A very serious investigation
BY MACKENZIE REAGAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
In April 1997, before most GMU freshmen were born, boy band Hanson—made up of brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac—released “MMMBop,” a song voted best single in The Village Voice’s end-of-the-year Pazz & Jop poll of music critics. It got 96 votes, which is just three shy of what Beyoncé’s “Formation” got in the 2016 poll.
Not everyone was a fan. Rock critic Robert Christgau, writing in the Voice in early 1998, called it “an ebullient piece of product without the, I’m sorry, ‘social vision’ of ‘Tubthumping’” (“Tubthumping,” which Google Drive somehow recognizes as a valid word, being the perennial soundtrack of rowdy keg parties for the last 20 years). “Tubthumping” was voted the no. 2 single of 1997, with 89 votes.
Both songs are infuriatingly catchy. But while “Tubthumping” is about getting wasted and getting knocked down (but getting up again), “MMMBop” was a pensive look at the ephemerality of life.
The song begins:
You have so many relationships in this life
Only one or two will last
You go through all the pain and strife
Then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast
And they’re gone so fast, yeah
So hold on the ones who really care
In the end they’ll be the only ones there
And when you get old and start losing your hair
Tell me who will still care
Can you tell me who will still care?
After a scat-singing interlude, out of the mouths of babes comes profundity:
In an MMMBop, they’re gone
Everyone leaves eventually. Think back to high school—who were your best friends? Do you still talk? When was the last time you heard from your second-grade classmates? Do you still hear from your ex, the one who was your everything? The answer is probably no. Maybe it was a complete shut out. Maybe it was a slow fade. But over time, relationships change and people fade away. People who meant the world to you at one time are strangers now. It’s sad, but, like Hanson says, it’s how things go.
But just how much time do we have before everyone fades away? That is, how long is an MMMBop?
For our purposes, we’ll define an MMMBop as the length of time it takes for a relationship to end after it begins.
According to Marion K. Underwood and Lisa H. Rosen’s book “Social Development: Relationships in Infancy, Childhood and Adolescence,” “youths under the age of 14 years typically report relationships of a few weeks’ duration and rarely report durations of longer than [four] months.” As teens age, their relationships last longer. At 18 years old, for example, people have relationships that last closer to a year, according to Underwood and Rosen. “These duration changes are likely due to an increasing capacity to maintain intimate relationships,” they said.
Middle brother Taylor was 14 at the time, so if he was in a relationship, that means it would’ve probably lasted somewhere in the one-to-12-month range. In the grand scheme of things, that’s incredibly short. Most teens’ relationships don’t last past high school. (An outlier is, ironically, Taylor, who met his wife when he was 16.)
What about friendships? How long is it before your friends abandon you?
The youngest Hanson, Zac, was not quite 12 when “MMMBop” took the airwaves by storm. That’d put him in sixth grade — which is, depending on the school district, middle school.
The study “A Survival Analysis of Adolescent Friendships: The Downside of Dissimilarity,” by Amy C. Hartl, Brett Laursen and Antonius H. N. Cillessen, found that “roughly half of middle school friendships do not last an academic year.” Unsurprisingly, this is due to, in layman’s terms, middle schoolers being awful. A school year is approximately nine months, which falls squarely in the same timeframe for teen romantic relationships.
While it’s impossible to fully quantify an MMMBop, given the fact it’s not a real word, based on this research, it takes somewhere between one and 12 months after the beginning of a teenage relationship—romantic or platonic—for it to fade into the ether. (That is, the time it takes for an MMMBop to pass.)
If the question of how long an MMMBop has been plaguing you for the past two decades, I hope that this article has given you respite. If you have a musical question you’d like answered, or if you’d like to tell me that this column was a waste of your time, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Be sure to put “Questions and Answers” and your question in the subject line.)
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