Walk the Walk With Hanson
everyone’s favorite boy band grows up
By Rebecca Pattiz

In third grade, I believed that I would one day marry Zac Hanson. I wasn’t entirely sure how we would meet or how I would woo him, but I truly thought that we were meant to be together. I read the unofficial Hanson biography, which became my favorite book, and I listened to “Thinking of You” from their debut album, thinking of nothing but Zac.

I admit that I lost track of Hanson and their career shortly after the peak of their fame, growing out of the phase, as most tweens did. Nonetheless, as the boys aged, got married (alas), and had children, they surprisingly never stopped making music or performing for thousands of screaming fans.

When Hanson emerged in 1998 with their first single, “MMMBop,” the three long-haired, angel-faced adolescent brothers managed to forever ingrain their catchy three-part harmonies in the minds of Americans of all generations. Of course, Hanson’s biggest fans were girls around their own ages, which, at the time, ranged from 11 to 14 years old. The Hanson brothers—Zac the drummer, Taylor the lead singer and keyboardist, and Isaac the guitarist—appeared on every major television program and in every teen magazine, and toured the globe for throngs of crying and screaming fans. They were the three most famous pre-teens in the world.

Following their initial success, Hanson began to fall off the teeny-bopper radar. It took two years for their next album to come out—enough time for the boys’ soprano voices to change, and for many of their former fans to all but forget about them. Riding on Hanson’s teen fame, other artists like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears took their place. The brothers themselves became a novel anachronism: “MMMBop” has appeared on practically every one-hit-wonder-themed clip show.

If Hanson’s celebrity waned, it was not because they stopped making records. The band’s fourth album, titled The Walk, was released in 2007, and they are still touring. The brothers have also added celebrity philanthropy to their scope: They have been using their music and fan base to raise funds for pediatric AIDS research and assistance in Africa. The actual walks—which give their album its title—began in collaboration with TOMS Shoes. Hanson wanted to help the company send 50,000 pairs of shoes to Africa. Once they reached that goal, they kept walking. At every show, Hanson sponsors a mile-long walk prior to the performance. For each mile walked, the band donates a dollar to their cause. The band also walks barefoot, even through such questionable streets as those of downtown Philadelphia, and asks their fans to do the same. “This tour has become ... an extension of those walks. It’s grown. What we wanted to do is say, okay, we’ve done these walks, and now the goal is to make sure that just by people coming to the walks and walking a mile that they realize they’re part of something bigger, that they’re part of a larger goal,” Taylor explained before their recent benefit concert at the Nokia Theatre.

As far as the members of Hanson are concerned, a desire to do something constructive with their music has always been part of their image. Even when their faces were plastered on T-shirts and bedroom walls worldwide, Zac insists that their band was always about making music with a message. “I think we’ve always intended for our music to be used as something that was supposed to mean something, something that’s supposed to have lasting value for people,” he says. “I mean, from the very beginning. ‘MMMBop’ is all about the fact that most of the relationships in your life will be gone in an ‘MMMBop.’ ... That’s why the chorus is what it is—it represents the passing of time. C’est la vie. Using our music to help support things we’re passionate about, that’s always what we thought we’d do with our music. That’s the way we’ve intended to have our career.”

Though Hanson no longer appears on the cover of Tiger Beat, they say their career is just as they want it. Many celebrities cling to their former mega-fame for dear life, but Hanson has managed to shift its focus while retaining its fans—you won’t see the brothers walking on Celebrity Fit Club any time soon. “The record’s called The Walk,” says Taylor. “Not the run, or the jog—it’s the walk. From a musical point of view, it was meant to symbolize that we’re on a steady path, and that we’re comfortable with where we’re headed.” He continues, “I think a lot of the reason why we’ve been able to have really passionate fans for so long is because we never deviated from what we said we were doing. ... You serve your fans, you connect with them.”

If the mission hasn’t changed since the “MMMBop” days, Hanson maintains that the music hasn’t either. “Our voices changed a lot more than our music has,” asserts Isaac. Feel-good, melodic rock songs full of three-part harmonies and catchy choruses are still the band’s forte. Though the brothers confess that they would be bored if their music hadn’t evolved at all, Zac says, “We don’t ever need to worry that we’re not going to sound like Hanson. We are Hanson. There’s no way for us not to sound like Hanson. No one ever created the sound of Hanson—it’s just what happens when the three of us play and sing and write together.”

After the release of their second album, This Time Around, in 2000, the band was moved to Island Def Jam, a primarily hip-hop and R&B label, when their original label, Mercury, was bought up. To maintain their musical integrity, Hanson split from their label. They felt they had to leave Island “in order to stay on the path that we’ve been on since the beginning, in order to stay true to our selves, from this most recent record to ‘MMMBop.’ You have to be true to yourself and we’ve never deviated from our emotional, musical honesty. It felt like because of the corporate structure of the record business, because of the fact that we were no longer with the record company that signed us ... there was nothing holding us there—in fact, everything was pushing us away. Hip-hop wasn’t the direction we were going in,” explains Isaac. Expressing disdain for MTV and musical careers based on hit singles alone, the brothers created their own label, 3CG, for subsequent albums. They even made a documentary about the process, called Strong Enough to Break, in order to educate people about the intricacies of the music industry.

Fans certainly respond well to Hanson’s committed consistency. Last month, the Nokia Theatre was full of girls screaming for the guys—now sporting facial hair and skinny jeans—and wearing Hanson T-shirts. Though most Hanson fans have been listening to the band for a decade now, new listeners have been attracted to Hanson’s music and message since the pinnacle of their fame.

Lia Russo is 18 years old and a huge Hanson fan. She has only been listening since 2002, though her friends have all been fans since the start. “My friend was obsessed with them and she used to play their music all the time. And I was like, this is amazing, I need to get on that. And then I did, and then it took over my life,” she says. Though Russo had heard Hanson before, she never took notice until after the height of their celebrity. Now, she loves “everything about them” and calls them “the best-kept secret in rock and roll.” Hanson’s heartthrob status remains intact, as Russo admits that while she thinks it is “awesome” that all members of the band are now married with kids, she “would rather that it be me.”

Hanson still plays “MMMBop” at their shows—not as reluctantly as might be expected. Girls still go wild when Taylor, clad all in white, runs across the stage with his mic outstretched toward the crowd. Fans still buy albums, sweatshirts, and posters emblazoned with the brothers’ images. Impressively, the band is not ashamed of their former teen-stardom or of the infectiously absurd song that made them famous, but instead looks forward to a slightly less glitzy, and slightly more substantive, future.