This Monday marks the 30th anniversary of the birth of MTV, prompting a nostalgic look back at the network that grew to influence pop culture.
“Ladies and gentleman, rock and roll,” MTV triumphantly declared at the start of its first broadcast. And for a while, we did.
MTV was the answer to music video prayers, launching on Aug. 1, 1981 with the first airing of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and later premiering classics like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It even broke color barriers, making Michael Jackson the first African-American artist to receive consistent play with videos like “Billie Jean” and the epic, 14-minute “Thriller.” In the '90s MTV began to branch out, debuting reality shows like “The Real World” and adult-oriented cartoons like “Beavis and Butt-Head.” But at the time, music still ruled the airwaves.
"TRL" (Total Request Live) counted down the top 10 music videos as voted by fans. It made Carson Daly a household name and broke records for the number of screaming teens you could fit in Times Square. But slowly, it began to feel like someone hit the pause button on the “music” part of Music Television.
TRL was canceled, and MTV filled the void with reality shows ranging from the spoiled drama-teens of “Laguna Beach” to the bizarre world of “The Osbournes.” Today, MTV watchers tune in most frequently to see the lives of teenage mothers on “16 and Pregnant” and to fist-pump and “beat the beat” with the cast of “Jersey Shore.”
But despite a change in content, MTV continues to thrive. It may have stopped playing music, but it has never stopped playing a leading role in the world of entertainment.
So happy birthday, MTV, and here’s to many more.