If your early memories of Michael Jackson
consist of a zippered, red leather jacket or a sparkling white glove, it's probably because you saw one of the King of Pop's videos in the early days of MTV, the original music television station.
Before MTV (and cable) the only contact young audiences had with music was watching Soul Train
, Solid Gold
or American Bandstand
On Aug. 1, 1981, the history of music on television changed forever when MTV became the first station to feature music videos as its prime source of programming. MTV immediately appealed to the younger generation of music fans, fans who felt their interest in music was being ignored.
"When we went on the air," Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks told Entertainment Weekly
magazine, "we had 168 clips. And 30 of them were Rod Stewart."
Of course, the reason MTV only played a few videos early on was that no one was making videos at that time.
It wasn't long before record companies saw the power of MTV. Kids across the nation began imitating the artists they saw on MTV, as Michael Jackson
's moonwalking became a de rigeur dance step for any party. In 1984, Dire Straits' hit "Money for Nothing," with satirical lyrics on what it was like being an MTV star, had people in the streets singing the verse "I want my MTV." Rock stars Bon Jovi
and Axl Rose made promos for the channel with the now-famous tag line.
The channel also opened the door for "rockumentary" profiles on MTV's featured artists, including Bruce Springsteen
, David Bowie
, and Rod Stewart, catering to the hunger for music information among the younger generation.
During the '80s MTV grew from being a strictly music video station to a three station network: MTV, VH1 (Video Hits One), and Nickelodeon, spreading their generational reach. The station also began producing their own programming--Headbanger's Ball
, MTV News
, Remote Control
--in addition to airing music videos.
Ultimately the videos showcased on MTV increased an entertainer's popularity, promoting the record, the producer, and a physical image. Artists' record sales would increase based on the expanded exposure. Time
magazine wrote in 1993 that MTV's "diverse but irresistible mix of sounds has brought the kids back not only to the record racks but to the clubs and concerts as well."
MTV is the link between the artists and their fans. It gives fans an immediate and up-close picture of their favorite rock star and that star's music.
The network, which has now expanded to Latin America, Europe and Asia, knows that their audience will watch anything or anyone as long as they're told it's hip, fresh and current.
Over the past 20 years MTV has become the voice of an entire generation of fans. To celebrate their double-decade anniversary, we've highlighted ten of the best moments/creations in MTV history.
The launch of MTV
The Buggles' 1979 tune "Video Killed the Radio Star" launched MTV and kicked off a revolution in youth-oriented programming. Loud guitar chords played in the background as a hyperactive spaceman bounced across the moonscape, putting an MTV banner on the surface of the planet. A voiceover saying, "this is MTV, music television," launched one of the most popular channels in television history.
Jackson becomes a werewolf
's "Thriller," a mini-movie that was more a pop culture event than a mere music video, was much hyped before its 1983 premiere on MTV. Clocking in at 17 minutes and directed by feature film director John Landis, "Thriller" helped catapult Jackson
's album of the same name to the top of the all-time best-seller list. The video featured Jackson
turning into a werewolf after going on a date to a scary movie. Jackson
became the first black artist to have a video aired on the music channel.
Madonna plays "Virgin"
kidnapped the first MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 14, 1984. At first she appeared on stage sitting atop a wedding cake dressed as a bride. But within minutes the singer dropped to the floor, writhing and moaning erotically. "You could feel this collective gasp," Judy McGrath, president of MTV told Entertainment Weekly
magazine. "You didn't know if something really dangerous was going to happen." Her appearance on the show spiked Like a Virgin
record sales, reaching number one on the album charts and staying there for six weeks.
Total Request Live
The streets that face MTV's studios in Times Square have police barricades almost permanently set up on the sidewalk. Teenagers from all over the U.S. descend upon the studio in hopes of catching their favorite performer making an appearance on the show. If not, there's always Carson Daly. Total Request Live
has become MTV's most popular video countdown show. The teenagers who watch the station choose the top 10 videos of the day. TRL is the only place where rock band Limp Bizkit and boy band the Backstreet Boys can be featured on the same bill. TRL caters to the youth market, airing weekdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m., just when kids come home from school.
"I am zee STUDBOY!"
Fans have described Remote Control
as "the only MTV show that was any good." Starting in 1987, this MTV game show featured future stars Colin Quinn and Kari Wuhrer
. Adam Sandler
, who has scaled TV (Saturday Night Live
) and movie (Happy Gilmore
, The Waterboy
) heights, launched his career with the minor character "Studboy." Remote Control
combined comedy with video music knowledge. The show had it all--great trivia, good laughs and an original premise.
When MTV decided to showcase artists sans electric guitars, keyboards, and other musical accouterments in MTV Unplugged
, little did anyone expect the overwhelming buzz it would create. The first MTV Unplugged
, starring Crosby, Stills & Nash, was recorded at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York on Aug. 11, 1990. "Our first taping at Ed Sullivan Theatre. Such history. Such nostalgia. Such a dump," an excerpt from the book "MTV Unplugged" reads. The show premiered Sept. 30, 1990, on MTV. Among the now legendary performances from Unplugged
: 10,000 Maniacs' "These Are the Days," Soul Asylum's "Black Gold" and The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." The series, which hasn't aired since mid '90s, is set to return on Aug. 9 with a set by REM.
"I am the great Cornholio!"
Former musician Mike Judge
, who supervised the show's production and did most of the characters' voices, created a titular pair of adolescent metalheads, Beavis and Butthead, who became household names across America. The cartoon premiered in September 1992, on MTV's Liquid Television
, with an episode entitled "Frog Baseball." You guessed it--the pair tried to kill frogs with a baseball bat. Funny stuff, then and now. The cartoon moved onto the big screen in 1996 with Beavis and Butthead Do America
. Beavis and Butthead, along with The Simpsons
, paved the way for prime time animated series on TV.
Spears strips at VMA 2000
Befitting her then squeaky clean image, Britney Spears appeared onstage wearing a suit with a top hat, while the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" started to play. As the song progressed, the 19-year-old singer began to perform a strip tease at the MTV Music Awards last August. That performance pretty much dispelled any preconceived ideas that Ms. Spears was an innocent. Co-host Marlon Wayans
was (almost) speechless after her number, gasping how Britney had suddenly gone "from the Mickey Mouse Club to the Strip Club." If Spears wanted to show that she does not want to be seen as a 20th-century Lolita, she certainly transmitted her message effectively.
Original programming that changed the faces of pop culture
MTV was said to be the first to embark on the phenomenon now known as reality TV. With the show The Real World
, an entire new genre of TV was born and before we knew it, all there is to watch is reality shows. Pioneering this form of entertainment, MTV has programmed such shows as The Osbornes
, Newlyweds-Nick and Jessica
, Pimp My Ride
, and I Want a Famous Face
The Real World: The series that launched the reality television craze, MTV's revolutionary soap opera placed seven strangers in one house, filming their lives almost continuously. Sexual, racial, and general roommate tensions led to frequent blow-ups and crying jags, while extreme camera angles, jumpy edits, and a non-stop soundtrack of overly literal pop music gave the show its edge.
The Osbornes: The king of reality show families with out a doubt is the Osborne family. Their crude language and rehab stories are enough to keep America hooked on the hit show, even after it has ended.
Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica: Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson started their own trend in reality shows by putting their new marriage on cable TV. Newlyweds showed America's favorite airhead, Jessica doing what she does best, making us laugh. Our Favorite "Jessica Moment" would have to be the infamous Chicken of the Sea debate, is it chicken or tuna? The world may never know.
Punk'd: Ashton Kutcher's celebrity prank show, Punk'd has every superstar paranoid that they will be next. Pranking such celebrities as Justin Timberlake, Hillary Duff, Carmen Electra, Zach Braff, and Eva Longoria, this show was a runaway hit for MTV and Ashton Kutcher. No one is safe.
Pimp My Ride: stars rapper Xzibit and transforms broken down Ford Escorts into hot pimp mobiles. Everyone wants to be pimped; as Xzibit puts it they "pull drivers off the road who are guilty of committing heinous vehicular style crimes."
Cribs: The show everyone loves to hate, Cribs has been making people jealous of celebrity homes since its premiere date. As if we did not already know that celebrities have everything, this show enlightens us every week about the things we want but will never have.
I Want a Famous Face: In the midst of a plastic surgery craze, this show tells the up and down side to plastic surgery in a very graphic, stomach-turning manner. It makes you wonder why people go through hell to look like Jennifer Lopez. Consider Jennette who wanted to have a body like Kate Winslet, she got her wish but wanted girls to know that, "I do not think you should have plastic surgery unless you have a strong sense of self." Oh, the irony.
The kiss that shocked the world
Britney Spears and Madonna surprisingly locked lips in the opening act of the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. In fact, Christina Aguilera was part of the act to, kiss included, and received little to no recognition for it. Apparently, it was much more shocking for squeaky-clean Britney to be involved than scandalous Christina. It is amazing how things have changed. Now known as "the kiss heard 'round the world," Britney is quoted to have enjoyed herself immensely. "It was just a kiss, a nice kiss," straight out of the mouth of our favorite schoolgirl.
Super Bowl XXXVIII Half-Time Show
Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and the infamous wardrobe malfunction that shocked the country, made for dull half-time shows for years to come. The MTV produced half-time show also included acts by P. Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock, whose performances were a little less revealing. Even though apologies were made, even by MTV, who said that the "malfunction" was neither rehearsed nor planned, it would be fair to say that MTV will not be producing any half-time shows any time soon.