[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Wednesday's The Masked Singer. Read at your own risk!]
The entirety of The Masked Singer is shrouded in mystery — after all, celebrity contestants disguise themselves in elaborate costumes on stage as they compete in the singing competition, and off stage in masks, face shields, and even the same style of hoodie so even crew members don't recognize them. But perhaps the biggest mystery yet surrounded the Russian Dolls, introduced in the Season 5 premiere. Although not the show's first group costume, it was definitely the first one that kept changing throughout the competition so that the judges didn't even know how many people were in it, let alone who they could be.
But in the show's quarter-final episode, after a performance of the Elton John classic "I'm Still Standing" (complete with feather boas and gaudy glasses for each doll), the Russian Dolls were finally unmasked as none other than Hanson. While the internet seemed to figure out their identity relatively quickly, it took quite a long time for the judges to catch on (some didn't even choose Hanson as their final guesses).
Brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac hopped on the phone with TV Guide to discuss why they decided to do the show, their new single "Annalie" and new album Against the World (both announced the day of their elimination), and how, exactly, they fit multiple grown adult men inside a big rolling doll costume.
As a longtime fan, it took me approximately 0.2 seconds into your performance to know that it was you singing. But it seemed to take the rest of the world a little bit longer to catch on.
There were definitely a lot of different guesses, but we felt like the internet as a whole seemed to jump on it faster than we thought might happen. We figured there'd be a little more of a lag but-
Isaac: Well, all it takes is people like Jean. [Laughs]
Why did you want to do the show?
The reason we chose to go on — I mean, there's other reasons, for sure, but one of the things that we did like about it is that idea of going on and presenting yourself without any pretext. "Hey, we're singing. We're behind the mask." It gave us a good challenge to just focus on singing and see if you can get people excited, if they just like what they hear. But it was fun to see different people guessing and to watch over the last many weeks as people just sort of assumed it was us. We'd occasionally get text messages from friends and they're just sending, like, a wink. "Hey, I know what you did."
Isaac: That's not creepy at all!
I was actually thrown off in the first episode because I didn't hear all of the harmonies the first time I watched, and I thought that was pretty nuts — only 2/3 of Hanson would be impossible for the judges to guess.
Well, just to clear the record, we were on stage — all three of us — every performance, and we all three were singing on every single song. Now that that doesn't mean we weren't doing our best to confuse people. There are definitely times where we arranged it to try and accentuate multiple voices, and times where we arranged it to try and make it seem like there was just one person, or there was a fourth voice because you had two brothers singing the same part together. "Is that the same guy? Why does it sound different?"
Were there two of you in the big doll, though?
Isaac: I would like to say here and now I would no longer like to ever be that close to Taylor or Zac in the near future, or, like, ever, maybe.
How much convincing did the costume require? Was there a time when you were in the big doll where you were like, yes, it is just me, an adult man, standing next to my brother, also an adult man, in a giant Russian doll costume?
You know, the really scary part was being in spandex.
Taylor: The undergarments really pushed us to the edge. But no, once we got our heads around the flow of the show and what the spirit of the show was, we were able to not get too personally attached to what the costume had to be because the whole idea is it's fun, it's kind of surprising, it's engaging. We definitely had ideas. There were lots of different ideas discussed. But to have a theme that could show multiple characters and still be connected, that definitely left you with less options. Sausage links was taken.
Isaac: Bundle of bananas, spaghetti and meatballs.
Taylor: We felt like the dolls was actually a pretty clever idea and it made sense, but it also allowed us to not only do three but to do more and so we got pretty into it. And really, also when we saw the quality of the team really at every level - the music, the production, the design of the costume. There are really top-notch people, and they're not just throwing something out there, they're really working through something that everybody feels good about. So that made it less of a struggle. We felt like if they were excited then we'd be ready to do it.
This doesn't necessarily seem like something you would've signed up for. Was there anything in particular that convinced you to do it?
A couple of different things. Obviously, it's been a really different time for everybody. Oftentimes, we'd be on tour - in fact, we should have been in Australia during that period. Of course, the pandemic's affected everything in the live music world. [It] put this in a different light that said, "Hey, it would be hard to do this in a lot of other times, so let's just embrace it." It was kind of fun to have a unique challenge, a different challenge. If it had been The Masked Dancer it would have been hard no. As singers, that's where we come from. We started off singing acapella. We learned from early rock and roll, soul music, doo-wop, people that really sang in harmony. It almost allowed us to just step back and zero in on our roots as singers. And it also highlights different qualities of your skillset. I think all those things together made it a yes.
Isaac: Also, one of the things that is maybe an obvious one, in some sense, but was really something we were excited about: The anonymity of it is cool. We've been doing this music thing for a long time, and you don't often get the chance to have a first impression again in some way. You're keeping people guessing, so they're listening closely, and you're getting a fresh set of eyes and ears on you as an artist, as a singer, and then ultimately as a band once people realize who it is and they can look stuff up. So it's a positive thing, I think, on all levels. Somebody who's been following us for a long time, they go, 'Oh, immediately I know who that band is, I know who those voices are.' But for somebody who's not familiar, it's going to hopefully spark their curiosity and get them to discover [new] things about you, or you, period, for the first time.
It feels like there's like a headline every couple of years that's like, "Wow, Hanson's grown up and they're really good." It's like pop culture has enshrined you as children, and it's kind of weird that people don't seem to realize that time has passed.
First impressions are strong. They're significant. So there's a fun opportunity for us to get in front of a lot of people, do what we do best as artists, as singers, and keep people guessing, and then hopefully along the way you reintroduce yourself to a bunch of fans. You have a lot of fans cheering you on that already know who it is, because they know your voices so well, and then you meet a bunch of new people on the way.
Zac: We have a new project that's being released starting today called Against the World and I think in some sense that first impression experience is something that we've been thinking about for a long time. Because it is such a powerful thing to have people experience you for the first time. And so this project is one song a month. Every single song on the project is a single. Every single song has a spotlight put on it for a few weeks to say, 'this is the most important thing.' We've been a band for a long time, and you really don't get to do that with most of your projects, whether it's String Theory or Middle of Nowhere or every album in between. There's one song that people kind of know — or two songs, or four songs if you're lucky — from each project. So this is really a way to accentuate each story.
Was this something you've been planning for a while?
Originally before 2020 when this was originally charted out, the plan was, "Hey, we want to have music coming out throughout our world tour. We want people to discover it all the time. We don't want things to feel old." And so, with us still not able to do the full tour until next year, really going everywhere, we still love the idea that constantly we're discovering something new and if you're following the band you can look forward to something all year long and you can have that sense of anticipation.
Zac: That comes in the form of songs but also live streams and themed concerts so that each time you come and watch a live stream it's going to be special. That's the way the songs should feel, that's the way the show should feel.
Are you hoping that your legacy in pop culture will extend beyond "MMMbop" as a cultural touchstone?
You are correct that "MMMbop" continues to be a magnet. As a group, we have tried to take the long view of what we do for a long time. It's not that singles don't matter, because they do, they obviously are what people connect to and then discover the rest. But we definitely hope that the legacy of our music is able to be seen as a whole. Next year we'll be a band for 30 years. That's a long time. And I think one of the reasons we're looking at releasing this music in a different way is because we do want to begin to open the floodgates of discovery of every song on an album. Oftentimes, you make a 14-song album and only two songs have a video, historically. With the internet age, everything's digital, everything's global. We have a really global fan base. I think it's just about flipping the script a little bit and opening the world, diversifying the way people are coming across the band's music.
The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on Fox.