This past Oct. 2, I was sitting in a bar at Universal Studios. My husband and I had just toasted my brother and his brand-new (like, of the past hour) fiancée, and we were on our second drinks in preparation of the madness of Halloween Horror Nights; since we’d spent the entire day at the parks already, we needed something to keep our adrenaline going. Our twenties are gone, after all, and the Orlando heat and humidity like to stick around for longer than acceptable. Which makes theme-park days oh so fun.
The guy in the bar who’d been playing guitar and singing to entertain everyone for the past hour wrapped up a rendition of “Blister in the Sun” and promptly began on something else.
“Is this ‘Jack and Diane’?” my husband asked.
As a casual John Cougar Mellencamp fangirl, I listened intently. And then my eyes grew wide.
“Dude, no, he’s playing ‘MMMBop.’ HE’S PLAYING ‘MMMBOP.’”
And he was.
Being in a public place, completely sober Jen would’ve bobbed her head up and down to the music and either mouthed the words or sang along under her breath. But two-drinks-in-and-yet-to-have-dinner Jen said, “THIS IS MY JAM!” loudly and waved her arms around while everyone else in the bar side-eyed this guy like, “Is he serious right now?” and a few even threw looks in my direction that clearly said, “Gurl, aren’t you like 30?” YES, SIR, but the youngest member of Hanson is almost 30, so there.
Slightly buzzed Jen was right to react this way, though, because she (and every single Hanson fan, as we will tell you) has to overcompensate to make up for the naysayers – the ones whom we’ve been silently rolling our eyes at for years every time we mention Hanson. Yes, THAT Hanson – the band that became famous in summer 1997, when its members’ median age was 14 and I was 12. But I’m used to it, and to be honest, I don’t care anymore. Because Hanson has given me so much, and that’s enough.
When I felt lost at 12 years old, I could listen to “Weird” from their first studio album, Middle of Nowhere (the same album as “MMMBop”) – the anthem for kids who felt out of place. When I was crushing on a guy who barely looked in my direction freshman year of high school, I could listen to “If Only” from their follow-up album This Time Around and maybe work up the courage to mention homecoming in his presence. My favorite Hanson song to date, “This Time Around” (which is obviously from the same album), taught me that being knocked down to the point where you feel completely defeated can become your time to shine the brightest, if you let it.
But by high school, I never would’ve admitted in a million years to being a Hanson fan. Because then, I really didn’t understand the impact they’d have on my life. It wasn’t until I saw them live for the first time, in 2003 – my freshman year of college, when my then-suitemate dragged me to one of their shows – that I saw how not only their lyrics and music, but their dedication to the world around them would inspire me.
These guys left their record label and opened their own 12 years ago this month. They called their label 3CG Records, after their early compilation 3 Car Garage – originally recorded when they were all under 15 years old. Their journey in breaking out on their own and the struggles they endured as brothers and businessmen to make the music they wanted to make and stay true to their roots birthed a documentary called Strong Enough to Break, as well as their most inspired (and best, in my opinion) album: 2004’s Underneath. The lyrics and melodies on that album got me through so many tough first-year-away-from-home moments it’s not even funny. I even named my cat, Penny, after my favorite song on that album: “Penny and Me,” whose music video starred Samaire Armstrong of The O.C. fame.
Since 2003, these guys (who are all long since men now, each with multiple children of their own) have embarked on multiple ventures even outside of music that have made them that much more worthy of respect. Between 2004 and 2006 they recorded the 2007 album The Walk in Africa, and used the accompanying tour to promote the fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa. In fact, they still hold group walks when they’re touring to continue to raise awareness for this cause.
Today, Hanson is still rooted in pop music, with their signature blues, rock, and soul influences. They play a lot of oldies – both of their own, as well as covers of some of their favorite inspirations, like Bill Withers, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson. They also maaaay have covered Taylor Swift and TLC. The music video for their most recent single – “Get the Girl Back,” from their 2013 album Anthem – starred Nikki Reed and Kat Dennings, both of whom are self-proclaimed Hanson fans.
And to this day, Hanson still plays “MMMBop” at pretty much every single show. I’ve seen them more times than I can count, and not once did they leave it off the set list. People ask why, and I tell them the truth: They know what they owe their success to, they’re grateful, and they hold their heads high. And they should, because “MMMBop” is an amazing, deep song that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
At that show in fall of 2003, I became a born-again Hanson fan. I haven’t looked back since, and I’ve never once in the past 12 years hesitated to defend this amazing group of musicians who have worked tooth and nail for what they have today, as well as the respectable legacy they have both taken from and left on the music industry. They’ve inspired me to be who I am and never apologize for it. Because I’ll only live once, and my life is too short to pretend to be anything other than myself – and that includes being a Hanson fan. And a Zac girl. Because even when I’m 95, I will still be a Zac girl.
Happy birthday, 3CG Records – and thank you, Hanson, for living the life we should all aspire to live.