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Hanson: We're not Justin Bieber

Years after hit song “MmmBop,” Hanson returns to compete with a new generation of young pop stars.

Before Justin Bieber, before the Jonas Brothers, before even ‘Nsync, there was Hanson.

In 1997, the three teens from Tulsa, Okla., were more ubiquitous than Guess Jeans or stories about Princess Di.

Thirteen years later, they’re still around. And they’ve continued to sell albums, if not as many as back then, then as consistently.

Brothers Zac, Taylor and Isaac have sold nearly 7 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen Soundscan, not including their eighth and newest studio effort, “Shout it Out.”

Zac, the youngest brother, said they have no intention of competing with the Biebers of the world, nor do they want to.

“Unfortunately, in a lot of cases — Bieber, for instance — the similarities diverge at the connection with young fans and having amazing breakout success,” he said. “As far as the music, and the influences, we differ a lot. I hope they have a vision for what they’re doing.”

On Saturday, Hanson will be Baltimore for the second time this year for a performance at Sonar.

When Hanson first appeared on the scene with “Middle of Nowhere “ (the album with “MMMBop”), their audience was the most fickle of all: tweens who drop their favorite artists as carelessly as Menudo once went through members.

By their second album, they had already lost gobs of fans; “Snowed In” sold 3 million fewer copies than “Middle of Nowhere.” And 2007’s “The Walk” peaked at 53,000, according to Nielsen.

But Zac said that through all that, they retained control of their destiny, which has allowed them to keep touring and recording. Unlike other artists, they weren’t managed to sound more marketable, and they didn’t depend on “a million writers and producers.”

“It’s always been organic for us,” he said. “No one’s writing our songs. A lot of young artists end up in the tabloids or in rehab because oftentime there’s a big machine behind them. They’re running away from who they’ve been.”

Who are those artists? Zac didn’t want to say. “Call it the Disney machine,” he said.

Though they started with a similar corporate push behind them, in the early 2000s the Hanson brothers grew unhappy with their label, Island Def Jam.

And in 2003, the brothers started their own label, 3CG Records, and released an album, “Underneath,” that sold 120,000 copies — a respectable number for an indie outfit.

Going at it alone has its risks though, Zac said.

“I think for us, being in a label is more about changing with the times. We didn’t see a lot of stability at Def Jam,” he said. “The advantage is that there’s no middleman, there’s no one to share the profits. But there’s also no one there to share the expenses.”

But unlike the competition today, Zac said, they don’t have to run away from their early hits. Their new single, “Thinking ‘bout somethin,’” retains much of the upbeat DNA of “MMMBop.”

“It’s still a representation of us,” he said. “It’s just us when we were young.”

And on their tour, which is hitting 15 cities on its third leg, they’ll even be performing a cappella midway through, because it’s something they did when they started out. Not straying from what first made them stars is a winning strategy for the band. The new single debuted in second place on the Billboard independent charts.

In June, when the trio and the rapper Drake appeared at a free concert in New York, organizers expected a few thousand to turn up. Instead, at least 20,000 did, and the concert had to be suspended for safety reasons.

Many were there to see the rising rapper, but the double bill suggests Hanson still retains plenty of good will with audiences and might even be riding a wave of ’90s nostalgia.

“It was the combination of it all,” said Zac. “Drake has a huge record this year. We’ve always had a huge concentration of fans in New York. You combine a beautiful day and two strong fan bases, and it’s a firestorm of good things.”

Though they have declined in numbers and ferocity, Hanson’s fans have grown up with them.

“Fans who were 12 are now 25. A lot of them are ladies; some guys, too,” Zac said.

Running away from the aw-shucks positivity of “MMMBop” would only disappoint those loyal ones who’ve stuck with them through the years.

“We’ve had such a strong connection with our fans,” Zac said. “It’s a dynamic not everybody has an opportunity to have — having a relationship with your fans since we were pre-teen.”

If you go:  Hanson performs Saturday at Sonar, 407 E. Saratoga St. All ages admitted. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 410-783-7888 or go to

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