It’s a scene Manhattanites know all too well. Every day, when the clock strikes four, scores of glitter-covered girls, baggy-panted boys, and slack-jawed tourists gather on the packed streets of Times Square to witness the spectacle that is Total Request Live, MTV’s immensely popular video countdown show.
Hosted by that hang-loose everydude Carson Daly, TRL has become a hormone-fueled teen mecca that unfolds a mere eight blocks from EW’s offices. Every day, we — along with hordes of other cranky New Yorkers — pass by and wonder, well, why?
It was time to find out. Behold, EW’s journey into the heart of TRL darkness.
— Caroline Kepnes
— DAY 1: TEEN-ING MASSES Somehow, we’ve finagled our way to the front of the crowd. To the right, Dominique Mello, a 14-year-old clad in her cheerleading uniform and chaperoned by her grandmother. To the left, 19-year-old, bare-chested Javier ”Red Man” Lopez (so named for the red ink he scribbles all over his body), who’s made a career out of TRL. ”I’ve been standing here every day since June 6th,” Lopez proudly proclaims. ”I won’t leave until they make me a VJ. I want to be famous.”
When Daly waves to the crowd, everyone — even Dominique’s grandma — shrieks with abandon, hoping to be spotted and invited upstairs. But it’s a no go. ”I’m just not getting enough attention,” Dominique complains. Sigh.
— DAY 2: BETTER RED THAN DEAD We’re on the inside, seated in the off-camera bleachers next to other exiles from teen-town. Pointing outside to ”Red Man,” Daly asks, ”Should we bring him up?” Chanting ensues — ”Bring him up! Bring him up!” — and seconds later, Javier is in the studio, being blessed by the TV gods.
After the show, Daly confesses to a little VJ guilt: ”In the back of my mind, I’m thinking I can’t have kids come down here thinking that putting permanent ink all over their body is a way to get up on TRL,” he says. ”[So] I have to dis him a little on the air — look in the lens and say ‘Guys, this is not what it takes to get up here.”’
Except, you know, today.
— DAY 3: TOO HOT 4 ‘TRL’ By now, we’re so over TRL. After all, anyone who’s been inside knows that the wild dance parties that bust out during the commercial breaks are where the action’s really at. Cue ”The Thong Song” and anything goes: Suddenly, a braces-wearing teenager named Kelly is bumpin’ and grindin’ with a b-boy named Kenny.
”Those breaks are really something,” Daly says, blushing a bit. ”Sure, every once in a while you see a girl and think, she’s 15 years old? No way!”
Way. But nobody tell Mom, okay?
— DAY 4: NOT MY GENERATION Yet another commercial break. When ”You Shook Me All Night Long” booms through the speakers, the faces of the tween crowd go blank. ”That’s AC/DC,” one mother explains to her daughter, whose brow furrows with confusion: ”What’s AC/DC?”
Daly deals with this level of pop-cultural cluelessness daily. ”With somebody like Prince, I might have to say, ‘Standing next to me is a guy who has sold over 200 million records worldwide,”’ he explains. ”This is my childhood, so it’s weird. These kids haven’t seen Star Wars. Nobody had any idea who Chewbacca was.”