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Mar 14

HANSON – “MMMBop”

Popular73 comments • 8,760 views

#769, 7th June 1997

mmmbop The word “manufactured” is the most enduring and potent slam on pop music, suggesting music as sheer product – assembled by formula, made by people interested only in money. But what the opposite – more desirable – quality would be is rather less clear. Artisanal pop – hand-crafted for love or art’s sake – is generally what’s meant. There’s a second opposite shadowing that one, though – implicit in the m-word even if it lurks there unintended: not artisanal but natural. An idea of pop as something simple, something that comes easily – think of Paul McCartney supposedly waking up with the melody to “Yesterday” in his head, convinced he couldn’t have thought of it, it seemed so primal a tune. Most people know enough about music to realise such instances are absurdly rare, if they happen at all, but the idea still appeals.

There is a slight tension between these two un-manufactured ideals – the hand-made and the stumbled-upon. It’s a tension a particular kind of pop is happy to exploit. Bubblegum is often made by the wiliest old hands in the biz, and always to make money. But at its best it feels effortless and simple – like its writers were prospectors for gold who struck a seam, not professionals cranking out yet another tune. At the same time, it’s a knowing simplicity – everybody is aware that the Archies are cartoons, that the big pop candy mountain is a myth, that bubblegum is all chemicals and air.

What if it wasn’t, though? It’s one of the secret grails of pop – authentic bubblegum; pop that’s as blissful and breezy as anything the hit factories could dream up, but with a feelgood backstory too. Which brings us to “MMMBop”. The Hanson brothers have the perfect origin tale – music-lovin’ Midwest boys, untainted by the industry, with a song like a musical growth spurt, verses tripping over themselves and the chorus coming up grinning anyway. Factor in that what these kids are trying to get across is wise words on not taking friendships for granted (OK, that and the sound of a mayo jar popping open) and critical acclaim for “MMMBop” was absolutely inevitable once it hit big.

It sounds so effortless, and was packaged so well, and was so successful so fast that Hanson came almost pre-sold as a one-hit-wonder, and felt like one even when they were racking up slipstream hits. The band were sold as a cheery news story – prodigious kids do remarkable thing, a pop equivalent of a “teenager’s app downloaded by millions” piece – rather than as the arrival of any sort of new talent.

Since the group have kept writing and recording since “MMMBop” with steady though less spectacular success, this seems unfair. But a listen to the first of those follow-ups – “Where’s The Love?” – hints at why. It’s reasonably skilful pop rock, certainly better than almost any other young teens could write but with none of the exuberance of “MMMBop”. And it’s a useful reminder of just how much the Dust Brothers did with that track, and how canny their decisions were. Because like most excellent pop songs, the “MMMBop” sausage is made out of good ideas, and good decisions around those ideas.

The original “MMMBop” – from 1996 – is considerably longer and slower than its hit version. It’s a thoughtful semi-ballad about life’s changes written by boys who’ve just started to notice them, and is still a startlingly good track for kids to have written, with a mass of hooks in the verses as well as that very strong chorus. The major label “MMMBop” makes two main changes. It adds endearingly gratuitous scratching all through – which sounds naff but gives the track places to take a breath without letting go of its bounce. More importantly, it speeds the whole thing up.

Making “MMMBop” faster helps it enormously by actually accentuating Hanson’s callowness. The higher pace forces them to garble lyrics which are largely intelligible on the slower version, making them seem like junior James Dean Bradfields, cramming syllable into syllable in desperation to get the ideas out. That in turn puts the stress on the end-of-verse lines, which tend to be the song’s better ones – pleading questions like “can you tell me who will still care?”, passionate one-liners like “it’s a secret no one knows” – so the track sounds not just more spontaneous but more profound. And by leaving those verse-end questions and ideas so open and searching, the jump into the indelible chorus feels even happier. Finally, making the verses less comprehensible means they’re a better fit for that chorus, since it rests on a gush of joyful nonsense. (In some ways “MMMBop” is the first real post-Spice hit: a successful response to the tweenage market “Wannabe” opened up, and the title is its “zig-a-zig-aaah”.)

The central flaw of the endless manufactured-or-not debate about any pop is that it assumes from the start that how music gets made is its most important aspect, not what happens to it next. “MMMBop” lived the life of a great bubblegum track. People played it until they hated it, gave it a rest for a while, then played it all over again. Turning a decent standout track by a precocious band into the year’s sparkiest pop song made Hanson famous but also made inevitable the inability to sustain that fame. They weren’t “manufactured”, but they also simply weren’t as spontaneously, guilelessly delighted by life as “MMMBop” and the Dust Brothers made them sound. But that “MMMBop” is too joyful to follow is a problem for Hanson, and quite the opposite for us.

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Comments

  1. 1
    TinMachine on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Amazing song. 10. C:

    I’ve been playing this song for about 10 years, and it’s only been eight months since I learnt they weren’t a girlband.

  2. 2
    JLucas on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Hmm. I enjoy this song, and I have a lot of respect for Hanson, who have managed to survive a breakout hit seemingly tailor-made to doom them to one-hit wonder status very admirably (They’ve had some crackers since this, though none with that obvious of-the moment magic).

    But is it really significantly better crafted than I Wanna Be The Only One, or 2 Become 1? Is it the equal of Say You’ll Be There? I know using the scores to create equivalences is a fools errand, but I can’t ignore it here. This is a fun bubblegum hit. It has nothing beneath the surface and exists exactly as it first appears. It almost feels like a happy accident. Which is fine, but the aforementioned recent popular entries by Eternal and Spice Girls are so much more accomplished to my ears, that to rank this higher just feels wrong. 6 for me.

  3. 3
    mapman132 on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I’ll admit I didn’t think much of “Mmmbop” the first time I heard it, or rather saw it since it was on one of the video channels. In fact I think my reaction was something along the lines of, who the heck are these kids and what are they doing on MTV/VH-1? I didn’t give it much chance to become a big hit, but then its worth noting that at this point boy bands had largely been on the outs in the US since the collapse of NKOTB with Take That only having one US hit and East 17 and others not even managing that. But it did eventually grow on me enough to give it 6/10.

    Notably it’s the first simultaneous transatlantic chart topper we’ve seen for a while. It’s easy to forget how popular Hanson were for a very brief period as they were quickly eclipsed by the triumvirate of Backstreet Boys, NSync, and 98 Degrees. Of course, they differed from these others in several important respects: 1) they were actually brothers and not brought together with the express purpose of creating a boy band, 2) they were significantly younger than most boy bands, and 3) they had a huge #1 hit right out of the box which has forever overshadowed everything they’ve done since. But as already noted they are not technically one hit wonders despite what most people think, and newer works of theirs occasionally show up on US radio to this day. So despite the fact they’ve never come close to another #1, it’s rather impressive they’ve managed to stick around and make a career of it which more than can be said of a lot of bands who hit it big as kids.

  4. 4
    Kinitawowi on 10 Mar 2014 #

    DAME TU MANO! Y VENGA CONMIGO! VAMONOS AL VIAJE PARA BUSCARLOS SONIDOS MAGICOS!
    DE ECUADOR!

    Now there’s a stormer of an intro into a song. No idea what it means and I don’t care. Immediate, arresting, brilliant. Sash!’s second number 2, behind… this.

    Didn’t like Zig-A-Zig-Ah, don’t like this. Bubblegum; chewed up, blown up beyond all proportion, exploded and spat out on the pavement until the next block appears out of the packet.

    Or, you know, spat into the bin. Keep Britain Tidy and all that. 3.

  5. 5
    flahr on 10 Mar 2014 #

    In my memory, this is surprisingly bland for something so obviously not-bland.

  6. 6
    swanstep on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Never have 3 chords felt so ponderous and limiting. The unintelligible blur of the lyrics may be a good move from some angles (i.e., if the lyrics can’t be sold if heard) but from the most important one it’s a disaster: given that the music and arrangement’s so rudimentary, the lyrics are the principal opportunity for the band to stamp some personality on the track, an opportunity lost. I think ‘Mmm bop”s got a shocking lack of hooks compared to the really great ‘high-squeaky’/’juvey’ pop songs of the past, esp. the Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’ (which is more complex musically but set that aside), and it’s not at all comparable to ‘Wannabe’ in my books. I am a bit flabbergasted to see high-ish scores for ‘Mmm bop’ here, and contrarily I give this incompetent mosquito whine (or is it perhaps a competent mosquito-repellent?) of a record:
    2

  7. 7
    Mark G on 10 Mar 2014 #

    It’s very 1973 US ‘one-hit in the UK then back home with us’ as per Alessi, Leif Garret and (does anyone remember) Andy and David Williams. Nowadays, communications can be kept up with videos and internet marketing, whereas back then acts tended to go where the money was.

  8. 8
    wichitalineman on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I was first told about MMMBop by a friend at Warner Brothers in California who said it was like a modern Jackson Five, so that’s how I’ve always heard it.

    The US had still seen much 70s pop culture as something to be ashamed of as recently as 1995 (the excellent Brady Bunch Movie) so this felt like acceptance – bubblegum lives!

    I never knew about the slower version, and I don’t really want to hear it. The verse lyrics are a blur which is as it should be – get to that chorus – and the scratching gives the song the impression of speeding the record up, which places MMMBop in a Popular pot with Cumberland Gap and Gamblin’ Man.

    I’m glad this one has popped up on a glorious sunny morning in London, it’s very fitting. 9.

  9. 9
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #2: What do you mean by “better crafted” and “more accomplished”? Pop isn’t woodwork class.

    #6: Shame about Alvin Lee, isn’t it? Died a year ago and not even an obituary in The Guardian.

  10. 10
    hectorthebat on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Sample watch:

    The drums come from “Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss, and the scratching is from “Buffalo Girls” by Malcolm McLaren!

  11. 11
    AMZ1981 on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Aware that this was coming up I looked up Hanson on Wikipedia and it’s worth noting that not only are the band still making music but all three brothers are now married with kids with not a drug bust or nervous breakdown in sight. Given that they achieved fame at such a young age I thought this deserved a mention. I also discovered that Taylor Hanson (the middle brother who sang lead vocals and all the boys fancied thinking he was a girl) was in a supergroup with James Iha (ex Smashing Pumpkins) and members of Fountains Of Wayne and Cheap Trick – and their stuff is very listenable.

    It’s worth noting that Hanson’s further career did involve some lousy timing as Where’s The Love came out in a week when the mood of the country was ridiculously sombre. I’ve always had a soft spot for their third single I Will Come To You which got a bit lost at Christmas but may have done better in September.

  12. 12
    Steve Williams on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I first heard this when the late and much lamented Kevin Greening made it his record of the week when he was sitting in on the Radio 1 breakfast show, and loved it from the first time I heard it. But I was absolutely amazed when I first saw what they looked like (it might have been a picture in Smash Hits) because I’d assumed they were a New Edition or indeed Jackson Five-esque black group with some well-drilled dance routines, not some white kids with long hair and guitars.

  13. 13
    Alan not logged in on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Pants On “Plums Drop” http://www.scrawnandlard.co.uk/song/sgpantson.htm never committed to CD afaict

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I’m surprised at the disdain shown towards this by some commentators – for me this is a gloriously light, unaffected joy. I’ve never listened to the lyrics as anything more than vocal percussion which makes the title so apt. The video reminds me of The Monkees in places – and this has a similar mood to ‘I’m a Believer’.

  15. 15
    Rory on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I’ll see your three weeks at number one, UK and US, and triple it: this spent nine weeks at the top in Australia, although it was only our fifth highest seller that year, after three upcoming bunnies and “Tubthumping”. Definitely a key part of the pop soundtrack of its year, and it isn’t hard to see why: as Tom says, it’s a joyful piece of work, full of youthful optimism, even if the lyrics are a little less sunny than the sound. I didn’t care for it at all at the time, but can’t deny its charms now, so I’ll give it the highest mark I can without wanting to own it: 7.

    Apparently this was co-written by the writer of the Friends theme, Allee Willis, which seems appropriate. But I’m bemused to think it was produced by the duo whose moniker the Chemical Brothers first borrowed. Trying to imagine a ChemBros remix of “MMMBop” now…

  16. 16
    anto on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Not so much bubblegum as honey nut loops and I’ve never liked the taste of those. I prefer the groove to the song itself which was what really gave it that 70s-into-90s feel. The Jackson 5 comparison seems about right.

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I don’t seem to have an enormous problem with “Mmmbop”. It exists. I was never really bothered about who wrote it or how it was made. They were kids. They got lucky. Like “Pass The Dutchie” or “Candy Girl” before, “Mmmbop” was something of a novelty as far as I was concerned.

  18. 18
    Will on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Have to disagree about Where’s The Love, Tom. For me, everything about it from the opening Motown drum roll to the brilliant contrasting middle eight marks it out as the superior single.

    MMMbop is pleasant enough but does seem to run out of steam a bit. Just a 6 from me.

  19. 19
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #18 Really? I should give it another go – it sounded kind of “my first Black Crowes” to me.

  20. 20
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #2 Obviously every commenter brings their own standards to Popular, I don’t necessarily think being “well-crafted” in a 2 Become 1 sense is part of mine (I mean, obviously – Wannabe is a mess, or is crafted to sound like a mess, but probably IS also one, and I think it’s a lot better as a pop record than 2B1, very good though that is.) I tend to notice ‘craft’, which I might define as productive and unproductive meeting and breaking of expectations, when it applies to things I typically care more about – the mood of the song, the vocal performances, even the lyrics. Same goes for anyone I guess.

    #6 The hooks are almost all in the vocal lines (and er ‘flow’ – how they speed up/suddenly halt/etc.), so the chord structure doesn’t bother me so much (in fact I hadn’t even noticed how little the backing varies on that front, but it’s the kind of thing I hardly ever notice).

  21. 21
    ciaran on 10 Mar 2014 #

    One that was overplayed back in the day but it’s easy to see why. Riduculed for the dorky girly haircuts and the follow ups were not anywhere near as memorable as this but MMMbop still has its charms even without the video which I thought may count against it.Cant begrudge it of its moment in the sun. 7

    Have you played it to the kids yet Tom? Possibly the most kid-friendly number 1 in a while.

  22. 22
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Yes, moderately classic and likeable bubble-gum pop which expresses a sense of joy, euphoria, even, filled, overflowing with youthful energy. The question of the lyrics is an interesting one; on the one hand that the more substantive/complete lyrics (ie in the first verse, in particular) are, more or less, incomprehensible is more or less balanced by the fact that those lyrics that are clearly enunciated and mixed (ie in the choruses) are, more or less, nonsense, albeit, evidently, happy nonsense.

    Maybe that is one of the facets of the appeal of this track – vocal lines, essentially functioning as instrumentation: it’s all about overall atmosphere, there is no need to pin everything down. Perhaps this vagueness contributes, though, to the sense that it is all a bit sickly sweet though – great to hear once in a while, but rapidly becoming irritating when heard over and over again.
    6

  23. 23
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #21 I haven’t actually! I’ve fallen behind a bit on my parental duties vis a vis Popular. Can’t imagine the next few will hold much joy for them, galaxy defenders aside. My four year old did buy his first record (OK got me to download his first track from iTunes) the other day though – “Everything Is Awesome” from the LEGO Movie.

  24. 24
    iconoclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    “Manufactured” is a bit like “indie” in that nobody knows what it really means (perhaps the two are opposites? maybe not), but – as Tom implies – it’s often used as a shorthand for “there are things about this record which if I had my way would permanently destroy the credibilty of anyone who so much as hints that they don’t hate it with a passion”.

    Anyway, “MMMBop” sounds at first like it could be sparkling good fun for all ages, but doesn’t offer up much in the way of development and by the fourth chorus it’s clear they’ve run out of ideas. Points for trying, though, the first half-minute or so is really good. SEVEN.

  25. 25
    Jonathan on 10 Mar 2014 #

    “…critical acclaim for ‘MMMBop’ was absolutely inevitable once it hit big.”

    This was a bit of a double take moment for me; I was too young to notice much what critics thought of Hanson when they first came out, but not too young to notice that much of the general public perceived them much the way folks do Justin Bieber now. (Or Justin Bieber 18 months ago, to be most accurate.) It had never occurred to me critics might have disagreed — though, sure enough, this Pazzed #1 in ’97.

    Great song, obv.

  26. 26
    matthewjh on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I was playing this in the car yesterday, as it goes, and boring my wife with my sudden feeling that it’s one of the best produced tracks I’ve ever heard (as well as being delirious, hooky sunshine). So chunky, so robust.

    She was singing along to all the verses. I never knew she (or anyone) knew the words.

  27. 27
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    It annoyed a huge amount of people AND was simultaneously one of those anointed “The Year’s Great Pop Record” things, if not quite as purely so as “Call Me Maybe” (say). Which is interesting I guess – normally anointed “good pop” tends not to also attract novelty-hit hate. But yes, I was thinking of Pazz & Jop.

    (Though at this point P&J was still almost purely American, maybe here or in Australia “MMMBop” just got the novelty loathing.)

  28. 28
    thefatgit on 10 Mar 2014 #

    When I was a kid, my grandmother had a number of serialised magazines in hardback folders. I guess they were almanacs of some description or other. They were a window on the past with many monochrome photographs of Victorian and Edwardian Britain. One of these almanacs used to fascinate me a great deal. It told stories of great train crashes, like the Tay Bridge disaster or the one where the boiler of this steam locomotive exploded in a built-up area, killing and injuring many. I guess I was equally fascinated and horrified by the images of destruction and the rather matter-of-fact text that accompanied them didn’t really do much to put the suffering into any context or perspective.

    Fast forward to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Roy Neary is trying to explain a maths problem to his son who “can’t do fractions”, using the single freight car on the switch of their model railway. Roy sets an oncoming train to collide with the freight car while trying to encourage his son to work out how far the freight car should be moved from the switch to avoid the collision. I was about 11 when I first saw the film, and all I wanted was to see the collision (a massive anticlimax, but hey…). An older me would have shouted “20 feet! Move it 20 feet!” Before the other train hit. I guessed the kid was like the young me, and all he wanted to see was the collision and forget the maths problem.

    To value “craft” in pop, would suggest that one was the older kid who wanted to solve the maths problem before the train hit. And for a while, that was me. Now I’m more sympathetic to the kid who wants to see the train wreck, because that’s not calculated or designed to follow a pre-programmed algorithm. It’s visceral and chaotic and fascinating. Even if reality dictates that we rightly recoil in horror at the loss of life when these disasters strike. There’s still the little boy in me that’s wide-eyed going “Wow!”

    None of the above has anything to do with “Mmmbop”.

  29. 29
    leveret on 10 Mar 2014 #

    This was absolute anathema to the indie-loving, Melody Maker reading teenage boy I was at the time. Part of that was probably down to the younger Hanson brother (Zac), who came across a precocious, irritating little brat, like someboy’s younger brother tagging along who you just couldn’t shake off. I scoffed when one review at the time described it as ‘joyous toytown Motown’ but, actually, I was wrong – it is.

  30. 30
    Mark M on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Re27: No, I think there was enthusiasm for it in critical circles over here, too, if maybe not quite that much. (I certainly liked it from the start, for what it’s worth).

  31. 31
    James BC on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I remember dark insinuations that Zac hadn’t played drums on the record. People talking about wrist strength and how it was physically impossible for an 11-year-old to do it. Most likely it was just jealousy – Caroline Corr came in for the same sort of thing at about this time.

  32. 32
    JLucas on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #9 I guess ‘better-crafted’ was a bit pseudy (although we’re talking Hanson vs Eternal here so…)

    I suppose I just always found Mmmbop fairly nothingy. It’s hugely catchy, but I don’t think it’s actually an especially good song, whereas 2B1, Wannabe and I Wanna Be The Only One are *very* good songs (in my opinion). Wannabe is probably the best comparison of the three, but there’s a hell of a lot more going on in Wannabe than there is on this. It just feels…. basic. I’d compare it more to something like The Birdy Song or Mambo Number 5 than the numerous great pop songs it was sharing the charts with.

    I’m aware I may still be sounding like a snob. I think what it comes down to is that I’ve just never thought much of this record. It may not be something you can rationalise.

  33. 33
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #28: Nor does it have anything to do with what I was saying, i.e. if #2’s argument were taken to its logical conclusion, we would be saying: “our postman’s a genius, he knows every street and every flat and always delivers letters and packages on time, I really admire his skills.” No, he’s not a genius, he’s just doing the job he’s qualified and being paid to do, and people should not confuse efficiency with inspiration.

  34. 34
    Richaod on 10 Mar 2014 #

    If you haven’t heard the way Hanson play MMMBop nowadays, it’s worth hearing – shorn of the 90s production and the precociousness of youth, the core of the song’s completely charming.

    http://youtu.be/m9h1pA15-74?t=2m

  35. 35
    MikeMCSG on 10 Mar 2014 #

    # 7 I do indeed remember those guys. Never out of my sister’s “Jackie” or “Jinty” magazines when I was first getting interested in pop and a source of mild frustration that they were never on the radio or TOTP so I could check them out. I’ve still to remedy that and have never heard their sole measly hit – is it worth three minutes of my time ?

  36. 36
    Kat but logged out innit on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I believe that all the Important Hanson Facts are covered in this post.

  37. 37
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    There’s nothing a moody teenager hates more than his (or her) clean-cut fun loving peers. As far as I was concerned, this confirmed all of my prejudices about America, about the music industry, about most of my peers and about the 90s pop mainstream (I think my musical tastes were re-expanding again by this point, as far as punk (inspired by the previous years’ Pistols re-union) and the rockier end of dance but it would be a couple of years before I would drop the teenage snobbishness over pop)

    I cannot over-emphasize the the intensity of the hatred I felt for this as a surly and pseudish teenager, one who was in a flegling band no less (a serious and proper one of course…) and it made me all the more determined to make my music a combination ofserious and proper social commentary and situationist provocation, which basically meant being a hamfisted teenage Mothers of Invention, writing smirking pastiches of other styles (which needless to say, we lacked the chops to play) and cringing teenage attempts to shock.

    Needless to say, I quite like MmmBop now…in your face, teenage me!

  38. 38
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    PS, great article, Tom. The James Dean Bradfield comparison finally sold me on it!

  39. 39
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    …not a comparison I’d have expected to see with Hanson but it makes total sense even with my distant memories of MmmBop!

  40. 40
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #32 Mambo no.5 >>>>>>>>>>>>>mmmBop imho…

  41. 41
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    #39 Mentioning the Manics in the post or the comms box = 50 extra comments on prior form. By the time we actually reach them it’ll be such a let down.

  42. 42
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    It was more ‘I wish I’d thought of that, it seems so apt now’ rather than Peter Kay-‘he mentioned something from my childhood, hurrah!’

    …and, yes, if my memory serves me correctly, their first appearance here is a sad, sad death-knell for the band as a going concern.

  43. 43
    fivelongdays on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Fifteen-year-old me loathed this record. However, it has rehabilitated itself with me. I seem to remember that Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity gave mad props to the drummer for nailing the beat when they played this live at an award ceremony (which indicated it’s a touch tricky – can any drummers elucidate?). I reckon it falls into the ‘likeable category’, and fair play to them for keeping going.

    Still no idea what they’re singing, mind!

    Think I’ll give it a seven.

  44. 44
    cis logged out on 10 Mar 2014 #

    I remember buying this! Mostly because I remember buying this and Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, together, at the same shop, and feeling hugely proud of myself for indicating to the world (in the form of whoever was behind the counter at woolworth’s) the amazing breadth of my tastes. After what must have been a whole year of reading the NME I felt my indie cred was now so solid and unassailable that I could master the next move, of being so cool I could even publicly like pop music, provided it was pop music I could muster some kind of sophistic argument to support if need be.

    I’m not saying that I haven’t changed in any meaningful way since age 13, but, well. Some rhetorical strategies – some self-defensive reflexes – are hard to shake.

  45. 45
    cis logged out on 10 Mar 2014 #

    (also, i’m still a total nightmare)

  46. 46
    mapman132 on 11 Mar 2014 #

    #4 Thanks for the Sash! alert. Watched the “Ecuador” video twice today. Apparently the vocalist is one Adrian Rodriguez who despite his name is Germany-based according to Wikipedia. Pretty good record – I’m putting it ahead of “Encore Une Fois” in my Sash! review. Three to go.

  47. 47
    Jet Simian on 11 Mar 2014 #

    #38 Yes, a good point, but (to Tom) as I recall JDB was generally the poor chap tasked with wrestling with the lyrics at the mic end. Blame for Manics logorrhea could best be put at the feet of Richie James and (to a lesser extent) Nicky Wire.

  48. 48
    Jet Simian on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Ah – too late for editing my previous comment, but Tom’s point still stands!

  49. 49
    Tom on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Aha – but that’s the point (sort of) – JDB is forced into a position of syllable-mangling by the actions of others (his lyricists); Hanson are forced into a position of syllable-mangling by the actions of others (the Dust Brothers – THOUGH I have no actual evidence that it was the DBs who said “let’s do it faster so you have to cram all the words in”, it could have easily been the band, as Wichita says though the decision feels a part with chucking a load of scratching in to make things seem faster)

  50. 50
    MBI on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Hanson are still chugging to this day, with considerably less popularity but with a critical appreciation that has only strengthened over time. They’re the hipster band in reverse – I liked them AFTER they were popular.

    And that reputation is well-deserved; they’ve carved out a very strong case for just being a damn good pop act that flew under the radar for a long time. “Penny & Me,” “Thinkin’ ‘Bout Something,” “Strong Enough to Break,” really the entirety of the Underneath album are just wonderful.

    With this in mind, I went back to reevalute MMMBop and to my surprise it’s still just fucking awful. It’s obnoxious, not totally like Bieber but not totally dissimilar either; “MMMBop”‘s impossibly chipper nothing of a chorus may be the most grating thing in existence, like a cloying Shirley Temple song with an extra layer of frosting. Like, ooh, look at us we’re young and adorable we can get away with this I’m Nermal the world’s cutest kitty cat, ugh. I thought maybe I just bothered by their youth but their follow-up album and some of the songs off “Middle of Nowhere” sounded just fine to me. But “MMMBop,” I don’t know, I’m sorry, I just can’t fucking stand it. 2

  51. 51
    Doctor Casino on 11 Mar 2014 #

    A great song; what can I say? I don’t think I really heard it much at the time, but I knew I was supposed to resent it as preadolescent “pop garbage” or whatever. Can’t recall the first time I heard it and appreciated it. The only thing that niggles is the period detail, particularly the “sampled” filter running over the samples – an interesting texture at the time, now kind of distracting. Without just calling it “dated’ or “phony,” I would say it bypasses the productive intersection of “effortless creation” and “studio craft” (which I think Tom is right to play up) by just seeming way too much of the latter. Happy to have the samples but the fake record crackle is just a shade too much. Otherwise all the 97-isms of the production – its brightness, its punch – ring fine to me, as their children do on many similarly peppy, ‘youthful’ tracks for years to follow: Sugar Ray’s hits, “Brighter Than The Sun,” “Unwritten” etc. etc.

    But yes, the key is those yearning, searching verse-enders and the dramatic, triumphant way they lead to the chorus – without that I doubt anybody would rate this much at all.

  52. 52
    Auntie Beryl on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Imagine an incredibly unimaginative, juvenile, irritating distillation of the worst bits of Jellyfish records from a few years earlier. That’s Mmmbop. Clue’s in the title.

  53. 53
    taDOW on 12 Mar 2014 #

    ‘mmmbop’ was probably a little overrated as a ‘perfect pop record’ at the time (though it’s immediate crit love and predictable p&j win did feel like an arrival of a kind of popism, w/ spin very briefly somewhat reembracing it’s 80s mentality and and rob sheffield holding court at rolling stone), and it’s probably a little bit underrated now w/ any critical focus of that late 90s pop rush generally going to the second wave (bunnied surely so i’ll just say mickey mouse club and cover alot of bases). hanson had other hits – ‘where’s the love’ was arguably as big a hit and the teenaged ‘deep’ wisdom of ‘weird’ owned mtv briefly – but this defined them then and defines them even more now. a shame that the third leg of that 97 pop revolution in america (w/ this and the spice girls) will only bother us here w/ his dreariest (albeit biggest) hit but so be it. 8 seems otm.

  54. 54
    DanH on 12 Mar 2014 #

    I remember, before ever hearing the song, reading a headline in the newspaper…
    “Let’s Hear it for the Bea….er….Hanson.” The implication was the Hanson bros were comparable to the Beatles. 13-year-old me, in the aforementioned Beatles bubble at the time, was not having this. He vowed to hate the band and “MMMBop” forever, without even hearing it. I finally heard it and hated it as much as I thought I would. And was even more aghast that the Dust Brothers had a part in this, having played Beck’s Odelay all the previous summer.

    Much like with “Wannabe,” I haven’t lightened up with the song too much. I appreciate the unabashed pull-out-the-stops pop song as much as anyone, but I prefer “Sugar Baby Love” or one of Wizzard’s kitchen sink singles to this by far.

    …although the ‘vocal percussion’ comments are interesting…I never did tell what they were saying in the verses. Makes me think of “Gardening at Night,” where I much prefer (and have been brought to tears by) the regular version where Stipe sounds more like a guitar, than the “Hib Tone” remix. But I digress…

  55. 55
    Weej on 12 Mar 2014 #

    The scratching effects and shiny pop production on this reminded me of Len’s Steal My Sunshine from a couple of years later (which I loved but everyone else I knew hated and I never could work out why), so I checked it out on youtube and yes, still prefer it to Mmmbop, though can’t for the life of me work out why. Mmmbop isn’t bad, I appreciate it in theory, but it just doesn’t do it for me in practice. A comment on SMS on youtube says “This is what America sounded like before 9/11”

    A friend has a story of being stuck in a car while the road ahead was blocked by JCBs lifted cows onto a burning pyre (this would be due to the foot & mouth scare) and only having the Hanson Christmas album to listen to for the hour or so they were there. There’s no point to this story, but it’s quite the enduring image.

  56. 56
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #54 interesting you mention REM as another record this reminds me a bit of (ebullience wise) is “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight”. Theme-wise (once you decipher it) “MMMBop” fits with the folksy wisdom of Automatic For The People quite nicely, if (obviously) coming from a more naive place.

    And of course the DBs produced Odelay! I wildly prefer this record to anything I’ve ever heard from Beck, though.

  57. 57
    DanH on 12 Mar 2014 #

    *talking to self* Down, Beck fanboy!!! Be nice to Tom! :-)

    Yeah, Beck was my ‘first love’ musically, even before the Beatles. I’m not able to be that objective about him, although yes, Odelay isn’t QUITE the best thing ever I thought it was back then, and he probably was too hyped up at the time, etc.

    Interesting, you compared it to “Sidewinder” instead of “Shiny Happy People” (Sidewinder is easily superior). Not sure if Hanson had an “Ignoreland” in them tho ;-)

  58. 58
    flahr on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #55 “Steal My Sunshine” is incredibly wonderful (I can’t believe I didn’t notice that it was based on “Don’t You Want Me” until I read it).

  59. 59
    Paulito on 13 Mar 2014 #

    @55 I suspect the reason everyone hated ‘Steal My Sunshine’ was because it’s monotonous, grating novelty trash – comprising as it does some ‘cool stoner dudes’ whining twaddle over a single looped sample (taken, of course, from Andrea True’s ‘More, More, More’ – which, by extreme contrast, spills over with a multitude of hooks and ideas).

    How exactly is it based on ‘Don’t You Want Me’, other than the boy/girl/boy vocal sequence?

  60. 60
    tm on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Tom @ #49 Moreover and I think this is the point you’re making in the original post, JDB’s syllable mangling highlights the urgency of his struggle as an earthy rock everybloke to deploy his bandmates’ student politics against the alienation of late consumer capitalism c.f. The urgency of Hanson’s struggle to use the life-affirming power of pop music in learning life lessons about growing up, friendship and all that Wonder Years stuff.

    It’s easy as an unhappy teen to assume that everyone else is contented and that their smug complacency is a major contributor to your own discontent. With a little perspective you realise that apart from a few hyper confident bellends, everyone was going through much of the same stuff, they perhaps just coped with it a bit better and there might have been more mileage in engaging with them rather than just getting your head down and fantasising about the Valhalla of university…

  61. 61
    Weej on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Paulito @59 – thanks for the opportunity to defend it!

    “monotonous” – not particulary, verse and chorus are quite different, interplay of different vocalists throughout
    “novelty” – sure, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, in fact I’d say it usually isn’t
    “stoner dudes” – this is only evident from the video, the song itself couldn’t sound less stoner dude-y
    “whining twaddle” – the girl’s voice is lovely, no?
    “single looped sample” – again, many of the best songs… Also the sample is not the hook from the original song, and it’s used in a very diffent way.
    “grating… …trash” – I suspect this is the nub of it, but “everyone has different taste” is such a boring conclusion to get to.

  62. 62
    Tom on 13 Mar 2014 #

    I wouldn’t listen to “Steal My Sunshine” on an everyday basis but I like it and I’m very glad that a song which so perfectly encapsulates the slacker in his commodified phase exists. There are probably entire box sets of late-90s TV shows made redundant by this one track.

  63. 63
    James BC on 13 Mar 2014 #

    “Steal My Sunshine” is one of my favourites and I would gladly listen to it every day for the rest of my life. The strange thing is that for about ten years I somehow thought it was a rap song. Then I realised that there is no rapping on it at all.

  64. 64
    Ed on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Listening to the early version on Tom’s Tumblr was a revelation on this one: it’s not exactly grunge, but you could certainly imagine it being sung by Eddie Vedder. It’s like they did their own “indie band covers a pop hit and makes it serious”, and did it first.

    It shows that in spite of the obvious similarities to the Jackson 5, they came from a very different place. Everything that rises in tempo must converge, I guess.

    Also, it sums up the whole history of US popular alt-rock in the 90s, from Nirvana, via (megastar period), REM to Smash Mouth. I can’t now remember any of their names, but there seemed to be dozens of bands that used scratching and had that stoner / slacker vibe. I haven’t really thought about it before, but I realise now that Beck was a massive influence, particularly trhough the Dust Brothers. And Hanson were part of that.

    (Len were one of those bands, weren’t they. Oh, and Bran Van 3000. They were another. But I am sure there were more.)

    “What America sounded like before 9/11.” That’s a brilliant way to describe it.

  65. 65
    Mark M on 14 Mar 2014 #

    Re64: Sugar Ray?

  66. 66
    Cumbrian on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I hated this at the time, too twee, overplayed, the drummer was an irritating brat when they were on TV. Time and distance are great healers though, as I love it now though. It feels right that the lyrics are buried a bit and the whole thing is a joyous sound more than anything else. The Dust Brothers did a fine job setting this up and the Hanson Brothers knock the ball into the net with aplomb.

  67. 67
    Another Pete on 15 Mar 2014 #

    #64 just check the soundtracks for American Pie and other teen comedies from around this time.

    Am I right in thinking this was actually used in an advert (chewing gum possibly) around the time of its release. I agree the drummer was annoying but then again what 11 year old kid brother isn’t.

  68. 68
    Rory on 18 Mar 2014 #

    I’m coming back to this one because one aspect of the whole Hanson phenomenon nags at me. We’ve seen several comments here about the preadolescent vibe of the song, and how it bugged people at the time, and I can relate to that, because I remember thinking much the same back then as well. But now that I live with two preadolescents, I’m bothered by my own past reaction. Why should kids on pop songs be a turn-off? I don’t mean nursery songs of the kind that parents of pre-schoolers know all too well, but older kids playing proper pop. There shouldn’t be anything shameful in having a hint of training wheels about your music – everyone has to learn sometime – and there certainly shouldn’t be any shame in singing before your voice has broken.

    I wouldn’t even have said that Hanson had a hint of training wheels: they were clearly accomplished musicians by the time they recorded this, and if any early drafts of “MMMBop” lacked sophistication the traces were erased by their adult co-writer. Lyrically and musically this is strong enough to convince many listeners who haven’t seen the video that the band were adults, as some comments here attest. If singing “mmmbop, ba duba dop ba doooo bop” makes you a child, then the ghost of Sinatra had better watch out.

    James BC’s comment @31 particularly struck me, about the “dark insinuations that Zac hadn’t played drums on the record … talking about wrist strength and how it was physically impossible for an 11-year-old to do it”. I can well believe that was the gossip, but it’s nonsense, and I say that from personal experience. Take any six-year-old, and give them a trial drum lesson when they express an interest, then more lessons when they enjoy it, then buy them an electronic drum kit and amp (because you can’t turn down the volume on acoustic drums when you live in an Edinburgh tenement flat), then watch them practice and practice for months, and you too will have an awesome drummer by the age of seven (next week), who if he keeps it up will be Buddy Rich by 11. (Honestly, it’s been amazing to watch, and makes me wonder what the hell I’ve learnt in the past nine months.)

    I wonder if there’s something particularly galling for more cynical observers in the sort of success that Hanson represented: that sense of being trumped by a bunch of kids who’ve hit it bigger than you ever will. Look at them, they’re not even all teenagers, and already they’re number one! I could have done that! If my childhood had followed an entirely different path. I will get around to it someday. It’s on my to do list. (Even more galling when the band don’t turn out to be one-hit wonders, and actually display some staying power.)

    There’s also the hint in any song of this kind of that dread pop and rock phenomenon, the kiddie choir. I can only name a couple of songs off the top of my head that worked well with one – Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, which everybody knows, and Mike Oldfield’s “On Horseback”, which everybody doesn’t – and can think of a couple of promising acts who were scuppered by them (Ride on Carnival of Light and Badly Drawn Boy on One Plus One is One, for starters). But there’s something different between a choir singing to an adult band’s ends and a band of kids making music of their own, even if it’s with adult assistance.

    I still don’t think I could face watching the nervous under-age performers on Britain’s Got Talent, but that might have more to do with not enjoying any nervous performance, or anything much to do with Simon Cowell. A confident performance, a performance polished in the studio by decent producers, is a different matter. I’m open to it today in a way that I wasn’t when “MMMBop” was number one.

    Kids can take pop seriously, both the listening to it and the making of it. And they can take it joyfully, as Hanson did here.

  69. 69
    wwolfe on 2 Apr 2014 #

    This is a definite 10 for me, and my favorite single of the 1990s. It is a genuinely joyous recording, which is a very rare accomplishment.

  70. 70
    Philip Arlington on 24 Aug 2014 #

    The counter-reaction at the time was understandable but it is absurd that some people are still refusing or pretending not to see the merits of this song.

    The lyrics are simple but also deserving of mention. Firstly, they aren’t about girls, sex, or partying. Secondly, they represent the responsible and thoughtful attitude to life inculcated in the boys by their socially conservative parents, which probably has a lot to do with them having stable adult lives. (I am aware that pointing this out isn’t going to endear them to those who find rebellion for rebellion’s sake, inadequacy, breakdowns, and personal tragedy more authentic or cool.)

  71. 71
    Musicality on 21 Jan 2020 #

    Very strong, childhood memories of the summer this song came out. A hyperactive song, sung in part gibberish. A smash with the youth right from the off.

    Big global record not repeated by the boys.

  72. 72
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    I can appreciate the pop craft with this one. 6/10

  73. 73
    H4nSolo on 31 Aug 2021 #

    Thanks for this article! I also liked to watch American Pie, it’s one of the best series ever as I think. Now I miss those times, cause I’m very busy at my work. I develop mobile applications and consult mobile banking app developers or sometimes I manage app development process of my team. This job requires a lot of time, so I cant watch series anymore.

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