MTV‘s reboot of music video countdown show Total Request Live kicks off next week. Today, showrunner Albert Lewitinn gave an interview to The Fader that revealed the politically agnostic direction the new show will take. In response to a question about whether TRL was “prepared” for Donald Trump to watch the show, and if they would welcome the president on, Lewitinn replied: “I would love both. 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.”
Lewitinn was also asked if TRL would welcome artists accused of domestic abuse, such as XXXTentacion or Kodak Black. “I’m not sure I want to answer that question,” he said. “We want to be on what pop culture wants. When it comes to something like that, it’s something that we would have to look into. It’s a tough question to ask, I can’t answer that question until something like that happens.” Asked if XXXTentacion could potentially appear with Noah Cyrus on Tuesday’s episode of TRL, when Cyrus is set to appear (potentially to promote their new single “Again”), he was cagier: “Can’t tell you that part. Surprise, surprise.”
In one sense, this commitment to centrism is entirely predictable. Lewitinn is a television producer, which means he lives entirely according to what will attract viewers to his channel; if market research showed that what MTV viewers wanted most was a never-ending loop of the “Hi Bich” video, then “Hi Bich” is what we’d get. But set against the context of MTV’s attempts to be “woke”—something Lewitinn acknowledges in the interview, which he says “goes back to the idea of us being a youth culture show”—these answers feel pointedly hypocritical. It was only last month that MTV brought Susan Bro, the mother of slain Charlottesville activist Heather Heyer, onto the VMAs to present the award for “Best Fight Against the System,” an absurd category that nonetheless produced a memorable moment of television when Bro and a descendant of shamed Confederate general Robert E. Lee spoke forcefully against racism.
Now, Lewitinn is openly advocating for the man who defended Heyer’s killers to come on TRL—and not only that, for him to hashtag the show when talking about it on Twitter. What could render Bro’s appearance more hollow? The “wait and see” approach to artists like XXXTentacion is similarly craven. It wouldn’t be difficult for the showrunner behind a flagship program at a supposedly woke network say, firmly, that they won’t invite on any artists who stand accused of abusing women. Instead, it’ll be a “surprise” to see if an alleged abuser pops up on one of the inaugural episodes, reducing a very real question—how should we address popular artists who are also accused of terrible crimes?—into a type of ratings stunt. It was always absurd to expect a television network to be a leading advocate for social justice, but to see the game laid out so nakedly is particularly eye-raising.