Hanson’s ‘Middle Of Nowhere’ Turns 15: Backtracking

May 6th, 2012 // 4 Comments
Taylor Hanson Speaks!
We sat down with the former brother-band leader. Read More »
Fans Go Crazy
Drake Hanson
Drake and Hanson gig end in riot. Read More »
Conan Is 4th Hanson
Conan Hanson
Conan O'Brien plays guitar with Hanson onstage during Tulsa gig. Read More »
'Spice' Turns 15!
Spice Girls
Find out how 'Spice' shaped pop music today. Read More »
Hanson Middle of Nowhere

Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Our friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.

The last few years of the ’90s saw a transition in music from angsty grunge and gangsta rap toward high-gloss pop (see Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears). But before there could be a “…Baby One More Time”, and before boy bands could rule MTV, the pop world had to be cheered up. The band that did it — Hanson — wound up setting a course for pop’s future by evoking its past with a twist.

With yearning vocals that recalled the Jackson 5 and the sunnily innocent harmonies of The Cowsills, three blond brothers from Oklahoma swept across the landscape with their breakthrough album Middle Of Nowhere. While their hit songs had help from veteran songwriters and producers like Desmond Child, the music worked because it felt unaffected — Taylor, Zac and Isaac, with their long long golden locks and not-quite-cracked-puberty vocals, wrote their own songs, played their own instruments and didn’t rely on stylized costumes and synchronized pelvic thrusts to get their music to the masses. It was the return of honest bubblegum.

Released on May 6, 1997, Middle of Nowhere was welcomed by critics as a breath of fresh air and brought in five hits worldwide, including their only #1 single in the US “MMMBop.” The album peaked at #2 on the US album charts, eventually selling 10 million copies worldwide — and even for the pre-iTunes world, that was a lot of CDs.

The Hanson brothers may have only been in their teens (or tweens in Zac’s case) when they landed a major record deal with Mercury/Polygram Records, but they already had about five years of experience writing, recording and performing their own work. Prior to Middle of Nowhere, they independently recorded and released two other albums, Boomerang and MMMBop. But when it came time to polish Middle of Nowhere, the boys teamed with hit-making producers The Dust Brothers, who most notably transformed “MMMBop” from a ballad into an infectiously upbeat track with a grammatically nonsensical chorus and hip touches like turntable scratches. The track eventually nabbed two Grammy nominations, topped the singles charts in over 20 countries and today makes regular appearances on “Greatest Songs of the ’90s” lists.

Hanson, “MMMBop”

Their second single, “Where’s The Love,” is reminiscent of the old rock-and-roll records the boys used to listen to when they were children. It’s a fast-paced pop track that highlights the band’s ability to harmonize. The song went to #6 on the Mainstream Top 40 in the US, went to #4 in the UK, and even earned its very own VH1 Pop-Up Video.

Hanson, “Where’s The Love”

Hanson fans — hordes of screaming, crying teenage girls, mostly — were a force to be reckoned with. The boys sold out arena and, it seemed, every type of branded merchandise possible. Hanson mania reached such a fever pitched that each of the members required his own bodyguard to keep from being smothered by the throngs of girls. And they cultivated this all with their squeaky clean image. Their two later singles “Thinking of You” and “I Will Come To You” proved to that you didn’t need sexualized dance moves to capture a teen girl’s heart: All you needed was a pair of crystal blue eyes, longish blond hair and romantic lyrics like, “I’m carrying this heavy load / Don’t know what to do / The only thing I know / Is I’m in love with you.”

Hanson showed off their musical heavyweight status by enlisting Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant to take the reigns on their music video for “Weird,” the fourth single off of Middle of Nowhere. Shot in New York City’s Times Square and underground subway system, the video takes a look at all the different people that walk around in our everyday lives. The brothers also recruited Tom Foden — who designed the spinning spaceship for Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” video — to plan out the video’s revolving room scene.

Hanson, “Weird”

Since 1997, the trio has released a number of albums, including the pop Christmas record Snowed In and 2010′s Shout It Out, the band’s fifth full-length, which they released on their own label 3CG Records. As they enter their 20th year as a band (impressive considering two-thirds of the band is still under 30), Isaac (31), Taylor (29) and Zac (26) have grown from garage band of brothers to independent music moguls with partnerships with TOMS Shoes, a beer-brewing business and even a documentary or two under their belts. 

And though the brothers have grown to be successful entrepreneurs and family men (Isaac and Zac each have two children, and Taylor has four with another on the way), lightning hasn’t quite struck twice for Hanson. It’s safe to say that if not for the staggering success of Middle of Nowhere and “MMMBop,” Hanson may have just been another band of brothers trying to make it in the industry.

Can you believe Middle Of Nowhere is 15 years old? What are your favorite memories related to the album? Tell us in the comments below, or on Twitter and Facebook.

  1. Loved Hanson back in 1997 and still love them. Great article. I’m actually a happier fan now that they’re not hugely famous. Fans get better access to their concerts (which are fabulous) and their special events. They’re one of the most “connected’ bands in term of social networking, and I love it. Their merchandise is pretty fabulous and they release an impressive amount of music (a lot to fan club members only). I’m glad I picked a winner when I was younger. So many tween/teen girls won’t be able to say the same 15 years from now.

  2. Hanson has made beautiful music since they were very young til today. If the world did not know Hanson music, the world is missing out… Hanson were originally under Mercury Records, the label that discovered them, but unfortunately because of a merger Mercury was no longer- and Hanson found themselves under a rap label Island def Jam around 2000. The new label did not support and hone Hanson’s extraordinary young talent the way that Mercury Records did. All the label seemed to care about was making hits (translation- ROI) and the business side of things…Enthusiasm for art and Hanson’s unique talents seem to be…lacking on the label’s end (Watch Hanson’s Strong Enough to Break film documentary which chronicled when and why they broke away from Island Def Jam)…It was very sad!!! Any Hanson fan can see that Mercury managed Hanson well and believed in them so much more with the releases of The Three Car Garage album (Hanson’s ’95-’96 indie recordings so fans will get to know Hanson’s pre-fame music), Snowed In, Live from Albertane live concert album, Hanson’s tour VHS videos, etc…. Hanson’s talents shone through. When Hanson was managed under Island Def Jam, the results were to be honest disappointing. Their 2000 This Time Around album – the first album under Island – to be honest did not evoke in me what Middle of Nowhere and even Hanson’s earlier live albums & work under Mercury did…It was almost like there is some identity crisis – IMO. There are fans that do like This Time Around..But for me, Middle of Nowhere, Snowed In, etc. was far superior..and real somehow…This Time Around had a lot of generic lyrics and could have been polished better. I think Mercury could’ve been better working w/Hanson on it:) But as a Hanson fan, one can see that in everything Hanson does, they have their hearts and passion in it and that is truly admirable. They are extraordinary…They followed their dreams when they were young and always sincere…Hanson decided to break away from Island def Jam around 2003 because the record company kept hindering their album making process because of some ‘economics’ – and just lacked a show of enthusiasm for the band…It was puzzling and unfortunate that, during the supposed album making process with Island (as seen in Hanson’s documentary) the company/rep did not appreciate Hanson’s demo songs like “Dancing in the Wind” and “Underneath” (which are GREAT songs later released under Hanson’s own label)… The label just kept insisting for a “hit” – and overlooked Hanson&everything else…The puzzling thing here is the demo songs Hanson were making were IMO ‘hits’- they were really great songs. But the label just seemed to delay things with Hanson…So Hanson finally broke away and formed their own independent record company funded out of their own pockets. They were like 18, 21 and 23 at that time. Hanson was later courted by other major labels like Arista but Hanson declined the offers. They had witnessed under Island that the artist can be treated like they are dispensable and there was a lack of creative freedom, so they do not want to experience something like that again – they would rather take the risk of producing their music on their own and deliver it directly to fans and anyone who’d want to listen.Hanson’s first album under their own label, UNDERNEATH, reached No. 1 in the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart, making it one of the most successful independent albums of all time. Hanson has since released 2 more studio albums & a live album under their own label. Hanson kept pursuing their passion, even leaving the fame and money a major record company could have assured them, all for the love of music.. They really are an extraordinary band of brothers that make their own extraordinary music. Best wishes, guys and congrats for your success and amazing talent

  3. Karliagh@mac.com

    15 years ago I was a 9 year old girl, a girl who had grown up pretty quickly yet wasn’t grown up at all. Hanson have been there for me through out my life like a soundtrack in a movie they have been able to capture my emotions and write them into beautiful melodies for moments of need. whether or not your a fan of them from 1997 like myself or you discovered them in 2008 you will agree that their passion and drive for music has encouraged you in some way to strive to achieve anything in life and not to let go, don’t allow people to tell you that you aren’t good enough. They have proven to me that my dreams will come true with hard work and dedication. Hanson are one of the greatest bands the world has ever seen and I am glad that I have been able to keep on mmmbopping for all these years. ♥

  4. Subaroo

    Hanson are so unique and wonderful, and as a child of the 70′s they invoke that sort of nostalgic sound of rock and pop that I so loved. They are also shrewd businessmen, a good example, and just good people. I love those guys dearly like they were my own children, and am so happy for all that they have achieved. If only more people in the world would take a listen and “get it”.

Leave A Comment