Watching the circus that was the MTV Video Music Awards a couple weeks back & that the ruckus that was caused by a certain rapper over a certain video brought MTV once again back into the limelight. This article, however, is not about Kanye West, Beyonce Knowles or the VMA’s. All of that has been discussed ad nauseum to the point of Jay Leno asking about Kanye’s deceased mother. No, what this is about is the hypocrisy of MTV. How is it that a channel that started a revolution in music by “Killing the Radio Star” has an awards show honoring videos when they no longer show videos?
What happened to MTV? How did it get so bad, so fast? Remember watching Nirvana Unplugged in New York a few months after Kurt died & wondering what might have been? This was must see TV for Generation X & left an indelible mark on our brains about what music should sound like. MTV made stars of artists who in an age of visualization were savvy enough to carve out an image for themselves.
Now, though, MTV & VH1 have devolved into fodder for late night television & the blogosphere with their sub-moronic scripted reality shows that are killing brain cells every moment they are on. VH1 has become a haven for washed up 80’s musicians like Bret Michaels who intend on extending that 15 minutes of fame to cash in on whatever remaining seconds of popularity they have left.
Consequently, MTV has lost all credibility in the music world as they can no longer call themselves a viable music network. They broke the mold on Music related programming like Headbanger’s Ball & YO! MTV Raps. They owned the market on music related content like TRL which was the quintessential standard for pop music in the late 90’s early 00’s. For better or worse MTV created a niche for itself that made artists take notice & reinvent themselves.
Now, it’s shows like The Hills or True Life (which is anything but) that dominate MTV’s viewership. I’m not some old guy longing for the days when music was played on a phonograph. There is a place for original programming. The Real World was seminal in starting the reality show craze we see today, for better or worse & created one of the best seasons of television with the Judd Winick, Pedro season. it was when they started to focus strictly on reality though & stopped caring about the music.
Would Billy Idol have been the huge star he was in the 80’s if we hadn’t watched him in “White Wedding”? Would Madonna be anybody today if she hadn’t dressed up like Marilyn Monroe for “Material Girl”? Would Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, have created the huge grunge explosion if it weren’t for watching “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Jeremy” or “Black Hole Sun” on MTV? Perhaps, but they would not have enjoyed the type of success they achieved if it weren’t for the double marketing of videos & music.
MTV shaped a generation, giving greater appreciation for the duality of Music & Film. It became a brand, a standard for current trends. You could see what your favorite artist was wearing in a video & emulate it. Sure there’s You Tube & artists still post videos up there, but it isn’t like it was. Coming home from school to watch videos while doing my homework was a favorite past time of mine as a teenager & now all of that it gone. Much like Dire Straits who said in their classic song/video “Money For Nothing”, “I want my MTV”. The difference is, my MTV is dead.