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Curiously, the Internet itself may be to blame for the trio's woes. Recording-industry analysts predict Web piracy could lead to a 16 percent drop in music sales within two years. Fans say Hanson looks like an early victim. In April, the record was released in Australia, and listeners say portions were available for free online a month before you could buy it in America. "Anyone with a CD burner could make themselves a copy and copies for their friends, too," one New York fan wrote.
Hanson manager Christopher Sabec says he hasn't yet studied whether Internet piracy has put a crimp in sales, but he thinks the Australian release may have had an effect. "Parallel imports are one of the perils of a band that gets released internationally," Sabec explains.
Sabec has his hands full just booking performances for the band. On May 25, The New York Times reported that the promoter SFX had backed out of the tour. According to Sabec, this was only a rumor and SFX is still on board as part of a roster of promoters. Still, record sales are low enough that the tour, set to launch in July, will play venues of only a few thousand seatssmaller than expected. The management insists the Hanson boys are happy about this, because they'll get to play more intimate shows than are possible at stadiums packed with screaming girls. But one has to wonder how good the news really is.
Sabec says Hanson paved the way for postgrunge teen pop, and must now expand their audience without abandoning young fans to the blond ambition of Britney, Christina, and Mandy. Sabec refers to current pop stars as "packages" and "writing machines," though he says he respects them nevertheless. "It's kind of ironic," Sabec says, "that Hanson blew open the door to the young pop market, and now the Backstreet Boys are dominating."
Hardcore fans argue people aren't buying the new record because it's not cool to like Hanson. Like many groups who are ridiculed by the larger society, these fans have taken advantage of the Web to create a support system and a virtual community. "We Hanson fans know there is a stigma attached to Hanson," says Lisa Ezra, who founded Hansonhotel.com in 1997. "We are not delusional."
Ezra, a 23-year-old grad student from Honolulu, kicked off the letter-writing campaign through Hansonhotel. She motivated the band's many adult fans (who knew?) to join the struggle. Though she has since turned the site over to a 31-year-old home-schooling mother of two and military wife from Louisiana, Ezra has remained dedicated to the cause. She is dismayed that pop music is no longer concerned with talent but with trends. "It's a lot about hype and less about the musicianship," she says. Ezra believes the Hanson boys have matured beyond teenybopper stardom to become true rock-and-roll musicians. "People have to get the image of three blond, cherubic brothers dancing on a flower out of their minds."
The fans involved in Ezra's "Heart to Follow" campaign don't want to miss any opportunities to see Hanson perform live or hear their singles on the radio. Lately, their requests for "This Time Around," the title track off the new album, have been denied by several radio stations. Ezra thinks this is because Hanson just isn't hip. She says other listeners call and request not to hear any Hanson songs.
Ezra has named the problem that plagues the band the "Michael Bolton Disease." Her meaning is perfectly clear to other beleaguered fans. One who wrote in, a 36-year-old administrative assistant from Queens, even asked to remain anonymous. Michael Bolton Disease, she says, is what happens when you "mention that you like a certain artist and listen to the wave of laughter through the room."