“MMMBop’ band is singing a new tune these days

Hanson is visiting campus Sunday to show its documentary and speak about the music industry's mishaps

Jenna Ross

The documentary begins with Hanson as we remember them ” on the cover of Seventeen magazine, glowing in “Got Milk?” ads, sitting atop the Billboard charts. “MMMBop” does not play, but our brain conjures the tune anyway. Then, suddenly, fire.

We watch newspaper clippings telling of media takeovers and mergings smolder. It’s not subtle. But it’s not supposed to be. Hanson, the band many of us haven’t heard from since the 1990s, feel they’ve been burned.

“It’s important that people watch the story and understand that it’s an example of what so many other bands go through,” said drummer Zac Hanson, the youngest of the three brothers.

“The story” is a documentary the band made about their struggles to complete albums with Island/Def Jam. After their 2000 album, “This Time Around,” flopped, Island/Def Jam kept the band in limbo. Finally, after years of pushes and pulls, the band left the label in 2003 and started their own.

Now they’re delivering the story ” personally ” to college campuses around the country. At each, they attract a following of girls who were 12 when “MMMBop” debuted, who read past the cover of “Seventeen,” who crushed on Taylor but thought Isaac was smart.

The fame and nostalgia help, Zac said in a phone interview Tuesday. But the band isn’t using it to get their message across.

“We’re not going to schools saying, “We’re Hanson. You know us. You love us. Listen to us,’ ” he said. “We’re going to schools saying, “We’re your peers. Let’s talk about this.’ “

What they ” and the documentary ” are saying is this: Record labels are not inherently evil. In the beginning, labels were wildly successful, in part because they nurtured artists. Now the wrong people are running the show, and they’re running it too quickly. Record labels’ A&R heads (responsible for talent scouting and development) are lawyers and accountants, not music-makers. And they’re too concerned with quick releases and stock prices.

Hanson isn’t the only one complaining, of course. Wilco made a movie to a similar effect. And Coldplay, Tom Petty and U2 have said, very publicly, that the system could use some fine-tuning, if not an outright overhaul.

The Hanson brothers see the solution in the listeners. Zac encourages small actions that will lead to big results.

“If your local music station isn’t playing the music that you listen to, you need to call up and say, “Hey, this is what I want to hear, and you’re not playing it,’ ” Zac said.

He calls on students to support independent record companies; to write letters; to speak out.

Of course, these “solutions” are small steps. Zac believes in them, of course. But maybe it’s too easy to come off the success of a hugely promoted first album and create fairly successful independent ones. It’s an altogether different struggle to build a base that brings you up to that point.

In the end, the band and their lessons are commendable, if simplistic. But like the band’s earnest lyrics and straightforward style on their latest album (the second they’ve released since splitting from the label), they’re infectious.