20 years of “Mmmbop”: A retrospective

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from my wife, the lovely Megan McNeill, on this, the 20th anniversary of her favorite band’s first hit, “Mmmbop.” She truly is the biggest Hanson fan I know. Enjoy.

On Tuesday, April 15, 1997, baseball great Jackie Robinson’s jersey number, 42, was retired leaguewide. America Online service began in Japan.

And three blond brothers from Oklahoma unleashed to the world a catchy pop tune known as “Mmmbop.”

Hanson mmmbop gif.gif

It’s technically turning 21 this year, as the original version was released in 1996 as the title track of Hanson’s second indie album — so buy it an Mmmhops.

The upbeat song with the unforgettable chorus was the first single off Hanson’s major debut album, “Middle of Nowhere.”

By the time “MON” hit stores May 6, 1997, a bevy of fans — most of them young and female — had cropped up. Hysteria ensued at such places as the Paramus Park Mall in Paramus, N.J., where a crowd anticipated to number around 200 swelled to around 8,000.

“Mmmbop” was nominated for two Grammys and soared to No. 1 in 27 countries. It reached platinum status in the U.S., United Kingdom, Sweden, New Zealand, Germany and Belgium and went double platinum in Australia.

Grandma and me - summer '97
With my sweet grandma in the summer of 1997

I was initially oblivious to the song and its instant popularity. The day “Mmmbop” was released likely was another ordinary day of fifth grade. I liked the Spice Girls and the color purple. I insisted on being called “Meg” and enjoyed riding my bike around our quiet neighborhood. I had NO IDEA what the summer ahead would bring.

The summer of 1997, as it turned out, would forever change my life. It all started with a trampoline and a garage radio.

Who is this?

I was in my friend Erica’s backyard one afternoon, happily bouncing around as we listened to everyone’s favorite local Top 40 station, Y101. A sunny guitar riff and groovy drum machine loop wafted through the humid air.

“Nice song to jump to,” I thought.

Then came that angelic teen voice — yes, I thought a girl was singing — and an energetic drummer kicked in. I listened for a bit, and pretty soon, I stopped jumping and flopped down on my butt because I was so focused on this fun song I hadn’t heard before.

“Who is this?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Hanson,” Erica said, still jumping. “They’re three brothers.”

Oh. That lead singer wasn’t a girl. Oops.

She told me about this new group, how they had long hair, but were still pretty cute … how they played their own instruments. I was intrigued, but I spent most of the summer casually so.

There was the day I went into the electronics section at Walmart and found “Middle of Nowhere” on cassette. But I was holding out for a CD player, which I wouldn’t get until Christmas. As the months wore on, though, I was getting increasingly anxious for that boombox. I wanted to hear more Hanson songs.

Interest becomes obsession

I distinctly remember the day I was in the parking lot at Jack’s (a now-defunct discount store) with my dad as Y101 played “Mmmbop” for the umpteenth time. By now, I knew which brother was which, which one I liked best (Zac — he was closest to my age, he was funny and he was soooo cuuuute) and the instruments they each played.

My poor father listened patiently as I picked out which brother was singing each part of those heavenly harmonies, telling him very matter-of-factly, “Zac is the youngest. He’s got the high part because his voice hasn’t changed yet. Taylor is singing the main part. Isaac is the oldest, so he sings the low parts.”

That may have been the turning point. I was officially hooked.

By August, I was learning more about my new favorite band. I was buying teenybopper

Hanson pinup
I can pretty much guarantee you I have this one.

magazines and hanging the enclosed pinups and posters on my bedroom walls and in my locker as I entered sixth grade.

Other singles came later, but “Mmmbop” was a hard act to follow. It was so dag-blamed catchy. Hanson fans who stuck around learned there is a right way to sing the chorus, And because Tay’s voice changed after the “MON” version was recorded, it’s never been performed in the original key.

Despite the major key and the effervescent joy the song seems to exude, there is so much more to “Mmmbop” than rollerblading, playing on top of a flower and dancing on the moon. Pay attention to the verses.

“You have so many relationships in this life, only one or two will last / You go through all the pain and strife, then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast … / So hold on to the ones who really care, in the end they’ll be the only ones there / When you get old and start losing your hair, can you tell me who will still care?”

That’s deep stuff from a trio who wrote this song themselves and first recorded it at ages 16, 13 and 10.

And an “mmmbop,” the band explains, is “an unrepeatable moment in time.”

The chorus itself is inspired by a lot of the early doo-wop music the guys listened to when they were younger. It was a little vocal part they’d been messing around with until they came up with those profound verses.

The message of “Mmmbop” can be appreciated only if the listener goes deeper than the chorus. How many of us have 100 best friends? I sure don’t. I look back over the years since “Mmmbop” came out, and I couldn’t begin to list those who have disappeared from my life. But I’ve learned to “hold on to the ones who really care.” There’s just a handful of people with whom I’d trust my life. One of them is my husband Jared, whom I’ve known more than four years. He didn’t realize what he was getting himself into when he married me. God bless him.

Seriously though, in some ways it all seems like a lifetime ago. In other ways, it seems impossible the world has been hearing “Mmmbop” for 20 years.

‘The ones who really care’

Even though I don’t know Hanson personally, I feel like they’re in that class of “the ones who really care.” You might say they’re in it for the money, but I would say they do some pretty amazing things for us “Fansons.” Forty dollars a year buys you a Hanson.net membership, giving you access to livestreams, exclusive online content and an annual members’ EP — in addition to perks like advance ticket sales, chances at meet-and-greets and shorter lines at shows.

If you are an Hnet member with extra cash, their “Back to the Island” Jamaican getaway, a huge hit held each January, gives you a chance to meet the band. Also, every year in May, they commemorate Hanson Day (a special statewide observance proclaimed by the governor of Oklahoma May 6, 1997) with a fun weekend in Tulsa that includes games, karaoke, Q-and-As, a concert and more.

I haven’t had an Hnet membership in years, and I haven’t had the privilege of attending BTTI or Hanson Day (yet, though it would be a dream come true).

But I fear I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a post dedicated to “Mmmbop.” Although I’m pretty sure I could write a book on Hanson, I want to save some musings for a special Hanson Day post (or posts?) in a few weeks.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I challenge you to give “Mmmbop” another listen or two (or more!), and really think about how universal its message is, even today.

To wrap this up, here’s a nice little tribute from E! News:

Megan is the wife of Editing Life blogger Jared McNeill. When she’s not rocking out to Hanson, she’s usually reading books and writing about them at That Book Lady Blog.

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