Total Request Live (TRL) premiered on MTV in 1998. While '90s babies look back on this show and decade fondly, kids born later in the 2000s don't really recognize what a big deal TRL was. It was more than just a show where music lovers called in to cast their vote for the best song of the week; it was a show about connecting fans to artists.
Before YouTube and smartphones became a thing, MTV's TRL was the only real show fans had to get access to their favorite stars. Coming on TV at the optimum time of when kids got out of school, TRL showed the top 10 music videos every single day. It was the only time kids could actually watch the music video matching the song. As TRL grew, so did its audience and the amount host Carson Daly could do on the show.
Everyone from actors to rappers appeared on TRL, giving rare performances, interviews, and exclusives to TRL's audience. The original show folded in 2008, but a revival of the show came back to MTV on 2017. Nevertheless, here are 20 things only MTV knew about the iconic show.
20 The Chants Were So Loud From The Streets, Windows Had To Be Shut
One of the coolest things about TRL is that it was in the middle of New York City's Time Square, meaning fans of the show could wait outside the studio with hopes of seeing whatever star was popping by that day. E! noted that "Sometimes it would get so crazy outside that we would have to shut the windows to calm everyone down for safety reasons." What's even wilder is the studio was on the 25th floor!
19 Mariah's Downfall Started On TRL
Mariah Carey's took over the musical world in the '90s. And thanks to MTV, we saw a lot of her music come to life. However, there was a time in Carey's life where she had some ups and downs.
One point, in particular, Mariah Carey made an unexpected visit to TRL without any prior notice or appointment... She also brought along an ice cream cart for the fans... Per E! News, "She actually ended up going to the hospital for all sorts of things. That was a big moment."
18 Carson Daly Wasn't Fired...
Carson Daly made it to the top of his game by hosting TRL when it first started. Four years after its inception though, Carson announced he'd no longer be the show's star VJ. How come? As he said, "I left because MTV, you know, really made a decision to stop focusing on music and that's why I was there. So, in my time, I'll always cherish it for the artists that we were able to break." MTV traditionally had to make changes to keep up with the times, altering the heart of the show entirely.
17 VJs Communicated Through AOL Aim (Lol)
Before social media, we all communicated through chatrooms and screen names. It makes you think how VJs did it back then without the extra help of social media. Well, according to Daly's replacement Damien Fahey, he used AOL Instant Messenger. One great example of this is when a producer asked for his screen name because Vanessa Carlton wanted it! Fahey added, "So I would chat with Vanessa Carlton over AOL Instant Messenger. I thought that was the coolest thing. Like celebrities already wanna talk to me."
16 You'll Never Guess The Most Requested Music Video
In the late '90s, boy groups and teen stars ruled the world. And with a top 10 countdown coming at people every single day, which song or group came out on top? According to Grammy.com, "Shape Of My Heart" by the Backstreet Boys was the most-requested video in TRL history. Coming in second was another Backstreet Boys song, "Larger Than Life."
15 Nick Lachey And Vanessa Minnillo Fell In Love On TRL
Vanessa Minnillo has always been a fantastic host, so when she was cast as one of TRL's newest VJs, she was fresh talent and eye candy. Per her job, she interviewed Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees fame back when he was promoting his solo album. After his divorce from Jessica Simpson, Lachey asked Minnillo to be in his music video for "What's Rest of Me," and the rest was history.
14 TRL Wasn't Bulletproof
Being on the 25th floor of a building in Time Square in New York City, one would think the security level would be pretty high. I mean, they had million-dollar stars on set every single day, right? Oddly enough, Vulture had this to say about the space, “The ceiling was too low, the glass wasn’t bulletproof, and the space was noisy." But due to the great view from the window, MTV took the chance.
13 Started From The Bottom, Now We're Here
MTV really started from the bottom when it came to TRL. There was nothing else out there like the show, so the odds of it even working out was a shot in the dark. As we know though, TRL was a raging success but before the live audience and crazy fans, life was simpler on set. Judy McGrath (MTV executive) explained, “When we started TRL it was just Carson, the camera guys, and a floor director. There wasn’t a studio audience. And we never thought about people showing up to Times Square.”
12 The Moment TRL Went Live
As we all know, TRL eventually went with the live audience direction, changing the game for audiences and fans ever since. TRL producer Tony DiSanto said, “We secretly shipped a bunch of kids to Gurney’s and had them line up outside these big windows, with the shades drawn." He continued saying after the shades went up, "All of a sudden you saw all these kids with signs, screaming. Then we opened the doors and they all ran in. That was the way we told the network we wanted to start bringing kids into the studio. And that’s when TRL really started to take off.”
11 Was TRL Making NYC Even Busier?
New York City is a buzzing place — there's no denying that. But considering TRL was such a success with an audience outside in Time Square, was the show bringing even more people to NYC? TRL producer Bob Kusbit said, “The police came and asked us to lower the studio blinds because kids were backing up into traffic.” Knowing just how many people were trying to get a glimpse inside TRL's studio made traffic even crazier.
10 Surprisingly, Not Every Celebrity Wanted To Be On TRL
Since TRL occurred in a time before all of our social media handles, it was one of the few places stars could really show off their work, personality, and talent with their fans (besides concerts or movies). However, not all celebrities were dying to get on TRL. “[The fans] were fine with Letterman or Conan because that was an adult audience, but they found TRL a challenge," the head writer said. "I remember Mel Gibson rolling in, and he was not in the mood to be there. One of the recurring bits we did was having guests draw a self-portrait. And after his appearance—and it was an unnerving appearance—I looked at his drawing. It was terrifying, and in bold letters he’d written, ‘I offer you my decrepit soul.’” Um, okay, Mel...
9 TRL's Live Audience Brought This Star To Tears
Depending on the crowd or the day, TRL allowed some of the fans to come off the street and into the studio. In one case, though, one star didn't want to bring the fans to him, he wanted to bring himself to the fans and performed in the street. Per Vulture, “Eminem came on, and he was so moved by the number of people out there that he was brought to tears. That was a weird moment for me. Eminem was an edgy guy. I was like, dude, Marshall is crying.”
8 Not Every VJ Cared About Pop Music
If you're a VJ on TRL, you have to care about pop culture; and if you don't care, you have to pretend to at least know about it. Producer, Bryan Terry recalled, “I remember that my first interview, they asked me, ‘Do you know the names of the five Backstreet Boys?’ And I was like, ‘I think one of them is named Brian.’ Like, I didn't know [anything] about pop music!” Over time, of course, you pick up on the knowledge.
7 Ratings Dropped In The Grunge Era
Rember Sum 41, Simple Plan, and Avril Lavigne? Known as the "grunge era," music on the radio took a huge dive downward. Instead of the poppy, love-songs, we heard songs about fighting back — about being an outcast. Surprisingly, while the songs were popular, no one cared much about them on TRL. Producer Bob Kusbit said, “Grunge music was on its way out, it was sort of a dark time at MTV. Ratings were low, and the energy was low.”
6 This Star Was A Button Pusher
Thinking back to how big stars like Prince and Michael Jackson were, it's amazing that they also had their time to shine on TRL. But just because they were famous stars, doesn't mean they were always kind. Producer Tony DiSanto noted that Prince was "pushing Carson's buttons" and was saying things like, "Do you like the music you’re playing?’ And it was a little bit awkward, but Carson, I remember, came back with a really strong statement." Carson was like, "‘Hey man, if I’m the bartender, and I don’t like Jack and Cokes, I still have to serve it up to people, because that's my job.’”
5 TRL Became A Place For Artists To Compete Visually
Since not too many people could see the stars' music videos on anything other than TRL, it was really the artists' only chance to show off their talent on screen. Singers and songwriters in the grunge bands felt the pressure of this more so than pop stars.
Deryck Whibley of Sum 41 said this about his pressure to come out on top visually. "I remember the very first time we went on [TRL], O-Town, or something like that, was on there, and I remember, we were making fun of them as they were about to come out or something. So that was just the vibe for us, to just go on there and sort of spit in the face of everybody else, of the pop bands that were on there.”
4 Fans Slept In The Streets For A Chance To Get In
Remember when we said fans were lining up on the streets of New York City just for the chance to go upstairs to be on TRL? Well, they went as far as sleeping on the streets, too! One producer recounted when Backstreet Boys were coming to town and "literally—I’m not even exaggerating—I would get to work, and there would be people sleeping on the streets." Parents would wake their kids up in the middle of the night just for the chance.
3 Celebrities Get Just As Nervous As Fans
It's nervewracking for fans seeing their real-life celeb crush in front of them, but have you ever thought what it was like for the stars? One producer remembered Brad Pitt being super nervous. “He was like pacing back and forth... He was so, so nervous. And it was cool to see how vulnerable they could be.”
2 Carson Daily Took Charge During Trying Times
During large controversies, some shows, VJs, or starts choose to tip-toe around the issue. But when trying times took over in the life of pop culture, Carson took control and talked about it openly. “He was really like, ‘Hey, let’s talk just about this, and this can be a place where young people can just talk about this, and we’re not going to solve anything, and we’re not going to try to figure anything out, but we get that up until this point, we’ve always been a place for you to talk about what’s on your mind musically." You see, TRL was much bigger than just music videos.
1 A VJ's Job Is Way Harder Than You'd Expect
When you don't know much about the world of entertainment, you just expect the VJs to interview their guests, be camera ready, and to ask the hard-hitting questions. But their jobs are way harder than that. Damien Fahey said, “When you’re on TRL, you’re in the middle of Times Square surrounded by four cameras, 60 screaming teenagers, and Shakira’s next to you, or Madonna’s next to you.” You have to "interview her, pay attention to the kids, listen to this in your ear—you know, like if the director is talking to you in your ear—take cues from the camera guy, read the cue cards. So it was way more complicated than I was used to.”