“Ladies and gentleman, rock and roll”— It was with these words that John Lack introduced the world to MTV, “the world’s first 24 hour stereo music video channel”, 35 years ago today. It was 1981, Apollo 11 had just completed its moon landing, and viewers’ television screens would sporadically go black as MTV employees manually switched the music video tapes in the VCR. The channel would go on to become a key influencer for pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic, a catalyst for the revolution of the music video as an art form, and would shape television tastes throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s. To celebrate MTV’s 35th birthday, The Hut takes a look at 10 of the most defining moments in the network’s history.
The First Music Video
After a brief introduction to the network channel from its presenters, MTV quite aptly opened its sequence of music videos with The Buggles’ hit single “Video Killed The Radio Star”. “Pictures came and broke your heart” sang frontman Trevor Horn, with no idea of the impact the music video would have on the industry in the years to come.
Jay Z at the Rockefeller
In 2006, Jay Z celebrated the return of the VMAs to his native New York City by providing an explosive opening to the show from the Top of the Rock observation desk at the Rockefeller Center. Despite later performances from Shakira, Beyoncé, The Killers and Christina Aguilera, that year’s awards is now only remembered for that performance by Izzo.
Image property of GQ Magazine.
The Emergence of Reality TV
Moving into the ‘00s, MTV started its move towards reality television and had one of its biggest successes of the 21st century with Jackass. Developed from a skateboarding-related comedy magazine that featured contributions from Johnny Knoxville, Dave England and Tyler Newton, the show would go on to provide a springboard for the acting careers of Bam Margera, Knoxville and Steve-O.
The death of hip hop’s biggest name, The Notorious B.I.G., shook the music industry in March 1997 and a dedicated performance at that year’s VMAs has gone down as one of the most iconic in MTV history. Already a number one single in multiple countries across the world, Biggie’s close friend P Diddy, wife Faith Evans, and Sting performed a touching rendition of “I’ll Be Missing You” to an emotional yet rapturous audience.
Image property of The Notorious B.I.G. Official Facebook
Michael Jackson in Love
First introduced by the King Elvis himself in 1974, Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley made their first public appearance as a married couple at the 1994 VMAs. Entering the stage in front of a television audience of 250 million viewers, Jackson defied the couple’s doubters by grinningly announcing “And just think, nobody thought this would last” before embracing Lisa. Two years later, the couple would duly divorce.
Image property of Getty Images.
Beavis and Butt-Head
First airing on the network in March 1993, Beavis and Butt-Head would become one of MTV’s most critically and commercially successful series which heavily influenced the emergence of animated sitcoms in the US. Developed by Mike Judge, MTV had to stop airing the show entirely for two weeks after it premiered due to sheer demand for the show.
Two years into its life, MTV premiered a 14-minute long music video that jolted the music industry with its exceptional choreography and narrative use. Directed by John Landis, the video has gone on to be recognised as one of, it not the greatest music video of all time. The video has been closely associated with MTV and demonstrated the channel to have its finger firmly on the pulse of popular culture.
The Best Video of All Time
Would a list of best moments be complete without a mention of Kanye? Fortunate for us, Yeezy pulled one of his most memorable stunts at the VMAs in 2009 when he stormed on stage while Taylor Swift was making her acceptance speech for her Best Female Video award. After feigning politeness in explaining that he would let Taylor finish her award speech, Kanye announced that the video for Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” was “one of the best videos of all time”, insinuating that Taylor didn’t deserve her award. Awkward.
Image property of Reuters.
Madonna’s Inaugural VMA Performance
Originally conceived as an alternative to the formality of the Grammys, MTV launched its own award ceremony in 1984. The first show of the Video Music Awards—hosted by Dan Akroyd and Bette Midler—was stolen by Madonna’s famous rendition of “Like a Virgin”. Dressed in a lacy white wedding dress with her iconic “Boy Toy” belt hugging her waist, Madge stunned audiences in the studio and at home with her sultry performance on top of a three-tier wedding cake.
Recreating Madonna’s celebrated “Like a Virgin” performance of 1984 (huge wedding cake, bridal dresses and all), Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were joined on stage by Madge herself in a full groom’s tuxedo at the VMAs in 2003. Already stunned by the sensuousness of the performance, audiences at home and in the studio were stunned when Madonna ended the suggestive dance routine by leaning in to kiss first Britney and then Christina. Sadly for Missy Elliott who then gave an energy-filled performance of her own, the night was only remembered for those few seconds.
Image property of MTV.