While some consider Memorial Day to be the unofficial kick-off of the summer, let's be real people. Summer doesn't begin until Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst blows up a boat. Or, at least, that's how the summer of 1999 began.
That season, whose boat-exploding milestone turns 15 tomorrow, was truly the summer of “TRL.” At a time when the music industry was having significantly unprecedented success, MTV's request-only countdown was the barometer for Soundscan superstardom. While plenty can debate whether “TRL” (formerly “Total Request Live”) set the trends in music or merely reflected the diversity of that year's popular music spectrum, there's no denying what a huge boost appearing on the show did not only for musicians, but actors and entertainers of all types.
At just over a year old, the show initially saw dreamy everyman Carson Daly telling everyone live how effective their phone requests or messages sent to AOL Keyword: MTV were in determining what that hour of videos would look like. As charming as Carson semi-goofing off with the unseen stagehands was (and it truly was, capturing the upstart spontaneous fun that initially made the channel so captivating some 18 years prior), soon teenage fans were brought in to be an audience for studio performances. Eventually, this became a regular occurrence so everyone from Mel Gibson to Verne Troyer could get the rush of live love.
Somewhere along the line, bands became sports teams and “TRL” became a show about rivalries. *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys would war over the top two positions, KoRN became such a stalwart at the number three slot that it became known as “The KoRN spot,” and songs as diverse as The Offspring's “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” and Eminem's “My Name Is” became legitimate crossover hits. Among these surprise pop smashes was Limp Bizkit's cover of George Michael's “Faith.” Along with being a hard rocking earworm, the video's documentation of the the behind-the-scenes of the 1998 Family Values Tour was just undeniably fun and connected with a generation just looking for as good of a time that baggy jean-short and Surge cola could supply.
When it came time for Limp Bizkit's sophomore album Significant Other to hit stores shelves, the first single, “Nookie,” was given the full “TRL” premiere treatment. Already a hit on the countdown, MTV decided the Fred Durst lead rock-rap battalion would be the perfect choice to blow-up a boat.
Symbolically, this was to represent MTV party goers severing ties with what brought them to the channel, leaving civilization behind in favor of spending their summer with the network. And with programming like “Global Grind,” “Say What? Karaoke,” and “Celebrity Death Match,” who could blame them? But, truth be told, the gesture also showed how the ship of the music industry had irrevocably become tied to “TRL.”
The artists who broke huge that summer, like Christina Aguilera whose “Genie in a Bottle” hit the countdown with such fervor that her first album debuted at the top of the charts, outselling even Puff Daddy's sophomore album which first charted right behind it. The show also gave second life to once-forgotten one-hit-wonders like Smash Mouth or decade-long industry struggler Kid Rock who both found a surprising resurgence through the show. Even popular MTV funny man Tom Green was catapulted to a new level of pop culture notoriety when his free MP3 novelty track “The Bum Bum Song” hit number one, causing my grandmother to mutter “You watch some strange things, Charley.”
But as strange at MTV got, it was still a channel where you primarily got to hear a whole bunch of different types of music. Sitcoms were making “MTV doesn't play music videos” jokes as early as 1995, and if there's one value the network's held true to, it's their ability to make each generation of viewership feel like their era of MTV was the best. Yet, the summer of 1999 had both the music industry and MTV at its most powerful. Artists like Jordan Knight were advertising on their album promotions the numbers that their videos hit on the “TRL” countdown, even when it wasn't #1. While the internet now makes it feel like there's less music industry and somehow more music than ever, the biggest difference 15 years have made is that we no longer let our biggest music stars randomly blow up boats. Not even for the Nookie.