"Wait, Total Request Live got cancelled? Wait, Total Request Live is still on?" Har har, how droll!
Okay, now that that perfunctory bit of snark–which I've read some iteration of a few dozen times this week–is out of the way, let's all focus on what we're saying goodbye to tonight: Canned celebrity interviews, 30-second music video clips interrupted by screaming teenagers shouting out their peeps, and the unfulfilled promise of another Mariah Carey-like onscreen meltdown. But all that aside, it's undeniable that TRL was the cornerstone of what might be called MTV's second golden age by some–namely, those who were still mastering the big-girl potty during the network's mid-'80s prime. By the time TRL debuted in 1998, MTV had already filtered out a lot of its music programming, but hadn't yet fully embraced the all-shitty-reality-programming-all-the-time-model it now favors, and TRL played a big part in the boy-band/pop-tart/nu-metal resurgence that ushered in another era of music-video prominence.
I, like most people, haven't had much cause to watch TRL with any sort of real investment since I got a driver's license and developed what some might call decent taste in music–but I can't deny that it played a big part in how I consume pop music. Namely, I credit TRL, at least in part, with my high tolerance, even occasional love, of spectacle over talent, and an understanding, if not personal embracement, of the cult of celebrity the surrounds the more mania-inducing members of the bubblegum elite (the Britneys and Backstreet Boys of yore, the Mileys and Jonas Brothers of today). For better or for worse, this was a part of my and many of my generation's musical education, and its demise is noteworthy, if not incredibly sad.
That said, I have no idea what to expect tonight, since I have grown wholly unfamiliar with the show in the past half-decade or so… I'm not even sure who hosts it now. One Tree Hill girl? That goofy Damien whatshisface? Wasn't there someone named Sway who used to wander onto the set every now and then? I have vague memories of attending a TRL taping during the summer of 2003 during a friend's visit to New York, but nothing stands out, outside of me frantically dodging the "shoutout mic" when it made its way to my side of the audience. I think maybe SuChin Pak was there. So yeah, I may not be the most informed guide to Total Finale Live, but I'm probably the most informed you're gonna find 'round TV Club way. So, in the spirit of TRL, I'm throwing out any attempt at cohesive, informed commentary tonight and saying, "Fuck it! We'll do it live!" That's right: It's time for Total Request Liveblog!
6:59pm: Before this starts, I'd like to send a shoutout to my peeps at Salem High School! Class of 2001 baby, go Rocks, WHOOOOOO!!!
7pm: Starting out with a countdown… how appropriate. What is this a countdown of exactly?
7:02pm: The obligatory Times Square crowd shot. New Yorkers, fill me in: Does anyone still gather outside the MTV studios at… whenever TRL airs nowadays?
7:04pm: This Beyonce performance, combined with last night's SNL, officially doubles the number of times I've heard "If I Were A Boy." I think I've had my fill. "Single Ladies," I'm a little more fond of, mostly because of the accompanying grand mal seizure-style dance movies.
7:08pm: How annoyed are the other Destiny's Child ladies right now? "Um, hey, we kinda used to be on this show a lot too you know…?" No time ladies, Beyonce has to dance to a recording of "Crazy In Love," and we do only have two and a half hours, you know.
7:10pm: Yay, technical difficulties! Damien Fahey gets introed, but the sound cuts out before Mr. TRL Himself, Carson Daly, is named. The two amble toward stage, exchanging small talk that's drowned out by the screams of kids who where roughly 4 years old when Daly hosted.
7:12: The countdown of top No. 1 videos starts with "Hey Ya." The countdown of shrill audience members interrupting videos starts with… a beauty queen of some sort? Sure, why not?
7:14pm: Hey, it's One Tree Hill VJ and Australian-accent VJ who I don't know. And they're pretending to care about Taylor Swift's "TRL Yearbook," which the country singer has been given the dubious honor of having to get signed by everyone in attendance.
7:16pm: FLASHBACK: Backstreet Boys mania! Carson Daly "lost two-thirds of my hearing" that day… and at least that much of your dignity, Carson.
7:21: IT'S MILEY! Posing in TRL's signature photo booth. Resisting the urge to make an Annie Leibovitz quip here…
7:23: Is this the first time Travis Barker has appeared on TV post-crash? He says he's playing drums again, which makes me genuinely happy, despite not being much of a fan. He seems pretty out of it though…
7:25pm: It's a highlight reel of P. Diddy's ego. He apparently lives in the walls of the TRL studios, just waiting to pop out should anyone suddenly utter his name.
7:28pm: Diddy's having "a moment." "I love this show so much, *sniff*"… and the way it's helped me maintain the illusion of my own cultural relevance for nigh on 10 years now.
7:36pm: And so we learn the origins of that shining gem of late-'90s music, "N 2 Gether Now": Fred Durst and Method Man, enraged by their tiny, depressing TRL dressing rooms, teamed up tp take their revenge on millions of innocent ears. History in the making, folks!
7:37pm: Flash forward to tomorrow afternoon: Diddy, alone in the deserted hallways of the abandoned TRL set, resolutely hamming it up for imaginary cameras. HE JUST WON'T LEAVE!
7:38pm: Yes La La, who could forget lyrics like, "Want a lady in the street but a freak in the bed"? Not me, especially not when Ludacris repeats them four times in a row during this awkward intro for the No. 8 Most Iconic-est video, "Yeah."
7:41pm: Dave Holmes and Jesse Camp have arrived. Holmes is still doing his Matt Pinfield Lite thing, and Camp doesn't seem nearly as weird as he did back in the day–mainly because he looks like every other keffiyeh-sporting hipster roaming the streets of Williamsburg these days. Jesse Camp: freakishly tall, grating, talentless trendsetter.
7:43pm: Christina Aguilera and Carson Daly stroke each other's egos for a few minutes. She talks about loving performing live on TRL and being up close and personal with her fans, despite the fact that she's appearing via satellite tonight.
7:45pm: Only 23 more minutes until Kid Rock you guys!! Hang in there!
7:50pm: VJ Damien makes fun of VJ Hillary for hanging out in the room with all the free booze. She looks embarrassed. I suddenly feel a certain sense of camaraderie with One Tree Hill VJ. Let's all watch as St. Bono bestows a sacred hug upon her, back she was a young lass plucked from obscurity to verbally fellate TRL favorites on the VMA red carpet. Her joke about giving MTV and TRL her youth doesn't seem entirely good-natured. Damien joins in on the bitterness ("I'd have a law degree!"). You poor things. Go drink some free booze.
7:52pm: Good to see Jonas Brothers fans are still holding it down for the screamy/cry-y sector of teen girldom.
7:54pm: Fall Out Boy performs sans Pete Wentz, who's off spawning with Ashlee Simpson. Suddenly, hordes of FOB-haters everywhere find themselves inexplicably hating FOB a little less.
8:04pm: 50 Cent still hasn't arrived at the TRL Studios for his upcoming performance! OMG, draaaammaaaaa you guys! In the meantime, here's… Susie? Who the hell is Susie?
8:07pm: Justin and JC from 'N Sync enter as "Pop" plays. I'm suddenly reminded that I kinda sorta don't hate that song. Carson Daly earns bonus points for rubbing their noses in a still shot of them circa 1998, when Justin Timberlake still had Ramen-noodle hair and JC Chasez looked… exactly the same.
8:10pm: Carson reluctantly rolls footage of himself and 'N Sync wearing a bunch of Santa hats and, um, wrestling. JC sums it up nicely: "Oh, this is gross."
8:13pm: Taylor Swift is getting Ludacris' autograph in her fake yearbook. Neither speaks to the other.
8:17pm: Cason Daly's BFF Kid Rock is here! And he's drunk! Atta boy, Kid! Carson drags him to the window: "Am I supposed to say goodbye?" he mutters.
8:19pm: Comments poll: Who owes the most of their career to TRL? Britney? 'N Sync? Kid Rock? Eminem? Jesse Camp? (Just kidding, he doesn't have a career.)
8:22pm: Ah, the MTV News crew: Bringing the TRL momentum to a screeching halt since 1998. Remember when A.J. from Backstreet Boys went to rehab? And when Britney Spears got divorced? Good times, good times.
8:25pm: Apparently TRL was the focal point around which all emotional healing after 9/11 happened, according to John Norris and Carson Daly.
8:30pm: IT'S MILEY! And she's still in the photo booth. That's probably for the best, keep her secluded.
8:31pm: Oh good, Diddy's back. It had been almost an hour, I was getting worried. Are y'all ready for the SECOND Diddy montage of the night?? This one's theme: "Diddy likes to pimp, er, promote stuff. Oh, and go buy I Am King Cologne and go see that upcoming Biggie biopic."
8:36pm: Ludacris smartly abandons a performance of a new track that I'm not familiar with in favor of an old chestnut, "Just Like That." The crowd suddenly finds it a little easier to feign enthusiasm. (Honestly, though, I still kind of love this song.)
8:37pm: Nelly's here! And he is demanding you take off your clothes.
8:40: Oh, I get it, a coast-to-coast hip-hop medley, featuring Snoop Dogg (West Coast), Nelly (St. Louis) and Ludacris (Atlanta). Nope, nothing's missing from this performance, coming at ya live from New York. Not a thing.
8:41pm: Oh God, that clip of Heidi Montag "freestyling" for Nelly is the first time tonight I've had to mute my television. Being the most embarrassing thing about the TRL finale is a great feat indeed.
8:47pm: Is anyone surprised that Damien Fahey's most awkward live moment on TRL involves Tyra Banks? Or that Carson's is Mariah Carey's legendary onscreen, ice-cream fueled breakdown? I remember watching that shit live, and having the same, "Oh God, what are you doing??" reaction.
8:52pm: Wait, they turned the TRL studio into an ice-skating rink for Will Ferrell's plug of Blades Of Glory? That's actually kind of brilliant.
8:54pm: Christina Aguilera's back, and she's still thrilled and grateful and blahblahblah.
8:55pm: Oh God, all this Aguilera-ness has reminded me of this video from the brilliant Rich of FourFour. Melisma!!
8:58pm: *Genevieve stands up and dances along to "Bye Bye Bye," then sits down in shame*
9:01pm: I think Damien Fahey just lied when he said Justin Timberlake's performance of "Cry Me A River" was voted the No. 1 TRL live performance. And I KNOW Timberlake just lied when he acted like he cared. But OMG you guys, he's about to tell us all about some exciting new projects! Stay tuned!
9:02pm: Oh, Quddus, I forgot you were here. He asks Pete Wentz, who's on the phone, how his VERY PREGNANT wife is doing, and Wentz says something about buying a bootleg copy of Twilight. Cue sad trombone.
9:09pm: Samuel L. Jackson is introducing the Backstreet Boys. That makes total sense.
9:10pm: It's "I Want It The Way"! Sing along, you know you know the words!!
9:15pm: Backstreet Boys have been around for 15 years. In case you didn't already feel really old.
9:16pm: A having-way-too-much-fun Carson Daly drags a cameraman through crowded room of people standing around awkwardly eating crudités: "It's insanity!" Hillary is still hanging out by the free booze.
9:22pm: IT'S MILEY! And she has a feather boa!
9:23pm: Here comes Eminem! I wonder if he's still fat?
9:23pm: FAKEOUT! He's on the phone, and he sounds, according to Carson, "perky."
9:26pm: God, this Carson-Eminem interview is excruciating. Carson: "What can you tell us about being onTRL?" Eminem: [2 minutes of stuttering] "Uh, it was crazy man." Carson: "What can you tell us about the new record?" Eminem: "Nothing." Carson: "Really? Not even a little bit?" Eminem: "Nope."
9:28pm: "The Real Slim Shady" is No. 2 on the Most Iconic-est countdown. Gee, I wonder what could be No. 1? Perhaps that bald-headed specter dressed in a schoolgirl uniform that's been haunting this entire show? (Seriously, how do you get through two and a half hours of TRL footage without mentioning Britney?)
9:30pm: 50 Cent made it. And we are officially running overtime. But it's totally worth it to hear "In Da Club" again, right??
9:33pm: "When we get back, a lot more…" NO! Wrap it up, Daly.
9:39pm: "All Things Rock, remember that?" No, VJ lady whose name I forgot, I don't. And if it's, as you claim, responsible for Good Charlotte being here, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't remind me.
9:41pm: Justin Timberlake returns for the third time tonight, this time plugging a pretty singer-girl he signed after seeing her on YouTube. Somewhere backstage, Diddy drinks some Ciroc vodka and plots his revenge.
9:44pm: Taylor Swift! How's your yearbook quest going? Good? All right, good job. Have a cookie.
9:46pm: GOD WHY ISN'T THIS OVER YET? There better be something more the "Baby One More Time" video waiting for me at the end of this bloated monstrosity.
9:51pm: "The night has flown by." Fuck you, Daly.
9:52pm: Britney could not be here tonight. Shocker.
9:54pm: The three notes that changed everything. Or something.
9:55pm: Hey, girl mockingly screaming "Britney Spears, woooo!": Shut up. It's the end of an era. Show some respect.
9:56pm: Sobbing girl: That's better.
9:57pm: Kid Rock and Snoop Dogg are goofing off, pretending Kid's cigar is a joint, Carson just dissed LFO, Jesse Camp is lurking in the background… sending TRL off in quiet, dignified style.
9:59pm: "Wait, why are we stopping this show?" Because it's been THREE FUCKING HOURS Carson, that's why. Please, just do your little toast and leave me be.
10pm: It's over! Any thoughts? Yeah, me neither. Ah, TRL, 10 years of brain-numbing frivolity. RIP.