Anyone remember this logo? It seems almost archaic, perhaps obsolete, but this original MTV: Music Television logo, with the yellow, blue, and, red, felt revolutionary. Maybe it was revolutionary, because up until then, music was listened to on records, 8-track tapes, cassettes, or reel-to-reels, at home. Car stereos made it possible to play 8-tracks and cassettes, but they were still heavy and clunky. Everyone looked forward to a band coming into town. You could find a radio anywhere and everywhere, and it was free music. Recording music on a cassette for free, without having to buy it as a store, felt like a risk, even if you knew damn well no one would ever knock on your door and confiscate your tapes.
MTV felt revolutionary because up until August 1, 1981, the only time you saw music was on something like Dance Fever, Solid Gold, or maybe on the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon. In truth, there were many options to watch artists perform live, but it was limited to three networks. Cable TV did exist, but back then Home Box Office seemed like the best thing in the world. A 16-hour cable network that ran movies which you didn’t have to go to the theater to see? Also, if you wanted to experience a movie or concert on TV in stereo, you had to call the cable company to get a converter that would transfer the stereophonic signal from your cable company and it could be broadcast through your parents stereo system. FAR OUT!
Then came 1981.
I was a music fan, and I became a devoted MTV junkie. It was different, it was cool to see all of this cool music (as limited as it may have been). For me, making the jump from AM to FM radio was a thrill, because I could hear music in the same audio quality as a record. Now to have my album cover artwork move around? People of a younger generation will never understand how exciting that was, because it’s a given, especially when music formats are appealing to a niche audience.
Let me get to the point of this. I read on RapReviews.com that MTV will no longer be using the words “Music” or “Television”, and will be changing their logo because they want to continue appealing to a much broader audience. For those of you who may not remember or know, MTV used to indeed mean “Music Television”, a cable network that actually played fourteen videos an hour. I am not joking: 14 videos an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: in stereo. Then they would broadcast concerts, some of which were exclusively shot for and by MTV. They used to run tour dates and news segments that were not done by Kurt Loder. There used to be shows like MTV’s Liner Notes and IRS’ The Cutting Edge. It felt like a college radio station, but you didn’t have to drive in a weird part of town to catch the frequency. MTV existed in the post-disco/post-punk era, although post-punk was new wave and it was all the same anyway. MTV existed in a world where if you were black, your record label just didn’t make music videos. Oh sure, artists like Cameo, Ashford & Simpson, Midnight Star, and Prince were making music videos, a few of which were as basic/cheap looking as their rock counterparts, but MTV had a rockist attitude and remained that way for 18 months. Yet it was still exciting to see artists like Adam & The Ants, Joe Jackson, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, Temple Tudor, and Total Cuelo come on the screen and make music. As a kid, they might have looked freaky, but it meant you could look like however you wanted. Maybe you fell in love with a member of Bananarama.
Anyway, MTV: Music Television became a lifestyle network early on, pushing music-related programming and yet it loved non-music programming. Remote Control, Half Hour Comedy Hour, House Of Style, and The Idiot Box may have been loosely connected with music, but it was the basis for much of what we see on cable and network TV today. MTV between 1986-1990 looked a lot like what Nickelodeon is. Once The Real World aired and became a success, MTV slowly pushed their music programming to the side. As it did this, more non-music programming hit the airwaves, to the point where it did not look or feel like MTV anymore. Even their music countdown shows like Total Request Live felt like trying out samples at a supermarket, but never having a full meal. MTV seemed to get more excited by the personality than the music, and they loved celebrating the celebrity. They could have pushed more music shows, and they did make a number of attempts in the 90′s, but they never seemed to stick. For many, MTV died when the last episode of YO! MTV Raps aired. Even though 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation pushed on for years, that golden era would soon come to an end around the time boy bands were growing in popularity, and MTV finally embraced hip-hop and R&B, two formats they primarily ignored throughout the 80′s.
I remember when people were calling it eMpTyV, or The Dead Kennedys doing songs like “MTV Get Off The Air”. Even Beck, a staple of MTV for years, was smart enough to write and record “MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack”. With that said, I remember wanting to be an MTV VJ so bad. I loved radio, and MTV at the time felt like a few steps higher, because maybe it meant being able to explose my favorite music to an audience of millions, across the country. I wanted to have my own show, I don’t know what it would or could have been, but to be able to call up your favorite artists and say “hey, I’d like for you to come to the studio and perform. Would you?” I wanted to run MTV for a week so it would have the kind of programming I would want, so it would represent me and my interests. MTV ate itself and didn’t mind sipping its own constipation residue, eventhough they might interpret their change and progress as “going where the advertising money shines bright”.
It’s sad, but it would be silly to say that I miss a cable network that was once the source of much great music, incredible program, people who seemed to love music, people who cared about the music and listening experience. They were like the coolest DJ’s on radio, but right in front of your screen. Who wouldn’t want to grow up and want to meet people like them, or to meet them, or to become like them? Maybe as record stores started losing its popularity, and records were less about what sounds good but “how many units can we sell on a quarterly basis?”, MTV started to lose its appeal. As the internet came and brought more music fans from around the world, maybe MTV began to show its grey hair. As fans wanted to get closer to the music, MTV started to move away. It was like a drug, you wanted to get home after school so you could be the first to watch a WORLD PREMIERE VIDEO.
At one point, I think around the time of The Strokes, The Hives, and various other The bands, I realized how much I relied on the video content and I too started to move away. I found myself renewing my appreciation for music, and perhaps saying that is a bit old school, but I also got all of my music listening habits from observing my parents, and they are now my own. So to finally read about MTV putting a few nails into its own coffin, at least in name, is almost a downer, but not quite. Because you see, music existed before MTV, and it definitely existed before the television was invented. Despite the many trends that have come and gone, and the technology that continues to improve and upgrade itself, there’s still music out there waiting to be explored, and it will continue to be out there to explore with or without a network that used to show music an incredible amount of respect. It’s safe to say that MTV no longer needs the M, and why not be like other networks that have changed their name? MTV: what does it represent? It’s just branding, but the same can be said for what it used to represent. It’s just music, right?
Thank you MTV, for your original mission in your life. Now you look like a culture-less face staring into the void at nothing. To the artists and video directors who once made the network so great: keep on creating. Your contributions will never be forgotten.