MTV Launches Throughout The Years

If you thought MTV was just about music videos then you would be selling them short. Yes, they started out as music television but quickly became a larger influence in popular culture.

From the initial music promotion videos to their own virtual world MTV has come a long way and is continuing to adapt to the ever changing digital world.

MTV Launches Throughout The Years

Music Videos On MTV

MTV launched on August 1st 1981 with its first show on air. The introduction to this new music program came from John Lack, one of MTV’s creators who announced ‘Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll’. 

The first song played was, aptly, ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ by The Buggles. 

At the time the show was only available to residents of New Jersey. The basic music videos played by MTV were provided free of charge by the music companies and played by VJs or video jockeys. 

When the marketing value of these music videos was realized by the music industry more money was poured into their creation, and it became a cutting edge business.

Some music video directors such as Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry started in this way and progressed onto directing movies. It wasn’t just directors careers that the launch of MTV helped. 

Artists such as Madonna, Duran Duran, and Cyndi Lauper suddenly had their careers thrown into overdrive and quickly became household names. The rise of Michael Jackson and Prince may not have happened without the visual impact of MTV. 

The connection between MTV videos and movies was mutually beneficial. Soundtracks became hit singles for movies such as Top Gun, Ghostbusters and Flashdance. It all served to promote the movie and the music. 

Music genres that would not normally have reached a wide audience suddenly had a platform of promotion helping them to become more mainstream. Notably, grunge music and rap. 

Reality TV Shows

Playing off its success with music videos MTV began moving toward programming geared for teenagers and young adults. This began a genre called reality TV which we are now so familiar with. The first of these shows was The Real World which launched in 1992. 

This social experiment still had episodes airing in 2021 with The Real World Homecoming series, catching up with some of the original participants. Other shows following the reality TV model included Laguna Beach, The Hills, My Super Sweet 16 and Jersey Shore.

MTV then moved from ‘ordinary’ people for their reality show material to focus on celebrities such as The Osbornes, and Newlyweds, Jessica Simpson and her husband Nick Lachey. 

With the new millennium came a new format show from MTV. Jackass featured a cast of nine people, who were allegedly friends, who would carry out pranks on each other as well as on apparently unsuspecting members of the public. 

The show only ran for three seasons but spawned movies, spin-offs, a video game, merchandise and a short-lived website. Much like the first MTV music video shows in the 1980s and 90s, Jackass has become part of American popular culture from the 2000s. 

Adult Cartoons

The concept for some of TVs most iconic adult cartoons came from MTV when it commissioned Mike Judge, a writer, director and voice of Beavis and Butthead. At a time when MTV’s sheen was starting to dull the show was a hit. 

This cartoon appealed to a demographic that didn’t identify with clean cut American teenagers portrayed in other TV shows like Saved By The Bell. It was controversial, pushing the boundaries of taste which only added to its appeal for many young adults. 

The show spawned spin-offs such as King of the Hill and Daria, the classmate of Beavis and Butthead. Other popular adult cartoon shows such as South Park have been influenced by the characters and satirical humor of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. 

That show then laid the foundation for hits like Rick and Morty and Archer, other adult cartoons which are still popular today. 

Virtual MTV

Virtual MTV

In August 2006 MTV launched its own virtual world where you could create your own avatar, have your own ‘crib’, explore virtual worlds and engage in virtual games. 

The promise was that you could mingle with others in-world, attend concerts and parties in the Lower East Side of New York. MTV tried to attract music artists to virtual world performances offering them the chance to get noticed. 

For the most part players were wandering around either listening to music or watching bands perform virtually, so it was still very much oriented towards music. 

The logo for the game was a shaved rat to try and portray an edgy vibe thereby differentiating it from the very similar Second Life which also featured music performances.

 It was a type of social network for the MTV audience and very much in line with the company’s original values of promoting new musical talent. However, despite staging some major events the project was shut down in 2009. 

Other projects such as Laguna Beach and The Hills had virtual worlds that paralleled the TV shows, and were hosted on the platform. These featured avatars of the show’s stars who would guide visitors through the virtual experiences and in-world stories. 

Events such as fashion challenges and virtual concerts were hosted by some of the shows’  characters. While they were up and running these games had a high level of engagement with Laguna Beach reaching 350,000 registered users by January 2007. 

However, none of these virtual worlds are still in existence (see also “What Happened To The Horrible Histories Virtual World?“). Recently, MTV created a virtual space on Roblox in order to host the MTV Video Music Awards and reach a wider audience. 

Final Thoughts

MTV has come a long way since its initial launch in 1981. It’s had its highs and lows but is still a player in the world of music and entertainment. Its ability to adapt to change has meant that it’s been able to not just survive but to grow and maintain influence.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like our post ‘What Happened To The Horrible Histories Virtual World?‘.

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