Let's Talk About the Greatness of Hanson
Cover art from the 1997 "Mmmbop" single
[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
In 1997, my little sister got Hanson's Middle of Nowhere as a birthday gift. I teased her. My judgment was mostly based on "Mmmbop," the mega-massive catchy as heck hit song and the lead single off the album. "Mmmbop" was dominating the pop music station in our town of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and like, everywhere else in the world. I, however, was 13 and thinking myself pretty cool because I had just discovered Sublime. And so, I brushed the song off as kid stuff.
In retrospect, I was being an jerk. Hanson was exactly what seven year old girls like my sister should have been listening to. Compared to a current pop landscape where Miley Cyrus humping a foam finger is acceptable entertainment for children, Hanson was genuine, sweet, sincere and completely crushable without being blatantly sexual. Also, "Mmmbop" was legitimately great -- a joyous and goofy pop rock adolescent treatise on the topic of impermanence. (No seriously.) The song was produced by the Dust Brothers, after all, though I didn't know who the Dust Brothers were at the time, because in truth I was not actually cool at all.
During that period I was spending a lot of time hanging out in my bedroom. It was there, as I sat playing with my pogs or whatever, that I would pick up on the strains of Middle of Nowhere coming through the stereo in our family room. It made me feel things.
Middle of Nowhere was the third studio LP by Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson, three brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma who were 16, 13 and 11 years old when the album was released. But Hanson wasn't some industry gimmick indie-fied boy band. These guys were (and are) legitimately talented, each playing their own instruments: Zac on drums, Isaac on guitar and Taylor on keyboards and lead vocals. While I had been taking piano lessons for five years and could barely bang out "Hot Crossed Buns," these guys were going platinum and killing it on Saturday Night Live. (During their December 13, 1997 appearance they also appeared in a skit with Will Ferrell and host Helen Hunt that made fun of the fact that "Mmmbop" had been played on the radio "7.8 million times" that spring and summer.)
Yes, the song was perhaps overexposed, and as the product of a trio of sort of elfin looking longhaired brothers from a religious family in the Midwest, sort of easy to mock. But compared to a lot of the other popular songs that year (Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping," Aqua's "Barbie Girl"), Hanson was like Philip Glass.
What's more, the brothers wrote all of the other songs on Middle of Nowhere as well. They were really good too. Take "Thinking of You," a richly layered anthem of love and hope with a killer piano and drum breakdown. (Remember, drummer Zac was 11.) Songs varied between PG funk ("Look at You") and slow build tearjerker anthems ("I Will Come to You") to straight up pop joy ("Madeline"). The album was sophisticated but accessible, and it ultimately produced three hit singles. (In May of 1997, "Mmmbop replaced The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" as the number one song in the country.) Hanson's followup LP Snowed In, a Christmas album, sold a million copies and was played heavily in my house straight through spring.
And then there was Taylor Hanson...