TRL Reboot? Yes please
Can the once main staple of music help pump life back into the music industry?
Gone are the days where us late 80s and 90s babies would rush home after school to catch our favorite artist new music video. Signs saying, “We love you Britney!” Or “Eminem will you marry me?” is an art project of the past. MTV’s stake in music, now the center stage for shows like the long standing Real World, franchise and Teen Wolf, has been non-existent for the past decade, ever since the fall of its popular show Total Request Live, better known as TRL.
A network that stands for music television has forgotten about the music for a while now, being the butt of every joke in the realm of a show like Basketball wives not having anyone currently married to a Basketball player, or any other conundrum Reality T.V has introduced to the world. The once a year MTV Video music awards are still around to excite music lovers, but the other 364 days of the year brought us shows such as Laguna Beach, and its spinoff The Hills, Teen Mom, and Catfish, the T.V series. The network that premiered Michael Jackson’s ground breaking Thriller Music video in 1983, somehow found itself trying to continue to evolve with each generation, arguably forgetting why the network was created. With the creation of TRL in September 1998, MTV did get music’s evolution right. As we approached the new millennium, music’s style and sound evolved, and music videos also evolved. MTV’s top 10 – countdown show where viewers would vote for their favorite videos by texting, online polling and calls, was the perfect response to the evolution of music industry.
TRL helped usher in a new era of pop music, helping create stars such as Britney Spears, Nsync, Beyoncè, and Eminem. The show helped pop legends such as Mariah Carey, Madonna, Janet and Michael Jackson, rejuvenate their careers, thus solidifying their icon status. TRL was interactive and allowed fans to get to know the artists, whereas now we have social media, or marketing ploys – a la Katy Perry’s 24-hour surveillance of her life, in a house with fans and discussing cultural appropriation with Black Lives Matter activist, Deray Mckesson. Host Carson Daily would ask about album concept and how other songs on that album came to be. Fans would congregate outside, ready to lose their voices when seeing a glimpse of their favorite artists wave out the large window. Autographs and giveaways, electrifying performances were not withheld until a music award show, and surprise appearances made TRL the ultimate artist and fan connection.
The success of TRL lead to the creations of shows such as Making The Video in 1999, half hour episodes that chronicled the process of filming various music videos, and Diary, a documentary television show that premiered in 2001, following music’s topic acts and their everyday lives. Lead by TRL, the combination of these three shows did many things for artists and their fans, but the most important thing it did was help album sales.
Lizzy Goodman, the one time Editor- at – Large of the now defunct, Blender magazine, described the Internet as killing “The video star,” in a NPR music article. She was referring to websites such as Facebook, Youtube, and Myspace, as the reasoning behind TRL’s fall. Goodman was right on all the ways music videos could now be viewed, but those views are not translating into album sales, in the way that coming in at number one on TRL had. At one point, it was guaranteed that a number one video on TRL would lead to an artist being number one on the charts as well as at least going platinum with their latest album.
Although during the digital age of Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal, unknown artists could be discovered easier. And, although with a great team and a camera, many could shoot a video and upload it to Vevo – a multinational video hosting service founded in December of 2009, the disconnect between artist and fan is apparent by the decline of album sales.
When two of the big three record companies, Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, founded Vevo, the powers that be still believed in the need for music videos as an art form. While others believed a conceptual music video was dead, artists still had a platform to express their art to their adoring fans. Created to also bring in high-end advertisers, Vevo continues to show artists having millions of views for their videos, so why are no albums being sold? Songs are steamed in the billions, why are no albums being sold? Do fans not care about the whole body of work any longer, and just want the songs that they like? Maybe the intimacy of the fan connection that TRL provided has been lost, thus resulting to only gaining fans based on a song, rather than the artists themselves, rather than the whole album.
Perhaps MTV has the answer, what’s old is new again, and brining back TRL could be the perfect hint of nostalgia to make music fun again, to make fans connect back with the artists, besides the occasional twitter exchange. Imagine your favorite artist performing again on a random Thursday afternoon in Times Square, connecting with the audience and encouraging everyone to take their phones out and instructing them to download their album. Maybe MTV had it right the first time with TRL and meeting the evolution of music, and now they realize they could evolve with music and keep TRL to evolve with it.
words by: Justin Jenkins