“Ladies and gentleman: Rock ‘n’ roll” – A look at MTV

10 Sep

MTV celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Video Music Awards this past week, and the reviews – as they’ve been for the past several years – are mixed.

Some still love the craziness that comes with the VMAs, while others just roll their eyes and change the channel. Most blogs, Web sites, etc., use the show as a way to make fun of MTV.

From the Buggles to Beavis & Butthead to LC, MTV has had quite a roller coaster of an existence, and has more than its share of critics.

After just 27 years on the air, has MTV grown as useless as a tape deck?

Looking back

When MTV premiered 27 years ago, a voice announced, “Ladies and gentleman: Rock ‘n’ roll,” and the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” aired.

Music Television was here.

For more or less the next 15 years, videos ruled on MTV. There were special shows dedicated to genres – “120 Minutes,” for example – and VJs like J.J. Jackson, Kennedy and Downtown Julie Brown became household names.

From Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson’s kiss to banning racy Madonna videos, the network became known for classic and often controversial pop culture moments.

About 1999, MTV slowly stopped airing as many videos. Reality shows like “The Real World,” which first aired in 1992, were still popular, and a new round of shows cropped up in the late ’90s, like “Jackass,” “The Osbournes” and “Punk’d.”

Now, the network almost exclusively airs its own shows, and sometimes other channels’ popular programs. “The Real World” is still a hit, but “The Hills” is the network’s baby. Turn on MTV on any weekday afternoon and you’re likely to find The CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” or MTV’s dating shows like “Next” or “Parental Control.”

Though MTV has tried to show more videos through new shows like “FNMTV,” the network mostly now shows snippets of videos. According to wikipedia.com, MTV airs just 20 hours of videos or music-related programming a week.

My two cents

So many of my major pop culture memories from my life are related to MTV: Watching Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Seeing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video for the first time. MTV News anchor Kurt Loder telling the world that Kurt Cobain had killed himself. Staying up late to see The Prodigy’s banned video for “Smack My Bitch Up.” Watching hours upon hours of “Daria.” Seeing Irene get slapped on “The Real World.” Feeling my world change as I watched the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” video for the first time.

Even though I turn on MTV several times a day, still, I don’t watch more than 10 minutes, and that’s usually because “America’s Next Top Model” is on. I don’t really like “ANTM,” but I can stand it for, say, 10 minutes.

My main complaints with MTV?
The complete lack of any music on there – and the quick snippets they call “videos” do not count (seriously, what’s the point of having a Video Music Awards show for a channel that doesn’t air videos?), my hatred for anything Tila Tequila-related and how the network is completely lacking smart TV shows like “Daria.” And no, I don’t like – or even get – “The Hills.” I’ve tried watching it and I don’t understand its appeal at all. On the other hand, obviously a lot of people get it – not only is the show a favorite for many, but it’s had a huge impact on popular culture and the show’s viewers, too.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed how, over the past year, I’ve almost completely stopped watching videos all together. In college, I stayed on Web sites like AOLMusic or YouTube, watching videos of my favorite bands and finding classics. Now, I realize I’ve probably never watched all of a video for The Decemberists, and they’re one of my favorite bands. Have I stopped watching videos because they’re not so prominent on major channels anymore? Bands are still making great videos, but is anyone paying attention?

I have to wonder: MTV really killed the radio star with its programming, but once it stopped airing videos, I worry that the music video is dead, or at least on life support, too. Can one network really have that much control over an art form?

I think my video-watching habits would change if there was a channel that showed music videos – and lots of them, from all different genres. I don’t have CMT or GAC at home, but my mom does, so I watch those channels sometimes when I’m there. Over Labor Day Weekend I forced my mom into watching 80 Hours of the ’80s on VH1 Classic (she’s not an ’80s fan, but has VH1 Classic). I couldn’t tell you how much fun I had remembering my old favorite music videos.

Here’s a story I think is pretty funny. In spring 2006, I was in New York City for a college journalism conference. As a part of the conference, you could sign up to go on tours of various TV stations, newspapers, etc. in NYC. There were tours of places like the New York Times, but everyone was talking about the MTV tour – you’d be in the audience for a taping of “TRL.” Even though my emphasis was in print, even though I hadn’t watched “TRL” since I was in high school and even though I’d stayed up wandering the city streets til 3 a.m., you’d better believe I was up there with, oh, everybody else at 7 a.m. to sign up for the MTV tour. It was done as a lottery, so they randomly chose a few of those who signed up to go to the taping, and my name was called. While we were waiting to get into the studio, all my fellow college students around me were all saying basically the same thing: “Oh, I don’t watch ‘TRL,’ I just thought this would be interesting.” Suuure. Of course, my reason for going wasn’t much better: I just wanted to say I’d been in the hallowed halls of MTV. As a pop culture junkie, it’s just one of those things you want to do. But I loved how everyone else claimed to hate the show and the network, yet they were there, too, and I’ll bet they wouldn’t have given up their spot for any amount of Adderall.

Part of me is a little worried that MTV is considered so lame and uncool at just 27. I’m 25, and I wonder if the life of a network is like life itself. Do you really stop being cool after, say, 21? Should MTV have been pulled years ago, to save itself from this mess?

Do you watch MTV? If so, what do you watch?

What about music videos? Do you still watch them or just keep up with your favorite bands? Are you interested at all in seeing classic videos?

What music-related channels do you watch, if any?

If you’re in a band – do you make music videos? Plenty of bands over the years have said they knew they “made it” when their video was aired on MTV – do you still want to be featured on MTV?

Do we still need MTV?

Tell me what you think.

4 Responses to ““Ladies and gentleman: Rock ‘n’ roll” – A look at MTV”

  1. Mickey Gousset September 11, 2008 at 9:18 am #

    Alas, I show my age by saying I remember the premier of MTV. As someone who grew up with it, I say it is past its prime. But of course, with the prevalence of high speed internet and access to videos whenever you want them through places like Yahoo Music, you don’t need music TV channels any more. Back when that was all you had (or if you didn’t have cable, you watched Friday Night Videos), then you would sit there for hours and watch TV, hoping to catch your song. But now, with YouTube, I can go directly to any video or song I want and watch it within minutes.

  2. sheenabarnett September 11, 2008 at 9:40 am #

    Yeah, I love being able to go on YouTube, AOLMusic or anywhere else and see whatever video I feel like seeing. I almost hate that about MTV, the waiting around to see your favorite video. And now they don’t even show the whole video!

  3. popculturefairy September 12, 2008 at 5:10 pm #

    I watched MTV growing up, as a lot of people did but it just got progressively worse as they added more non-music programming. I stopped watching and then got a little bit of hope when M2 was announced but it went the same direction…

    Very disappointed. Why call it music television anymore? It should be Rap & Crap Television!

  4. sheenabarnett September 14, 2008 at 10:11 am #

    Yeah, I had high hopes for M2, too, but it’s not any better. 😦

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