Who could still be following Hanson, 15 years after MMMBop was a hit? And why? Barry Divola finds out.
Most people think of them as one-hit wonders, if they think of them at all. Mention their name and many Australians would be more likely to associate it with a red-headed politician from Queensland than three blond brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma. To most people, Hanson had their 15 minutes of fame 15 years ago with a song called MMMBop and then, for all intents and purposes, disappeared.
Tanya Brooker is not most people. She is a Fanson. The 30-year-old management consultant from St Leonards became smitten with the group when she was 15 and set up the Hanson Fans From Oz website, which she still operates today.
We’ve always valued our connection with our fans.
”My sister heard them on the radio first,” she says. ”I actually convinced her to spend the money to buy the album because I thought they might be a flash in the pan, but I was the one who ended up still here today as a fan. I believed in their music then and I still believe in it today.”
She’s not alone. When they were top of the charts, Hanson were kids – Isaac was 16, Taylor was 14 and Zac was 11. It meant that girls – and let’s face it, this was all about the girls – could each have a favourite depending on their age. Isaac was the cool older guy, Taylor was the spunk, Zac was the little cutie.
Time passed and so did the spotlight, but the brothers stuck together and the Fansons stuck with them. Heart-throb Taylor is now 29 and his wife is expecting their fifth child. Most of the original fans are entering or leaving their late 20s. It can’t be about the pubescent hormones any more. Why do they still care? What hold does Hanson have over them after all this time? And could it have something to do with (gasp!) the music?
”You’re about to enter a vast new world,” Taylor Hanson says when he’s informed that I’m talking to the band’s fans. ”We’ve always valued our connection with our fans, but we can only claim ownership of that to a certain degree. There comes a point when it becomes about being a community and it’s the relationships those fans have with each other that is more important.”
Taylor, who earned cool points three years ago by fronting a power-pop side project called Tinted Windows with members of Fountains of Wayne, the Smashing Pumpkins and Cheap Trick, has a remarkably clear-eyed view of both his audience and his past as a teen idol. ”The hard thing about trying to describe the experience of stardom is you stop noticing things that are completely out of the norm because they become the norm,” he says of the band’s fame in the ’90s. At the time, MMMBop went to No.1 in 27 countries, and one in 10 Australians owned the Middle of Nowhere album, which shifted 10 million copies around the world.
But that was then. How many people in Australia care about Hanson in 2012? Well, it’s not like 1997, when 20,000 turned up just to see them at a Melbourne shopping centre car park during a promo tour, but in Sydney this year about 3500 people are willing to pay to see them play two shows. Brooker will attend both nights. She’s also travelling to Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Adelaide. She has gone further before, seeing them play five of their albums over five nights in New York in 2010 and again in London last year. This tour will also be an opportunity to reconnect with other fans from across the country, many of whom have not seen each other since the band’s last Australian tour in 2005.
For Lauren Cowled from Narrabeen, who will celebrate her 28th birthday this year at the Melbourne show, Hanson were the first band she got into, at the age of 12. ”At the time so many people were saying, ‘It’s not going to last,”’ she says. ”Maybe I’m stubborn but I still love them and as they get older they’re still making great music. Now you see a lot of new fans in the audience who are only 19 or 20. I think in the near future there’ll be a lot of young kids who’ll say, ‘My parents used to like Hanson.’ They’ll listen to them and get into them like we got into the Beach Boys and the Beatles from our parents.”
Laurachel Ventus, 28, from Marayong, flew to Tulsa earlier this year to see Hanson play their home town. She says experiencing the band now is better than when she first saw them almost 13 years ago. ”When I was 15 I didn’t really remember the performance at all. The excitement just made it a blur. The more recent shows I’ve been to have allowed me to remember certain songs that take me back to a specific part of my life. They’re like my musical timeline.”
At the height of Hanson’s fame, the backlash was as swift as their rise and, as any passionate fan knows, criticism of one’s idols is like criticism of the fan base.
”Of course it became cool not to like Hanson and you copped a lot of flak for liking them,” Brooker says. ”But people have grown up and the band never stopped making music and touring. Now when people find out I’m a fan, a lot of them say, ‘Oh my god! I used to love Hanson! Are they still around?”’
They are. They may not be shifting the same number of albums or creating the same level of hysteria, but they’ve endured and are still adored by the Fanson community. And as for anyone who scoffs at the idea of fans becoming romantically obsessed with their idols, it should be pointed out that Isaac, Taylor and Zac all met the women who became their wives at Hanson shows.
A fanboy’s tale
Even Taylor Hanson admits that most of his band’s audience is female. He estimates the ratio at 80:20. But one of the 20 per cent is 38-year-old Andrew Gunsberg, former host of Australian Idol. From his home in California he agreed to talk about the love that dare not speak its name.
”When I tell people I’m vegan, they look at me funny, but generally leave me be. When I tell people that I love Hanson, they laugh out loud and think I’m crazy.
”I was working at Channel [v] in Sydney around the time of their This Time Around album [in 2000], and I went and saw the band perform a showcase, where they completely astounded me with their musicianship, stage presence and songwriting. These guys were able to craft hooks and harmonies that stuck in my brain like superglue. I was flabbergasted.
”[They are] one of my top five bands of all time. In my opinion, they’re up there with Prince and the Black Crowes. They’re such an underrated band. Their ability to write great pop songs is like a superpower and the uplifting experience of a Hanson show is probably only rivalled by the Flaming Lips.”
Hanson play the Hi-Fi on September 15 and the Enmore Theatre on September 16.