On August 1, 2021, MTV turns forty years old. Yes, MTV is middle-aged. Many of you are probably thinking how can MTV be 40 years old since 1995 was only fifteen years ago :). Well, 1995 was 26 years ago and we are just going to have to accept the fact that MTV is really 40 years old.
MTV debuted in 1981 when cable was only in twenty-five percent of American homes. The staff of MTV had to go to a bar in Fort Lee, New Jersey to see the channel make its debut because it was not on the cable system in New York City. Seven months later on March 1, 1982, the “I Want My MTV” ad campaign started, and soon after, it was the hottest channel on the cable lineup.
The channel introduced America to artists and music it might not have ever heard of had it not been for the network. In the early days of Music Television, they kicked off the second British invasion featuring acts like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Human Leauge, and so many more. In fact, by 1983, thirty percent of record sales in America were from British acts. This was due in a large part to MTV.
New wave and power pop also ruled the playlist in the early years and were followed by glam rock and dance music. A few years later, metal would rule on late-night Saturdays with Headbanger’s Ball. Alternative rock, which was known as college rock back in the eighties, had its own show on Sunday nights with 120 minutes and Yo MTV Raps brought rap to the mainstream. After MTV aired Live Aid in 1985, the power of MTV could not be ignored. It was not a fad and was here to stay. Our news was The Week in Rock.
We had our own game show with Remote Control. The New Year’s Eve specials were to us what Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve was to the teens of the seventies. Come spring break, we all watched people party down in Daytona Beach. The MTV Awards was by far the best awards show on the tube. The Real World was not the first reality show, but it is the show that kicked off the reality show craze.
In the early nineties, it was our time to make the music. Grunge came along and turned the rock world upside down. Gangsta rap took the genre to a new level and hip hop exploded on the scene and never left.
In the late nineties, a multitude of young female pop stars, boy bands, and nu-metal took over. It was clear then that another generation had come of age. After that was all over with, the network found its new love: Reality Shows. We then found a new home with VH1. Sadly they have lost their way as well with an overload of reality shows. If you are lucky, your cable provider or streaming service has MTV classics.
What MTV is now is not worth talking about. It’s not ours and will never again be ours. The real Music Television belongs to us. It was our voice to the world. A world where the boomers were still hanging on to relevancy and always trying to take our thunder away.
Thankfully the home VCR came along in the eighties and plenty of folks recorded MTV. Now we can view footage from the old days on YouTube. We can watch us in our heyday like no other generation before could. Other generations have their networks but nothing will ever compare to our MTV.