’90s No. 1s Revisited: “MMMBop”
The one hundred seventh No. 1 song of the 1990s was “MMMBop” by Hanson, three long-haired brothers whose ages were 16, 14 and 11 when this single, their debut, hit the top of the charts in 27 countries. Hanson is commonly mis-characterized as a One Hit Wonder, but they followed the success of “MMMBop” with the reasonably popular track “Where’s The Love,” which didn’t chart in the U.S. because it was ineligible at the time, as well as the No. 9-peaking “I Will Come To You” in December 1997 and the No. 20-peaking “This Time Around” in May 2000. They haven’t landed a song on the Billboard Hot 100 since, but continue to release new music for a small but devoted following, as recently as Fall 2017 with a Christmas album.
The members of Hanson played their instruments and wrote their music. So from that perspective, they had the potential to have some credibility. However, “MMMBop” was so tremendously childish, especially when accompanied with the video, that it smelled like a novelty song and got the group’s public persona off on the wrong foot.
It’s not obvious on first listen what “MMMBop” is about, partly because lead singer Taylor, the middle brother, wasn’t keen on enunciating the verses, and because the chorus is a series of nonsensical syllables. But analysis of the lyrics reveals that it’s addressing the fact that relationships tend to be fleeting, so you should hold on to the precious ones. Later, it metaphorically compares relationships to flowers. We seem to recall seeing some interview during which Hanson explained that an “mmmbop” is a brief moment in time, hence the lyric, “In an mmmbop they’re gone, in an mmmbop they’re not there.”
Let’s listen again to “MMMBop”:
This is a bad song. It’s also a bad performance, a bad technical recording, a bad instrumental arrangement, and possibly the second-worst music video ever made. Taylor’s vocals are unbearable. The chord progression couldn’t be more trite. The chorus is dopey. The background is boring. It sounds like like a low-budget advertising jingle for a small-town mattress store. Granted, there’s obvious talent on display here, and it’s fantastic for Hanson that they got to enjoy the success of this song and see themselves on MTV. They seem like nice, wholesome lads. And some of their later music, even just a couple years after “MMMBop,” was fine — never transcendent or exceptionally innovative, but many orders of magnitude better than “MMMBop.”
That Hanson received three Grammy nominations for this garbage is among the many reasons not to take industry awards seriously. These nods included the most coveted of the night, Record of the Year, which went to Shawn Colvin’s masterful “Sunny Came Home,” a song that would likely have reached No. 1 were it not for chart rules at the time. Hanson lost the other two awards they were up for, too: Best New Artist went to Paula Cole, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal went to “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai.
As “MMMBop” sat at No. 1, below it on the Hot 100 were much better songs, including but not limited to:
- “Foolish Games” / “You Were Meant For Me” by Jewel. This pair of beautifully folksy tracks was a Double A-sided single that stalled at No. 2 but would go on to be one of the most successful singles in history. It’s much better than “MMMBop.”
- “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison. This classic jam continues to live on thanks to remakes and sampling. It’s much better than “MMMBop.”
- “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” by Paula Cole. This was one of the most original and highest-quality songs of the year. It’s much better than “MMMBop.”
- “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe.
- “G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T.” by Changing Faces.
- “Barely Breathing” by Duncan Sheik.
- “Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen.
- “Your Woman” by White Town.
- “Every Time I Close My Eyes” by Babyface.
- “Everyday Is A Winding Road” by Sheryl Crow.
- “Naked Eye” by Luscious Jackson.
- “6 Underground” by Sneaker Pimps.
- “On & On” by Erykah Badu.
- “It’s Alright, It’s Ok” by Leah Andreone.
Listen to those tracks, and you’ll be treated to innovation, creativity, beauty and meaning. “MMMBop” isn’t in the same league.
Does it hold up? Disregarding that it was terrible to begin with, it holds up OK. The clip has racked up 66 million views on YouTube since being posted about eight years ago (as of this writing). There are obviously people out there who feel a fondness for this song, for whatever reason. (These kids didn’t know it, though.) The use of real instruments prevents the song from sounding too hopelessly dated, although the quality of the recording itself sound a bit cheap, muffled and worn in retrospect.
Dopeness: 1 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?