“It was the epicenter”: 25 years ago, MTV’s ‘Total Request Live’ premiered

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Twenty-five years ago — September 14, 1998 — pop culture got a new hot spot: MTV’s Total Request Live, which provided fans with a single place to get up close and personal with their favorite stars, from boy bands to movie idols. Former TRL co-host Dave Holmes tells ABC Audio there’s no way to overstate just how big it was to that moment in time.

“TRL was TikTok and YouTube and Twitter and a skywriter and a blockbuster movie,” said Holmes, now an editor-at-large for Esquire. “It was everything. It was the epicenter. We live in too ‘niche-ified’ a world, really, for kids to understand how important it was.”

Holmes suggests one reason TRL became so influential was that in 1998, pop culture was more mainstream, with music, movies and TV shows that everybody knew. And, he says, “Everybody who was a face and a name and a voice in that popular culture had to stop by Total Request Live.”

The other reason was the sudden emergence of teen pop — Britney, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC — leading to what Holmes calls a symbiotic relationship.

“It was the perfect timing. A new show was starting … and it just happened at the exact same time that there was pop music … that had faces and voices and players who the kids could invest in.”

Holmes, who was there at TRL’s launch — and confirms the fans’ votes really did count — thinks one particular video sums up the show: “I Want It That Way.”

“When it would come on [TRL], everybody would sing along,” he recalls. “Not only the girls that it was made for, but the boys who were a little ashamed. And me with my thing in my ear and a producer yelling at me, and the camera guy. It was undeniable.” 

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