The MTV generation grew up with an ever-evolving pallet of music; from rock to pop, grunge to electronica, and everything in-between. MTV spent decades curating what teens listened to, what parents were afraid of, and what the future of music looked and sounded like. Between creating trends and chasing them, MTV was synonymous with popular music from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Whether creating shocking pop culture moments, pushing boundaries with reality TV, or giving a platform to the most exciting artists in music, these are some of the most memorable moments in MTV history.
Video Killed The Radio Star
“Ladies and gentleman, rock and roll.” Those were the first words ever spoken on MTV when it debuted on Saturday, August 1st, 1981. The words were played over footage of the launch of Apollo 11 before MTV premiered its own original theme song and logo. Then, the first ever video to play on MTV was launched: Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles. Other videos featured in the few first hours were Pat Benatar’s You Better Run, In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins, and Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around by Stevie Knicks and Tom Petty. Before MTV, music videos were used as an infrequent promotional tool for artists to send out to entertainment TV shows for exposure. Soon after MTV premiered, they became an essential part of branding an artist and maintaining their popularity.
Bowie Challenges MTV’s Playlist
By 1983, MTV was a cultural juggernaut. Teens turned to MTV to watch videos by their favorite artists and discover new, up-and-coming talent. However, some performers were taking issue with the network’s curating process, which seemed to favor white artists over artists of color. In a sit-down interview with Mark Goodman, David Bowie noted that he was “floored by the fact that there are so few black artists featured on [MTV]”. He noticed that artists of color seemed to be played at “about 2:30 in the morning to around 6,” rather than getting played during prime hours. While Goodman rejected this notion, the host also argued that MTV had to please not only New York and L.A. audiences, but also mid-western towns that would be ‘scared to death’ by black artists. Bowie continued to press his point that MTV needed to be bold and feature artists with equality.