Although I haven’t watched it in many years, I look back on the early days of MTV fondly, and was surprised to see it hitting its 30th anniversary this month.
It was definitely part of my upbringing, but it only really felt fresh and cool for a brief moment in time. Plus, it wasn’t even available in L.A. or Manhattan for the first thirteen months. (Cable TV was still in the dark ages then).
MTV really started making its presence known at that time, with the enormous success of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
The albums’s success put MTV’s ratings through the roof, and MTV playing Jackson’s videos round the clock played no small part in making his album a phenomenon.
But MTV felt like a cultural phenomenon for fans of all kinds of music. Sure Jackson played on the channel non-stop, but so did Duran Duran, Twisted Sister, Madonna, Def Leppard, Billy Idol, etc.
In the early days of the network, video was a fascinating medium that wasn’t totally played out. Making a mini-movie to go along with the music was fascinating, although it also took the movies you made in your head to the music out of the equation. The ADD directing and editing of video was soon everywhere, influencing movies, TV shows, and advertising. It wasn’t long before MTV became a cultural phenomenon, and it felt exciting to be part of the generation at the center of it.
Although videos were nothing new, MTV showed their promotional power, and someone like Billy Idol could go from theaters to arenas in four to six weeks. Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister snagged the big break-throughs it normally took years to achieve practically overnight, and they lost that success just as quickly.
Thinking back on my days where I practically watched MTV non-stop, I really miss the original VJs, (JJ Jackson was probably my favorite, may he rest in peace), the excitement of waiting for a World Premiere Video, the concerts they used to show on the weekends, making mix tapes on my VCR of my favorite videos (you had to be pretty quick on the draw with the remote control, and I was always at the ready with mine), and so much more.
Eventually MTV came to represent much of what I found disgusting about the music business, and it was a drag to see that happen. Yeah the whole point was to sell tons of albums from it - money for nothing, chicks for free, right? Still, there was definitely a point when I was younger where MTV wasn’t completely insufferable like it became in later years. In fact, to use an ‘80’s figure of speech, for a time it was pretty bitchin.’