TRL, the MTV show formerly known as Total Request Live, went off the air in 2008. On November 16 of that year, to be exact; Beyoncé performed its swan song. In the nine years since, YouTube became the primary vehicle by which people watched music videos, the activity for which people tuned in to the show in the first place. Beyoncé moved on to releasing visual albums instead of straight-up videos. MTV backed away from videos altogether in order to fully embrace reality and scripted programming. And the US elected reality star Donald Trump as president.
It’s been almost a decade since anyone watched TRL and since then everything about its primary foci—music videos, celebrity culture, TV consumption—has changed. So when the network announced in July that it was bringing back its afternoon music-video countdown show, the prevailing question was: “Why?”
Because MTV needs its mojo back, that’s why.
After a half-decade of falling ratings, the network finally saw a bit of an uptick this summer, but its most recent VMAs had one of its smallest audiences in years. Meanwhile, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, SoundCloud, and—of course—YouTube became the primary vehicle by which MTV’s target demo of young adults consumed entertainment. After Chris McCarthy took over as president of the network late last year, he identified TRL as a potential vehicle to turn around MTV’s ratings. The show, and its semi-iconic Times Square set, he told the New York Times, was a “centerpiece” of MTV’s culture.
What MTV’s culture is, though, has been in flux for a while. The network has implemented a lot of changes in recent years to keep those young people around and bring in new audiences. In 2013 it shifted focus because it discovered millennials didn’t rebel against their parents as much. After the success of Teen Wolf, it started lining up fantasy shows like The Shannara Chronicles. The same indecision was visible online as well: In 2015, under then-president Sean Atkins, it…