The impact of Total Request Live’s initial run on MTV, from 1998 to 2008, was sizeable enough that there’s even a Wikipedia page that documents every music video to ever hit No. 1 on the show.
By super-serving fans at the height of the teenybopper boom, TRL started out (and stayed for many years) as a showcase for the biggest pop music videos of the era; there were occasional detours through nu-metal (Korn, Limp Bizkit) and pop-punk (Blink-182, Sum 41), but the show smartly ceded the floor to bubblegum based on fan votes. And because of that, boy bands dominated the first half-decade of TRL — according to that Wiki page, it took over six months from the show’s launch for a non-Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC video to reach the top spot.
Yet not all boy band videos are created equal, and it wasn’t just BSB and *NSYNC who offered up gems at the time. These are 10 for the time capsule, the boy band videos that hit No. 1 on TRL and that we’ve been returning to long after TRL went off the air (and also when it came back on the air).
10. Backstreet Boys, “Shape of My Heart”
The Backstreet Boys became Backstreet Men here: The simple, straightforward “Shape of My Heart” video was a huge TRL hit for BSB, and finds them stripping away the pretense of their gaudier Millennium visuals. The scene is… an acting audition? The boys are singing while… holding scripts? It doesn’t matter, really. With a washed-out filter, the guys establish the most potent blue period since Picasso, and charge into capital-m Maturity with full force.
9. B2K feat. Diddy, “Bump Bump Bump”
Great video, but definitely feel a little bit bad for the non-Omarion members of B2K here. The Artist (Now) Formerly Known As Maybach O was clearly the breakout star of the group, and the camera favors him here more than even Justin Timberlake in a latter-day *NSYNC clip. None of the other guys get as many outfit changes; none of the other guys are able to hang side-by-side with Diddy. There’s some J-Boog in there… but some would say, not enough J-Boog.
8. SoulDecision, “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy”
There was a time, the “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy” music video posits, in which SoulDecision was so extraordinarily popular that they could not walk down the street without being mobbed — and in some cases, kidnapped? — by adoring female fans. The clip plays out like a Looney Tunes clip, right down to the alarm clock being smashed with a hammer, wacky disguises and a newspaper headline that reads “SoulDecision at large!” for some reason, despite no hint of foul play.
7. *NSYNC, “Bye Bye Bye”
Everybody remembers the puppet show, AKA the veiled shot at *NSYNC’s former manager, and the faux-marionette choreography. Know what’s a crazy thing to rewatch, though? Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone being chased on top of a moving train by a woman who maniacally smiles at their peril. Get out there, boys!
6. *NSYNC, “It’s Gonna Be Me”
So what if it sort of rips off Toy Story, relies on some pretty lame slapstick and has one of the more curious endings in boy band music video history? The “It’s Gonna Be Me” visual is still a blast, from the moment the boys-as-action-figures punch through their boxes to the second they somehow morph into full-size humans and all leave the store with the same girl. The highlight comes when Joey Fatone woefully knocks over a row of dominoes that spells out *NSYNC. That Joey… always causing chaos, albeit promotional chaos.
5. 98 Degrees, “The Hardest Thing”
The truth is… the video for “The Hardest Thing” is a pretty well-made boxing visual! The tale of a fighter caught in a complicated romance with a show girl, the clip allows 98 Degrees to admirably emote in unison, but upon closer inspection, employs artfully composed slow-motion action shots and stark lighting in and out of the ring. That’s right, the lighting in a 98 Degrees video rules! And does the turtleneck Nick Lachey wears here, a fashion choice that establishes the frontman as sporty AND sensitive.
4. Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way”
Where were you the first time you watched that initial “Tell me why!,” as the camera cuts to Nick Carter looking pensive in all-white, removed from the Backstreet Boys’ hangar and ready to drop some gentle vocals near the baggage claim? What were you thinking the first time you saw AJ McLean lean in with his fedora and ask if he was your fire? What rushed through your mind when you gazed upon the “KISSES FOR KEVIN” poster in the crowd during the grand finale? The iconic “I Want It That Way” video provides more questions than answers, as we reflect on that initial rush near two decades later.
3. O-Town, “All Or Nothing”
As soon as Ashley Parker Angel’s girl breaks her hand away from his in slow-motion as the pair rides around aimlessly in a convertible, it’s clear that this is going to be a classic boy band ballad clip. “All Or Nothing” is a tremendous pop single, of course, but its video impressively matches the song’s grandiosity: Taking center stage at a dramatically lit concert venue, Angel is comforted by screaming, crying fans until his true love rolls up just in time for that final chorus. She half-smiles; he smolders. It’s clear that she is giving her all, not her nothing at all.
2. *NSYNC, “Tearin’ Up My Heart”
Here’s what *NSYNC’s first No. 1 video on Total Request Live accomplishes: almost immediately, you want to spend more time with *NSYNC. Within the first minute of the “Tearin’ Up My Heart” clip, Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez become sex symbols, Joey Fatone establishes himself as the comic relief, and the dance moves contain a kinetic energy that only increases when billowing white button-downs get involved. “Tearin’ Up My Heart” is *NSYNC’s origin story. Respect it as such.
1. Backstreet Boys, “Larger Than Life”
The year is 1999. Backstreet Boys just dropped their biggest hit to date, “I Want It That Way,” with a video that became the most essential of their career. How do they follow it up? By spending all the money in the freaking world, of course. The video for “Larger Than Life” cost $2.1 million, and it certainly looks like it did: gyrating robots, space-surfing, zero-gravity dance moves and a particularly clunky-looking spaceship are all on display, and the boys tear it up in their green-screen habitats.
Like most big-budget sequels, the “Larger Than Life” video threw money at a problem; unlike most big-budget sequels, the tactic paid off in spades. It’s the boy band video that represents the excesses and cheesy goodness of the turn-of-the-century pop boom most effectively. “I Want It That Way” may have laid the groundwork, but the “Larger Than Life” video evokes the bigger gasp.