Ever since MTV announced that it was bringing back Total Request Live, the pop culture juggernaut of the shrink-wrapped CD era, people have been confused about what exactly it would be. No longer can the show serve as a cultural gatekeeper, that power now distributed endlessly throughout the internet, with music videos themselves a sort of vestigial tail only cannily embraced by a few extremely monied auteurs. Even those artists tightly control the distribution of their videos—Beyoncé made that the entire point of her pair of visual albums—leaving the notion of a “total request” program a little baffling.
Well, the show debuted earlier this week, and it turns out the new TRL is to be a nightmare of keeping-up-with-the-kids memes, DJ Khaled sponsored content, po-faced discussion of real-world issues (including a cold open addressing the mass murder in Las Vegas), weird Jimmy Fallon-style parlor games, and zero fucking music videos. As the week wore on, they eventually played a couple, by Fat Joe and Avicii, after which they drolly addressed the criticism:
But the pièce de résistance might be Tuesday’s live performance by Playboi Carti, author of one of the year’s most effervescently don’t-give-a-fuck rap albums, which translated to a uniquely somnambulant live performance:
Carti is not what you might call a traditional rapper, mostly bouncing over a bunch of glossy beats on record, but in the cold light of TRL’s studio he could barely even be bothered to rap along to his backing track, offering instead a surreal deconstruction of his already shall-we-say impressionistic style. Even the teens in the crowd seem disconcerted by the performance’s vacuousness, and you know teens: They love anything!
Except MTV, that is. It’s a daily show, and they’ve still got time to iron these things out, but, yeah, do not expect this to be the silver-bullet resurgence to MTV’s relevance with the kids. We can probably expect more trainwreck live performances, though; yesterday’s Lil Uzi Vert one was not much better.