Mmmbop, ba duba dop, Ba du bop, ba duba dop, plays the shimmering earworm “MMMBop,” which dominated most of 1997 with its catchy scat-like chorus. Too often clouded by that chorus, however, the Hanson song’s meaning goes a lot deeper than what the tune’s seemingly nonsensical lyrics immediately reveal. The hit actually holds an important message within its lovably quirky lyrics.
“MMMBop” was written by brothers Isaac, then 16, Taylor, 14, and Zac Hanson, who was just 11 years old at the time of the song’s release. The lead single from their 1997 debut album, Middle of Nowhere, “MMMBop” took off, catapulting the adolescent brothers into stardom along with it.
“That song started out really as the background part for another song,” Zac explained in an interview with Songfacts. However, what would become the chorus of “MMMBop” didn’t fit in the background of any of their songs, but the sound stuck in their heads. It would soon become its own song as the trio crafted verses and a bridge to fit.
Zac describes that the inspiration for the song came from artists like The Beach Boys and other vocal groups during that time, who employed a doo-wop style to their harmonies. But it’s that scat-like part of the song that most people get wrong when singing along to the tune.
“Too many people put a ‘wop’ in there,” Zac revealed twenty years after the song’s release. “What happens is people go to sing that song and they start making it up as if it’s nonsense.” It’s not MMMBop, bop dabop doo wop, but rather Mmmbop, ba duba dop / Ba du bop, ba duba dop.
The true meaning of the song often gets eclipsed by the babbling barrage of mmmbops and duba dops throughout the tune. “What that song talks about is, you’ve got to hold on to the things that really matter,” Zac detailed. “‘MMMbop’ represents a frame of time or the futility of life. Things are going to be gone, whether it’s your age and your youth, or maybe the money you have, or whatever it is, and all that’s going to be left are the people you’ve nurtured and have really built to be your backbone and your support system.”
The song opens in a swelling pop-rock arrangement of pensive strings and enthusiastic drum hits as a sprightly pre-teen voice croaks out an Oh yeah. The meat of the song’s meaning is introduced in the beginning with the first verse:
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 they’re gone so fast, yeah
So hold on the ones who really care
In the end they’ll be the only ones there
And when you get old and start losing your hair
Tell me who will still care
Can you tell me who will still care?
The mmmbops flood in from there, turning the song into an undeniably catchy mix of vowels and oh yeahs. The next verse touches again on the importance of nurturing your relationships, echoing the heart of the song with lines like:
Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose
You can plant any one of those
Keep planting to find out which one grows
It’s a secret no one knows
It’s a secret no one knows
Oh, no one knows
From there, the song is two more minutes of Mmm bop, ba duba dop / Ba du bop, ba duba dop / Ba du bop, ba duba dop / Ba du, yeah, yeah / Mmm bop, ba duba dop / Ba du bop, ba du dop / Ba du bop, ba du dop / Ba du, yeah, yeah with a few can you tell me‘s thrown in and a handful of In an mmm bop they’re gone sprinkled about.