10 of MTV TRL’s Most Unforgettable On-Air Moments

9 minute read

Picture this: a time before smart phones. A time before YouTube, Instagram and music streaming services. A time — way back in the late 1990s and early 2000s — when, in order to get to know your favorite music celebrities and see the music videos all your friends were talking about at recess, you had to flip the channel to MTV and tune in to Total Request Live, hosted by the fresh-faced Carson Daly.

On TRL, an eager audience was served up two critical components of pop culture: the hottest music videos of the era and live appearances from the stars themselves at the Times Square studio. TRL was known for both directing and reflecting the opinions of then-young millennials. The fashions! The unscripted moments! The on-air flirting! It all came to a close in 2008, though, as MTV veered away from its music roots, continuing its pivot towards reality TV programming.

This fall, however, MTV is bringing it back. Re-launching on Monday, Oct. 2, the new TRL is going to be a whole different beast. Instead of Carson Daly, they’ve tapped a crew of lesser-known social media influencers and MCs for the show. MTV is calling this an “always-on content engine” that will “bring teen passion points to life. Already, Ed Sheeran, Demi Lovato, Noah Cyrus and Migos are slated to appear in its first week. It will air live on weekdays at 3:30 p.m. EST from an expanded Times Square studio, just like in the good old days.

In honor of its return, let’s take a walk through memory lane and relive some of the show’s most memorable moments over its ten-year original run.

Britney Spears shows off with “Oops! I Did It Again”

While still ascending to the heights of pop stardom, a 19-year-old Spears took to the TRL stage to perform — with full choreography — her hit “Oops! I Did it Again.” Dressed in a classic distressed denim getup with midriff bared, Spears performed a song that’s stood the test of time. The nearly four-full-minute live performance includes snippets of now-iconic choreography, as well as a full dance breakdown section and extended second half. Spears wasn’t quite the polished Vegas performer then that she is now, but that makes the moment all the more worth revisiting.

Spears was a TRL favorite: she also hosted the show alongside Melissa Joan Hart for one memorable day in 1999, to the delight of fans, back when the movie Drive Me Crazy was all the rage.

Backstreet Boys fans overrun Times Square

At the height of boy band frenzy in 1999, the Backstreet Boys released Millennium, the sophomore album that turned the five singers into bona fide superstars. Recalling the release day — during which they headed to TRL for an appearance, of course — Times Square was overflowing with thousands of frantic fans, according to the guys, and had to be shut down. Millennium went on to sell millions of copies and secured their position in boy band history. (It also gifted us the karaoke classic “That Way.”)

P. Diddy runs on the treadmill

Back when he still called himself P. Diddy, the rapper took to a treadmill to keep up a steady jog during one 2003 episode’s live taping, for a stunt that seemingly could have only happened on TRL. Meanwhile, Britney Spears visited the set for a casual interview. (Diddy keeps up the running in the background.) Spears, in her “Toxic” heyday, even helped wipe some of Diddy’s sweat during his marathon workout session. Just another day in the TRL life.

Eminem takes over

The always-unpredictable rap legend Eminem took over hosting duties on TRL to help promote the release of his album The Marshall Mathers LP back in 2000. Between selecting his own song lineup for the music video portions of the show to bringing self-deprecating humor into the mix — “My album sucks,” he deadpanned at one point in response to a question from the crowd — he captured audiences for his raw-edged performance. He also shows off some dance moves, namely the running man, all while clad in extra-baggy jeans, and “rescues” Carson Daly from the crowd outside in Times Square, where he’d been relegated while Eminem reigned supreme inside.

Mariah Carey goes off script

Mariah Carey tends to bring the drama wherever she goes. But in an unexpected 2001 stop at the TRL set, she threw Carson Daly for a serious loop. First, she shocked the crowd (and Daly) by arriving unannounced and pushing an ice cream cart onto the set. Then, she dramatically removed her oversized t-shirt (she was wearing other layers underneath). “Mariah Carey is stripping on TRL right now,” Daly narrated. “Is it my birthday, and I didn’t know about it?”

But Carey tried to explain. “You are my therapy session right now, Carson. Every now and then, somebody needs a little therapy, and today is that day for me,” she explained. Daly was confused: “This is the most bizarre show I’ve ever hosted,” he said after they return from a commercial break, but he let Carey continue her roll.

“You know what, ice cream is important, you know what I’m saying?” she asked him. “It’s the little things. You can have drama all day long, whatever, we all do these things. But the problem is, if you don’t have ice cream in your life, sometimes you might just go a little bit crazy.”

The next day, Carey was hospitalized for an “emotional and physical breakdown.”

*NSYNC dances to “Bye Bye Bye”

You know the dance. And it was performed live for a crowd of adoring fans on TRL, as Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Lance Bass and the rest of the crew busted out their now-infamous waves and double bounces on air while dressed in some matching football jerseys. (And let’s not forget Timberlake’s bandana on his head.) “Bye Bye Bye” topped TRL‘s charts for 25 straight days, putting it second only to Britney Spears’s “You Drive Me Crazy,” which beat it by a single day. Bye bye bye indeed.

Beyoncé and JAY-Z go public with “03 Bonnie and Clyde”

There was a time, long, long ago in the early oughts, when hip-hop’s reigning royals Mr. and Mrs. Carter were separate entities: just Beyoncé Knowles and JAY-Z, solo artists. Back in 2002, they both showed up to TRL in matching denim to perform an iconic song that went heavy on the relationship theme: “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,.” During this appearance, Beyoncé also says that they “met a long time ago.” And their live performance of the track on TRL was a watershed moment, proving to fans that they might be more than just collaborators.

It’s hard now to imagine fashion plate Queen Bey doing a show in a denim tube dress and Jay’s signature Yankees hat, but it was a different time. “Down the ride to the very end, it’s me and my boyfriend,” she sings, serving vocals while Jay raps. In the wake of Lemonade, 4:44 and the growth of their family, we can recognize the true prescience of this particular pair performance: “I put this on my life, nobody or nothin’ will ever come between us,” Bey sings. “All I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend,” Jay raps back.

Michael Jackson sits for an interview

For the King of Pop‘s 2001 visit to TRL, the city was once again overwhelmed. “Sheer pandemonium to say the least,” Daly called it. “Total and utter chaos in the streets of New York,” as Jackson posed for photos in the square outside.

Once seated with his interview with Daly in the studio, however, Jackson seemed strangely subdued. He had just released his Invincible album, which was doing well, but kept an even tone. “I’m very happy about it,” he said. “We worked very hard on it. I’m blessed that the fans accepted it the way they did and I’m very honored. I really am. I don’t take anything for granted. Every time there’s a number one album or song, I feel excited as if it’s the first one,” he told Daly, before they played the video for “You Rock My World.”

Even something as simple as a basic interview with Jackson, it turns out, was enough to cause a full-on frenzy, thanks to the power of the TRL stage.

Destiny’s Child says goodbye

The young Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Rowland were an unstoppable trio in 2005. But they had also decided to end their era on a high note, and announced to MTV the news of their imminent disbanding after their era as a trio with Columbia Records, appearing on TRL with host Vanessa Minnillo (later Lachey) to say goodbye. Fans in the studio gave the trio a tearful send-off. Little did they know just how much the three would continue to figure prominently in pop culture.

Robin Williams brings the laughs

Leave it to the beloved Robin Williams to bring some quirky humor to TRL when he visited the set to take video questions from fans (webcams were a big deal in 2006, by the way). The comedy legend, who made his MTV appearance right around the time that Happy Feet (in which Williams was a voice) and Night at the Museum were popular, was a change up from the show’s typical music stars. But he proved to be a major hit for the crowd, who loved his warm jokes and easy charisma.

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com