On May 6, 1997, Hanson released its major-label debut Middle Of Nowhere, which went on to sell 10 million copies and, if you were under the age of 15 at the time, be something you either despised or adored, with probably no middle ground.
While the album had a couple of singles, it is best known for “MMMBop,” which is, with the hindsight of age, obviously a remarkably tight pop song. But it’s also one of those songs that sounds inimitably of its time. A lot of the credit and blame for this goes to producers The Dust Brothers, fresh off the success of Beck’s 1996 Odelay! The duo was able to give the scrappy young three-piece band the glossy finish of post-Jagged Little Pill pop, giving the drums a metronomic kick and turning the guitar lines into immaculately clean Glen Ballard-style flourishes. There’s even some ornamental scratching on the hook, because it was the late ’90s and that’s what people did.
Still, we remember the song for its hook, which has lead to a whole lot of cover versions over the years. The brothers themselves actually originally recorded the track a year before Middle Of Nowhere, albeit in a slower moving, more somber version. In an interview last year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that version, the band said that there has never been a good cover of the song.
Have you heard any good covers of it over the years?
Taylor Hanson: I gotta be honest: No.
Isaac Hanson: You know why? People can’t sing the chorus right. Most of the time they syncopate it wrong.
Zac Hanson: I think “MMMBop” probably needs a really good cover …
T.H.: Someone needs to either make it totally their own in a genuinely unique way, or it needs to be a band that has a sensibility for old R&B. Fitz and the Tantrums could maybe do it …
I.H.: If Bruno Mars were interested, he’d probably find a way to kill it.
Of course, the version we all know is their collaboration with The Dust Brothers, which is now celebrating the conclusion of its second decade upon this green Earth. To celebrate, let’s go through some of the many cover versions of the track that even Hanson thinks suck. Here, for example, is a metal one, in case you wanted to hear the track with swear words:
There are a lot of wounded acoustic covers, which is actually befitting Hanson’s original, pre-Dust Brothers version of the track.
Here is a British boy band called Five To Five doing it:
Here is—fucking hell, another British boy band doing it:
Here is much more famous British boy band One Direction doing it:
They do not appear to respect the song, which is regrettable. They should respect “MMMBop” more.
The consensus pick for best cover, at 1.5 million views on YouTube, appears to be this doo-wop version, which does indeed swing:
This cover, on the other hand, seems to be more into covering The Dust Brothers’ beat for the track, which is a nice change of pace.
Lastly, here the song is recreated through the wonky Japanese synthesizer otamatone:
Happy birthday, “MMMBop.” May breathy young people fuck up the syncopation on your hook for many more years to come.