Time After Time: The Surprising Connection Between Taylor Swift’s “22” and Hanson’s “MMMBop”

Musically and thematically, Taylor Swift’s “22” has a lot in common with Hanson’s “MMMBop.”

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift / John Shearer/TAS23/GettyImages

On a recent episode of the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, host Brian Hiatt shared a revelation he had while watching the blockbuster concert film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour: It’s possible to sing the chorus to Hanson’s 1997 smash “MMMBop” over the chords to Swift’s 2012 hit “22.” As Hiatt noted, it’s an extremely common chord progression and rhythm, so there’s no reason for anyone to get litigious. But the similarity is unmistakable.

“I love that, the ‘MMMBop’/’22’ connection,” said guest and Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield. “That totally makes sense.”

Sheffield didn’t elaborate, but he might’ve been alluding to the fact that “MMMBop” and “22” are also aligned thematically. They’re both about life and the passage of time and the importance of holding on to what’s important to you.

Profound Nonsense

Back in the ’90s, many fans of “MMMBop” might not have picked up on those ideas. The debut single by the Oklahoma sibling trio Hanson is so ridiculously catchy that it’s easy to ignore the lyrics and focus on the seemingly nonsensical chorus, which is undoubtedly playing in your head right now. But brothers Zac, Taylor, and Isaac Hanson were offering a dash of profundity alongside that bubblegum hook.

“Well ‘MMMBop’ as a word, it represents time,” Zac told E! News in 2018. “It represents the fact that time passes very quickly … And so in a story about reaching for what’s important and kind of driving toward the impossible dream, ‘MMMBop’ is telling you: go now, go now, go now, because in a moment, in an ‘MMMBop,’ life will be over and have passed you by.”

In other words, it’s about living for today, which is roughly the same message driving Swift’s “22.” Released as the fourth single from Taylor’s chart-topping fourth album, Red, “22” finds the singer-songwriter ruminating on her actual age at the time and cataloging all of the good and bad things that come along with it. Ultimately, it’s a celebration.

“My Favorite Year“

“For me, being 22 has been my favorite year of my life,” Swift told Billboard in 2012. “I like all the possibilities of how you're still learning, but you know enough. You still know nothing, but you know that you know nothing. You’re old enough to start planning your life, but you’re young enough to know there are so many unanswered questions. That brings about a carefree feeling that is sort of based on indecision and fear and at the same time letting loose. Being 22 has taught me so much.”

This isn’t the only connection between Swift and Hanson. It’s unclear how Swift feels about the brothers now, in light of their recent controversies involving Black Lives Matter, guns, and Covid-19, but back in 2012, while she was promoting Red, she told GMA that Taylor Hanson was her first celebrity crush. A few years later, after Hanson had covered her Red single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Hanson praised Swift for standing up to Spotify and Apple Music over streaming royalties for artists.

Given their wildly divergent career trajectories and, quite possibly, their differing political views, Swift and Hanson may never take the stage to perform a mashup of “22” and “MMMBop.” But musically and lyrically, these two pop classics will fit comfortably together until the end of time.