Total Request Live, MTV’s daily music-video countdown that aired from 1998 to 2008, is most often associated with the late 20th and early 21st century’s most popular manufactured pop stars, like Britney Spears, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and, um, Limp Bizkit. But every so often, an oddity would hit the top of TRL‘s chart: New Found Glory’s “All Downhill From Here,” “Ooh, It’s Kinda Crazy” by soulDecision, and my personal favorite, “Talking About 9/11 Tragedy.”
The most curious song to land at No. 1, however, did so on Aug. 27, 1999, when Tom Green’s novelty hit “Lonely Swedish (The Bum Bum Song)” supplanted “Music of My Heart” by NSYNC and Gloria Estefan as the country’s most popular video. How the hell did that happen?
The answer, naturally, has to do with Canadian public-access television.
Before Tom Green got fingered, and then savaged by Roger Ebert, he was the titular star of The Tom Green Show. The DIY sketch series premiered in 1996 on Rogers Television 22, a community channel based in Ottawa, with a budget of approximately negative-dollars. Saying something was ahead of its time is cliché at this point, but The Tom Green Show really was ahead of its time. Years before Jackass, Green, with nothing more than a crummy video camera, endlessly humiliated himself, offering Kool-Aid to become Grand Wizard and putting a dead cow’s head into his parents’ bed. It was disgusting, it was juvenile, it was… popular, so much so that it was picked up by the Comedy Network in 1996 and, three years later, MTV.
Now discredited as the home of crummy reality shows, like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom, and unneeded revivals of Teen Wolf and Scream, MTV was willing to take chances in the early 2000s. There was the boy-band-spoofing 2ge+her, PG-13 nudity of Undressed, and claymation Celebrity Deathmatch. But no series was more, shall we say unique, than The Tom Green Show, especially when Green filmed a graphic special about his battle with testicular cancer.
That was in 2000. A year before, Green filmed a segment on a cruise ship where he rubbed his butt against a rail and sang, “My bum is on the rail, my bum is on the rail.” Bum-rubbing became a recurring feature on the show, and eventually, Green turned it into a full-length song: “Lonely Swedish (The Bum Bum Song).” The minds of The Lonely Island must have been blown.