I’ve seen Hanson in concert four times — and no, I didn’t follow them around the country in 1997 as a superfan. In fact, I didn’t see Hanson once during their “MMMBop” stadium tour days (I was 10 at the time and, at first, harbored a deep resentment against them for dethroning Jonathan Taylor Thomas from his rightful place as the biggest head on the cover of all the teen magazines I bought just for the posters). I became a Hanson fan after it was at all trendy to be Hanson fan. In some ways, it felt like I had become a Hanson fan after it was acceptable to be a Hanson fan.
I owned a copy of Middle of Nowhere, of course because, again, I was 10 in 1997. It was inescapable. “Hey, Dad,” I remember saying as I read the liner notes (a thing that we used to do in the days before digital downloads and YouTube lyric videos). “Did you know the guys from Hanson wrote the songs they’re singing and they play the instruments? That makes them like the bands you listen to, right?” That question elicited an eye roll from my musician father, who was always visibly bummed that my sister and I didn’t “get” his favorite bands, instead preferring to blast N*SYNC and B*Witched and any other band with an asterisk in their name at full volume. The answer was no, of course not. Writing their own music and playing their own instruments did not make Hanson anything like the progressive rock bands my dad loved, but it did set them apart in a big way from everything else I was listening to at the time. It made them feel very cool and very grown up; they weren’t just singers, they were musicians. To a 10-year-old in Kentucky, that was about as close to “indie cred” as it got.
Flash forward almost two decades (!!!), and the idea that Hanson could be described as “cool” or “grown-up” or “indie” would make most people laugh. But weirdly, the further they’ve gotten from their infamous “MMMBop” days, the more they’ve become all of those things. It might surprise you to learn that Hanson is still a band that is still producing music and touring, but they are. Their sixth studio album (if you don’t count their Christmastime masterpiece, Snowed In), Anthem, was actually just released in 2013. Hanson’s breakaway hit, the multi-platinum Middle of Nowhere, was released by Mercury Records and their sophomore followup, This Time Around, was released by Island Records. This Time Around wasn’t a failure; it was certified gold and fairly successful, both as a critical and commercial endeavor. But it wasn’t enough to keep Hanson at Island Records. The left the label and this is probably where you (along with the majority of pop listeners) think their career ended.
They fell off the radio radar (although, not entirely — later tracks like “Penny & Me,” and “Give A Little” did enjoy some radio play) and made good on my pre-adolescent “indie cred” assumptions about them. Together, the brothers started their own label, 3CG Records. That was in 2003, the year before Hanson would go on to release Underneath, their first independent record since their meteoric “MMMBop”-fueled rise to fame. They followed it up with The Walk (2007), Shout It Out (2010), and Anthem (2013). If they continue their trend, they’ll release another new album next year and I’ll definitely buy it.
I apologize for the tangent into Hanson History 101, but it seemed important to provide a little context, lest some of you think I was writing about a band that had stopped producing music around the time we all stopped caring about Y2K. This isn’t an essay meant to impress you or convince you to love Hanson; it’s an essay about what it’s like to love a band that most of the world has either decried or completely forgotten.
When I tell people that I love Hanson, most think that I’m joking. When I talk about how excited I am that I snagged tickets to one of their recent tours, people think I’m going ironically — you know, to poke fun at the people who really still like Hanson. When I clarify that I’m not joking and I’m not being ironic, that I really do just like Hanson, in 2015, people reassure me that it’s okay and that they will still be my friend. I know it’s a joke, but it’s such a strange response to something so innocuous. I know, intellectually, that many people think Hanson is just objectively “bad” or “stupid” or “lame.” I know this because I’ve been told as much several times, and that’s okay. I don’t expect everyone to love what I love and I’ve long-since come to terms with my music taste, which is rarely considered “good,” but which I think is amazing, as we all think what we love is amazing (that’s why we love it). What I’ve never quite understood is why Hanson got saddled with this level of collective cultural derision.
It’s perfectly acceptable to declare that you still love old bands who are well past their cultural moments (I doubt anyone batted an eye earlier when I mentioned blasting N*SYNC or B*Witched; in fact, you may have even made a mental note to revisit the delicious pop glory that is “C’est La Vie”). We fan girl over the Spice Girls and early Destiny’s Child en masse as pinnacles of Cool Nostalgia. But somehow, Hanson got relegated into a realm of Uncool Nostalgia, stuck on a dusty, out-of-reach shelf of pop culture alongside the likes of Vanilla Ice. “MMMBop” might have been an ear worm that crawled into our brains, but it didn’t, it would seem, make it into our hearts.
I don’t claim to understand the nebulous nature of Coolness. I have a sense of what’s Cool. I have a sense of what’s not. I know that sometimes what’s Cool and what I like overlap and that, just as often, they don’t. I also know that some of my favorite concert-going experiences have been Hanson shows. There’s something magical in the sincerity with which a full house of Hanson fans belts out all of the lyrics to “MMMBop.” (Not just gibberish of the chorus, but every. word.) There’s something awesome in being with a group of people who embrace something that’s “dorky,” but without any acknowledgment that it is.
I wouldn’t say that Hanson has changed my life. I’m not a diehard Hanson fan because their music helped me through a particularly tough time in my life. My sister and I share a deep affection for the band, but their music certainly isn’t the touchstone of our relationship. They weren’t the first band I ever loved; I was a casual fan at best until their heyday had firmly passed. Sometimes, I feel like people want a good explanation for why I like Hanson, like I’m getting involved with a guy with a shady past and I really need to justify my decision to get involved with him after all he’s done. I don’t have any “excuse” for liking Hanson. I just genuinely enjoy their music (yeah, including “MMMBOP”). And like I said, this essay isn’t about try to convert legions of Hanson fans, but if it’s made you curious, I’d start with, “Thinking ‘Bout Something.”
(Image via 3CG Records.)