August 1, 1981, a date that may not ring a bell to most people but serves as one of the most monumental dates for music fans in history. On that day, four decades ago, MTV (Music Television) broadcasted for the first time and soon revolutionized entertainment, the music industry, and pop culture in many places around the world. Here, let’s look back at MTV’s accomplishments and its influence on music and beyond.
Served as an avenue for stars to reinvent, express themselves and shine
One of MTV’s most significant contributions to the world is that it allowed many stars to shine. Before its existence, music videos weren’t a thing. No cable TV channel was broadcasting music round-the-clock, and the music world had to “battle” it out against the strict programming schedules of stations, such as HBO and CNN (which, in all fairness, have also brought massive success to those channels.
With MTV’s arrival in 1981, many artists finally had a platform to reinvent and express themselves. Madonna catapulted into popularity as MTV gave her the avenue to becoming the true “Queen of the Pop.” This worked the same way for Michael Jackson, who became a worldwide sensation with his iconic dance moves, songs, and music videos. Of course, there would also be Duran Duran, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, NSYNC, and even Lady Gaga.
Brought hip-hop/rap to the mainstream
It’s not only the stars, as MTV has also become instrumental in bringing an entire music genre into a much broader audience. In August 1988, MTV launched “Yo! MTV Raps,” a two-hour hip-hop/rap music show which featured interviews, comedy, music videos and live-in-studio performances from many hit rappers. Some prominent rappers who’ve been on the program include Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, Salt-n-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Naughty by Nature. Through MTV, hip-hop/rap culture that was only emerging then in New York finally reached the masses. Artists and fans found a show where they can fully share their walk, style, dance, flow, and music – also eventually leading hip-hop/rap to full acceptance as a popular form of music.
Stepping stone for directors
Through MTV, the popularity of music videos also sparked a thirst for creative outputs from directors. Music videos seemed like telling a movie but compressing them into a song. That, in turn, gave birth to many impressive directors who treated the channel as their own art galleries. Record labels also then allocated more budget towards productions, enabling directors to create even more eccentric and entertaining music videos, such as Madonna’s “Vogue,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller.” What’s remarkable is that these music videos served as a stepping stone for many directors, such as Russell Mulcahy, Michael Bay, David Fincher, and Spike Jonze, to transition to Hollywood later on to make waves and further showcase their skills.
Boosted reality TV
Another innovation brought by MTV is reality television. In 1992, the television channel launched “The Real World,” which featured the life of a group of young adults who were brought together to live in an apartment in a new city while being filmed round-the-clock. While reviews on the show have been negative, as it was deemed to depict issues, such as prejudice, religion, sex, abortion, politics, death, and drugs, the series was a massive hit with the viewers. Since then, MTV continued to air various reality TV shows that undoubtedly rocked the audiences’ viewing experience, such as The Hills, The Osbournes, The Simple Life, Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, Catfish, Road Rules, Laguna Beach, and the Raiders.
MTV introduced VJs
In its launch in 1981, MTV was anchored by then-unknown five video jockeys, coined from the fusing the words video and disc jockeys. MTV’s original five VJ’s were Mark Goodman, JJ Jackson, Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood, and Martha Quinn, who’ve been in-charge in interviewing the artists, introducing soundtracks, and providing commentaries to the music videos. They also added their own personalities and style, further shaping the people’s experience and the broadcasting industry in general. Though most of the VJs only had a five to seven-year tenure, their contribution to the channel and the viewers is valuable. MTV has also been beneficial for them as the channel served as a starter that enabled them to pursue other careers both in the music and TV industry.
“Rock The Vote” campaign
In 1992, MTV initiated the “Rock The Vote” campaign, which has been credited to have played a huge role in enticing young people to participate in the 1992 presidential elections. It was a monumental feat as it started a fruitful intervention of music to politics, empowering, educating, and motivating the youth about their own power and leadership through music and how they make a change in the political landscape.
While it’s the main gun that allowed them to build an empire and revolutionize the world, MTV started to decrease its music video programming from 1995 to 2000 and shifted to more profitable reality television programs. By 2016, the channel no longer had any music video blocks as it also needed to adapt to changes in preferences and tastes of the newer generation and the introduction of various online music platforms. Nevertheless, MTV will always be remembered for its nostalgic good old days and remain as one of the best game-changers even beyond music.