In the mid-to-late 90s, as superhero comic books struggled to recover from the bursting of the speculation bubble, I found myself caught up in another pop culture boom heading for an inevitable bust: pop music. I wasn’t a soldier in the Backstreet-*NSync boy band wars, though. (If pressed, I’d declare my allegiance to the undeniably second-tier 98 Degrees, because I have never, ever been cool.) No, my one true band, the object of my obsessive and undying preteen love, was Hanson.
Brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson were on top of the charts in 1997, when their debut single, “MMMBop,” took the world by storm. I hit the fandom at the crest of that wave, first hearing the cassette tape of Middle of Nowhere in my best friend’s bedroom that fall, then requesting and receiving it myself for Christmas. Like thousands of other fans, I wallpapered my room with Tiger Beat pinups and made detailed plans for my future wedding to dreamy middle brother Taylor. (April 12, 2012 was to be the happy day, so I can now officially rule out clairvoyance as my mutant power.)
Loving Hanson was never a popular hobby. Boys in my classes delighted in writing “Hanson sucks” on my school supplies when I wasn’t looking. Girls would degrade Hanson’s masculinity, presumably in contrast to their ultra-manly boy band heroes. At a 6th grade school dance, my friends and I asked the DJ to play “MMMBop,” but the second it began, literally every other attendee fled the dance floor (a.k.a. the cafeteria), and the DJ had to cut the song short. But even as Hanson faded from the charts and the pages of Tiger Beat, I remained a fan. My mother, bless her supportive heart, even helped me throw a Sweet 16 party for Taylor Hanson in 1999, baking a birthday cake and ordering a pizza with “Tay” written across it in sausage for all my friends to share. I wore my fandom like a badge of honor, even when everyone else wanted to make it a badge of shame.
All of which brings me to the following: The Top Five Reasons Hanson Fandom is like Comics Fandom
1.) Memorizing the Stats
I’ve heard people argue that female comic book fans don’t care about the minutiae that male comic fans follow religiously. Ladies, they claim, just don’t care about who would beat who in a fight, or exactly how tall Wolverine is, or what issue marked the first appearance of Sabretooth. I don’t know how widespread these sentiments are, but I’ll say this: anyone who thinks women don’t memorize statistics about their fandoms hasn’t ever met a teen idol fangirl.
A decade and a half after I first picked up unofficial bios like Totally Taylor, I can still tell you what Zac Hanson claimed his favorite color was in 1997 (blue), what Taylor Hanson’s favorite candy was (red jelly beans), and what Isaac and Taylor’s first names really are (Clarke and Jordan, respectively). Knowing these things was like a secret handshake, a mark of inclusivity, a way to tell the “real” fans from the “posers” (problematic as that distinction may be). Within a fannish subculture, trivia is social and cultural capital, and for every interactive book of Marvel trivia questions, there’s a corresponding Hanson Trivia Game.
2.) “Biff, Bam, Pow! Hanson’s Not Just MMMBop Anymore!”
For a lot of young women, this article as written so far would be a mildly embarrassing confession, a nostalgic, self-effacing revelation. But the past tense I’ve used so far out of grammatical necessity is misleading. I am, and ever shall be, a Hanson fan.
See, what made Hanson unique among their compatriots was the fact that they never broke up, and they never stopped making music. They dumped their record label and went indie after 2000’s This Time Around, and over the next decade-plus they released four more full-length albums and countless EPs, sustained a fan club of paid members, and toured almost constantly. And fans like me stuck around, well into our – and the band’s – adulthood.
You know those annoying articles that pop up in mainstream media sources like clockwork every six months, usually around the time a new superhero movie is coming out? “Biff, Bam, Pow! Comics Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore!” their headlines proclaim, and the writers go on to reveal the shocking fact that most modern comic books are, by and large, written for teens and adults, that their storytelling is actually “sophisticated,” and that we should all stop dismissing them as childish trash, because that’s what the old comics were like. Not the awesome modern ones.
As a Hanson fan, I’ve quickly become used to the equivalent: “MMMBop No More! Hanson Boys Are All Grown Up!” Every time the boys put out a new album – from This Time Around all the way through to 2013’s Anthem — journalists rush to teach the world a bunch of surprising, brand-new facts: they don’t all have long blonde hair anymore (and haven’t since the last century); they’re all adults (have been since Zac turned 18 in 2003); they’re all married (Taylor since 2002, Zac and Isaac since 2006); and they all have multiple children (Isaac 2, Taylor 5, Zac 3). Oh, and their sound is mature and grownup and rock’n’roll-influenced now, so adults and dudes can totally listen to their new stuff without embarrassment. They’re more than just “MMMBop”!
The irony of both of these articles, of course, is that anyone who was already paying attention – any of the fans who’d been derided for years for having such a “childish” interest — knows all these facts already, and knows they’re nothing new. The goldfish memory of the mainstream media actually serves to reinforce the stereotypes they claim to be breaking, reminding everyone of the “MMMBop” and “Biff, Bam, Pow” nonsense words that encapsulate the fandoms’ childish reputations. They ignore the last decade of Hanson albums, or the last several decades of comic book publishing, to pretend that this maturity is somehow “new.” And they totally ignore the fact that, child-centric or not, Silver Age comics and “MMMBop” are completely awesome, and the modern stuff would not exist if those building blocks hadn’t come first.
3.) Fake Geek Boys
Remember those articles I just mentioned? Well, it turns out people read them. Specifically, hip, adult men read them, and they decide to check out this new-and-improved Hanson. When I bought my ticket for my most recent Hanson show, at my hometown’s Starland Ballroom last fall, the guy at the box office got excited. “Oh, man, they’re really good now, right?” he said. “I’m hoping I have this afternoon shift that day, so I can check out the show at night.” I smiled and nodded as he continued to impress upon me that he was really into the idea of grownup Hanson, and he totally wasn’t judging me for my ticket purchase.
With these guys, I come closest to understanding the impulse some male comic book fans have to claim that “fake geek girls” are invading their fandom, pretending to like these things to be “cool,” wearing shirts with characters they can’t even identify. When I see these guys at concerts, looking cooler (and taller) than all the ladies there, a little part of me that I’m not proud of thinks, “What are you doing here? You didn’t see Jack Frost in theaters because you knew two Hanson songs were on the soundtrack!”
But, to these guys’ credit, they’re not like Bronies. They don’t demand a special name for themselves; they don’t demand special merch catering to them. They’re there to enjoy the music, same as us, and I’m reminded that everyone gets into a fandom at a different time – it doesn’t make them lesser just because they don’t have that weight of history and knowledge. Everyone starts somewhere. Comics fanboys would do well to learn that lesson, too.
4.) You Can’t Spell “Concert” Without “Con”
Though the aforementioned male fans usually blend in fairly well with the crowd at a Hanson show, one moment does separate the newbies from the diehards: the moment Hanson starts playing “MMMBop.” They’ve played the song at almost every concert they’ve ever performed, in tribute to the hit that got them where they are today. When “MMMBop” starts, the new fans might groan a little, or just stand awkwardly, but the girls like me who’ve been fans since 1997 start jumping up and down, clinging to our friends, and singing along to the lyrics — which are all about holding on to the things that really matter, even as other things slip away over time.
Hanson concerts are social events, much like comic conventions. They’re places where girls come together from all over to see their friends and share in the joy of something they love, forming a new experience while relishing the old things that pulled them together in the first place. At the most recent concert I went to, the girls in front of me were focused less on the band itself and more on each other – they huddled close together, faced away from the stage, and took selfies, laughing and joking and enjoying each other’s company. And when the whole room works together in tandem – to chant “Hanson, Hanson!” to urge the boys to come on stage, or to wave their hands in the air during the “round and round” parts of “Where’s the Love?” – we all become a community, united by our collective obsession, and the years we’ve all devoted to it.
After a while, all comic conventions bleed into each other – you see the same creators, pass the same people in artist alley, sit in on the same kinds of promotional panels. Concerts can bleed together, too – the same songs, again and again, especially if you see more than one date on the same tour. But it’s the community of fellow fans, and the excuse to congregate with your closest friends to celebrate the thing you love, that makes all the difference.
5.) Strength in (Small) Numbers
And that brings me to my last, and final, point: Hanson fandom, and comics fandom, are both incredibly small. Hanson isn’t cracking any charts these days, not even indie ones; readers of any particular comic number in the hundreds of thousands, not the millions. The number of people who listen to more popular artists, or absorb more popular fiction, will always be larger than the number of people who love Hanson or comics. But that’s part of the appeal. Both fandoms are made up of a small number of dedicated, steadfast, long-lasting fans who form communities with each other and strong bonds with their objects of affection. These fans have withstood mockery, derision, stereotypes, and assumptions about their subpar, childish taste, but it hasn’t deterred them from their devotion.
And those similarities are to be celebrated. Sure, the fandoms are different, especially in their gender balance – where I might stand out in a comic shop, I fit right in at a Hanson show. But loving both of these things has taught me how to stand strong and own my so-called “guilty” pleasures, reveling in their strengths and their weirdnesses. Loving Hanson as a kid has given me insight into what it might have been like to be the preteen comic book reader I never was, and maybe this comparison will help those former preteen comic fans understand what it was like to be a dedicated teenybopper. There’s solidarity to be found in these comparisons; solidarity, and understanding.
But above all, there’s one thing I know: no matter how many people flee the middle school cafeteria of life, I’ll still be dancing.