Billboard‘s new oral history of MTV’s monolithic music video countdown show Total Request Live (or TRL) in its turn-of-the-millennium golden era is one of the most entertaining things music fans in their late-20s and early-30s can read on the internet today. Drawn from a sprawling base of sources–including MTV News regulars and VJs like Dave Holmes, John Norris, and Jesse Camp, and time-appropriate musical icons like NSYNC‘s JC Chasez and Korn‘s Jonathan Davis–the piece is so full of outlandish behind-the-scenes anecdotes that it’s hard to even begin to pick a favorite.
There’s plenty of wonderful tidbits, and most of them revolve around people clowning Carson Daly. Take, for instance, Carson Daly’s former girlfriend Jennifer Love Hewitt giving him a home golf set so he could avoid paparazzi by not leaving home as much, Jesse Camp making “your mom” jokes to Daly to fuck with him, or Prince telling the host that he ran his life on “truth” instead of “time.”
But given the headlines Kid Rock is making these days, it’s particularly amazing to revisit the kinship between the brains behind “Bawitdaba” and Daly during the height of TRL‘s popularity. Comedian Paul Scheer recalls the two being “best friends” around the time Daly was known for hanging out with guests at the Manhattan strip club Scores.
Here’s TRL producer and co-creator Bob Kusbit’s description of Kid Rock’s defense of his unlikely bro…to Lars Ulrich, no less:
Scheer: Carson was best friends with Kid Rock. They’d go out together for drinks, and the next day they’d make these inside jokes.
Kusbit: Lars [Ulrich] from Metallica said to Kid Rock, “Why do you like [Daly] so much?” Kid Rock was like, “Cool people stand and judge other people. But, at the end of the day, the people who are themselves and comfortable with themselves are really the cool people.”
Imagining Kid Rock saying this, and imagining being Kid Rock’s best friend, is mind-boggling. But it’s arguably not as difficult to conjure as a plaintive image of Tom Cruise, perhaps alone in his mansion between marriages, blasting Joss Stone’s debut LP on repeat. But this is what a story about a gift the actor gave to the TRL studios, as told by ex-VJ Damien Fahey, forces one to do:
In early 2000, Tom Cruise came by, and he was really into Joss Stone. He was backstage meeting everyone, and in every room he just talks about Joss Stone. The next afternoon, this giant box full of Joss Stone CDs arrives with a note, like, “Check it out. Love, Tom Cruise.”
One wonders whether this was because Cruise felt that the British soul singer’s music was not getting the burn it deserves on the countdown. One also wonders what the Church of Scientology might have filed under “Cruise, Thomas” regarding Joss Stone.
TRL, as Billboard‘s piece reminds us at every turn, was basically bolstered by the youth, who made it such an unexpected success. The show would follow where their teenage crowd’s votes and cheers led them. That meant that not everyone who wanted to stop by the show’s iconic Times Square studio, not even the guy who played Han Solo, were allowed to do so. Here’s Bob Kusbit again:
Harrison Ford wanted to come on. We were all massive fans, but we knew the kid who wanted to see Justin Timberlake might not buy into Harrison.
It’s hard to imagine Harrison Ford getting denied almost anything. The man can nearly kill planes full of passengers and get away with it, so getting turned down by Carson and the gang must have been a hard pill to swallow.
But even harder to picture, perhaps, is Taylor Swift listening to and enjoying a Korn song at the age of 18. However, she expected Jonathan Davis to do just that when asking him to sign her “yearbook” during the filming of TRL’s three-hour series finale in 2008, a show on which they both performed:
Davis: [The TRL finale] was like a big old high school reunion. There was a yearbook we signed. Taylor Swift actually handed me my yearbook and said, “I’m a huge Korn fan!”
Everyone should read Billboard‘s remembrance wistfully, and get then prepared for the new TRL. Recently the series’ showrunner essentially extended an open invitation for Donald Trump to visit the series’ studios once again. After all, he had in the old days, too:
Fahey: Donald Trump came once for The Apprentice. For the cold open, we were shooting a comedy bit — I think he was firing the camera guy. Before we started, Trump goes, “No, no, no. This isn’t happening. I need that camera to stand on an apple box. I don’t like a low camera.” He said something about how it didn’t make him look good. I remember this phrase specifically: “I’m a guy who likes a high camera.” That’s not a thing. He was a total egomaniacal monster.
The new Total Request Live premieres on MTV on Monday (October 2).