>Carson, We Hardly Knew Ye: A Trubute to TRL

>Kids, have you heard the news? TRL died today. That’s right – after ten glorious years at the top of the business, the only program on MTV that bothers to show music videos anymore is leaving forever. In the age of late-night VH1, FUSE, and MUN2 (it’s Spanish okay), America has just run out of love for TRL. How sad.

I know what you’re asking yourself – why? And you’re not alone; it’s a question every warm-blooded American across the country is asking themselves right now. What sparked the tragic downfall of America’s Greatest Countdown? Was it when Carson left? When N*Sync broke up? When Eminem lost his sense of humor? When Blink did that crappy “Miss You” Song?? God, I don’t know. We’ll never know, will we? And asking these questions will not bring our beloved TRL back. We, as a nation, have to let this one go.

Two things pop into mind upon hearing this news. One, I realize that 1998 was ten years ago. (Ughhh.) Two, I realize that TRL, despite its crass commercialism and questionable musical content, made me love music videos – and pop music in general – as an ever-developing teenager. I mean, the show started right when I hit the sixth grade, and peaked right smack dab in the middle of the seventh; boy bands, rap rock, irish girl pop (come on, B*Witched ruled) were all over my radar. Hell, I watched TRL before I even bothered listening to the radio when I went to sleep! That’s gotta mean something, right??

Oh, sure, I stopped watching the show after I grew a couple balls my freshmen year of high school (I guess 9/11 changed everything… but not really). Carson Daly left, popular music turned from teen-pop confection to crunk and that “I Kissed A Girl” song, and I started listening to the Beatles. But for all intents and purposes, TRL was the most important music-based TV show in my formative years, and I will never forget it. Even when they only played like 30 seconds of a video, I still loved it!

Here’s a few of my personal favorite popular TRL videos from back in the day. A warning: you’re not gonna find much of anything past 2001 here.

Korn – Freak On A Leash

Say what you will about the song itself, this is one cool video. I’ve never been a Korn fan, and probably never will be one, but this video was one of the first to attract me to TRL. Not only is it a compelling mish-mash of animation and live-action, but it’s got a part where there’s a bullet, and you see the bullet go through shit in slow motion like the Matrix. My favorite part: the bullet narrowly misses a fat man cannonballin’ it into a pool.

N*Sync – I Drive Myself Crazy

Boy bands always had great music videos – mostly ‘cuz they had the money and the fame to pull it off. Hell, most of the success of late 90’s boy bands could be directly connected to their success on TRL. My personal favorite has to be this one, featuring the members of N*Sync goofing around in a looney bin jaded by their past lovers. See, they were all materialistic and mean to their ladies, so they got dumped and went crazy and ended up in a mental institution – HENCE the video, HENCE the SONG! But then at the end they’re all released for some unexplained reason, and their WOMEN end up replacing them! Ha ha! I have no idea how that makes any sense!

Sum 41 – Fat Lip

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate pop-punk cream dream. Kings of Rock Sum 41 play in the middle of a GEEEEEEI-GANTIC skatepark, with black-haired lip-pierced dumb teenagers moshin’ around, skating in cardboard suits, riding around in shopping carts, shaving a girl’s head – you name it, they’re punkin’ it. There’s even a 13-year-old-lookin’ kid getting macked-up on by some HOT CHICKS! Man, I wished I were him back in 2001. “Fat Lip” was already the most cartoonishly ridiculous pop-punk song ever recorded when it came out – all it needed was an even more ridiculous video.

Sugar Ray – When It’s Over

I remember thinking when this song first came out, “Man, Sugar Ray are BACK!” It was mid-2001, two years after the Raymen graced us with such laid-back classics as “Every Morning” and “Someday” – and now here they were, with a bangin’ new tune and a bangin’ new video. The concept: the five Sugar Ray dudes can’t think of a video for the song (how META!), so we get a glimpse of what each one wants to do. That’s right – we get to peer straight into the minds of some of the early 2000’s best pop musicians. After a bunch of weird detours, hunky lead singer Mark McGrath puts a stop to it all, saying “Why don’t we do what’s right for the SONG?” And they do – the rest of the video is just the band ridin’ around on mopeds and partying down. And ain’t that just what Sugar Ray’s all about??

Come back to us, Shuggs. We miss you.

Eminem – The Real Slim Shady and Blink-182 – All The Small Things

Seriously, there are so many videos I haven’t covered here it’s embarrassing. It doesn’t help that my white-boy instincts have tainted the legacy of Nelly, TLC, Jay Z, and numerous other hip-hop artists that deserve my prized recognition in this blog post. So I’ll take the lazy way out and include the two most notable “joke” videos during TRL’s peak – videos that perfectly encapsulated almost every aspect of TRL culture in the span of three minutes. While Blink-182 cheerfully parodied the videos for “I Want It That Way,” “Someday,” “Genie In A Bottle” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” Eminem thoroughly dissed weirder targets like Tom Green’s inexplicably popular “The Bum Bum Song” and a bizarro love triangle between Fred Durst, Christina Aguilera and Carson Daly. Sure, they’re completely dated – nobody that wasn’t alive in 2000 is going to know just what the hell is going on in these things – but as pop-culture catch-alls, they pretty much work perfectly. It was videos like these that made my dumb teenager self watch TRL every single weekday.

Get ready to pull out those Kleenexes come this November, Requestophiles. I know it won’t be easy.

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>Album Review: "Middle of Nowhere" by Hanson

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Why the hell do they look so serious?

Let’s get this straight: I love pop music. Absolutely love it. I guess that’s kind of a broad statement, since everybody has their own definition of what makes “good” pop music. And for the past 20-plus years or so, pop music has been sliced ‘n diced into so many little pieces that it’s almost impossible nowadays to call ANY kind of music “pop.” You’ve got your crunk-pop, your RnB-pop, your power pop, your neo-grunge-pop, your punk-pop, your indie-pop, your emo-pop… the list goes on and on. So me coming out and saying “I love pop music” doesn’t really mean anything, does it? For all anybody knows I could be talking about the Killers! And I do hate those Killers!*

I guess what I COULD say is that, because I love pop music, I love Hanson. To me, Hanson are pop in its purest form, at least in the context of the mid-to-late-90’s. Their (best) songs are bright, bubbly, and completely over-the-top pieces of pop confection (like a cake or something) that will infect the brain of any listener that dares to hear them. I like to think that Hanson were to the 90’s what ABBA were to 70’s, or what Wham! were to the 80’s – upliftingly fun pop music, produced specifically to cater to the masses by utilizing the popular sounds of the period. So while ABBA embraced disco and Wham! used synth, Hanson use hip-hop beats and DJ disc-scratching – all, of course, married to wonderful pop melodies. Honestly, I can’t resist it.

Hanson are a little tougher to like, though. For one thing, they’re still considered something of a one-hit wonder, since they never scored a hit quite as massive as “MMMBop,” a song people still vehemently hate to this very day (I’ll get to that later). Secondly, they’re also credited with kicking off the boy band era of the late 90’s, despite not really being a boy band themselves – beside the fact that they wrote almost all of their own songs, they weren’t much for choreographed dance moves. Third, they were a bunch of freaking kids with long blonde hair that looked like GIRLS! I mean, c’mon – they’re almost begging for ridicule.

But Hanson were NOT the Spice Girls, or N*Sync, or the Backstreet Boys, or any other members of that lousy manufactured teen-pop fad they tend to be lumped in with. While Middle of Nowhere is definitely a product of the late-90’s teen pop boom, with its excessively slick production and occasional cheesy piano ballad, Hanson – at least to me – are a lot funnier, cuter, and more entertaining than any of their so-called contemporaries. Maybe it’s the fact that they were all kids when this album came out (Zac at 11, Taylor at 14, and Issac at 17) that gave the music its innocent prepubescent charm; I can’t imagine anybody older than 16 singing “MMMBop” without sounding like an ironic fool. Vocally, the younger two have kiddish voices while Issac has a more adult voice, which leads to a lot of cutesy vocal interplay not unlike the Jackson 5 circa “I Want You Back.” And man, they all sound so gosh-darned excited to be singing and playing, I can forgive the completely calculated production techniques utilized to bring in the teenybopper crowd. Back in ’97, Hanson were one big intoxicating rush of silly, innocent youth, something a mass audience wasn’t used to in the age of techno and grunge.

Now, I’ll be honest, Middle of Nowhere is a mixed bag as an album – which I guess is appropriate for a teen-marketed pop album. Here’s the rundown: you’ve got 7 mostly-killer pop songs, 4 cheesy ballads, and a couple kinda-sorta funky things. The ballads are, for the most part, pretty lame; the only one I like is “With You In Your Dreams,” but the others – “Yearbook,” “Weird,” and “I Will Come To You” – are kinda generic and boring, mainly due to the influence of outside songwriters. The aforementioned “kinda-sorta funky things,” “Speechless” and “Look At You,” aren’t bad but suffer the same problem as the ballads: they don’t sound like songs that three long-haired suburban white kids should be singing. But the pop songs? WHOOO-EE, I love the pop songs on here! Seven spunky, vibrant pieces of supremely catchy pop music. If this album were pared down to just these seven songs, I daresay we’d have a perfect pop record on our hands. You’ve got “Thinking Of You” with that cool piano breakdown, the epic “Where’s The Love,” the hilariously cheesy “Lucy” (sung charmingly by 11-year-old Zac), the Issac-sang “A Minute Without You” that’s probably the most over-the-top (and hence greatest) song on the album, the sunny pop of “Madeline,” and of course “Man From Milwaukee,” a song about a crazy man communicating with Mars. (Sample lyrics: “He’s been talking to long on his yellow walkie-talkie / he’s talking to Mars, but I think he’s whacky.” Hanson wrote this song all by themselves!)

Oh yeah, and then there’s “MMMBop.” People, let’s talk about “MMMBop.” I know a lot of you don’t like this song – you hated it when it came out, and you hate it now, a full decade-plus later. Why do you? Well, it’s corny! And it’s sung by little kids! And what an ANNOYING chorus! It certainly has none of the sheer depth of Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead or Cake. So why waste your time with it?

Well I am here to tell you that you are wrong. DEAD WRONG. “MMMBop” is, in my estimation, the best pop song of the 90’s. Again, we could argue about the definition of “pop” music all you like, but I’m talkin’ bubblegum here – sheer, concentrated optimisim, chunneled through a catchy-as-sin chorus. That is “MMMBop.” Just listen to the song again, I dare you. The lyrics? They’re about growing older and holding on to the ones who really care! That’s somethin’, huh? And catch those verses – they’re different, every single verse! They keep CHANGING! And the Dust Brothers’ production – PERFECTLY 90’s. Those disc-scratches and those sampled drums – I mean, if anybody knew how to produce a perfect 90’s pop song, it had to be the guys who did Odelay and Paul’s Boutique. But let’s not forget Hanson! They deliver that chorus with GUSTO! It’s just a wonderful, dizzying piece of pop beauty that is never ever boring. You cannot tell me that the most perfectly produced 90’s pop song is a flash-in-the-pan – I will not believe you.

Yeah, it was everywhere in 1997. BUT THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT. IT WAS GREAT.

Think about it historically – back in ’97, nobody was recording songs like “MMMBop.” Middle of Nowhere came out the same year as OK Computer, and Dig Your Own Hole, when ska-punk was hitting its peak and Matchbox 20 and Silverchair were still churning out boring post-grunge hits. “MMMBop” was an unironic, unpretentious, purely happy pop song – of course everybody’s gonna hate it! And nowadays, in an age of boring indie rock and crunk, people have even more of a reason to hate it! But obviously somebody got the message, ‘cuz the song was a #1 hit.

When I was ten years old, I hated “MMMBop.” Hated it to death. Now that I’m older and smarter, I love it – ironic, since the song was marketed to kids my age. I could listen to it everyday. And I do.

So you’ve got “MMMBop” and six other songs that are practically as good. Give them a chance, people. Believe it or not, Hanson are still around, and while they’re still writing some decent songs (look up “If Only” or “Crazy Beautiful” sometime – they’re great), they will never recapture the sheer rush of their Middle of Nowhere days. Why? Well, they all sound older now, and as such they don’t have that funny innocent spunk anymore. Now they just sound like a bunch of dudes with good voices. Where’s the fun in that?

Also they’re all married. Taylor Hanson has three kids. Seriously. Look it up.

*I am required to diss on the Killers every 3-4 posts. I’m sorry. It’s just a habit.