wants to sing and dance. [The kids] didn’t understand. They were like, “why can’t I play basketball and also do theater?” I think High School Musical takes some of the credit for that, where you don’t have to be in one of those cliques. Kids today want to make music, be a great student, be thought of as smart, be on a sports team…they want to do it all and they are! I think that was the message of HSM: don’t let other people define you, you define yourself. And Descendants has a little bit of that message too. With the new movie, Evie is feeling like “Oh I’m an Auradon girl now.” Yet she goes through a discovery of maybe it’s okay that there’s still some Isle girl in her. She doesn’t have to forget where she came from to get where she is. But I’m really really proud to be a part of HSM’s franchise. I think it will be a movie where the kids who grew up on it will show their kids like kids generations ago continue to watch Mary Poppins and Jungle Book. It’s found its way to the hearts of the audience in that same way.

You said you’ve worked on over 80 movies, so this may be hard to choose. But what are some of your favorite memories?
Let It Shine was a really special movie and a really big challenge because it was a battle rap movie. But we had to try to avoid people being too mean to each other! [laughs] How do you do a rap battle without really insulting the other person? And yet I think we pulled it off and the rap music sounds legitimate. It got to the point without going too far. I also loved the Teen Beach movies. It was like getting to do a Grease movie, working with all the ‘50s and ‘60s music. That was super fun and Ross Lynch is such a talented guy. Then The Cheetah Girls were so fun to work with. The first movie was great and in New York and kind of contemporary pop. The second movie we got to go to Barcelona and had some Spanish influence with the music, and then Bollywood music in the third movie…we just had a blast doing all these different genres of music. That’s always been my challenge of trying to figure out how we keep surprising the audience with new music, so that Camp Rock doesn’t sound like Descendants and Hannah Montana doesn’t sound like Teen Beach. Each one is unique. We always have new talent come along, and I look forward to great things from Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson and all these other kids down the road.

What would you say has been your most rewarding experience working with Disney? There’s something special about these movies that makes the legacy so strong.
I think the difference is that they always star actual kids, which makes it much more relatable than when you watch Grease and everybody is in their 20s playing high school kids. That’s what makes them so relatable to our audiences where they see themselves on the screen, or at least the person they’re going to be in next few years. Or that older brother or sister where they say, “Wow that’s what it’s gonna be like for me!” They also just really mean something to people. I’ll tell you another brief story. I went camping when HSM and we’ve been watching the soundtrack when it was up on the Billboard charts for 16 weeks in a row. It wasn’t like this giant explosion at first and it just went up and up. So I was walking around and these girls on the next campsite were singing “Breaking Free.” I realized they don’t just think this is cool, they really love this! It reached them emotionally and its something they are taking and making it into their own. It’s not something that’s just disposable. That really helped make it more meaningful to me where I realized this is influencing kids’ lives and giving them touchstones to learn something positive and make them feel okay about telling mom and dad whatever it is they want to do with their lives. That’s a powerful thing, where a song like “Breaking Free” can give them permission to do so. That’s the power of music right?

Keep the classic vibes going with this interview with Rider Strong, where he discusses why Boy Meets World remains so beloved today: