Today’s reminder that you’re old: Total Request Live premiered 15 years ago.
MTV’s daily Top 10 music-video countdown show premiered in 1998, kicking off a 10-year run as one of pop culture’s most influential programs. Before he was hosting The Voice and landing gigs on the Today show, Carson Daly emceed the daily show (at least for most of its run), which, with its blend of music-video showcasing, wild interviews, and buzzy performances, helped make stars out of an eclectic group of artists ranging from Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to Nelly and Ja Rule to Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit to Blink 182, No Doubt, and Destiny’s Child.
As much as TRL was about those stars, however, it was about the fans, who called in each day to vote on their favorite music videos, who packed themselves outside MTV’s Times Square studio in hope of catching a glimpse of their favorite boybanders as they filmed the show, and who rushed home from school each day to watch religiously. So in honor of the 15th anniversary, we asked some of the fans—the staff of The Daily Beast—to remember their favorite moments from the show’s run.
Mariah Carey’s Glorious Meltdown
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Has it really been 15 years? God, I feel old. I was a bit older than the target demo for TRL at the time, but every day when I came home from school, my little sister would be parked in front of the TV watching it and I often joined in. There are so many great moments it’s hard to choose. Homeless space cadet Jesse Camp winning the Wanna Be a VJ contest over Dave Holmes—and actually VJing for some time. The eternal question of ‘N SYNC vs. Backstreet Boys (‘N SYNC are better dancers, but BSB had better songs, in my opinion). Even bizarre (in retrospect) acts like Korn, Blink 182, Kid Rock, and Eminem were regular fixtures on the program. But my favorite individual moment on the show occurred back in 2001, when an apparently medicated Mariah Carey had a mild breakdown on TRL. It began with her inexplicably strut-wheeling an ice-cream cart onto the set, followed by a moderate striptease for Carson Daly, and her handing out ice-cream bars to the audience, as well as extolling the virtues of ice cream. “You’re my therapy session right now, Carson,” she says, later adding. “I just want one day off when I can go swimming, and look at rainbows, and like… eat ice cream.” You can watch it in all its glory above.
—Marlow Stern, senior film and music editor
The Backstreet Boys’ Biggest Fan
I have a confession to make: I co-founded and operated a Backstreet Boys fan site for more than three years. It was hosted, naturally, by Angelfire—that graveyard of amateur websites—and was bursting with photos, news, and animated GIFs, for which I painstakingly learned HTML code. The site featured a different vertical for each member of the band; if you hovered your mouse over Howie’s face for long enough, for example, it would change expressions. Basically, I was ahead of my time. It was, therefore, a momentous occasion when the group was scheduled to appear on TRL during the fall of my 9th-grade year. A friend and I spent the better part of a week designing glittery, horribly desperate signs that declared our love of different members (hers was Brian; mine was Nick). Our visit to TRL would require us to leave slightly early from school, thrillingly skipping the last half of our final class. We had brought a change of clothes in our backpacks—it would have been a horrible faux pas to show up in our plaid school uniforms, despite the Britney reference—and I proudly wore my Frankie B. jeans down to Times Square. Of course, we didn’t actually have tickets into TRL, but no matter: we stood outside in the crowd under the large glass windows, surrounded by police barricades. It was so freezing out, but instead of being pissed about having to stand there in the cold, I was pissed that I had to wear a coat over my outfit and Nick might not get to see what I was wearing. Of course, Nick didn’t see me at all. For a brief minute, they panned down to us from the window, and we went ape shit—and I saw the back of Nick’s blond, perfectly coiffed head. My day was made.
—Isabel Wilkinson, fashion and arts editor
Falling in Love With Britney Spears
The first time I saw Britney and “…Baby One More Time” (named No. 1 on the show’s list of most iconic videos). That was in November 1998, and not too long after my high-school hockey teammate and I bought tickets to Britney’s Aug. 29, 1999, stop on her 56-show …Baby One More Time Tour, at Upper Darby, Pa.’s Tower Theatre (capacity: 3,119). It would be funny! Right? We arrived late. By the time we got to our seats, the crowd had been whipped into a total frenzy. The theater was teeming with real Britney fans—middle schoolers decked in Britney-inspired outfits, and then us: two older guys who rode in on a joke and were ready to dance in a tweenage hurricane. There were two similar guys next to us. They brought binoculars. She opened, I think, with “Crazy,” then made her way through a pop-tinged ’80s Madonna-heavy medley before gyrating her way toward the reason we were all there, when that familiar three-note piano intro set the place on fire.
—Brian Ries, senior social media editor
I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV.
—Caitlin Dickson, reporter
He’s Famous, Right?
Like any teen/tween/pre-pubescent wannabe, I was obsessed with TRL and used to watch it every day after school. When I went on my first trip to New York in the fourth grade, all I wanted was to see a taping of TRL. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that the minimum age was 13, so my only option was to be among the screaming fans outside. My age proved to be advantageous though, as people pushed me all the way up to the front to meet Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block fame. I was thrilled, even if I frankly had no clue who he was.
—Natascha Bach, video intern
Breaking the Rules
I was 8 when Carson Daly took over TRL and I watched the show religiously, hoping and praying for an ‘N SYNC video, any ‘N SYNC video. But I was so not allowed to watch MTV when I was 8. Every day, I’d come home from school and crouch in front of the TV for the whole hour, remote control in hand, ready to flip the channel back to Nickelodeon as soon as my mom or dad stepped in the front door.
—Eliza Shapiro, reporter
My TRL starts off sounding like the TRL story. I was in the Times Square MTV studio for a taping of the show when Mariah Carey was the guest. But it was not that time that Mariah Carey was a guest—though if a genie were to appear next to me right now, first I’d have a heart attack (because, like, how creepy), second I’d wish for another Diet Coke because I just finished mine, and third I’d wish to be in the TRL audience the day Mariah Carey went full-on Anna Nicole Smith cray cray. I was actually in the audience several years later when Carey was there to promote “We Belong Together.” I went with my college roommate, Thomas. We were easily the oldest people in the audience. We were also easily the most excited to see Mariah Carey because ARE YOU KIDDING ME IT WAS MARIAH CAREY. Thomas also happened to be a male model, which is to say he is very attractive, which is to say that the producers kept moving us after every commercial break so that Thomas was always in the shot with Mariah. Which is to say that I was always within 12 inches of Mariah Carey, which is to say it was the best day of my life. I touched her leg (by accident) (it totally wasn’t by accident). When I apologized, she said, “It’s OK, angel,” twinkled her fingers in a girly wave, and smiled. When I tell this story after a few glasses of wine—you better believe this story is told at least twice a week—“it’s OK, angel” becomes a seven-minute conversation between Mariah and me about my hopes and dreams. But whatever. I’m sure that if Mariah and I really did have a seven-minute conversation, she would love to hear about my hopes and dreams.
—Kevin Fallon, culture reporter
The King of Pop
I was a huge Michael Jackson fan since the age of 3. Needless to say, I was very excited when the King of Pop made his first appearance on TRL in 2001. It had been about six years since Michael had released any new material, so I was anxious to see the music video for his new song, “You Rock My World.” Unfortunately, I do not remember any of the details from his interview with Carson Daly. However, I will never forget watching him on television as he waved to all the fans that had gathered in Times Square to see him.
—Chancellor Agard, culture intern
Wanting to Become Britney Spears
I will join the long list of people who count the debut of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” video as their most memorable TRL moment because it was indeed the most life-changing music video I had seen in my 12 years of existence (aside from Aerosmith’s “Crazy” with Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone). Needless to say, I was a precocious young thing and wanted to be Britney Spears after seeing that video for the first time. I wanted to wear her Catholic schoolgirl uniform to my non-Catholic school; I wanted to style my hair in pigtail braids and shimmy my non-existent breasts. I’d seen Dirty Dancing and The Crush and Now and Then, but nothing in film or music exemplified pre-teen sex appeal quite like Britney did in that deliciously indelible music video.
—Lizzie Crocker, reporter
I know literally nothing about this. I do know that Carson Daly dodged a bullet by breaking off his engagement to that Tara Reid hussy.
—Brandy Zadrozny, reporter
The Dawn of a Destiny’s Child Obsession
Watching the “Say My Name” video on TRL—and therefore dressing monochromatically for months after—was everything in 2000. When it debuted, the focus wasn’t just about the Queen Bey we’ve come to hail today. It was about so much more: the intense color coordination; the outfits; the revolving rooms; the hair. The video managed to make the color orange and interior decorating hot in equal amount. It also marked a sassier new era of Destiny’s Child, one which introduced new members Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin. (Apparently LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson didn’t know they were out of the group until they saw the music video.)
—Anna Brand, homepage editor
Living and Breathing Backstreet
There was nothing more thrilling than hearing that deep booming voice announce “world premiere” on TRL. They had been teasing the Backstreet Boys’ “Larger Than Life” video for the entire episode before and after every commercial break. Finally at the end of the show it was revealed, and to my young eyes, it was glorious. The Backstreet Boys were the boy band of choice for people who liked their boy bands a little weirder. They weren’t afraid to dress up or look strange, and “Larger Than Life” delivered that on all fronts. It was a dark, cyberpunk future powered by the best effects 1999 could muster and we were all impressed. Not only that, the space epic broke TRL’s record for longest running No. 1 song. Those of us who got to see that world premiere felt like it was our record, too.
—Victoria Kezra, entertainment intern
TRL debuted when I was 15, when I preferred to think of myself as being along the Daria spectrum of MTV programming. But I watched it, of course—I had a lucky break, since I spent most afternoons that year babysitting tweens and I could blame watching it on the kids. I think we must have played outside or done some activities (girls, if you’re reading this, I really apologize if we never did anything else) but what I remember most clearly is watching TRL while we did our homework. Sometimes we’d call in and request and sometimes we’d be inspired to dance around the house to the Backstreet Boys, using our pens and pencils as microphones for karaoke. I don’t even know if anyone lets 15-year-olds babysit anymore (this is probably a pretty good explanation for why parents wouldn’t), or if kids even watch music videos anymore, but they’re all missing out if not.
—Caroline Linton, reporter
Dreaming of Bandana Shirts
My obsession with TRL, like most preteen obsessions, was entirely un-ironic. Every day after school I would squeeze between my two dogs and sneeze my way through the entire show (this was before I learned that I was allergic to dogs). My fan-girl fervor stemmed from the simple fact that TRL was cool, which I really wanted to be. Everyone on TRL, from Britney Spears to the interchangeable female VJ, was good-looking, confident, and could pull off bandanas as shirts. Meanwhile, my mom refused to let me wax my unibrow. I was eager to transform myself into a member of the TRL world (VJ or celebrity, I wasn’t picky). While I didn’t have a strong grasp on what Beyoncé’s jelly was, I felt confident that I was ready for it. Obviously my dream never came true. But I remain a victim of a particular sort of Stockholm syndrome that forces me to love all of the MTV-approved music that kept me glued to my couch throughout the early 2000s. To this day, my iPod is around 70 percent songs I furiously downloaded after hearing them on TRL. And yes, they’re really, really bad—but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
—Amy Halperin Zimmerman, entertainment intern
Campaigning for a Revival
Since I didn’t have cable in grade school, TRL was always this mythical beast on MTV. Years later when I interned at MTV News, I’d walk by the show’s unused set in the Viacom building, a relic to a time when music videos actually aired on TV and Carson Daly was relevant. We interns always had the same brilliant idea: “Why are we transcribing When I Was 17 interviews?! Let’s bring back TRL!” No one listened to us.
—Sujay Kumar, senior homepage editor
I remember not liking Carson Daly—a sentiment that persists to this day.
Other than that, nada.
Call me when the time comes to commemorate MTV’s Top 20 Video Countdown with Daisy Fuentes.
—Andrew Romano, senior writer