A common refrain in Hanson interviews v. 1.0 was “we don’t really have a lead singer.” That’s kind of true, in that there’s a lot of harmonizing, and everybody gets a turn at lead, but I think we all acknowledge that Taylor is their lead singer at this point. It’s not a children’s soccer team, not everyone needs a trophy for participation, Taylor sings lead on more songs than Isaac and Zac. That’s just how it works. It’s not like the other brothers are just standing around looking pretty; they’re playing instruments and stuff. They contribute.
It’s kind of nice, actually, that the rotation is uneven: it means that Zac and Isaac taking the lead is a whole event, especially live. So the first time I heard Use Me Up I was primed for drama: Zac Hanson in a spotlight on an otherwise dark stage, sitting at the piano, singing please, use me up / I just want anyone to / use me up / ‘cause no ever does.
It’s hard to write about this without speculating too much about his personal life, which I don’t want to do at length, but let’s just assemble evidence for a minute here: there’s this interview— one of a million— which features eleven year old Zac looking bored out of his tiny mind while his brothers answer the same questions they’ve been answering ad nauseum, and then being actually quite graceful about the hostess repeatedly patting his head like he’s a docile puppy. There’s this interview, from years later, where the brothers agree that Zac is the most volatile, and Isaac mentions that he has, among other things, punched a promoter.
The kid has had a weird life. He’s been famous since he was eleven. Here’s him handling a pretty weird situation pretty well. Like, can you imagine? People giving you Swiffers, making fun of your songwriting, videotaping the conversation. And you have to be nice to them. Always, wherever you meet them, whatever’s going on. That’s your job. Obviously there are harder jobs; the thing about this one is that it never stops, and it’s your life, doing it. So: somebody let me down / somebody show me love / I wouldn’t care much, either way.
Zac’s voice is probably the weakest of the trio— Taylor’s is still acrobatic and soulful, and Ike has his croon, but Zac’s can get thin when he belts. It works here: there’s a tremble to the lyrics, hairline cracks at the edges of each chorus. Use me up / I just want anyone to / use me up / ‘cause one ever does. The intensity and vulnerability of it is almost terrifying. There’s nothing between the song and the listener: one boy on a stage, alone with a piano. What if the world won’t save me. What if the world won’t take me.
It’s gotta be weird to have a career that is, in some sense, just straight up dependent on people liking you. Many Hanson fans have calmed down about one brother or another being their one true soulmate, but plenty haven’t, and many more are insistent that their married lives are unsatisfying or awful or fake. (Tell it to their kids, dudes. I mean, don’t, that’s awful, just… they have kids, okay? Can we all hope, for their sakes at least, that the marriages are happy and stable?)
Beyond that, even, though, it’s an almost unavoidable part of being a fan: thinking you know someone you’ve never met. I just said I didn’t want to do too much personal speculating and then put together several hundred words about The Weird Famous Life of Zac Hanson. He gives us what he gives us, and we construct our own narratives out of it. That’s what I’ve been doing all week with these songs; it’s what we do with tabloids and celebrity gossip and, yes, fan fiction.
It’s how we handle wanting more of someone than we can have: creating them for ourselves so that there’s something for us to hold onto in their actual absence. So it’s hard not to imagine this as Zac behind the mask, but at the end of the day of course it’s still a performance. He wrote the song and recorded it, he got up on stage to sing it. He asked them to dim the lights, to put him under a spot. I will never really know— it isn’t up to me to know— where he ends and the song begins.