How I wrote ‘MMMBop’ by Hanson
Isaac Hanson, the eldest of the sibling trio, tells the story of his group’s chart-topping blockbuster with the super-catchy chorus
When you think of the band Hanson, the first song that springs to mind is MMMBop. Having crashed into our musical consciousness in April of 1997, this catchy pop brainteaser quickly took on a life of its own, reaching No 1 in 27 countries. In the UK alone it sold over 700,000 units – thus making Isaac, Zac and Taylor, the three Hanson brothers, household names.
Few could have predicted the impact this song would have had around the world, especially the brothers themselves, and after 20 years its melody and chorus remain as catchy as ever. When you study the melancholy nature of the lyrics it’s hard to believe that it was actually written in 1993/94, before any of the band had even entered their teenage years.
We chatted to the eldest Hanson brother Issac about how the song originally came together…
“Interestingly MMMBop kind of came together in a very similar way to Thinking About Something, which was written in 2007 during the writing of our album The Walk. We were just goofing around and this idea came about, we originally thought about it being a 50s vocal group style thing in the way that it had been arranged. It was just this fun little passing idea but it just stuck in our heads and then fans would come up to us and say ‘you guys really need to put that on the next record.’
“MMMBop was the same kind of process, it was an idea that we had when we were making our album Boomerang back in 1993/1994. It was a vocal idea we thought was going to fit in another song called Boomerang, but it didn’t fit. It was too complicated, it wasn’t a background part it was a foreground part and so it got put to the side, but it was a thing that we all kept coming back to.
“Interestingly, and this would be the only degree that I could take credit for this process moving forward, I was definitely the one who kept bringing up the idea, ‘hey remember that idea, that was really cool.’ By saying that enough times Taylor then went ‘you know the idea that you keep bringing up? how about this?’
“We had talked about the idea a bunch and were talking about making another independent record, we were starting to get things together and that idea came up again. Taylor said ‘you know that background part, hey what if you did this with the first verse?’ and I was like ‘dude that’s really cool.’
“I remember really clearly Taylor sitting down in our living room at the keyboard as I was walking. It was late afternoon and the sun was still up. Taylor was sitting at the piano and he basically played what was mostly the first verse for MMMBop, and it was like ‘ok, that works, that makes sense.’ But he was like ‘you know we’ve got to start it out slow because its a bittersweet idea, more melancholy, and then we work our way to the chorus.’
“In its original form, it was a little bit more campfire and a little bit more bittersweet. That original version is on MMMBop [demo album released 1996] and 3 Car Garage: The Indie Recordings ’95–’96. When we did the final version it was very clear that it was very catchy and really stuck out as an idea and melody that was going to stick in people’s heads. It stuck in our heads, so it’s reasonable to think it would stick in other people’s heads too. But knowing whether or not it was going to have the level of success it had, there’s no way anyone could have predicted that.
“Also in addition to that, at least for me, especially at the very beginning, I remember still feeling that even though I was very happy with the final version I did find myself wishing that we had more of the tempo swell from the beginning. By starting off at the full BPM right from the beginning, there was a little bit of, well people won’t fully understand the message of the lyric and I remember feeling that people wouldn’t understand what this song is about and all they’ll hear is the chorus.
“To some degree that is true, which is that the chorus is such a specific thing because it’s scatty it’s not a lyric. It goes back to what I was saying before, unfortunately, the lyric in the verse gets lost because the lyric in the chorus is just a vocal riff.
“I think a lot of the music that we make, despite its pop and R&B roots, there’s a lot of different songs that a lot of different people have connected with over the years. We feel very happy with everything that we have done, whether it’s MMMBop or anything else.”