The Rise & Fall (& Rise & Fall) of Hanson
Back around 1997 and ‘98, when all the girls were fawning over Zac Hanson, preteen me would never have guessed that one day, I would perform a magic trick for the Hanson brothers (at a Jamaican resort). All I knew about Hanson was that they were a boy band who sang MmmBop. And then they more or less disappeared from existence.
It wasn’t until I met my wife that I found they did not, in fact, disappear from existence and are not, in fact, a boy band. They are more rock/blues. And they had more than one hit. And they are extremely talented. But there is a reason they seemingly disappeared. My wife had me listen to some Hanson music, and I did find I enjoyed it–but I didn’t really get into it. At least not until she had me watch their documentary, Strong Enough to Break.
The film documents their attempt to record their third studio album, which eventually came to be Underneath in 2004. Their first studio album, Middle of Nowhere, is the one most people know. That’s the MmmBop album (well, technically it originated in an independently released album, later titled 3 Car Garage). In between regular albums, they also released a popular Christmas album, Snowed In. But their second official studio album was This Time Around in 2000, giving a Top 20 single in the US and another Top 10 song in multiple countries around the world.
This is where their hardship started. Here’s the short version: Their record label, Mercury Records, merged with Island Def Jam (IDJ). IDJ then proceeded to screw over Hanson by continually making them write and record single after single under the guise that each song wasn’t good enough to be the next MmmBop (they turned down almost 100 songs), and the brothers wrote even more than that. Though it was not the lack of quality of the music as it was the label being horrible people with no intent to ever release another Hanson album. Hanson left IDJ and formed their own label, 3CG (3 Car Garage). IDJ, being influential in the industry, had the boys blacklisted from being promoted or put on the radio in any capacity. Therefore, as far as mainstream music is concerned, Hanson fell into obscurity.
Except they didn’t. The boys were still a success and had tons of fans (until recent events, which I’ll get to). After Underneath (2004), they released 4 new albums–The Walk (2007); Shout it Out (2010); Anthem (2013); and String Theory (2018). They also released a Greatest Hits album entitled Middle of Everywhere and a new Christmas album, Finally It’s Christmas, both in 2017. And they are working on two new albums which were to be released within the next year or so. On top of that, they have their own Members Only albums that they release every year for their website members. They have Hanson Day in May, which is a weekend-long celebration in Tulsa, where they’re from. They also have a Members Only event called Back to the Island, which is a multi-day concert event around January/February in Jamaica.
My first Hanson concert was a 5-hour drive to Dallas as a part of their Roots of Rock n Roll tour. I only knew a few songs at that point, thanks to my now-wife. And it was a 2-day event–one day for covers and one day for originals. There was also a “The Walk,” which is named after one of their albums, in which they and a bunch of their fans take off their shoes and walk a mile down the streets for a charity that gave money to impoverished areas in Africa. I did this, as well, and got a lovely pose for a picture of Taylor. We also waited outside in the cold after the final show and got a picture with Taylor.
The concert was pretty fun, but I still didn’t know enough of their songs to love every second of it. To speed this up, let’s just say I have since been to another regular concert, a Christmas concert, and a String Theory concert, which was a way different experience (they worked with an orchestra for those songs).
And, yes, I went to Jamaica (which included multiple concerts in and of itself). My wife always wanted to do it, and by the time the tickets were going to become available, I was a much bigger Hanson fan. My wife and I got married in July 2017, but we never really had a true honeymoon. So we were considering our Jamaican trip, which was early 2019, just that.
In Jamaica, we did some cool stuff with the boys. We climbed a waterfall with Taylor. I played Smash Bros. with Zac. And I performed a magic trick for all three, though in Isaac’s hands. Even got a signed card out of it from all 3 guys, which they suggested themselves after being impressed.
It’s no little thing to say the boys have had a big impact on me over the last five years or so. Our first dance song at our wedding was Weird. Our daughter’s name, Penelope/Penny, is even inspired by them (Taylor has a daughter named Penelope, and they have a song Penny & Me. No, we didn’t name her in honor of them or anything–we just saw the name and liked it).
All of that being said, I’m incredibly sad to find out what has been happening with Hanson these last couple months. As much as I don’t want it to be true, it appears Hansongate is real. I won’t go into all the details and screenshots and all that, though they do exist. You can find a full explanation and timeline of events here if you want. The short version is this: After the George Floyd incident when all the internet came together to state Black Lives Matter, Hanson fans looked to the boys for a response. And… none really came. Eventually, we were treated to half-hearted comments from Taylor and Isaac (Taylor has gone on to have more appropriate and better received comments since, to a degree). But then people brought up that Zac had a bunch of other private social media accounts, most of them connected to an Airsoft group he had formed years ago. On these social media accounts, though particularly Pinterest, people noticed a bunch of homophobic, transphobic, and white supremacy memes.
And then Zac confirmed that they were, in fact, his. And not only did he not apologize or anything, he doubled down on his beliefs and started deleting and banning comments from fans who brought any of it up. Taylor and Isaac have not really come out in defense or protest of their brother (understandably–this also puts them in a tough situation).
I do find this odd for the boys. Their African charity. Their yearly Jamaican getaway. Their music of acceptance and love. One wouldn’t think those are exactly things a white supremacist would do, nor would you think they would delay any response for Black Lives Matter. This situation reminds me of last week when I discussed JK Rowling–a very similar scenario in which a woman who gained popularity in the late 90s who, against all odds and everything she had portrayed herself as, seemingly proved intolerant to trans rights.
However, Zac’s arguments are not nearly as strong as Rowling’s. Zac is defending his posts as “humor,” whether distasteful or not, and saying certain memes are not meant as hateful but as comparative in regards to human rights. However, it comes off more as rhetoric formed in a like-minded bubble of people who spew the same hateful propaganda (though to be fair, so did bits of Rowling’s). They were not good arguments or positive statements, and they were inevitably deleted.
Taylor and Isaac have been mostly silent–not trying to defend or oppose Zac. And upon further inspection, it has become clear why: they agree, and it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Old interviews have been pointed to where they showed related stances on political questions. Taylor, in July, went on MusiCares to discuss “the power of music,” but I guess didn’t realize the topic at hand would be race relations. He appeared physically uncomfortable, was on his phone during the big conversations, repeatedly attempted to change the subject (and never commenting or taking a stance), and–at one point–when it was brought up that racial injustice is not okay, responded “ANY injustice.” Yeah, he “All Lives Matter’d” a Black Lives Matter event. This, sadly, showed that the one brother everyone was holding out hope for as being the rational one was, well… not.
I don’t have any answers for this. I don’t know what to think, honestly. I’m sad that this is happening. I’m sad for fans (long-time and new). And also, my “I did a magic trick for Hanson” story is now a lot less fun to tell.
Hanson has always said they will keep doing this as long as the fans want them to. Sadly, those days might be coming to an end.