Chances are that you remember Hanson for their smash single, “Mmmbop.” And if you hadn’t followed their career afterwards, it would be perfectly reasonable to predict that the mop-tops fizzled away. One hit wonders from a marketing machine, right? (Spotify seconds this: “Mmmbop” has more than 20x the number of plays than any of their other tracks.)
Yet, a closer look immediately yields some surprises. For example, they have sole writing credits for their debut album, Middle of Nowhere, despite being aged 11-16 when it came out! Can you imagine writing a pop hook as great as “Mmmbop” before puberty? They’d written and recorded two independent albums before getting signed, self-taught themselves instruments, and gained chops performing at small gigs around the country for years before getting attention.
It turns out the Hanson bros really love writing and performing music. In fact, after the huge success of “Mmmbop,” they made an intentional pivot to a different sound: less bubblegum, less heavily produced, a more personal voice, with a rock instrumentation. That album, This Time Around, was perhaps a disappointment if you were a record company expecting blockbuster sales. But from an artistic perspective, it’s a success and an evolution.
My favorite track off their sophomore effort is the thoughtful title track.
In the 20 years since, Hanson has been steadily grinding away, releasing albums that are loved by fans and otherwise ignored, displaying the brothers’ (especially Taylor’s) obvious craft and passion. Nobody will ever pencil them in as all-time greats, but they’re a great example of the power of perspective: a one-hit wonder that dropped off the map from one lens, a steady, healthy, self-directed career that avoided the danger of over-exposure from another lens.
A couple other Hanson notes:
- The brothers are dedicated hop-heads. They love craft beer so much, they started their own microbrewery (the flagship pale ale is called “MMMHops”) and music-and-beer festival.
- Last year, the brothers gave a rousing performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. It includes a rendition of “This Time Around.” The video notes alone are worth checking out.
- Taylor was a part of power-pop supergroup Tinted Windows. More on them later in the year.