Anyone over the age of 25 knows exactly who you’re talking about when you say the names Taylor, Isaac and Zac. “Oh, MMMbop,” they will likely sing back to you completely off key. What many don’t realize, however, is that the three brothers who make up the eponymous band Hanson and who became famous before two of them even hit puberty, are still touring and making albums, own their own record label, and most surprisingly, have their own beer.
When I met the brothers, it was at a studio in the East Village of New York City across from a mural of Debbie Harry’s face. They walked into the building quietly, each one dressed in an outfit that was uniquely their own. Isaac, the oldest and the most ebullient of the three, wore a black suit, a look that his youngest brother Zac tells me is something he wears every day. Taylor, the middle brother, whose photo I admittedly had plastered all over my grade school bedroom, is now a husband and father of five children (all three brothers are married with children). He’s the most serious of the three, joking occasionally, but remaining business-minded throughout our interaction.
While I half-heartedly expected to meet the playful boys that I remember from my youth, their seriousness shouldn’t have surprised me. They have been working their whole lives with the weight of being child stars constantly following them. “The main thing about our band is that we really got into this for making music, as funny as that sounds,” Taylor says. “I mean the idea of just succeeding, being successful no matter what, you know, kind of on any terms was never for us. Just the idea of sex and drugs, like that’s the cool, just to be rock and roll, you know? I mean, come on, we’re all human, but we got into it so young, it was truly about making music and about being artists and about being creative.” Zac jokingly adds, “What are you saying? Sex and drugs isn’t a draw for an eight-year-old?”
Our interview was just a few short weeks after the group celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first album, Middle of Nowhere, that went 4-times platinum in 1997. Since then they have made six studio albums and have toured the country 15 times. They have one of the most unique and enduring fan bases of any 90s pop group. Not only do they sell out these tours regularly, most fans I spoke with told me they’d seen them at every single tour since the beginning. Yes, 15 tours and multiple shows within each one. The kicker is that it’s not for nostalgia’s sake. Unlike going to a New Kids On The Block tour or even Backstreet Boys, these fans are just as excited and rabid about their new work as they are about hearing “MMMbop” for the 40th time live.
Zac explains, “The fans who have connected with us have deeply connected with us. They’ve grabbed that idea that the music is about life and truth and there’s real things in it. And they tattoo it on their arms.” The tattoo comment is not a metaphor either. There are thousands of fans with their logo proudly displayed in permanent ink. He continues, “What we’re really doing is just creating fuel for connection, fuel for people to connect with each other. Fans, they give you their trust when they follow you. And you know, keeping that as long as possible. I mean, that’s the hardest thing there is.”
The word “connection” doesn’t even scratch the surface of Hanson’s unique (and very female) fanbase. During their Christmas tour at New York City’s PlayStation Theater, I watched as two fans who hadn’t seen each other “since the last show,” congratulated one another on their respective life milestones. They had not known each other before they became superfans of the band but had since become friends. This is a scenario that plays out over and over again around the world. Taylor explains, “I really believe that music lifts people up and brings people together. And we really believe every single person matters. That’s actually who we are.”
In a moment in entertainment where the number of likes on Instagram is just as much currency as how good your album is, Hanson doesn’t want to fit in. They use social media to connect with the fans that love them, they put out albums that they believe in and aren’t at the mercy of a record label. As they head into their third decade as a band, it doesn’t look like they have any plans to slow down, only plans to grow more into their own. Zac summarizes, “Over time, the characteristic that will define our band is we’re a band devoted to this idea of craftsmanship, right? It’s about this legacy idea. It’s about creating things in songs that speak an element of reality—truth into the world.”
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