My unabashed love for late-Nineties band Hanson is an obsession I've been defending for a decade. I admit, I was hooked the first time I heard the infectious strains of that 1997 radio hit "MMMBop." Nowadays, let's face it: if the general public thinks of them at all, they still see the Tulsa-born trio as the girly-haired bubblegum moppets they were back then. But as was in evidence at a gig in New York this past week, I am not the only one still loyal to the band of brothers.
After almost ten years as a well-known band, Hanson siblings Isaac, Taylor and Zac have achieved a rather spectacular feat. It's not marriage (though all three brothers have wed). It's not kids (though middle brother Taylor has three babies of his own). It's not new music (though they have a new album -- their third original release since their debut, Middle of Nowhere -- coming out in May). It's the fans. Hanson's mainstream popularity may have peaked along with Lou Pearlman-bred groups *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys in the boy band craze of the late Nineties (thanks largely to the radio success of "MMMBop"). But unlike the prefab pop outfits, they retain a loyal and rabid core group of fans whose devotion has only grown despite flagging presence in the public eye.
As my fellow Hansonites and I hit our late teens and early twenties, going to Hanson concerts has made us into a new version of the Deadheads. We spend long hours in the car traveling to show after show and spend even more time in line to secure a front-row spot. Having learned its lesson from the huge crowds of fans who camped out in the parking lot of New Jersey's Starland Ballroom before a 2004 Hanson concert, the venue posted a notice on its website before the show last week, firmly reminding fans that no one would be allowed to congregate earlier than 1 P.M. the day of the show. There were other stories of fans camping out for more than two days before last Friday's Connecticut show, and for almost as long before Tuesday's New York show -- the last in a string of preview dates Hanson played to premiere new music from their forthcoming album The Walk. This borderline-crazy devotion is nothing new to us Hanson acolytes, but it certainly shocks everyone outside our bubble who thought Hanson died out when they hit puberty.
It's hard to quantify Hanson's skill and musical prowess empirically -- that is, after all, a matter of opinion. But there's no question these guys have integrity at the very least: After parting ways with their label Island/Def Jam over creative differences upon the release of 2004's Underneath, the Hanson brothers formed their own indie label, 3CG Records. In 2005, they put out a documentary called Strong Enough to Break about the experience of releasing music independently, and even toured colleges to lecture about the music industry. They later released the whole thing as a series of podcasts on iTunes. In preparation for the upcoming release of The Walk, Hanson has started another podcast series to give the public a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the album.
The band also has support from perhaps the most critical group of music fans around: fellow musicians. Among Hanson's most vocal supporters are Third Eye Blind's Stephen Jenkins and the zany "Party Til You Puke" master Andrew W.K., who made a guest appearance on piano at last Tuesday night's performance at the Supper Club in New York City.
Tuesday's show was a celebration of many things -- it was a reunion for me and the friends I've known for ten years and, as Taylor said, pointing to the crowd before the group launched into "MMMBop" (yes, they still play it proudly), "This is a 10th anniversary not for the band, but for us."