By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
In underground rock and roll clubs, they are referred to in snarky tones as Marilyn Hanson. The Internet is infested with hate pages aimed at them. And media outlets such as VH1 found ways to simultaneously bitch-slap the boys of Hanson while playing their videos all the while.
The omniconspicuous Hanson does deserve attention (as opposed to hype), fan reaction (good art provokes that), and critical consideration (the reviews have been shockingly positive). What the perky, Rollerblading brethren don't deserve is the smug dismissal and public slander being dished their way by the legions of cool.
It's forgivable that hard-working and underappreciated musicians might feel jealous and resentful of the can't-swing-a-dead-VJ-without-hitting-them success of Hanson. The fraternal trio from Tulsa has appeared on every TV talk show currently airing, their video for the hit single "MMMBop" won't go away, and their first major-label album, Middle of Nowhere, sold wildly right out of the box. But what naysayers overlook is that this is the bros' third album. They released the first two on their own, without the support of the musical-industrial complex. And they gathered their share of rejections before earning (via more than 200 live shows and their own recordings) a deal with Mercury.
Much more baffling at this point is the unrestrained rage against the mmmpop sensations one encounters on that electronic repository of profound thought, the Internet. The recurrent (read: obsessive) theme of Hanson cyberbashers is that the three pubescent boys are, in fact, gay fag girls. (Personally, some of my favorite people are gay fag girls, and I'd be surprised if any red-blooded American male wouldn't want to fur the frog with Taylor, the middle and sexiest Hanson.)
Alas, enlightenment comes hard in the age of convenience. Check out Zacky's stridently incoherent anti-Hanson home page: "By the way, 'Taylor is hot' is not a reason to like Hanson and neither is I'm gonna MMMBop. Hanson fans are so stupid." Hmmm. I think that's a slag. The Hanson Sucks page lists these incisive reasons for dogging Hanson: their songs, their video for "MMMBop," their Website, they look like girls.
The We Hate Hanson Girls page incites Americans to "kill the virus that is Hanson." Several of the pages morph the musicians' heads onto female bodies, add makeup, that sort of thing. One page goes on and on and on about the size of oldest brother Isaac's mouth. The sickest page, by a wide margin, is the subtly titled Hanson Ate My Balls, which features a series of Hanson promo shots adorned with thought bubbles along the lines of "God I wish I had balls," and "I'll never be a famous supermodel if I keep munching on these balls!" Part hate crime, part wish/fantasy, the page is intended to voice "freedom of speech," according to its author, Charles Whitman, who goes on to admonish readers that "ITS [sic] NOT A JOKE." All of which makes me feel a bit like Holden Caulfield when he sees that "Fuck you" scrawled on the elementary school wall.
Predictably, Howard Stern, the nation's premier arbiter of cultural taste, has spearheaded the hate campaign. He recently proclaimed that "'MMMbop' is a fag song. It's for gays." Gee, that sums it up for me. Why can't all critics be so articulate and insightful?
Such Hanson slams are ludicrous, of course. They are generated by illiterates who clearly have spent more time listening to Hanson (how else to write spoof lyrics in perfect meter?) than most admitted Hanson fans have.
An avowed heterosexual teenage female named Elle vents on her page, Humans Against Hanson. She also confesses that her musical faves include the Wallflowers (the most derivative and substanceless three-chord pony since Bush), Jewel, Third Eye Blind, Meredith Brooks, and the Beatles. Sadly, Elle's page is as substanceless as, well, the Wallflowers, Jewel... A psychologist might be helpful in explaining dichotomous comments such as "'MMMBop,' the song is not actually stupid, just the people who like it are." Before the psychologist, though, call an English teacher. And have both pay Mr. Charles Whitman a nice long house call.
These Net screeds also include plenty of in my days -- the lost-youth syndrome, caused by walking through too much snow on the way to school. The only spiritually troubling blip in the electronic world I found was a skewering of the group's use of flower imagery (for rebirth, growth, beauty, love). The author implies that the bros don't even know why they use such imagery. Uh, dude, try reading the fucking liner notes: "Our deepest thanks to the One who plants and waters and causes all things to grow...." These kids are serious gardeners, so anti-flower types are welcome to all the manure they can eat.
Universally absent from the backlash is any cogent commentary about the music on Middle of Nowhere. Geographically excluded from the dreck dominating North American airwaves during the last decade (much of which the Hansons spent in Trinidad, Ecuador, and Venezuela), the boys cut their teeth on a Time-Life compilation of tunes from 1957 to 1969.
The R&B influence is inescapable: Motown and Tulsa brought together in a unique marriage that also leaves room for the boys to adopt everything from an Eagles-inspired closer, "With You in Your Dreams," to the Jacksonesque but funkadelecized drive of "Look at You." (Imagine Morris Day and Don Henley working together.)
"Lucy" is the sweetest ballad of longing since "Ben." I think if I were thirteen years old, I would live and die for "Lucy." And what, is there something evil and wrong and hateworthy about human beings who are thirteen years old? Maybe parents should spend a bit of time decoding the music of Hanson. Angst and anger and misfittedness do not have to foster the blind stupid hate of Marilyn Manson or the people who create anti-Hanson Websites. Teen foibles can foster beautiful and powerful art.
"Weird" simultaneously references Alfred Hitchcock and Soul Asylum: "We're just two strangers on this runaway train." "I Will Come to You" is a much stronger devotional than "I Wanna Be There" by the more hip-acceptable Blessid Union of Souls. And "Man from Milwaukee" succeeds as urgent, edgy, and ultimately goofy grunge. It's psychedelic cotton candy, a welcome new flavor.
The one constant criticism of the record I respect is that the scratches in "MMMBop" sound plastic, a bit of programming wizardry by the hit-producing Dust Brothers. This being the late Nineties, chunks of the album were programmed. But then again, a multitude of humans playing human instruments (tablas, strings, pedal steel, harmonica, horns, percussion) balances that out. The collaboration of a number of hotshot writers, producers, and session musicians makes this a big hit record. But the boys' live acoustic version of "MMMBop" proves such production extravagance unnecessary. As for the scratching, the Hansons are informed and dedicated fans of Sugarhill, the rap conglom that was scratching vinyl before the Hanson family included any children.
Last year's big summer single was by the Butthole Surfers. This summer's was "MMMBop." Who's to say which one's cooler? I accept the anti-music-industry sentiment that decries sameness. So does Hanson. (From "Weird": "When you live in a cookie-cutter world, being different is a sin.") The frothy, Mayberry-go-lucky bros hardly fit any pattern. Yes, they're teen stars, but that's hardly aberrant in these days of LeAnn Rimes, Johnny Lang, et al. Versatile and savvy, the Hansons haven't lived enough to write Springsteen manifestoes, but their view is worthy of the critical accolades gushing from the Village Voice, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, and the rest.
There was one gaffe, however, in the early Hanson coverage by Entertainment Weekly: "Until Taylor suffers through the inevitable, Peter Brady-style change of voice, Hanson are walking on sunshine." No, Hanson are selling records. When they've lived enough to tell the world how to live, Hanson will -- label moguls permitting -- escalate their R&B/bubble gum/pop into something more weighty and challenging, something revolutionary. I see them maturing musically as they mature physically. Hell, they've written more than a hundred songs already, including the thirteen really good ones on Middle of Nowhere.
As for that voice change, about a month ago the Hanson gay faggot girls appeared on the Tonight Show. Taylor's voice was at the apex of pubescent cracking. He delivered a raw and cutting version of "Where's the Love" that convinced me positively Hanson is the true new Nirvana. They may not be drug-addled and disenfranchised, but the brothers are just as revolutionary. Unabashed mirth? Juicy hooks? Faith? Now that's revolutionary.