If I remember anything from the MTV original Total Request Live, which was canceled in 2008, it is the revolving door of hosts, Carson Daly, Vanessa Minnillo, Quddus, Damien Fahey, and the excitement of the race home from school to catch the beginning of the music video countdown.
MTV reinvented: from (George) Osbornes of James may’s Pimp My Ride
The call TRL, back in the early 2000s, was not only that it was interactive, live and daily, giving the pre-teens after-school programming that is not Oprah or Ellen, or Maury repeats, but also that there were so few other places to actually watch the day the most popular music videos. YouTube did not launch until 2005, when Daly had already left the show, and smartphones, and iTunes and VeVo still had to turn the music industry on its head. TRL was, in a sense, one of the last bastions of monoculture, where the children of the 90s and early 00s could consume both music and news before a new episode of Pimp My Ride or Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica. But when the iphone eventually come, TRL has been all but emptied of their meaning, and the show knew it was time for the arc: why spend an hour waiting to see our favorite videos when they are all now at our fingertips?
For whatever reason, MTV chose to revive Total Request Live with a new pair of hosts (DC Young Fly and Tamara Dhia), a chic, a kaleidoscope of game and even hordes of screaming fans gathered in Times Square, as if they had been frozen in ice since the show’s last episode in November 2008. But if TRL seemed like an anachronism 10 years ago, it feels downright neolithic now, in the era of streaming and tweeting and gramming and Shazam-ing.
Monday in the premiere, the guests of honor such as DJ Khaled, Ed Sheeran, Migos, TRL seemed a lot more like a jazzed-up talk show for the digital age, canned, actions of promotion, a good bit of standing-in-place-waiting-for-the-next-cue, and, in the biggest twist of all, not music videos, or applications. And, except for a brief, prefatory flashback to the show’s heyday, when it has been ground zero for the rivalry as ’NSync v Backstreet Boys and Britney v Christina, not a single nod to its place in the pop culture canon. Surprisingly, the new TRL made me feel old, and I am born in the 90’s.
Instead, the hour was filled with the kind of stuff that would otherwise find a home on YouTube, like the adorable six-year-old viral sensation Ahnari, which struck Cardi B Bodak Yellow and has been anointed as “the future” of Khaled, who has dutifully played hype-man through the whole of the first (which was probably why her song Wild Thoughts played for nearly every dance, jump and pre-commercial interlude).
Khaled was not the blessing of the people at the top and bottom and providing “major keys”, Sheeran participated in a game called “the heart, follow, block,” where he was shown three celebrity Twitter posts and, in the vein of the timeless dinner-party classic “fuck, marry, kill,” was asked to “heart”, “follow” a second and to “block” a third. In the between-you could see – but barely hear, thanks to MTV censorship – a show of rap trio Migos, as well as by Sheeran, who has been invited to select one of the two fans, both of whom had their body inked in his honor, to join him in the TRL studio. Spoiler alert: he chose the two.
In his defense, TRL has been created on a fairly bad day, as the country woke up to the news of the massacre of Las Vegas to the Mandalay Bay hotel, which has had more than 50 people dead and injured at least 500 others. The TRL hosts mentioned the shooting from the start and also the promotion of a non-profit called Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates gun control. But the show is the dynamism, the carefree approach was so obviously discordant, given the current state of things, that these winks felt uncomfortable. Especially when DC has proposed a moment of silence before the camera suddenly cut back to Khaled, lounging in a large leather chair, the words “the Major Keys to Motivation” overprint on the ground below him. “Now, we need positivity, and we know DJ Khaled is a master of positivity,” DC said. “We need some words of wisdom, the big brother!” Unfortunately, not even Khaled could offer them, and the camera is sprayed for about 15 seconds before he told the audience that “love is the key”.
MTV Classic: wallow in the nostalgia of the 90’s
MTV strayed from its original purpose as “music television” long ago – probably around the mid-2000s, when he moved towards reality programming and Justin Timberlake took the VMA stage at the request of the network, “play more damn videos” – so it is not as TRL is largely video-free debut, it’s shocking. What is more surprising, it is the decision to do the show at all, since his former public now passes the 3pm hour to a cell and its course has not reached puberty until years after the original TRL was cancelled. Instead, TRL 2.0 is not only a trainwreck, but a trainwreck with barely any soundtrack.