Video Star: 30 Years of MTV

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It's 30 years since MTV launched and in its three decades, it’s changed the way we think about – as well as watch – music. Gillian Orr charts its greatest hits

By all accounts, 1981 wasn’t shaping up to be a great year for music lovers.

Bucks Fizz had exploded after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” hogged the radio airwaves and the popularity of Adam Ant and the other New Romantics meant men were parading around in their girlfriends’ make-up. Then on 1 August, just after midnight, a new television channel aimed at teens and 20-somethings launched with the words: “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” It was called MTV.

Set up with the intention of playing music videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week, MTV quickly catapulted them into the mainstream. Not only did the channel encourage videos to be viewed as an art form, they also became a marketing tool for record companies. Artists were forced to embrace the medium or risk retirement. Madonna and Duran Duran were just some of the stars that benefited in the early years. Of course, it had its detractors and many thought the channel was devaluing the industry by placing the entire emphasis on the visual aesthetic rather than the music.

MTV’s viewers, a generation desperate to disassociate themselves from their baby-boomer parents, had no unifying identity: the civil-rights movement and Vietnam were their parents’ struggles. These cynical and dissatisfied youths came together, however, by tuning into this eclectic new channel. The MTV Generation was born.

With the rise of the internet, young people were able to watch their favourite videos on demand online. The channel sought a different approach and the schedule soon filled with reality shows during the early to mid-2000s. Early devotees might be disappointed to tune in today to find the likes of Teen Mom and Jersey Shore in place of their beloved videos and VJs.

But even the channel’s television shows set the agenda and some of its biggest successes such as Pimp My Ride, Jackass and The Osbournes all became must-see viewing. MTV’s raucous award shows consistently providewatercooler moments to this day. And the videos are still there, even if they are buried in late-night schedules and on sister channels. MTV has been forced to evolve and move with the times. Viewing figures might not be what they were, but the brand goes from strength to strength.

Today the channel bears little resemblance to the 1981 original but MTV revolutionised the music industry, consistently dictated popular culture and provided a platform for a number of artists who may have otherwise struggled to find an audience. And for that, its 30th birthday should be celebrated.

Thirty Years of MTV

*When MTV was launched in 1981 the first video to be played was, quite fittingly, “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles – a fact that often pops up in pub quizzes across the land. The second video tobe shown, however, was Pat Benatar's “You Better Run”. Yep, us neither.

*While ABC only chose to broadcast selected highlights of 1985’s Live Aid concerts, MTV broadcast 16 hours of primetime coverage. The channel has always made an effort to promote social, political and environmental activism in young people, including campaigns to encourage voting, raising awareness about poverty and addressing discrimination.

*The early 1990s saw a barrage of experimental, funny and technically accomplished music videos from new maverick directors. In 1992, after some pressure from the Music Video Producers Association, MTV began to list the names of the directors at the bottom of the credits, bringing the likes of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and David Fincher to wider attention.

*First broadcast in 1992, The Real World is credited with launching the modern reality-television genre. Following a group of young strangers living together as they deal with life, careers and love, the 26th season is due to be broadcast later this year. A strong champion of the genre, everything from Big Brother to The Only Way Is Essex can be traced back to MTV.

*Following a renewed interest in folk influenced music in the late 1980s, MTV Unplugged debuted in 1989. Showcasing popular artists performing their tracks acoustically, many of the performances went on to be released as albums. Perhaps the most famous of the recordings is 1993’s Nirvana Unplugged in New York, due to the number of covers and lesser known material the band performed.

*In 1997, MTV UK was launched with the aim of providing audiences with more local artists and relevant content. There are now more than 40 localised networks around the world, including MTV Pakistan, MTV Norway and MTV Korea.

*One of MTV’s defining moments of the Noughties was Madonna, dressed as a groom, kissing her two brides, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Last year it won “Best Kiss of the Decade” in a poll by Selfridges.

*The stars’ antics at awards shows have ensured headlines. In 2008, Russell Brand called George W Bush a “retarded cowboy” and the following year, believing that Beyoncé had a superior video, Kanye West broke into Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech with theimmortal line: “Yo Tay, I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish…”

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments