1997 was a much simpler time, when a song that was essentially gibberish with innocent moaning throughout dominated the charts in 27 different countries. ‘MMMbop‘, birthed from three long-haired Hanson brothers from the small town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, managed to overtake the world before YouTube, Spotify or even the bloody internet in general was a thing.
At the time, Zac (11), Taylor (14) and Isaac (16) were all the rage, but hey, if you lived it + breathed it you don’t need me to tell you that. They were even on Australia’s finest Hey Hey It’s Saturday and that – along with millions of pre-pubescent, sexually confused hetero fans worldwide – is the peak of stardom, my friends.
“We had this amazing land-on-the-moon type moment in our career that pretty much no band, no artist ever receives, ever gets to be a part of,” Zac Hanson told me, writer of this yarn and extreme fan, who may or may not have done a tactical vom prior to the interview.
“MMMbop as a song, came out at just *that* moment, and we were just different enough for what was available to people. Not in a cocky way at all, I don’t know if almost any song will be the way that was,” he continued.
He’s not wrong: it was major. But while Hanson and MMMbop are still iconic to this day, the hysteria surrounding their careers has dissipated. Not completely, of course, but they’re not covering magazines, playlists and bedroom walls like they used to.
It’s a weird one to comprehend, because of just how obsessed people were. Even OG Directioners give a shit about Liam Payne‘s music now that 1D’s glory days are behind them, regardless of how truly awful it is. But Hanson? People stopped bothering, myself included – for a while there, at least – assuming they went into the abyss or back to school.
Obviously anyone who’s bothered to follow Hanson’s careers knows the truth, which is a) that they were homeschooled and b) that they never stopped making tunes after their MMMbop heyday. Sure, a lot of people lost interest in the three long-haired kids from Tulsa, but Hanson themselves never lost interest in music. Making it, recording it and – yes – releasing it, in all the moments that followed that initial bonafide banger.
This is something that no one’s been able to ignore this year, with Hanson bringing out their Middle Of Everywhere: The Greatest Hits album, a record honouring all the legitimate, real, existing songs they’ve released over the past 25 years (while MMMbop turned 20, their formation as a band turned the old quarter-life 25). That, along with a worldwide tour (mostly sold out, mind you) force-fed their lengthy catalogue of tunes to audiences, some of whom were clearly just attending to have their childhood dream of seeing ‘MMMbop‘ live realised. (You know one when you see one, trust me.)
How did people miss (or ignore) the band’s releases over 20 whole years? Hanson’s Grammy-nominated, debut record, Middle Of Nowhere, sold over 10 million copies. Their 2000 follow-up, This Time Around, sold 1 million. Their third release in 2004, Underneath, sold just 500,000. A fall from grace? In some ways, yes – but in a lot of ways it’s a dwindle that deserves full respect.
Hanson went through an absolute shitfight when Mercury Records, the label that carried their Middle Of Nowhere success, became part of the record label merger that spawned Island Def Jam. They made the proud – albeit full-blown risky – decision to step away from the big guy and go independent with their own record company, 3CG Records. It was also around the same time that Taylor, entered into his 20s and aesthetic peak.
But that’s neither here nor there. Hanson is an indie band in the truest sense of the term, whether you’re able to admit that to yourself or not. They went on to release multiple studio albums since the cutting of the conglomerate umbilical cord, and managed to retain a hefty, diverse fanbase in the process – even though they no longer had the funding for marketing that comes with being part of a major label.
“We know that it takes a lot to care about a band and invest in a band over time and not just move on to the next most popular thing, or the new genre that’s a hit at that moment,” Zac explained.
It’s this dedication that see Hanson treat each and every one of their fans like they’re the only one in the world, whether that’s through holding fan events like Hanson Day (May 6th, in case you were wondering) in their hometown or stopping to have a pow-wow + selfie with their fans after shows. They legitimately give many fucks about the people who have supported their choices and music over the last two decades, and, well, the people who put up with a ton of shit for being a Hanson fan. I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not a fucking walk in the park.
During their 2017 tour throughout Australia, New Zealand, South & Central America and Europe this year, the band repeatedly acknowledged that people cop a lot of shit for having supported them throughout the years. From digs about them being chicks and one-hit wonders, or even the status of their testicles dropping and religious outlook – no, they’re not Mormon – they’re an easy target and, in all honesty, have been for decades now. That’s lengthy defence work for anyone who listened to them after ’97.
“People put up with shit – that’s the one universal truth,” Zac explained. “We’re a band that’s easy to hate and a band that is hard to understand – because of what we sound like, because of where we come from.”
Are they losing hair (sorry, had to be done) over the jokes? It doesn’t seem like it, no. Because really, it’s a win in and of itself to still get talked about 20 years after your big moment, even if that conversation is a bit rough.
“There are these people, millions of people who know our band, but what they know is that we exist, and that’s all they’ve ever known. All they’ve ever known is that MMMbop is pop culture and it was a band of three brothers and Hanson is a name they recognise,” Zac explained.
There’s a reason shows like The Office, Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls and Family Guy have all created gags around Hanson in the last 20-odd years – everyone, except maybe the next wave of ratbags on their way in, know who they are.
But with hundreds of songs, literally, released after their debut earworm, one’s gotta wonder if it sucks for them that people haven’t heard their more recent stuff.
“Neil Armstrong will always be the most famous astronaut ever, no matter how many times we land of Mars. And for us in a way, MMMbop is that,” Zac assured me. “It’s not something we compare things to.”
“If you think about now and go, ‘Man, I wish more people knew about my music right now’, or ‘Man, I wish more people knew the third song on the fourth album [editor’s note: it’s called ‘Been There Before‘ and it’s A+], or I wish more people knew ‘Madeline‘ or listened to ‘Man from Milwaukee‘ off the first album, you miss the fact that time – it’s not simply what you’re doing right at this moment – it’s all connected.“
So there you have it – you simply can’t try and beat making a #1 before you’d even grown your first pube – nor is that something that concerns them. “It’s not about how successful you can be, it’s never been about that, it’s about something bigger – it’s about a purpose, it’s about this idea of the legacy.“