A whole generation fondly remembers Total Request Live. For about a decade TRL came on right at the end of the school day (and toward the end of the work day), and showcased the most popular songs and music videos. The studio overlooking Times Square was iconic, the hosts, from La La Vasquez to Carson Daly, became famous, and the atmosphere was always fun. But the show shut down in 2008 and still seems like something firmly rooted in the late-‘90s and early-‘00s. Until now, that is. News has recently come out that MTV plans to bring TRL back, potentially quite soon.
It’s a bold step meant as part of a larger effort to combat slipping ratings at MTV, and it’s almost directly antithetical to the musical culture that has developed in the nine years since TRL’s last broadcast. Back then, we turned to MTV in the late afternoon to enjoy the day’s most popular tunes as chosen by the voting masses. Now, we go our own ways to sink ourselves into the music we already like.
For the most part, this is because of how we access music. As of the spring of 2016, streaming had surpassed downloading as the most popular form of music consumption in the U.S. And along with streaming comes the ability to try out new music and field suggestions from various apps and programs. Years ago, we still had to tune into the radio, or in some cases MTV, to get a feel for what was new and popular. We could then seek it out, download it, or go buy a CD. In other words we used to have to go to popular music, and now it comes to us.
We’ve also seen a diversification of popular genres thanks in large part to some creative efforts by musicians to get into new media. The most noteworthy example may just be classic rock’s modest but noticeable revival through online gaming channels. Dozens of prominent casino sites have taken to designing all kinds of different experiences, and there are games based on pop culture including tributes to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Guns N’ Roses, among others. Developments like this have helped some older bands to return to the mainstream, giving people more variety. In the days of TRL, we were mostly subjected to whichever genres were most popular at the time.
Despite these changes MTV appears to be betting on nostalgia and familiarity as driving forces supporting the revival. It might not be a bad bet. The network has already booted up some shows that are similar to ones that aired during the late-‘90s/early-‘00s heyday. MTV has also already clarified that the reboot will take place in the same studio overlooking Times Square, which should mean that live, on-set enthusiasm will be a given. In the end, the success of the show will probably ride on two things. Those are whether or not artists start to focus more on creative music videos once again, and whether or not the new hosts will successfully engage audiences.
We can’t speak to the music video issue. Artists haven’t stopped making videos by any means, but it’s probably fair to say there’s less emphasis on making them stand out than there was 10 or 20 years ago. There’s no telling if that trend will reverse or not. But we do know who the new hosts will be, and somewhat bafflingly there are five of them.
Amy Pham is a DJ and actress. Lawrence Jackson is a jack-of-all-trades in entertainment but has had his work featured at popular networks. DC Young Fly is a rapper and actor who’s appeared in MTV and BET and has a massive Instagram following. Erik Zachary is an iHeartMedia radio host. And Tamara Dhia is a pop culture writer and reporter. The five hosts are expected to rotate, which is an interesting strategy. It could just be a ploy for MTV to discover who fans respond to best, like a sort of live audition. Or they could be going for a different look without the dominant personality like Daly or Vasquez at the center of the show.
This is a strange and unexpected idea. But it’s hard not to be a little curious or excited about how it’s going to turn out. We’ll have to wait and see when the show comes back this October.