I dunno where you were when it was the 1990s. Maybe you were growing up like I did. Maybe you were an adult working, trying to make a living, or maybe you were just born during that decade…but whatever the case may be, you cannot deny that the 1990s- the decade, had some pretty cool stuff going on, in the realms of TV, movies and music. I mean, think about it for a moment. In 1994, quite possibly one of the most poignant and heartfelt Disney cartoon movies graced the cinemas in The Lion King, while the 1990s also gave to us the first in the Disney/Pixar movie series, Toy Story. Movies like Good Will Hunting, Mrs Doubtfire, Clueless, The Matrix, The Castle, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Braveheart, The Parent Trap, Schindler’s List, The Truman Show, Space Jam, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, were all prominent in society and culture way back when I myself was growing up, not to mention one of the most underrated movies in the whole 1990s decade, That Thing You Do. The Nintendo 64 was around during the 90s decade also, and I can remember myself as a kid, always staying up late during my primary school years, playing N64 games like 1080, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Kart and the ever-popular Banjo Kazooie. And while I myself wasn’t really much of an avid TV show watcher during the decade of my growing up, a lot of TV shows debuted during the 90s era- some of them standing the test of time: Seinfeld, Friends, Buffy, Twin Peaks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The X-Files, Fraiser, Full House, Spin City, Boy Meets World, Dawson’s Creek, My So Called Life, Freaks & Geeks, Party of Five, Charmed, Seachange and The Sopranos, are just some of the many, many TV shows that were delivered to our TV sets and screens during the decade, and though I haven’t seen any of these shows aforementioned (I may check out shows like Freaks & Geeks, and Party of Five soon), what I will say is this- there are a lot of lost gems of the 1990s that seem to be swept under the carpet, either because there’s newer, more ‘relevant’ stuff out there, or its from the 1990s and is now considered ‘old’, but for whatever reason; the 1990s and all the good things that they have to offer in terms of TV and movies, seem to be moved to the side right now in 2020, in favour of whatever is currently following the trends when it comes to executives choosing which shows to deem popular and which movies to promote. And it’s not just TV shows and movies where you actually realise that the 1990s was a good era- music from the 1990s was a great time to be alive, too: Madonna, Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, TLC, No Doubt, U2, The Cranberries, Green Day, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Boys II Men, Elton John, Aerosmith, LeAnn Rimes, Steven Curtis Chapman, Rebecca St. James, Newsboys, Shania Twain, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Carman and DC Talk…well, lets just say that music from 20 or so years ago, are just as emotive, heartfelt, poignant, encouraging, challenging, unique and substantial (maybe even more so), than the music currently being played on the airwaves, in July 2020. Now let me add something else to this list. Above all the music, TV shows and movies I have represented here in this paragraph (so that we can reflect upon and admire and respect the 1990s for how great it actually was); there is one artist that often gets overlooked if we say the word ‘1990s’- even though they themselves have had quite an impact on this decade as everyone else. Known mostly for their chart-topping hit ‘Mmmbop’ way back in 1997 (and I’m not sure if there’s any other radio single that has reached the heights of that, since!); we are discussing this week, boy band, Hanson.
Yes, I’ve decided to go there. Everyone knows Hanson, right? Or they should? Do they? Regardless, Hanson is a popular band, comprising of three brothers (Zac, Taylor and Isaac), and starting off in 1992, when the youngest member Zac was just 6. I guess if you were to ask anyone on the street now if they would know who Hanson is, they’d probably have no clue- and maybe that’s fair enough, too. Considering the fact that though Hanson are still active right now, having just come off the heels of a successful double disc album titled String Theory in 2018, their main prominence and relevance was in fact, in the 1990s/2000s. It all started off with just a song- ‘Mmmbop’, a track from their debut album on Mercury Records, Middle of Nowhere. This is a perfect example of how a song can transcend farther than the artist- many people know ‘Mmmbop’ and the song itself has become synonymous with American culture and the culture of music throughout the 1990s, but I doubt it that many people even know that Hanson the band, was responsible for such a hit. Nevertheless, I don’t think that any other song has come close to the success of ‘Mmmbop’, which begs the question- are Hanson has-beens? One hit wonders? Band who found their niche in the 1990s and is now seemingly trying to get back into the game now run by people possibly half their own age? Can an artist still be influential, even if, when everything comes down to it, their fame and popularity has all been tied to this just once song- ‘Mmmbop’?
‘…yes, I have decided to go there. Josh Groban, popular opera/pop singer, famous for ‘You Raise Me Up’, and if nothing else, has delivered a great flawless performance on that song, that by hearing that song alone ought to have Josh deservingly added to my own very list of influential artists of all time. Yes, just by listening to that very song (and nothing else by Josh), I’ve asserted (and since then by hearing most of his discography) and will continue to assert, his prominence, influence and impact in a genre of pop/opera, something that isn’t entirely covered to the effectiveness as it should, in an industry that heavily promotes mainstream pop (and not necessarily good mainstream pop) ahead of everything else…’ This above quote that I compiled way back in March 2019, when I discussed the artist Josh Groban and asserted back then that by only hearing ‘You Raise Me Up’- and even acknowledging that ‘Your Raise Me Up’ is by far one of Josh’s biggest (and quite possibly his only well-known/popular track); Josh deserves to be placed in my very own subjective top 100 Influential artists list. As I’ve come to a similar crossroads with Hanson, upon discovering that ‘Mmmbop’ is by far their most popular song (and that nothing else comes close, impact-wise); I’ve realised this- that often, a song is all you need for an artist to be catapulted into influence and impact- and just like how Josh’s powerful song ‘You Raise Me Up’ makes him influential in today’s society (even though I’m sure people can’t necessarily rattle off any other song from him), so too is Hanson’s influence, with that of ‘Mmmbop’, and maybe even nothing else. Middle of Nowhere is Hanson’s most popular album, and while sales and impact and people knowledgeable about the band, decline from their peak 1990s period, Zac, Taylor and Isaac still have plugged away at delivering their craft in a powerful, encouraging and emotive way. From starting off their band in the 1990s as a boy-band, while moving in the 2000s to be more of an indie-rock group, and then in the 2010s highlighting their pop prowess; this sibling group by far is one of the most versatile groups I’ve heard in quite some time. While it seems that this band is seemingly on the way down (their last official studio album was released in 2013- not inclusive of String Theory); Hanson has shown us through their career, how to create tracks that as emotive, poignant and heartfelt, creating a very good alternative for the whole family to enjoy. Now in their mid-late 30s, and with a career of around 25 years behind them; Hanson’s legacy is this- they’ve created a space and atmosphere for a breed of musicianship to take place, that allows honesty and transparency to reign in and amongst their music, all the while keeping it suitable so that the whole family can listen without fear of certain themes that can be too heavy for them. Hanson’s ability to deliver music that reaches your soul and challenges things that maybe you may not have seen within yourself, is nothing short of a gift, and as I’ve heard these songs over and over again, I can say that these melodies, though years and years old, still have significance and relevance even now, in July 2020, as it was back then when these melodies were written!
‘…that song [Mmmbop] started out really as the background part for another song. We were making our first independent album and we were trying to come up with a background part. We started singing a slightly different incarnation of what is now the chorus of “MMMbop.” That sort of stuck in our heads and never really worked as a background part, and over a couple of years, that piece really has stuck in our heads and we really crafted the rest of the song – the verses and bridge and so on. What that song talks about is, you’ve got to hold on to the things that really matter. 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…[Mmmbop wasn’t] inspired by one artist in particular. The first music that we got into was ’50s and ’60s music. If anything, “MMMbop” was inspired by The Beach Boys and vocal groups of that era – using your voice as almost a Doo-Wop kind of thing. It was something we almost stumbled upon…’
Just because an artist’s career is highly known for one particular popular radio hit, doesn’t mean that every other melody is of null and void- rather the opposite. Hopefully, with people listening (some, maybe for the first time) to ‘Mmmbop’, they can check out other tracks across Hanson’s discography, as they’re reminded that usually when one song like ‘Mmmbop’ is decade-defining, usually the band’s rest of their discography can hopefully be as engaging. ‘Where’s the Love’ is a successful follow-up radio single to ‘Mmmbop’, and speaks about this notion of love, both love for each other in the world, and love in a general concept of the word, and asks the question- where is it? Even now in 2020, the song can still be of relevance- for if we look around, love really isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds. For love is best shown by respecting one another and by doing things that show this fact- love is a verb, and now in this crazy, chaotic times, people are seemingly believing that this COVID-19 pandemic isn’t as serious as it is- and thus, because of a select few in their own views about what’s been happening right now, the results of this virus around the world is the way it is now. To put things bluntly- there isn’t much love and respect to our fellow man nowadays, because if there was, everyone’d stay inside, and the virus wouldn’t spread as much as it has right now. Hanson’s track is a reminder for us all to do our bit in 2020, and that to really love each other is to place someone’s needs above our own. It is in this track that I’ve reflected upon how I should act moving forward, and hopefully, this track encourages us all to take a little look deeper inside ourselves to see what needs to change and what needs to stay the same.
‘I Will Come to You’, a quasi-spiritual song about being guided in life when we’re feeling down or in difficult places, is also on Middle of Nowhere– the song itself, according to the band, was written from the perspective of someone close to them who’s died and is looking out for them from beyond the beyond, while I myself, when hearing this track, immediately think of God, and how He always comforts us whenever we feel uncertain, afraid or worried about our lives now and into the future. That’s the beauty about songs in general- especially Hanson’s: because of their double meanings (or maybe even sometimes triple), their reach and relevance can be cast out all the more, and more and more people can be impacted by these emotive, underrated and powerful songs. ‘Weird’ and ‘A Minute Without You’ are other standout songs on Middle of Nowhere. ‘Weird’ is a reflective ballad about outsiders, about anyone who feels like they don’t belong, and reminding them that it is only to not fit in and belong with everyone else, just because it’s the ‘in’/’cool’/’hype’ thing to do. Rather to stand out and to in fact, be weird, takes courage, boldness, and knowing fully of self and identity before making stands and statements- ‘Weird’ can hopefully remind ourselves that it’s ok to not appear as if we’re ok. ‘A Minute Without You’ speaks about the quick passing of time, and that being away from someone, whether it’s distance in romantic relationships, or just friends drifting apart and being in separate spaces in their lives, can seem like forever and a day. Time is a funny thing- the more it passes, the harder it is to reconnect with the person you have parted ways with, and such a song as this reminds us all that if we want to cultivate relationships and believe the value in them, then we need to make this all a priority- time will not be so kind otherwise.
Hanson unveiled their second album This Time Around in 2000, featuring standout songs like ‘Save Me’, ‘If Only’ and the title track- songs that have tremendous relevance and heart years later. The title track is a ultimate fight song- standing up for what we believe in, and knowing that in years before us, to stand up for the very same thing we are, may have cost people their very lives. ‘This Time Around’ acknowledges the difficulties with standing up for something and what it cost people in years gone by, but such a song as this, calls for declaration, enthusiasm and certainty in sticking to viewpoints and what we believe and don’t- because when push comes to shove, our beliefs and values are what’s gonna keep us going. And according to Zac in a songfacts interview, we see him articulate what he thinks about ‘This Time Around’- ‘…when you hear it, it’s about fighting back, ‘You can’t say I didn’t give it, I won’t wait another minute, on our way this time around.’ The story line in the song, we almost pictured it as someone in the middle of a conflict, maybe a war, and the honor of giving one’s self out to say, ‘I’m going to go for it all no matter what the consequences are because of what really matters. I’m not going to live a free life with chains on, I’m not going to give away my friends.’ It’s about that ultimate sticking it to the man, the ultimate f*** you…’ ‘Save Me’, a radio hit internationally, more so than in the U.S.; also brings forth more spiritual vibes, as this track reminds us of someone in need of help and saving, and declaring out the highly emotive words of ‘…won’t you save me ’cause saving is what I need, I just want to be by your side, won’t you save me I don’t want to be just drifting through the sea of life…’ While the song itself is probably talking about some lover that they want saving them in their time of need, I see this song as being a last-ditch plea to the Lord, asking subconsciously, to be saved in one form or another. ‘If Only’, the last remaining single from This Time Around, speaks of the heavy topic of regret- and how the song itself plays like this- boy likes girl, boy is afraid to ask girl, boy has regrets and puts it in a song, titled ‘If Only’…and that’s what the song’s about. While the song itself doesn’t really apply to myself because I am not in a relationship, what I do know is this- regrets of any kind, are universal, and not doing something we want to do, for whatever reason, can be crippling. ‘If Only’ invites us to see if there’s any things we want to say/do; but worry if that is the right time or not; and then to act quickly. Time isn’t necessarily our friend here in this arena, and ‘If Only’ allows us all to have a little more purposefulness and intentionality than maybe before!
‘…what Penny And Me talks about is how music weaves through your life and sort of how important it is. How it ties in all your friends and loved ones, whether it’s a wife or girlfriend or whatever, it’s always Penny And Me, you’re always bringing these people with you through the music you listen to. Referencing songs like “Feeling Alright,” which is Traffic song, there’s a line that says, ‘Making it by under a pink moonlight,’ which is a reference not only to the Nick Drake song, but that album, which is just an amazing record that everyone should listen to. It’s really a love song to music in a lot of ways, just the importance of what great music does, whether it’s the song you dance to on your wedding night or that great album you listened to on a road trip with your friends, it’s something that you really relate your life to, through what you heard, albums and songs…what it’s talking about is that love of music and the importance of it. What it does throughout your life is something we wanted on the album…’
‘…Underneath is the title track for the album. We wrote that with Matthew Sweet. We didn’t really know Matthew that well, we heard his music, he’s a great songwriter, and through a mutual friend, we sort of ran into each other and we were working on the new album, so we said, ‘Hey, we’ve got some time tomorrow, you want to hang out and maybe write some music?’ He had a little bit of time, so we got together and I think it was about 4 hours that we had before he had to go to a meeting and we had to do something else too, and we just threw together this song and we all just sort of sat back and went, ‘Wow, it’s done.’ Songs can take sometimes years, songs can come together in a couple of moments, the fluidity of how that song came together with Matthew and how natural it felt to write it with him was pretty cool… Matthew sort of came in with a chord pattern and then everybody sort of built off of that, focusing on an idea or a word or a melody part and then you sort of build out from there. It is an intense song, it’s a song that I think everyone can relate to, in some way feeling – the line, ‘Sitting all alone in this place, even though we’re here face to face,’ just talking about that ultimate disconnect, where you’re right here, but you’re not right here, and I think everyone’s felt that in some form or another or will feel that in their life. It was just a meaningful song, and really a pillar for the whole album. After that song was written, just the way that song was, the way we recorded it and the sounds we used, it was a cornerstone for the whole record. That was part of the reason we called the album Underneath, in addition to the blatant meaning of a step deeper into who we are…’
‘…It’s a song about the fact that fairy tales aren’t necessarily true, that people’s dreams don’t always flourish. Loved ones die, people who deserve so much don’t get what they should, and you should still believe in fairy tales because of the beauty of it, and you should still get up and strive to be a better person, live a better life and do these things, not to fall into the norm, but strive to do something great with your life. It’s kind of cheesy, but I think it’s a story that everyone should put to their life and go for a little more…’
Underneath the album was released in 2004, the first without a label- Hanson’s rock-n-roll vibe all throughout this collection of songs, is a 180 degree departure from the teen-pop found on both Middle of Nowhere and This Time Around. Which is good, considering that more often than not, the musical genre an artist is in when they first release an album is seemingly what they are pigeonholed into from the get-go, which is pretty unfortunate. But yet a lot of songs from Underneath show a great level of maturity from Hanson– starting off with songs like ‘Penny and Me’, ‘Underneath’, the title track, and ‘Broken Angel’, to name a few. In these aforementioned quotes, speaking of ‘Penny and Me’, ‘Underneath’ and ‘Broken Angel’ respectively, we see the band write some hard-hitting songs that have an appeal across a wider range of people with different musical tastes- ‘Penny in Me’ in particular is one of my favourite songs from the band that I’ve heard these last couple of weeks. The band also continue their rock emphasis in songs ‘Lost Without Each Other’ and ‘Strong Enough to Break’- ‘Lost Without Each Other’ is the lament of a relationship broken down and the persona trying to make the other see that they are lost without the relationship, while ‘Strong Enough to Break’, is a track sung about their very own public split from their music label, and how it was a process in being able to be released from a contract where it seemed like the label was taking advantage of the group and trying to dictate what was a worthy/good song and what wasn’t. All these five songs from Underneath solidify a rock-n-roll atmosphere, as we see Hanson continue to morph into something more than just being pigeonholed as a teen-pop band. Underneath’s rock charisma was a great thing for the band- in albums afterward, Zac, Isaac and Taylor continued along that hard-hitting guitar driven melodic atmosphere, and a lot of the band’s albums from Underneath onward, showed us a decent amount of musical and stylistic versatility, as with each passing album, the sound similar to the previous album, continues to dwindle less and less…which is a good thing!
Hanson’s fourth album The Walk released in 2007; and continued along the rock atmosphere provided by Underneath– as evidenced through songs like ‘Great Divide’, ‘Georgia’ and ‘Watch Over Me’, to name a few. ‘Great Divide’, a track whose proceeds from the online purchase of it, were given to the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto, South Africa, a hospital that gives care and reduces the transmission of pre-natal HIV/Aids; speaks of a hunger and yearning for hope and the ways we look for it in everyday life. Hope is this thing that we as people want so badly, to hold onto something greater than ourselves for motivation to keep going in this life that can often seem so bleak. The way I actually see this song is that as we lean into the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, we can see the divide between the now and the not yet, start to shrink, as we understand that to have hope in Christ is to have trust and faith in what people can often declare, as something unseen and unproven. ‘Great Divide’ causes us all to see where our own hopes lie in, and whether what we’re staking our beliefs and values in, are solid foundational rocks, or sinking quicksand. ‘Been There Before’ is a song about the humble beginnings of musical genres, and that how the genres of music stand right now is all because of their respective founding fathers, way back years ago. Often in this ever-evolving musical experiences we have now, we often forget the songs and artists of yesteryear, only focusing on the music of now. Which isn’t bad, but a song like ‘Been There Before’ encourages us to evoke a bit of nostalgia to it all- to cast our minds back and to reflect upon the good songs of old, and how timeless they really are. ‘Georgia’ is a personal song that Taylor wrote for his wife on the heels of his wife’s parent’s divorce, and how his love for her will always be there whenever she needs it- a truly powerful reminder of how devoted people are towards each other in the face of difficulties and trials; while ‘Go’ is a sad melody about the breakdown of a relationship- and a song written with a friend of the band’s in mind. ‘Go’ is a harsh look at reality in that not all relationships make it- and though the song itself doesn’t really have a happy ending, the song at least gives us warning of what could happen if we don’t put the needs and desires of the other ahead of our own. ‘Watch Over Me’, a song that channels a lot of Lifehouse vibes, is also one of the emotive and heartfelt standouts from The Walk, and speaks of a persona (a girl) who asks for someone to watch over her during difficult and heartbreaking times. It is a song that reminds us all that it is ok to ask for help sometimes, to never be ashamed to ask questions like ‘please watch over me’ or ‘keep me safe’ or things like that- I mean, we ask the Lord that every time we pray, but maybe asking someone else that we can place a face to, we often don’t do, for fear of being vulnerable and ‘weak’. ‘Watch Over Me’ requires us all to peel back the vulnerability state, and ask in a genuine way, for guidance and a general watching-eye, without any shame that we are being such open and genuine people in the first place.
Shout it Out and Anthem, released in 2010 and 2013 respectively, are two of the band’s latest albums, and though I myself haven’t been as connected to these two albums as their previous stuff, the band nevertheless still brings some heartfelt and emotive songs to us all- even if these two albums a little bit too pop-inclined for my very own liking. ‘Thinkin’ Bout Something’ is a classic pop/big band tune full of joyous horns and a rousing upbeat, while the lyrics of said song is in fact about the persona’s spouse/partner cheating on them with another, and the persona declaring that they are thinking about something other than their ‘partner’. A song that depicts a lot of relationships out there, ‘Thinkin’ Bout Something’ requires us all to give grace to people in those situations, all within a backdrop of something musically that Michael Buble would be inclined to performing. ‘Give a Little’ has a strong bass undertone as Hanson invites us all into a song where we as listeners ought to give a little love and affection, to our loved ones, in a sense that we express our love and gratitude through our very own actions; while songs like ‘Make it Out Alive’ and ‘Voice in the Chorus’, speak about issues that I’m sure people here in 2020 can still relate to- ‘Make it Out Alive’ speaks about whether failing relationships should fight for something that may or may not be there, or whether they shouldn’t delay the inevitable, while ‘Voice in the Chorus’ speaks about the heart of the friend issue- figuring out, who is this friend we all seem to have, that is always with us and championing us when we’re doing well, but absconds and high-tails it out of there when things are looking upside-down for us. Hanson has a great ability to deliver songs that have pertinent and powerful meanings, which are magnified especially during this time of quarantining and self-isolation, songs on Shout it Out inclusive.
2013’s Anthem features less horns and brass instruments; and presents more of a pop-rock focus as the band continues to deliver songs of empowerment and vulnerability- as Anthem continues to solidify Hanson as being arguably one of today’s most underrated and underappreciated artists, in modern music history. ‘Juliet’, one of the albums’ standout songs, speaks of a love that is worthy of all the sacrifices- the title of it is an ode and homage to the Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare play, as we understand that someone titled ‘Juliet’ is our one and only- the person we sacrifice the world for in order for themselves to live like they’re fully loved without condition. ‘Get the Girl Back’, complete with horns once again and harkening back to the musical vibe of Shout it Out, speaks of how if someone wants to win a girl’s heart, they have to undertake things that may feel uncomfortable, or even silly- but are very much necessary on the road to winning a girl’s heart; while ‘Fired Up’ continues along the rock territory as Hanson present a theme of being motivated and fully focused before battle occurs- to be fired up means to come with a certain expectation about things, and this song allows us to rid ourselves of any preconceived ideas of how being ‘fired up’ should go, and to press forward in a way that enthusiasm and passion is still at the foreground. ‘Already Home’ is presented as a guidance piece as well- the persona is encouraging us all that the home that we seek is often right in front of us, together with family. ‘Already Home’ is a realisation that home isn’t a place- it’s with people. We are already home, because of who we’re with, rather than the actual place. Or as Hanson themselves discuss its meaning, we see that ‘…you’re always looking for greener pastures but maybe you should think about the pasture that you’re in is pretty darn green. Maybe you should just spend more time watering the pasture you’re in instead of worrying about the ones that are greener than the one you’re in…’ It is a reminder to always appreciate what we do have in terms of our health, our family and friends, never looking to the left or right, or wishing that we would be better people if we had someone else’s life.
The first time that I myself heard the band Hanson personally, wasn’t during their 1990s ‘Mmmbop’ stage. It wasn’t really during their subsequent albums later. Then again, maybe I did hear ‘Mmmbop’ and didn’t really credit it to the band, at that time. Nevertheless, the song I heard on a regular basis from them, from start-to-finish, and thought ‘gee, this song is good’ was the 2017 powerful anthem, ‘I Was Born’. Mind you, back then when it was on the radio in regular rotation, I initially thought it was from Lifehouse, but nevertheless, I was hearing the song regularly from 2017 onward, and thinking to myself ‘whoever this band is, if not Lifehouse, is a band I wanna check out’. Fastforward to 2020, and as I realised this song, one of 2017’s most underrated, was from the same band that gave to us ‘Mmmbop’, I realised something- that such a band as Hanson has grown and matured over the years, that a song released now, sounds drastically different to how it may have sounded back then, and maybe that’s ok. For bands to evolve and grow, to mix up their sound and change genres throughout their careers (and pull them off quite nicely) is nothing short of being an art and a major feat in and of itself. ‘I Was Born’ features hand claps and a pop-rock/radio-friendly atmosphere, as the band invite us all into a powerful melody about realising that each one of us has a unique path to take in this life, that we were born with things that only ourselves could undertake- call it a divine design from our maker God, or even fate or serendipity, whatever we want to call it for us to understand that what we undertake in our lives is certain to be so special and unique to us in particular; ‘I Was Born’ evokes these understandings and brings them to the fore as I myself listen to it. The song, the only radio single unveiled in 2017 as part of a best-of collection of their past singles, all wrapped up in a 26 song album (that features songs across the board like ‘Mmmbop’, ‘Penny & Me’, ‘Save Me’, ‘If Only’, and many more!), delivers this song as a reminder of how far these brothers have been in the band for, and how mature and refined their musicality has travelled all these years. The corresponding music video for ‘I Was Born’, also features 11 out of the band’s 12 kids collectively, continuing to highlight the brothers’ own importance of family, while the band also relay that there’s yet another reason to fill the music video with children and kids- ‘…the video is about celebrating the dreams that we all have and the pure optimism of the human spirit. And what better way to show that optimistic view of the world than through the eyes of children? For 25 years, we have been able to live out what we feel we were ‘born to do,’ and this song brings that message full circle…’ Zac, Isaac and Taylor Hanson have delivered a powerful song about hope and anticipating the things that we know are ours to undertake, while also being reminded of the great things we can accomplish, once we know that just as we as humans are one of a kind, so to will be what we undertake both now and into the future.
As Hanson continued to deliver music that encapsulated what they were about in previous years, coupled with new and exciting things for the future, what eventuated was a double-disc symphonic orchestral album titled String Theory, a 23 song project that features standout melodies from their past like ‘Mmmbop’, ‘Where’s the Love’, ‘This Time Around’, ‘I Was Born’ and ‘Broken Angel’, alongside various other B-Sides and newly recorded songs, especially for this 2018 project. While I myself haven’t really been that versed in these songs prior to me writing this blog, from what I have heard, this collaboration with the Prague Symphony is something out of a classical music-lover’s dream. With gracious and powerful harmonies and the brothers delivering powerful vocals that compliment each other, to hear the band, who normally do pop-rock, record music in a symphony-format, is nothing short of marvellous and powerful. As Taylor Hanson, the band’s primary lead vocalist, imparts to us all about the album (as seen in a quote below), we see that for the production of String Theory, it was a ball for the band to undertake, and a great trip down nostalgia lane-
‘…the project was really a bucket list idea. As we were hitting that 25th anniversary and taking the time to celebrate our history, we were looking at what’s next. The importance of incorporating both old and new is that you have an opportunity to bring things back to the power of the song. It was really invigorating to pick certain songs like “Where’s the Love” or “MMMbop” or “Yearbook” or even “This Time Around” and think of them as new works. You have to think about this entire group of colors that you now have to work with [in] a symphony, where you could do things you never could. It was challenging and thrilling. [Then there’s new songs like ‘Siren’s Call’ and ‘Reaching for the Sky’]. “Reaching for the Sky is when you set out to have this impossible idea of what you can do. Young people start with the unbridled vision, and reaching for the sky is the ultimate metaphor, so the song speaks to that journey: I want to believe in the impossible. We experienced that from the beginning in choosing to take our own path. That song takes you through doubt and pure aspirations, and it ends with saying this character has doubts and is doubted by those around him, but he doesn’t give in to the power or the twist of fate surrounding him. “Siren Call” is about the call of doubt and the toxic things that surround you and the likelihood that you’ll succumb to them. It’s really saying that burdens and challenges are inevitable but the choice to live for tomorrow and to give the best you have each day, that’s really final…
…I do think the whole world is so different, as far as just the prevalence of social media — your dry cleaner has followers and your hot dog stand and your grandma. I think the human race today is so much more conscious of the idea of fame at all levels so maybe it feels like it would be more difficult. But when it comes down to it, getting from here to there is really just a matter of decisions every day…. Probably the greatest unifier for us has always been that we’re actually here because we’re creating music. Being an artist is like an addiction that we’ve turned into a career. It’s a requirement to create things. We didn’t get into this to get famous and be millionaires. To get some success and then to be known and make a living from doing it is a by-product of having succeeded at some level. And so through those times, even at 14, 15, 16, this thing was always ringing in my mind, and it’s true today: Look at what we get to do every day. We have absolutely been blessed, being able to still do what we do and be proud of it and have fans, but there’s no secret sauce. It’s just hard work and focus, and, if I can say it without sounding egotistical, some degree of character — just a code of how you handle yourself, which is not exclusive to us by any means…’
It is in these quotes above- the first one about String Theory, and the second about the relevance of social media now, and the reason why they got into music in the first place, my respect for them really continues to be asserted and grounded, as I come to appreciate this sibling band as one of the most unique and relevant bands to be necessary in this 2020 COVID-19 reality that we have around the world now. Hanson’s songs from the 1990s to now have so much relevance, and maybe, just maybe, by listening to both String Theory and Middle of Everywhere: The Greatest Hits, other people who may not have heard Hanson and their music, can also agree as well with the statement of Hanson’s influence and relevance, now more than ever. And though Hanson’s influence is primarily through their music career, the brothers have undertaken other activities other than their main music discography, that has also given them more respect, in my eyes at least- in May 2013, the band launched their own beer brand- Mmmhops, with proceeds of the beer being donated to the Oklahoma tornado relief efforts, undertaken in May 2013, while in June 2015, the band was featured on pop-electronic one-man-band Owl City’s album Mobile Orchestra on the track ‘Unbelievable’. The song itself was a montage to everything the 1990s, and a reminder that life back then wasn’t necessarily better or worse than now, just different. In fact, ‘Unbelievable’ was the first ‘exposure’ to Hanson that I had- ‘Unbelievable’ was unveiled to us in 2015, two years prior to ‘I Was Born’- not that I knew who Hanson was back then.
Nevertheless, Hanson’s career spanning more than 25 years, is nothing short of being a miracle. For a band to start when they were just children, and then to come out the other side, still adults, still very close, and still a band making music, is something that I firmly believe, the Lord can only orchestrate. For Zac, Taylor and Isaac Hanson, music has always been about connecting with people, and creating songs that speak to the heart of humanity and what it’s like to live in a world that’s messy and upside down. Songs like ‘Mmmbop’, ‘Penny and Me’, ‘Watch Over Me’, ‘I Was Born’, ‘I Will Come For You’, ‘If Only’ and ‘Save Me’, are just some of the many standouts this trio have contributed to music and society as a whole, over the years. And as I’ve listened to Hanson and their music over the course of me writing this blog (a week or so), I’ve come to realise this one thing- often it is the bands like Hanson, the ones that are swept under the rug when it comes to popularity, for whatever reason; that really touch people’s lives, and make a difference in people far beyond what the popular music and artists of the day, could ever do and accomplish. Zach, Isaac and Taylor have crafted something heartfelt, emotive and powerful in this band, one that hopefully continues to succeed and travel along, past String Theory, maybe into another studio album in the future. As for myself- some songs are good enough to listen to again, because I’m sure the Lord will speak to me again, maybe in ways that I had not considered.
‘…we have tons of complaints. We’re grateful for what we have. But you wanna talk about the industry, about artists—there’s a thousand things we’re not happy about. Let’s talk about something that’s a challenge, and I don’t want to go on a diatribe, but something that we all need to look at as artists and creators in this industry. The first night we were here, we went from the Pandora party, to the Apple Music party, to the YouTube party. It’s like, where is the music business? …I’m not saying, “Keep the albums, guys, hold on to the CDs.” But artists and creators of all content—video game programmers, designers, painters, filmmakers—need to recognize that they’ve got to build a future. They’ve got to take responsibility for the fact that content, intellectual property, is getting used by technology as a loss leader, as a draw to build brands. You’re like the worm on the hook…there’s always going to be that balance of art and commerce, and that’s fine, as it should be. But we’re at an interesting tipping point where artist and creators need to have a loud conversation about the fact that if art’s value is pushed too far down, the Billy Joels of the future, instead of saying, “I’m going to change the world, because I wanna be in a band,” they’re gonna say, “I want to change the world by starting, y’know, ‘Footbook.’” If there’s not value attached to what you make— [it devalues humanity]…we need to figure out real models for the future. And not just like, “Gimme my money, I’m a band, you need to pay me what you did at some point for a CD.” We’ve got to actually understand the ecosystem around creation…the failure has been within the music business itself, which has let the wolf into the henhouse. The wolf is every other innovation that is not in the interests of the chicken. The system didn’t advocate for itself. That’s the challenge for us, and now young artists and creators need to realize it’s gonna be their job to try and forge a path…’
Does Hanson and their music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Mmmbop’, ‘I Was Born’, or ‘Penny & Me’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!