Tuesday, 13 March 2018

It's Not You, It's Me: am I heading for a Hanson breakup?

A Preamble

This is a blog post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but which I have resisted until now. I already have a reputation for being outspoken and I know that some fans consider that a Crime Against Hanson. In some circles, simply being critical of the band will brand you as a ‘negative’ person. But being a fan of a band is not a paid gig, and I have no editor to answer to, or corporation to please. I’m only a fan, without any sort of special status in exchange of which I could reasonably be expected to toe the 3CG party line.

My 7-Year Musical Ride So Far

6 years, soon to be 7

I joined the fanclub in April 2012, completely unaware that 2012 was going to pan out as a very difficult year for the band, with the notorious ‘near-split’ happening, with an album that was proving difficult to finish and a whole load of tumbleweed standing in for content on the website. Not knowing, however, any better, I threw myself into the fan experience with the recklessness and enthusiasm of an absolute beginner. Then, in 2013 Sound of Light EP landed, closely followed by an album - the long awaited ‘Anthem’. That winter, Hanson toured in Europe. I saw six shows, got a M&G and met the guys a few times. I was in music (and fan) heaven. 2014 was relatively busy too, with the launch of a new website (still in BETA in 2018); several livestreams followed. In January 2015 I went to my first BTTI and despite a far from perfect resort and inclement weather, I thought the experience was absolutely magical.

After the walk in Glasgow, 2013. It was my first ever Hanson show.
I will soon be renewing my membership for the 7th time but a lot has changed in the way I feel about Hanson as a band: a lot of the magic has gone, and so far, no amount of self-delusion on my part has managed to bring it back. So, what’s changed? Is it me, or is it Hanson? If I were to take inventory of my seven years as a fan, what issues would crop up? If I were to break up with Hanson, what reasons would I give them? So, come and join me on the therapist’s couch: we’re going for couples counselling.

Talking it through together

Gripe #1: The Music - or Lack Thereof

I love ‘my’ bands to make music. This might sound old-fashioned, but I like new music at regular intervals. I also like to feel that the song I’m listening to actually means something to the artist who made it. Music is one of those ephemeral art forms that allow little margin for cheating, and if there’s no real inspiration behind it, it usually shows. Which brings me to the yearly Members EPs.

Yes, Hanson release some music every year in the form of Members-only EPs. Without a doubt, some of the band's best songs are hidden gems to be found in those EPs. But for every “Grace Unknown” there are several ‘experimental’ songs, sadly forgettable filler tracks with predictable lyrics and little originality. The problem with Members EP is that they are usually written and recorded in the space of a week. Hanson say that they choose to work to such a narrow time frame in order to challenge themselves; but it’s hard not to be cynical and think that, actually, setting aside a single week means getting the task over and done with as quickly as possible. Which, inevitably, raises the question: do actually Hanson still enjoy writing together?

Whatever the answer, the fact remains that a week’s work is unlikely to produce a masterpiece; that EP is not going to be some kind of abridged "Sgt Pepper", or "Pet Sounds", or "The Joshua Tree". Good work takes time, and I find it worrying that Hanson seem to want to spend as little as possible doing the one thing they have committed to doing every year: writing those five songs.

As a result, EPs are often hit and miss, with potentially good songs that could however have done with some polishing or which scream for better production. Lately, a lot of the members songs have a certain derivative quality, eliciting a lot of ‘this sounds like’... ‘that’s an 80s song’... ‘that’s a 60s song’. Those songs can be undeniably fun and catchy, but are hardly the kind of music that will stand the test of time. Take, for instance, “I Don’t Want To Go Home", from the "In Color" EP. It's a great Hanson event anthem, but unashamedly manipulative: it’s about us, it flatters us, it’s self-reflective. But is it a song with universal appeal? Would it speak to the heart of a non-fan in the same way as “These Walls” or “World’s on Fire” spoke to me in 2012, when all I knew about Hanson was contained in a few gigabytes of MP3s that a friend had put on a DVD for me?

The other problem with Members EP music is that those songs are hardly ever get played outside of fanclub events - almost as if Hanson themselves know that that's not good enough material to ‘cross over’ to the non-hardcore crowd. On some of the rare occasions that those songs are played - at BTTI or at the odd pre-show MOE, Hanson appear not to have even rehearsed them, or bothered to learn the lyrics. And when the artists themselves don’t treat their own work with respect, it’s hard not to feel that maybe that work is not the real thing, but only a stocking filler to keep fans happy until the main present arrives - an album. Only, there hasn’t been an album since 2013. That’s right - it’s been five years since Anthem. Where’s the band's burning desire to make new music, to connect with people all over the world?
Anthem: Hanson's last proper studio album

Through the nostalgia-driven Middle of Everywhere CD and tour, Hanson managed to recapture the attention of a lot of old fans from 1997 who had lost interest in the band. So why not take advantage of the increased numbers and hit a bigger, more eager fan base with a new album? Wouldn’t that be the logical thing to do? Instead, Hanson, still hot on the heels of the MOE tour, release a Christmas album, a novelty record of limited seasonal appeal, largely marketed to the scores of the recently acquired fans. For the true music fan, a Christmas album just doesn’t cut it.

And this is why I think that maybe the problem lies with me: maybe Hanson are no longer a band for the music geek. Maybe they never were, and I was just lucky to stumble across them at a time when writing new material was still a priority for them. Maybe I am just the wrong type of fan for the band - I care about songs, lyrics, I search for meaning. I nerd out with friends over a song's smallest detail. Yes, I’m hard to please - but that’s because I have been obsessively listening to music since I was about ten years old, back when all you had was an LP and its sleeve notes, or maybe, if you were really lucky, a few magazine cuttings with a months-old interview to your favourite band. There was no internet, there was no Google, and there were no selfies to post on Instagram. Believe it or not, back then it was all about the music.

It's music I want. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10

Gripe #2 :The Good Ol’ Days Have Long Gone

Remember when the Hanson Day concert would be streamed live for everybody back home to enjoy? No? You must be a new member. Believe it or not, that kind of thing happened regularly, and I used to set my alarm clock to 1 or 2 AM, get up and watch the stream in the company of friends who, from all over the world, would also be sitting bleary eyed in front of their screen, snacks and drinks in hand.

Remember the old site?

We used to discuss the streams live on Twitter, joking, over-analysing haircuts and facial expressions. Usually, as part of a livestream, there would be a Q&A and a live performance; it all had a kind of homemade, amateur feel, but we loved it. It was what kept us renewing our membership, year after year; it was something we actively looked forward to.

Until it all disappeared.

The old, homemade Livestreams
Now, any mention of Livestreams has been removed from the Membership description on HNET, and the only streams we have seen in recent years are pre-recorded, ‘making of’ videos. What kind of content do we get these days? The odd blog post, a few Instagram stories; meanwhile, the band’s official Twitter account appears to have been farmed out to a social media agency, who are clearly under the misguided impression that Hanson’s Twitter following consists mostly of 12-year olds. How else can you explain that, only recently, valuable band time was taken up by creating an original set of GIFs? What band films original footage with the sole purpose of creating a set reaction gifs? And more to the point, surely the whole point of reaction GIFs is that they’re supposed to be spontaneous, not staged? Someone sack the agency, please: my friend's dog Baxter could surely do a better job.

I’ll be honest: I was used to my fanclub membership offering a lot more, and yes, I miss it. Maybe I’m a spoilt brat, maybe I am resisting change. Maybe I should accept that bands obey to the rule of diminishing returns, in the same way as when you go and buy groceries, you notice that the same product you used to buy now contains less of the product, but for the same price, or higher. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations and maybe it's perfectly reasonable to put one less bagel in the pack, and charge me the same money.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 6/10

Gripe #3: Everything Else

I’ve been a music fan since I can remember and before getting into Hanson, I went to concerts, listened to the records at home, bought music magazines, and occasionally, in later years, chatted with fans on bands' forums. I ‘met’ one or two of my favourite artists once or twice and was thrilled when I got their autographs. These days, with albums barely selling and streaming venues paying paltry amounts, Hanson and many other bands and artists offering ‘fan experiences’. Cue a bigger and bigger Hanson Day and BTTI. Also cue the increasingly intrusive element of selfie-hunting taking over said events.

Don’t get me wrong - I love BTTI (well, this one just gone, 2018, not so much). I went to Hanson Day twice and loved Tulsa, the events and the shows. But that kind of stuff should be an extra, a way for the artists to replenish their coffers so that they can keep doing what they really want do: make music.

The Rock Boat is one of many 'fan experience' events. Just don't bring up Hanson with them.

Lately, however, the whole ‘fan experience’ thing seems to be the priority for Hanson; the end, not the means. And I can’t help feeling that the band are pandering to those fans who are only in it for the ‘experience’ - the selfies, the ability to boast on social media about ‘hanging out’ with their teenage heartthrob Taylor Hanson. The music is just an after thought. And those of us who question it, who dare to ask when a new album will come, are told to stop complaining, because “Hanson do so much for us”. Well, yes, to be fair, Hanson do a lot for them, agreeing to selfie after selfie, putting on more events at Hanson Day that have nothing to do with music but which offer an opportunity for fans to get close to the guys. Personally, I’d give all of these admittedly fun events up, if that meant I saw an effort on Hanson’s part to hunker down in their bunker and write some new music.

“It’s not you, it’s me” quotient: 10/10

So What Happens Now?

One of the reasons why it’s so difficult for disillusioned members to leave a religious cult, is that leaving your beliefs behind is like admitting that you’ve been wrong; that you’ve been duped by a charismatic leader for whom you would have jumped off the nearest cliff. Yes, I know Hanson are not a religious cult but there are staggering similarities between fan behaviour and cult-thinking.

When Eddie Tried to Quit Mayerism, It Didn't Go So Well 

Take the lack of objectivity among our fan base: it’s as if fans are sticking their fingers in their ears and going LALALA, not wanting to hear anything negative. Because, of course, if you see the old man behind the curtain, and realise that he’s not a wizard, you’ll be sad and disappointed. And like with a cult,  leaving the fanbase will often mean leaving your support system behind; your friends; your social circle. Your day-to-day chats by the virtual watercooler, discussing the band, the fans, planning outfits for the next event, figuring out how much weight you need to lose and what cosmetic treatment you need to invest in for the next picture with the band.

But whatever a fan/cult member’s inner fears may be, shutting down debate because you’re unable to accept that there might be a problem is only going to push discussions underground - in private chats, secret groups and those remaining few social networks that still allow a degree of anonymity. Shutting people down and tell them to ‘stop complaining’ and - worse - to ‘be grateful’ is a surefire way to turn off those fans who still love the band but refuse to turn into unquestioning fanbots who live under the misplaced belief that they should show gratitude to three rockstars for allowing them to keep doing what is, without a question, the coolest job in the world - and not the other way around.

As for me? Like Edith Piaf sang, je ne regrette rien. I fell in love with this band because their music spoke to me, moved me, uplifted me. Back then in 2012 I had no way of knowing that, through Hanson, my life would change in more ways that I could ever imagine. I will never walk away from music that has meant so much to me, but how much longer can I stick around for, chasing after a mirage that keeps dissolving as I get closer?

However - and some of you will be surprised to learn this - I am deep down an eternal optimist. I want to believe that Hanson can still be ‘that special band’ for me; that they can still make a kickass album that I’ll play to death for months on end. I want to believe they still care about making music more than just being a ‘brand’ that flogs us merch in seasonal ‘Collections' like a chain store in a shopping mall.

I'm not ready to turn my back on this band - yet. But I know I’m not alone in thinking that unless Hanson show us that new music is still a priority for them, there will come a time when I’ll completely lose interest. And by then it will be easier to just say “Hanson, it’s not you, it’s me”. Maybe we can still work it out.


  1. You are such a great writer. I’m your biggest fan. I’m not the aficiondo you are on music. I like what I like, and I have no other way of knowing if it’s good. I don’t agree with a lot of what you wrote, but I love reading your writing. Drink some Kool Aid and stay in the cult with me.

    1. I'll stay in the cult only because of the City Team and the Vice Mayor ;)

  2. I agree so wholeheartedly with this sentiment. I have thought about this more lately than I want to, and definitely more than I like to admit.

    It used to feel like Hanson was so eager to make music and share it with us. These days, it feels like they’re not often inspired to write new songs. As a fellow "music geek" who relishes connecting over a perfect lyric, or a song that captures a feeling or tells a powerful story, it is alarming to think that well could be running dry. I really hope it's not.

    But it's impossible to deny the band is pulling back from connecting sincerely and spontaneously with fans, instead talking at us through marketing campaigns and social media “content.” Banking on the idea that we will shell out more money each year for trips to see our friends, sing along with old songs, do some “activities” and have our pictures taken with the guys—as if those are the things that matter, and new music is as an afterthought. When did those priorities turn upside down? And was it them...or was it us?

    I love and appreciate the music Hanson has made up until now, and everything it’s given me: inspiration, joy, comfort, adventures, friendships, memories. But lately it feels more like product than passion. And it’s a little bit disheartening that Hanson act like we, the fans, can’t tell the difference.

    We can tell.

    I love that you ended on an optimistic note. I have hope too :)

    1. Judging by the avalanche of comments on my FB post right now, we're not the only ones who can tell. As I keep saying, A LOT of people share our feelings, quietly, maybe, but they do. I don't know if Hanson will ever realise this, busy as they are churning out custom GIFs and selling us painting classes.

      All we want is some damn good songs. Three chords and the truth.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have written and I have been a hardcore fan since day 1. You have perfectly summed up everything I’ve been feeling for years now! They are definitely more focused on branding the band and running things like a business rather than focusing on what is really important and that’s decent music. Thanks for sharing your eloquently written thoughts!

    1. Thank you for your comment. You know, I hope I'll turn out to be wrong about everything...

  4. Wow!Great text as always!I never thought someone would express what I feel about Hanson better than myself. However, I think I've been having these feelings since 2011 (maybe), when I realized they needed more practice before the concerts. My friends and I have been discussing this exuasevely since then.

    I remember a particular concert in Rio (2013) in which I wanted to shake them and ask them to practice more. I was so happy for seeing them after again but at the same time I felt it could be a lot better. About BTTI, sometimes I want to write the lyrics in big letters on a cardboard.

    I am very grateful for having new music every year, for having these fans experience, but in my opinion the main focus should on music.

    But I know as a cult member I won't leave the boat soon because I have hope.

    1. I have hope too - and I'll be renewing my membership again next month, but I won't lie to myself and say that everything is perfect. Let's hope things improve.

  5. I'm sure you can guess I don't agree with most of this, but I respect your opinion, and I have to give you props for being willing to "go there" and question where you're at as a fan rather than clinging for dear life to something out of habit without stopping to ask if it's what you really want or why it doesn't feel the same to you.

    I won't beat a dead horse by getting on a soapbox about not wanting a rushed product and letting them release music on their own timeline, but I will say that while I’d like a new album, their older music still makes me happy. I’m not saying you can't love the old music and still want a new album, but I guess I'm not in a place where I feel like Underneath is that old pair of jeans I've worn out that needs to be replaced yet, and their old lyrics and songs feel just as meaningful to me as ever. I don't feel like there's an expiration date to their existing catalog, and there’s a lot in it to keep me occupied. I’ll be thrilled the day they give us another album, but for now I’m okay with what we’ve got. Not because I want to suck up or am afraid to speak out, but because I’m genuinely not concerned about the current state of the band. I know they’re just a couple of flawed guys behind the wizard curtain, and maybe I respect them more and cut them a little more slack because of it. Maybe I’m an optimistic sucker, but I’m not a worrier and never have been.

    1. I am not expecting everybody to agree with me but I am glad that we can have a debate even if we don't have matching points of view.
      I think I've said in previous occasions that I don't want a rushed album either; what I would like to see is the intention to put music first. I genuinely don't see it right now but I'll be very happy to be proven wrong, and I mean this.

      I just want to clarify something - I never said that I am tired of the back catalogue. In fact, if anything I'm frustrated that we don't get to hear a lot of the members songs, or the rare songs.

      I still listen to the old U2 albums I used to listen to in my teens, before their 'new' music stopped speaking to me. I never turn my back to the music I love - I never said that in my post, although a lot of people have taken it that way.

    2. Totally. I'm still not sick of Penny & Me. And I'd do all kinds of unsavory things to get the SIO album tracks onto set lists more often...

      What's missing isn't good songs. Hanson have written lots of good songs. What's missing is fresh ideas, inspiration, lyrics and music that reflect the here-and-now.

      I love that we know how much a song like Strong Enough to Break means because of what was going on with Hanson when they wrote it. What's happening now in their lives, and what do they have to say about what's going on in the world around them? Maybe that sounds nosy, but a mark of a great songwriter is having something to say, and I believe Hanson are great songwriters--so I'm all ears.

  6. This is a very well thought out post. I worry about fans who HAVEN'T realized that this is becoming more and more just a business to Hanson. (Trust me, I don't care, I love their old albums, and them - I'll keep coming!) But the social media era has done us all wrong. Hanson fans have always been a special breed, shall we say.... and now that they have the opportunity to be "friends" with the band (term used loosely as we are most certainly not their friends)... it's just all about selfies and facetime, not the music. It's like what I bet OneDirection fans probably acted like except those kids were 14 not 34 ����‍♀️... anyways, very well-written blog post. I just don't see Hanson changing. They make the money by doing as little as possible, all while making it appear they are constantly focused on us, so why change! (And they have a bazillion kids to take up their real time.)

    1. I agree, you know. Social media has ruined things in many ways - not just when it comes to Hanson, but also in a way people interact. There's a whole new level of 'shallow' encouraged by social media and unfortunately, it takes away from the music. See how BTTI went this year with the selfie hunters.

    2. I TOTALLY agree with you, I feel like they have a permanent income and they disguise it as
      closeness with fans.

  7. I am one of those fans who stopped following them years ago (after Underneath). It was a few months ago, when they came to my country that i renewed my love for them. I started to listen to the music they've made since Underneath and i really liked it. That's why I don't feel that way about new music, because I have a lot of new music (for me) to hear.

    Nevertheless, now that i started following them in social media, joining facebook groups and things like that, sadly i see what you mean about branding the band, mechadising it and that disappoints me because sometimes I feel like they don't need to make an effort to earn their fans and the money they (the fans) spend. And still, Zac's says something about having to take pictures with the same girls like 100 times.

    I have read some comments about how they have lives and they need to take care of their children. Well, i think music is their job, what feeds their families. So, as well as regular people have to work every day and manage themselves to have a personal life, maybe they could.

    Don't get me wrong, I like the band and i have an special affection for them (maybe i'll always have), but this texts is a good chance to see that as fans we don't have to agree with everything they do, and we have the right to show our feelings (good and bad) and ask for something in return.

    However, I do have hope but I don't know if I'll be patient enough.

    1. Thank you for your sensible words! I agree with you - it's their job. I have friends juggling a job, children, husband, pets, mortgage payments - that's real life. Their job is what allows them to have big families and make a good living.

  8. I think I'm somewhere between you and the "just be thankful to our benevolent overlords" crowd. We've come to expect an album about every three years, which for an active band is pretty reasonable.

    I am glad that they resolved the tension between SIO and Anthem. I noticed it and it seemed like Isaac and Taylor hated each other and it was pretty obvious to me. It was super awkward. They definitely behave differently toward one another now.

    I definitely want some new, quality music. Last year's EP was not very good. It grew on me after a few listens, but they're pretty formulaic. And the Zac song at the end is creepy weird.

    This String Theory crap and the new canned social media stuff is terrible. I wonder if they're partnering with a major label, and they're doing this promo garbage. Their fans want real interaction, not "post your photos" blah blah. The reason I wonder is that they released their Christmas album on a major label, although they did not mention that to their fans at all.

    However, I am thankful they are still a band and still touring. Most bands are not active for twenty years like they've been. So I'll take the fun shows when I can get them.

    If you want to pick apart lyrics, feel free to come over to the Skeleton Clique and follow twenty one pilots. :-)

    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. I'm glad that Hanson are still touring and that they're together too. As I said in the conclusion, I'm deep down an optimist so I hope that the creative spark will come back. I'm going to watch them closely.

  9. I’m already at that point... I’m officially bored with Hanson. I’ve had my days and now it’s time to move on to other things. I still like them and will still go to shows when they play near me, but that’s really it. I’m not a fan club member anymore. I’m not complaining either, I just feel as though I need to spend and save my money else where, grow up a little if you will. Not that one is immature for still following them closely, but it’s my life path I feel that I should be on.

    1. And you know what, it's not a crime to say, 'enough'. Clearly for some fans it is, but it's your money, your life and your priorities. Thank you for reading and sharing your point of view :)

    2. Feel that way too Rachael . I’m into Christian music as well and since Anthem I’ve actually liked that more than hanson .

  10. how could you guys be bored of hanson hanson is an great band and we should support them to the end hanson has done so much for there fans what band could do this for 25 years i say i was born to love them and taylor has helped me.

  11. I've been feeling this way for years. I wasn't a huge fan on "Anthem" because it lacked the passion I'd grown to love from Hanson over the years. And honestly, I felt like I was the bad fan in the group because I dared to question the music, dared to ask for more. I'm glad I'm not alone.

    I'm also not walking away, but I'm taking some time away from Hanson this year - esp. after today's "string theory" announcement which I look at as a way to make money and continue avoiding what is possibly the inevitable.

    And if the inevitable happens, I would anxiously await solo records from all three. I'd love to hear what each one has to say through music on his own.

    1. I liked Anthem but in hindsight, it was very hit and miss, with some great songs and some which should not have been there (why was Juliet in that record? Or Save Me From Myself?).

      The String Theory announcement deserves a separate blog post... although not now, because I don't think this fanbase can take two in less than a week ;)

      I doubt Zac and Isaac could sell solo projects. Zac is a great songwriter but not a very confident frontman; Isaac has a great voice and stage presence but he's not the most original songwriter. The only one who could carry a solo project is Taylor.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment! It's good to see you around again.

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  13. I completely agree I’m getting restless and disappointed as a hanson fan about the lack of music .