A decade after 'MMMBop,' trio pleased with, but not resting on, song's legacy
By Wayne Bledsoe (Contact)
Friday, October 5, 2007
In the history of pop music, there have been few backlashes as strong as the one against teenage sibling trio Hanson. In the spring and summer of 1997, the band’s single “MMMBop” was unavoidable. Some heard it as an infectious bit of breezy pop. Others found the chipper teenage voices as a appealing as a dentist’s drill.
The song became a No. 1 hit on three continents and, somewhat unfairly, was credited with ushering in a new era of bubblegum music.
Although Hanson never achieved another smash along the lines of “MMMBop,” the group has never stopped making music. The trio released the album “The Walk” in July and has been touring in support of it since that time.
In a cell phone call from Los Angeles, Isaac Hanson says he’s “a little bit used to a firing squad” in talking to journalists.
“There’s a reason why it’s difficult to go from being a 16-year-old songwriter-musician to a 26-year-old and survive it,” says Isaac. “When you’re 16, nobody wants to ask you real questions and take you seriously unless you’re a virtuoso. And if you’re a virtuoso, you have the challenge of now that you’re grown up, you’re not a virtuoso anymore.”
However, Hanson was the real thing. The brothers grew up in Tulsa, Okla., singing pop songs a cappella and began performing publicly in 1992. By the time the trio recorded their second self-released album, “MMMBop,” in 1996, Issac, then 15, was playing guitar, Taylor, then 13, was playing keyboards, and Zac, then 11, was on drums. While producers the Dust Brothers added polish to the songs on the group’s 1997 album “Middle of Nowhere” (which included the hit version of “MMMBop”), it was much the same disc that the brothers had recorded on their own.
While the youngsters’ precocious talent was a draw (Isaac attributes it to a “severely overdeveloped sense of confidence”), he says the “novelty factor” also worked against them:
“The biggest hit of that year is a song that you wrote and people are looking at you like, ‘No, that’s not for real.’ But everybody’s got their own set of challenges, and that was ours.”
Ironically, other artists who relied more on producers and outside songwriters than natural talent seemed to have more staying power.
Britney Spears and other groups initially aimed at young teens kept returning to the charts and gaining credibility, while Hanson slipped under the radar.
Still, Isaac says he and his brothers are proud of the decisions that they made. The band stayed out of the tabloids, worked with talented peers and stayed focused on music. The band members now own their own record company and keep a close eye on their business matters.
“We were always a band that made decisions based on we would be doing it for 25 years,” says Isaac.
And Isaac feels that the band has grown and improved. Onstage the trio is more together, and with “The Walk” they set out to condense the music they love into the most complete representation of the now mature band.
All in all, Isaac says he is happy with the group’s career:
“Despite some of those frustrating moments, I feel like one of the luckiest guys in the entire world. When we go out and we play, there are literally thousands of people in city after city that are belting out your lyrics and are there because your music has done something good for them. Most bands don’t get that, and that’s a pretty awesome place to be.”