30 years of MTV

From the moment The Buggles appeared on the new video channel, music was never going to be the same again. Paul Bignell looks back at the medium that revolutionised popular culture

Sunday 24 July 2011 00:00
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At one minute past midnight on 1 August 1981, a new generation came into being: the MTV generation. The title of the song that heralded a legion of TV-obsessed teenagers summed up what the new television station was about. "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles, led by the bespectacled Trevor Horn, celebrates the golden age of radio, describing a singer whose career is cut short by television.

Since those opening chords were played 30 years ago next week, millions the world over have tuned in to witness a musical and visual revolution. The concept of the "VJ" was popularised and huge budgets were opened up for directors to experiment as they had never done before. The station was also pivotal in pushing era-defining movements such as hip-hop in the late 1980s and alternative rock in the 1990s.

But just like the character in "Video Killed the Radio Star", MTV's own rule was cut short by the advent of the internet. In 2005, with the arrival of YouTube, even MTV's staunchest supporters realised things would never be the same again. Anyone could now shoot, edit and show their own videos.

Music video director Kevin Godley, who has put together promos for Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Sting and U2, believes this is no bad thing. "I appreciate YouTube as a tool," he said. "It's an extraordinary encyclopaedic device for finding out anything you want in the visual form. It's a double-edged sword. Anyone can put their own stuff up there. But it also means you have to wade through tons of rubbish to find it."

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