Sounding Board

TRL Is Back And Please Don’t Go To It

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Hm. It seems Ecclesiastes 1:9 did not anticipate the day a handful of men would finally face consequences for their years of brazen sexual assault, but it certainly did anticipate the reboot of MTV’s music video countdown show Total Request Live (which you maybe did not know is currently in progress [it is]), and you have to give Ecclesiastes 1:9 credit for that.

I recently attended a live taping of the reboot at the TRL studio in Times Square. If you heard about the reboot’s existence before this, it’s probably because you read an interview the showrunner Albert Lewitinn gave with The Fader in which he was asked whether he was prepared for the president (Donald Trump) to watch the show, and whether he would welcome him on. “I would love both,” Lewitinn said. “He’s welcome to hashtag us and @ TRL. He’s the president of the United States. Of course we would welcome him on. He’s the president of the United States.” Alas, Trump was not a guest when I visited. It’s too bad, too, because “President [DONALD TRUMP] is welcomed as a guest on [TOTAL REQUEST LIVE] in [THE YEAR 2017]” has to be some sort of a living Mad Libs password that triggers earth’s combustion, which would be an interesting change of pace.

I found out who the guests would be the night before, which is also when I found out I would be attending TRL. Stereogum wanted to send me last month, closer to the premiere, but the demand for tickets was too high and I simply could not get in no matter how medium I tried. This month I tried again and was offered tickets almost immediately for the show the very next afternoon. What luck. The guests scheduled for that day were Forever in Your Mind, Kyntay, Gigi Gorgeous, and Danielle Brooks.

Obviously, Forever In Your Mind, Kyntay, and Gigi Gorgeous are words that — though I understand most of their individual meanings — do not mean anything to me in this context. (Danielle Brooks plays Taystee on Orange Is the New Black.) I do not mean this as a slight against Forever In Your Mind, Kyntay, and Gigi Gorgeous. The problem lies mostly with the fact that I am near-death and that all of these people are quite young if not outright children.

The audience, too, was very young. I noticed this first when I was provided, with my ticket and release form, a link to a mood board of age-inappropriate clothing suggestions under the title “TRL WARDROBE.” I noticed this second when standing in line outside next to the Viacom building with a bunch of high schoolers, listening to a rundown of the string of airport security-like indignities that would follow before we were allowed to enter TRL, including but not limited to standing singlefile against a wall to get drug-sniffing dogged while a VJ filmed us for the Facebook live stream.


As it did in its heyday, TRL takes place in a studio overlooking the streets of Times Square. Unlike in its heyday, the streets are filled not with sign-wielding TRL fans but, instead, with just whoever was gonna be out there anyway, walking down the street or selling hot dogs from a cart. The studio itself is very bright and shiny and yellow, and it looks very expensive. I guess I was expecting it to look inexpensive, out of rudeness, but no. Large screens flash TRL in patterns, and you have to walk through, like, some sort of a flashing space shuttle loading dock-looking thing as you enter, before you’re assigned your seated or standing position. It’s very fancy.

Still, if I may give you a bit of advice that I plan to pass on through generations of my offspring via hologram: Please don’t go to a live taping of TRL. The motto on my family’s Snapchat crest will be “Placere non ad vivere in taping TRL.” Oh, my god. I have to imagine a live taping of TRL is fun for someone, I guess, but for me, personally, it was nightmare in which the minutes passed like hours and my muscles tensed to the point where I should have been taken out in a wheelbarrow, like a statue (in a wheelbarrow).

The demand for dancing and clapping was constant and relentless and fills me with panic to even just remember. The pre-show (and during-show) hype woman ran around screaming in a threat masked as joy that even when TRL wasn’t filming we were expected to dance and look like we are having fun, because there are cameras everywhere, and people are always watching us on the Facebook livestream, and they expect to see us having fun. “THIS IS NOT THE NEWS!” she kept screaming, reminding us that we were not at a taping of the news if maybe that is what was holding us back from dancing and acting otherwise enthusiastic. I do not know how this woman does this job every day but I hope she is making a lot of money and I hope I never see her again, no offense I’m sure she’s lovely privately.

Most of the people I encountered were not very responsive to the palpably angry level of audience participation-demand in the air, including a young woman I was standing directly next to who was also alone and who told me that I was her friend now, “so it at least looks like we came with someone.” I was very grateful for this friend, even though I felt very guilty for allowing her to believe (without stating it outright) that I was there, like she was, simply because I was a fan of TRL.

When TRL had its official re-launch on October 2, it was the day after the Las Vegas mass shooting, the deadliest in America’s history. Ed Sheeran and the VJs opened that show with the message that “even though our hearts are hurting right now, we’re going to keep going and lift each other up.” It highlights a flaw in the modern timing of the revival that we had to pause again the day I attended to reflect on another mass shooting that happened earlier that day, one that, in the most concentratedly dystopian moment of the afternoon, I had not heard about until it was announced right then on TRL.

(The mention came during “Off Top,” a section at the beginning of the show focusing on “all the stories blowing up your feeds,” after a brief-but-frank discussion of a law that had just passed in Wisconsin eliminating the minimum age requirement for hunting, allowing kids as young as three to own a gun. Not to overstress the point but it felt very now to hear a VJ say, “This is definitely not the solution, this is the wrong direction that we’re going in … Putting guns in the hands of three-year-olds is definitely not the solution,” before a sign was raised instructing us to CLAP.)

The counting-down system is different now in a way that I don’t completely understand and which I refuse to look into further, but I think it’s like, they choose a topic every day and pick five videos to suit that topic, and those are the videos they count down, rather than just the top ten overall videos as it was in the original TRL from 17 BC. In this episode it was I think duets. I think Selena Gomez was one? And I know Macklemore was one. I’m not sure what more you want from me, I was under duress.

I suppose the most notable moment was the big performance from Forever In Your Mind, which is a cute boy band that exactly one young woman at the taping was excited to see. (“I wish it was somebody we liked,” my new friend told me. Agree.) The young woman who was excited, though, was absolutely excited enough for everyone, and I was so happy for her. This was her dream come true, it seemed, seeing Forever In Your Mind on the TRL stage. She screamed and jumped — there may have even been tears. In stark contrast, after the performance concluded, someone on TRL staff came over to tell the group of women in which I was situated that we were on camera the whole time and did not look enthusiastic. This was not to say, make sure you look more enthusiastic next time. There would be no next time. This was just to say, I am disappointed in you, and you should think about what you’ve done.

Before we parted ways, my new friend and I traded information so that we might stay in touch. “What’s your Snapchat,” she asked me flatly, as if she were taking my name to fill out a form. I experienced a brief moment of panic before I remembered that not only do I have a Snapchat, but also my name on there is just my regular name. Oh, thank god. We decided we should take a selfie together to remember our afternoon at TRL by, and she pulled out her phone, took one with Snapchat, and send it to my Snapchat with a one-second display time. It disappeared before I even got a chance to look at it.