Idolator eulogizes MTV’s Total Request Live, which made its debut in 1998 and celebrated its finale on Sunday night following years of declining ratings:
[1999-2004] may turn out to be the last stretch of time in which musical tastes could be dictated by a single authority. TRL seized on this new aesthetic and popularized it; instead of methodically building up a fanbase, an aspiring star could just get on the show (and have a great song) and launch a career. A lot of people would discover the artist simultaneously, and even as the song filtered down to radio and word-of-mouth transmission, TRL endured as the ultimate source.
Now, however, authority is diffused. A song becomes big because there’s a dance video on YouTube, or because a band has built up a critical mass of emo fans, or because it’s released a lot of respected mixtapes. An artist doesn’t try and get a song on TV so much as she tries to get people to come to her MySpace. (The only exception to this would seem to be American Idol, but it’s not really dictating tastes; instead of picking their favorite song, viewers pick their favorite artist, and then the winner is assigned a song that labels hope everyone will like. That likability still has to come through diffuse authority; witness, for instance, how many Idol runners-up have fared better than winners.) A new release is now just one more event in an ongoing celebrity narrative told by many sources and interpreted by readers on a daily basis, whether the gossip be large-scale stuff about teenpoppers or the endless churn of Internet gossip about R&B singers, rappers, and punk rockers.
I’m not sure if I should be proud or ashamed to admit I’ve never seen it. Before the recent hoopla over its cancellation, I had no idea that it was actually still on the air. Then again, I’ve never seen The Hills either.