The Summer of 1997, ah yes, I remember it…vaguely. I was turning 6 years old that summer, so don’t blame me for not remembering much about it. Actually, come to think of it, I remember exactly two things – first, I remember Michael Jordan being unstoppable in the NBA Finals that year, and I remember “MMMBop.” Really, how could you ever forget it?
“MMMBop” was one of the first songs that I actually knew really well before I had any sort of musical taste. I liked Hanson – not for their music, but instead because the youngest of the three Hanson brothers was only 11 years old when “MMMBop” became a hit, and his name also happened to be Zac. I distinctly remember having a purple Hanson paperback biography that I must have gotten at a book fair in elementary school that had a bunch of glossy color photos of the band inside of it.
Isaac (16 in 1997), Taylor (14) and Zac (11) grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and started recording songs as early as 1994 on local independent labels. A couple years later, they were formally signed to a major label, and released their worldwide debut, Middle of Nowhere on May 6th, 1997. Almost simultaneously, “MMMBop” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three consecutive weeks starting on May 24th. Without any real warning, these three boys from Oklahoma were thrust into the national spotlight on the back of an unlikely hit song.
“MMMBop” is one hell of a song, and not just because it’s an undeniably catchy and hook laden pop tune. It also happens to be supremely well crafted for its target audience. That may be because the producers of this song were the Dust Brothers, best known for their work on the Beastie Boys’ sample heavy Paul’s Boutique, as well as Beck’s Odelay and the soundtrack to the movie “Fight Club.” Their work here is pretty great, at least by late nineties standards: polishing the crap out of an already good pop song till it shone like a diamond. The techniques they used (like the artificial record scratching) dates the song, but some of the smaller things they do, including adding keyboard/organ to accentuate the beat in the wordless chorus and polishing the drums and guitars so they were crystal clear, really help the song stand out. That’s not to say that the Hanson brothers have nothing to do with the quality of “MMMBop.” After all, they wrote the song, and were nominated for two Grammys for their work, including Record of the Year. In fact, to this day, Zac remains the youngest songwriter to ever be nominated for a Grammy. Their vocal performance, namely the punchy harmonies that they provide, really bring the song home.
But, your average late nineties listener isn’t hearing those subtleties. They’re getting consumed by that hook, that “MMMBop ba duba dop” that latches on and ba duba dops into your brain for eternity. It’s that reason why “MMMBop” is considered to be a seminal track of the teen-pop explosion of the late nineties: it’s flat out impossible to forget. There are plenty of “one hit wonders” from that era, but there’s only one “MMMBop.” The song has taken a life of its own in the years since it hit #1. Instead of being met with jeers, people are still singing along when it comes on, nearly twenty years after it was first unleashed.
As for Hanson, they continued on after “MMMBop.” They had some more mainstream commercial success at the turn of the millennium with their second album, This Time Around, but it was short-lived because of limited promotion from their label. The three brothers record and perform to this day, and still have a devoted fan base, which is great because they do have a lot of talent, as shown in their more recent, stripped down performances of “MMMBop,” which I highly recommend checking out. They also make a beer called “MMMHops,” which I’ve never had, but I can only assume that it’s as amazing as “MMMBop” is.
Check out the wonderfully corny, happy-go lucky video for “MMMBop” below, and have fun trying to get it out of your head.