Posted on December 18, 2018
by Steve Janowick

Michael Jackson circa 1983.

I don’t care who you were.  Back in the early 80’s, there weren’t many people with a pulse in America who didn’t dig Michael Jackson in some way or another.  Come on, you know I’m right. I don’t care if you were a hardcore redneck living in the swamps of Louisiana or a grizzled, old cowboy roughing it in Wyoming, you knew who he was.  You may have kept it a secret, been all stealth around your buddies, but behind closed doors, you were trying to moonwalk in front of the mirror.

He was popular prior to 1982, but after his videos began airing on this newfangled music channel called MTV, Michael Jackson, along with many of his contemporaries, blasted into the stratospheres of fame and notoriety.  Now, the casual music fan could put a face to the name. His favorite song now had a visual story to go along with the audible one. It was a win/win all around. The artist cashed in from this new (and very pervasive) exposure and his/her fans got a brand new, pop-culture phenomenon to lap up.

Rudimentary during its infancy, the music video was usually a very low-budget endeavor that was light on artistry and heavy on the cheese.  But they progressed quickly as the industry puppeteers started seeing massive upticks in record sales and concert attendances when an artist had videos attached to his songs.  And in 1983, just a couple years out of the gate, MTV reached its zenith when Jackson released the song Thriller.  A “where were you when” moment for many a young man back in the day, this video was actually a short movie directed by a real Hollywood hotshot and chock full of cool (yet very dated) imagery and some of the best dancing ever put to film.

The decade that followed defined MTV’s heyday.  24/7 music videos complete with actual VJ’s to present them, the channel was now tuned in on every television in every household across America. Kids would run home or stay up late to catch the latest and greatest videos.  They eventually progressed into masterful pieces of expression and the platform itself helped kickstart, and reignite, the careers of many artists. Things were chugging along great for MTV-and its sister station VH1.

Until it all went south.

The first chink in the armor came in the early ’90s when the reality craze made its way onto the network in the form of Real World. The channel’s originators began to cave to the money men (and the whims of a capricious public) and slowly, the videos, the whole reason for the channel’s inception, were being pushed aside for the next unscripted piece of garbage, pseudo-game show or teen-angst drama to come down the pike.

Fast forward to today and there’s not a single video in sight.  The entire music industry apparatus has morphed and the public’s longing for the once-revered music video is evidence of that change.  But not to fret – there’s plenty of 16 and Pregnant to go around on MTV these days.

Whether from being just a by-product of society’s ever dumbing down or simply because of a flawed business model, MTV is a perfect example of change and progress gone awry.  Unless you lived through that era, you won’t understand. I’m sure there are many kids today who love this current incarnation of the channel. But there are also many of us who long for the days of the corny fist pumps and tacky laser beams.  And who knows? Maybe one day we may get our wish.

Like Sting so eloquently demanded…

I want my MTV…back!

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