Exploring ‘80s Music Video Shows Before the Internet Era


In the 1980s, before the internet became the universal source of music and entertainment, music video shows reigned supreme in shaping the musical tastes and trends of the era. This was a time when television channels like MTV were not just channels but cultural icons, defining and being defined by a generation of music lovers. Shows like “Total Request Live” became the epicenters of the music world, where new songs and artists were introduced, and music videos were more than just promotional material – they were events in themselves.

This era of music video shows, particularly in the 1980s, marked a significant shift in how music was consumed and appreciated. It was a period characterized by the visual representation of music, where the style and aesthetic of artists became as influential as their sound. In this article, we will learn more about 1980s music video shows, unraveling their impact and significance in a pre-internet world where television was the primary window to the wider world of music.

The Dawn of the Music Video Era

shooting a music video

The 1980s heralded a seismic shift in the music industry with the advent of the music video era, a time when visual representation became an integral part of musical artistry. This period marked the transition from traditional music consumption to a more visually oriented approach.

Emergence of Music Videos

Before the 1980s, music videos were not entirely nonexistent, but they were sporadic and not a mainstream method of music promotion. They were primarily used as promotional tools for television appearances or conceptual art pieces. Some artists in the 1970s experimented with the concept, creating what would now be considered early music videos, but these were limited in scope and reach.

MTV Revolutionize Music Consumption

The launch of MTV (Music Television) in 1981 was a watershed moment. It was the first network dedicated solely to music videos, fundamentally changing how music was marketed and consumed. MTV’s approach was groundbreaking, offering continuous music video content that blended music with visual storytelling, making the artist’s image as important as their sound.

Role of Cable Television

The expansion of cable television in the 1980s provided the perfect platform for channels like MTV. With more households getting access to cable, the reach of music video channels expanded significantly. The growth of cable TV led to more channels and, thus, more opportunities for diverse music programming, allowing various genres and artists to gain visibility.

The Concept of Video Jockeys (VJs)

Just as radio had DJs, music video channels introduced VJs (Video Jockeys), who became celebrities in their own right. They hosted shows, introduced music videos, and became a bridge between the artists and the audience. VJs played a crucial role in shaping viewer preferences and trends, their endorsements and presentations influencing the popularity of songs and artists.

The dawn of the music video era in the 1980s represented more than a new entertainment medium; it signified a cultural shift in the music industry. The visual portrayal of music through channels like MTV changed the landscape of music marketing, artist image, and audience engagement, setting the foundation for future developments in the music and entertainment industry.

Iconic Music Video Shows of the ‘80s

The 1980s saw the rise of several iconic music video shows that became synonymous with the era’s vibrant pop culture. These shows were more than just platforms for airing music videos; they were cultural touchstones that shaped the musical landscape and influenced a generation of viewers.

1. MTV’s “Total Request Live” (TRL)

“Total Request Live,” better known as TRL, became one of MTV’s flagship programs. It featured a countdown of music videos voted for by viewers, making it an interactive experience. TRL was instrumental in launching the careers of many artists of the ’90s and 2000s and set the tone for how music was consumed by the younger generation.

2. Friday Night Videos

As one of the first music video shows on broadcast television, “Friday Night Videos” brought the music video craze to a wider audience that didn’t have cable. The show offered a mix of music videos and celebrity appearances, making it a popular weekly event for music fans.

3. MTV’s 120 Minutes

This show specialized in alternative and indie music genres, providing a platform for artists who were often overlooked by more mainstream channels. “120 Minutes” developed a cult following and is credited with popularizing alternative rock in the ’80s and ’90s.

4. Yo! MTV Raps

This show was pivotal in bringing hip-hop and rap music into the mainstream, showcasing music videos, artist interviews, and live performances. “Yo! MTV Raps” played a crucial role in bridging cultural and racial gaps in the music industry and is often credited with globalizing the hip-hop genre.

5. VH1’s Pop-Up Video

While it began in the late ’90s, “Pop-Up Video” deserves mention for its innovative approach, adding pop-up bubbles of trivia and commentary to music videos. The show was not only entertaining but also educational, providing insights into the making and context of popular music videos.

6. The Chart Show

A notable UK show that aired various music video charts, reflecting the tastes and trends in British music. It featured different charts like indie, dance, and rock, catering to a wide range of musical preferences.

These iconic music video shows of the ’80s played a significant role in defining the decade’s music culture. They were the gatekeepers of musical trends, influencers of public taste, and launchpads for many artists’ careers. The format, presentation, and content of these shows have had a lasting impact on how music is promoted and enjoyed, echoing into the current era of digital music consumption.

Music Videos as a Cultural Phenomenon

In the 1980s, music videos evolved from promotional tools to cultural phenomena, significantly impacting the music industry and popular culture. This era witnessed the transformation of music videos into an art form that influenced fashion, dance, and the visual language of music.

  • Artistic Expression and Storytelling: Initially used primarily as promotional material, music videos soon became a medium for artistic expression, with artists and directors using them to tell stories, convey messages, and create visual spectacles. Music videos provided a platform for innovative storytelling, often creating narratives that paralleled or augmented the song’s themes.
  • Fashion and Style Trends: Music videos became trendsetters in fashion. Outfits and styles worn by musicians in their videos often became popular among the youth, driving fashion trends of the era. Certain music videos are remembered as much for the fashion statements they made as for the music, influencing not just casual wear but also haute couture.
  • Dance and Choreography: The 1980s saw music videos become a platform for showcasing innovative dance moves and choreography, influencing dance styles and popularizing them globally. Choreographers gained prominence, with some becoming celebrities in their own right, as dance routines from music videos were mimicked in clubs and at parties.
  • Technology and Special Effects: Advancements in film and video technology in the 1980s allowed for greater creativity in music videos. The use of special effects, unique camera techniques, and editing styles became more prevalent. Directors and artists pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved visually, often experimenting with new technology to create never-before-seen effects.
  • Global Reach and Influence: Music videos played a key role in spreading American and Western pop culture around the world, influencing tastes and trends in various countries. They also provided a platform for artists from different cultures to reach international audiences, promoting cross-cultural exchanges.
  • Music Videos and Identity: For many artists, music videos became a means of expressing their identity and artistic vision, contributing to their public persona. Fans often imitated the styles, dances, and attitudes seen in music videos, showing the medium’s impact on identity and self-expression.

Music videos in the 1980s transcended their role as promotional tools, becoming a dynamic and influential cultural phenomenon. They impacted artistic expression, fashion, dance, and technology, leaving a lasting imprint on popular culture. The legacy of these videos is evident in the continued importance of visual representation in today’s music industry.

The Decline of Traditional Music Video Shows

person watching video on a smartphone

As the 1990s approached and the digital age dawned, traditional music video shows, which had been a staple of 1980s pop culture, began to experience a decline. This shift marked the end of an era and was influenced by several key factors.

  • Rise of Internet and Digital Media: The advent of the Internet and digital platforms like YouTube provided audiences with on-demand access to music videos, diminishing the necessity of scheduled TV programming for music discovery. As more people turned to the internet for entertainment, traditional TV viewership declined, impacting the popularity of music video shows.
  • Changes in MTV’s Programming: MTV, once the pioneer of music video programming, gradually shifted its focus towards reality TV shows in the late ’90s and early 2000s. This change was driven by evolving viewer preferences and the commercial success of reality programming. As MTV and similar channels reduced their music video content, the primary platform for such shows diminished significantly.
  • Music Industry Changes: The music industry’s promotion strategies evolved with the advent of digital media. The focus shifted to digital downloads, streaming platforms, and social media, reducing reliance on traditional music video shows for marketing. The diversification of music genres and the rise of niche markets also played a role, as audiences fragmented across various platforms catering to specific tastes.
  • Viewer Demand for Diversity and Specialization: Viewers began to demand more specialized and diverse content, which led to the rise of channels and platforms catering to specific genres or interests, a need that traditional music video shows were not structured to fulfill. The interactive and personalized nature of digital platforms, allowing viewers to choose what to watch and when, contrasted with the more passive experience of traditional TV programming.
  • Economic Factors: The shift in advertising revenue models with the rise of the internet impacted traditional television’s profitability, including music video shows. The cost of producing a TV show, compared to the relatively lower cost of distributing content online, also played a role in this transition.

The decline of traditional music video shows was a multifaceted process influenced by technological advancements, changes in viewer preferences, and shifts within the music and television industries. While these shows played a crucial role in the 1980s music scene, their reduction marked a significant change in how music was consumed and enjoyed, paving the way for the digital and streaming era in music distribution and consumption.


The era of iconic 1980s music video shows was a defining period in both music and television history, shaping how a generation experienced and interacted with music. While these shows have since seen a decline, overtaken by the digital revolution and changing viewer habits, their impact remains undeniable. They not only revolutionized the music industry but also left a lasting legacy in popular culture, influencing everything from fashion to filmmaking. As we reflect on this pivotal era, it’s clear that the spirit and influence of these music video shows continue to echo in today’s digital and streaming landscape.

While the 80s music video shows played a pivotal role in shaping the era’s pop culture, the cinematic world of the same period was deeply influenced by the geopolitical tensions of the Cold War. ‘How Did the Cold War Influence 80s Cinema?’ delves into the impact of this historical context on the films of the decade, revealing how global politics and cultural expressions were interwoven.

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