TRL and It’s Gonna Be May – Adam Does Music

I know music, like, totally know music and stuff. Sometimes I’ll write about it but not in a snobby, douchey way. I’m doing it way cooler. This is Adam Does Music…

In the past few years, it’s become commonplace to see a silly meme at the end of April, poking fun at Justin Timberlake’s annunciation of the word “me” as “May,” from his former group N*SYNC’s number one hit, “It’s Gonna Be Me.” April 30 arrives, then guess what?

The song, released in the summer of 2000, held the top spot on Total Request Live, off and on, for several months during the show’s peak. TRL, the music video show that counted down the top ten videos of the day as voted by viewers, had a monumental stronghold over all things popular music at the turn of the millenium (pun intended, with the Backstreet Boys Millenium released twenty years ago, to the day, on May 18). Nothing commanded prepubescent and teen millenials attention during our formative years like TRL, a dominant touchstone that transformed Carson Daly into a household name, and propelled countless teeny boppers and boy bands to superstardom. I include myself in that rapt audience of the time, so enthralled was I that, in fact, I called into the show and won a contest, earning an official TRL t-shirt! More later on the story of how amazingly awesome I was at 13.

The battle for the number one slot, and music video supremacy, was often a toss-up between NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, as was the case twenty years ago today. “I Drive Myself Crazy,” the NSYNC song lamenting lost love, hit pre-teen Adam straight in the heart and gave him all the feels. I had never had a girlfriend at that point in my life, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t tearily singing along to this ditty, thinking of all the girls I’d imaginarily wronged. It’s a catchy tune, as many of the hits of the day were (there is a reason they became so successful, after all), but rewatching the music video is a brutal experience in negative pop psychology.

Given the song title, the obvious setting for the video is a psych hospital, where the five NSYNC members are being held involuntarily after losing their respective girlfriends and being–are you ready for this–driven crazy! It’s brilliant, of course, and the director had a lovely time depicting the temporary psychosis these young men had experienced. Chris Kirkpatrick (you gonna get your ass kicked) talking to his shoe? Check. Giant, bald men walking around in tiny hospital gowns drooling? Check. JC freaking out, being strapped to a gurney and taken for electroshock therapy? Check and check. It’s all rather abhorrent, a cringeworthy exercise in visualizing the world’s worst expectations for the mentally ill.

I recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, this was just a stupid piece of advertising for a musical group’s latest single, a silly promotional tool that 99.9% of the world forgot years ago (because most people aren’t weirdo obsessives who remember every little detail of such things). But it’s still disheartening how society has viewed psychological conditions in the past, particularly those individuals dealing with acute symptoms who are in need of more intensive treatments. It’s not like we’ve evolved as a civilization that these representations are completely behind us, either, as the negative stigmas surrounding mental health disorders continue to reign supreme.

Anyway: did you know that Carson Daly is my boy? True story, we became close after I called into TRL one afternoon, in an effort to compete in a call-in contest. For those who don’t recall, the show often had such contests, for fans in studio and those of us outside of Times Square. There would be simple trivia questions and visual puzzles, as well as finish-the-lyric games, which is where I came in. I was obsessed with the video countdown show as I painfully trudged from boyhood to teendom, and recognized the impossibility of getting through the phone lines (remember using landline phones for everything?) while the show was live. So one day, upon returning home after school, I called the toll-free number TWO HOURS before the show started, and got through. I was fourth in the call queue, still not fully guaranteed to get on air, but the first part had succeeded, and I waited patiently until the show began.

After the first few videos aired, and the first contest came and went (I was too nervous to remember that half of the countdown), a voice suddenly crackled over the phone. “There’s a lyric game coming next, with one player ahead of you,” a man droned. “If he’s wrong, you’re up. Make sure you turn your TV volume all the way down and be ready,” before he dropped off. The moment had come, and I took several deep breaths. Finally, the show returned from a commercial break, and the sounds of the show blared through my phone. Carson (we’re on a first name basis) welcomed the caller ahead of me, and read him the lyric to complete:

“My name is _____.”

I instantly knew the answer, and my pulse quickened along with my breathing, as the completed lyric, KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDDDDDDDDDDDDD, played through my mind. It was the opening line from “Bawitdaba,” by Kid Rock, a song angry, white, teenaged Adam was a big fan of, and I just needed my chance to respond. But there’s no way this kid doesn’t know the answer, I told myself, setting my mind up for the inevitable letdown of waiting, oh so patiently, for almost three hours to walk away with nothing. As Carson finished the line, he turned it to the contestant for the preordained win, who foolishly replied, “slim shady?” NOPE, buddy, you are WRONG! I shouted internally, shrieking no discernable words as I recognized my shot had come. Carson let the kid down gently, informing him he was incorrect (“My Name Is,” by Eminem had been retired months earlier, as we all well knew; this kid deserved to lose), and the moment arrived.

“Alright we’ve got Adam from Massachusetts, how we doing up there today, Adam,” my boy, Carson, inquired, and I chuckled nervously that I was good. With the formalities out of the way, we jumped to the real reason we were both there, and he asked me to finish the lyric. I did, naturally, since this is the story of how I won, but my oh my, was it glorious. Carson informed me I was correct, asked me if I wanted him to sign my T-shirt (that sweet, sweet merchandise), as another contest winner had requested earlier, which I declined. He then asked if I wanted to scream the finished lyric, just like Kid Rock, and I passed. I didn’t have the balls to do it, so afraid I was of looking like a fool as a voice on the television screen.

I called everyone I knew, alerting them of my victory, and imploring them to watch the repeat airing later that day; the world needed to bask in my glory along with me, after all. And about three months later, my trophy finally arrived in the mail. That T-shirt, that I so desperately desired, was ass ugly, made of cheap, itchy material, and something I completely lost track of through the years. I wore it once, maybe twice, and discarded it in my closet, a souvenir I should have cherished more fondly but simple discarded as a shortsighted, dumbass high schooler. If it wasn’t something I’d actively wear, why would I keep it for sentimental reasons? The way we view the world at that age is crazy in hindsight, and the reactions I had or felt to certain situations is mind-boggling two decades later. A music video was never offensive to me, until it was, and that T-shirt was something I really wanted, until I didn’t. Man, I wish I still had that shirt.

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