MTV now, in 2021 feels almost like something nostalgic. We don’t have sky TV anymore any I only really keep a side eye on the VMAs, the Real World (which is now on Facebook TV) and The Challenge. But more on those later. The ‘MTV generation‘ became a thing, almost like it was a new way to describe yuppies or college stoner kids. If you were described as being part of the MTV generation in the 90s, it certainly never felt like that was a positive thing, that’s for sure.
MTV launched in 1981, and I was born in 1982 which means by the time I was conscious of music (which is admittedly at a very early age, thanks to my dad) MTV was in full swing. Little did I know of course that MTV too a long while to take off, it was literally just stream after stream of music videos, of which there were hardly any. Lots of bands resorted to using footage of Top of Tops or backstage tour videos as their single promos, and that’s why almost every 80s hair rock band video looks exactly the same.
Enter bands like The Buggles, Dire Straits and of course Michael Jackson, who caught on early on that injecting some money into a video promo which is more than just a live performance would place you on much higher rotation and way more likely to reach your target audience, which at the time was white middle class kids. The record buying public. I still remember seeing MJ’s thriller for the first time and being in awe and terrified in equal measure. The white middle class aspect of the MTV demographic is an interesting one though, which this fascinating interview with David Bowie summarises worryingly well considering this was 1983 and MTV had only ben broadcasting for 2 years:
It’s safe to say for at least the first couple of years, MTV floundered in cable TV wasteland. In fact we were very fortunate that we lived abroad in the late 80s and early 90s. Living in Holland and Belgium there was only the pick of 3 terrestrial channels, 2 of which were French which meant that almost every household had satellite TV. For me that meant access to two things; The Simpsons and MTV.
By this time MTV was the place that all the cool kids hung out and had even starting diversifying their programming with the introduction of Yo! MTV Raps, which I loved (well, the edited version on a Sunday morning – I was still only 8 years old). The early 90s was MTVs sweet spot for me. Naturally with me being at school all day and sport dominating a lot of our household viewing, I was still able to record MTV through the night, as that’s when they would just play videos back to back, and I could watch back the latest releases at my leisure.
MTV started to get a bit of stick come the late 90s/early 2000s as they started to introduce more music themed shows. They proved with the Real World that they could show more than just music videos to keep people interested. Their audience were young ‘woke’ millennials (before being woke was a thing) so watching a TV show that dealt with race, gender and sexuality conflicts dead on and unapologetically was refreshing. Shows like MTV Diary, Fanatic, and Making the Video, though weren’t met with much positivity. For me, why wouldn’t I want to see the behind the scenes of the Backstreet Boys on tour, or meeting their biggest fan. Afterall, I could watch the music video on CDUK or Live and Kicking.
I kind of left it alone after that, I was older, moved in with Dave in my early 20s and we didn’t have sky TV. Yeah MTV had taken a massive departure from where I left it with more non music related shows like The Challenge and Teen Mom. I still maintain though, they remained zeitgeists in talking about the unspoken issues and pushing boundaries. Albeit not via music videos any more.
MTV played such a massive part in lots of aspects of my childhood, whether it be introducing me to new music, new types of people (where else would you watch a young man living with AIDS in your TV screen in 1994) or a more in depth look at my favourite band. It was my go to channel for many, many year. It’s where Ray Coakes, Davina McCall, Cat Deely and Edith Bowman all cut their presenting teeth. Let’s be honest, YouTube couldn’t have happened without MTV. And we all love falling down a YouTube rabbit hole from time to time.
So am I part of the MTV generation? Mate, I am the the MTV generation. And proud of it.