Like many of you, I was a kid when “MMMBop” was released 20 years ago. And something about its divine combination of the ridiculous and the forlorn, those sombre verses hushed tight against the delirium of that euphoric chorus, immediately obsessed me. And from the get-go I had to know: What exactly does “MMMBop” mean? At the time, I remember thinking that “MMMBop” was a measure of time, like a doo-wop finger snap. That it represented a moment that was ferocious, but fleeting. And, because I was a morbid kid with a disconcerting love for depressing poetry, I believed that an “MMMBop” was some sort of a super cheerful death rattle. A last gasp, celebrated in a plume of confetti. Yep, I was one of those kids.
Though my own interpretation about the meaning of “MMMBop” was a little more dramatic than the actual, true meaning of the song, it wasn’t actually too far off the mark. But then, somehow, whether they came with the CD single I had of it, or I found them within the pages of a preteen magazine, I owned a beloved copy of the actual lyrics, and when you read them the meaning of the song seems obvious.
With such bleak, philosophical musings in the song as the opening lines, “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,” and the repeated, mournful statement, “when you get old and start losing your hair/Tell me who will still care,” the song reveals itself as being something of a nihilistic anthem. Albeit one that, when paired with that exuberant chorus, has a spirited, optimistic edge.
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It’s basically a panic attack in song form, written by three young boys who maybe didn’t have life all figured out, and were trying to smile through their terror of it all. And man, could I relate with those sentiments as a nervous child.