MTV Turns 40: How It Changed Music & Pop Culture

MTV turns 40: How It Changed Music & Pop Culture

On August 1st, 1981. MTV was officially launched with the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll” played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia (which took place earlier that year) and the launch of Apollo 11. The first music video on MTV was “Video Killed Radio Star’ by The Buggles. This shows the concept of bringing music to your television.

Originally MTV’s programming was centered on music videos to help artists gain exposure. The videos were introduced by young on-air personalities known as Video Jockeys or VJs. Since its debut, it has helped television audiences connect with music on a new level.

Early on MTV concentrated on rock music and played classical artists such as The Police and Journey but soon they started focusing on other artists from a variety of genres. Rock, Alternative rock, heavy metal hip-hop, RnB, and pop. With the change of time, MTV moved along with the music trend and listeners’ choices. Even superstars from the black community like Michael Jackson and Prince got the attention of television audiences through their music videos. MTV was one of the biggest platforms that helped in their career in their early years. And it changed the music scene as well as pop culture as we know it.

MTV Music Video Awards


In the year 1984, MTV produced its MTV Music Video Awards (VMAs). The statuettes that are handed out at the Video Music Awards are of the MTV Moonman, the channel’s original image from its first broadcast in 1981. Presently, the Video Music Awards are MTV’s most-watched annual event.
Originally conceived as an alternative to the Grammy Awards (in the video category), the annual MTV Video Music. The annual VMAs occur before the end of summer (US) and are held in late August or mid-summer, and broadcast live on MTV.

In 1986 MTV debuted Dial MTV, a daily top 10 music video countdown show for which viewers could call the toll-free telephone number 1-800-DIAL-MTV to request a music video. This tv program got more attention from the viewers since they could engage with the music videos they like.

Dial MTV

Somewhat similar to Total Request Live, Dial MTV played the most requested video for the day. The show was premiered from 1986 to 1991. Later on, it was replaced by Total Request Live.

Following the same year, MTV aired a show “120 Minutes”. a show that featured low-rotation, alternative rock, and other “underground” videos for the next 14 years on MTV and three additional years on sister channel MTV2. Alternative bands got much more exposure from this show. This year was a revolutionary year for alternative artists. They were heavy but didn’t come under heavy metal and at the same time, not a rock and roll band. They had a little hard adjusting in the music scene but being featured in this show helped these artists gain love and support from the viewers.
Some of the artists who were featured are :

  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • Bronski Beat
  • The Replacements
  • Flipp
  • The Verve
  • James Slowdive
  • Weezer
  • Robyn Hitchcock
  • Oasis
  • Blur
  • Kate Bush
  • The Offspring
  • The Original Sins
  • Rage Against Machine
  • Nirvana

HeadBangers Ball

Invisible Oranges

Another late-night music video show, Headbangers Ball got added, which featured heavy metal music and news. Its influence was made widespread with the rise of heavy metal in the 1980s and early 1990s. In the early years, this show featured bands such as Helloween, Armored Saint, Grim Reaper, Anthrax, and Exodus. MTV Headbangers ball also presents a North American tour with performances by Anthrax, Exodus, and Helloween. The 1992 version featured Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies.
This was every metalhead and heavy metal music listener’s favorite tv show. The metal mainstays such as Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Testament, Suicidal Tendencies, and Dream Theater shared airspace with the new crop of alternative hard rock acts.

Headbangers Balls Road Trips

Bands would visit the set for interviews, and in some instances, the show would follow bands on trips to assorted locations across the world. Memorable road trip episodes include the Moscow Music Peace Festival with Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Cinderella, and Gorky Park, Monsters of Rock in Donington, Alice in Chains’ trip to Action Water Park, bowling with Soundgarden, skydiving with Megadeth, Oktoberfest in Munich with Danzig, and Van Halen’s adventure at Cabo Wabo

Yo! MTV Raps

The Source

Another genre-specific show programmed the same year featuring hip-hop culture was Yo MTV Raps. This helped hip-hop listeners a whole new platform to watch. MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa, Tone Loc, Naughty By Nature, MC Lyte, and Sir-Mix-A-Lot. The channel also played R&B artists such as Janet Jackson, New Edition, En Vogue, Bell Biv Devoe, SWV, Tony! Toni! Toné!, TLC, New Kids on the Block, and Boyz II Men.
This program aired until 1995 then renamed Yo! which was again changed and reintroduced as Direct Effect.
Direct Effect to Sucker Free. There were some changes on the host of the show and some contents but the main concept was the same. Hip-hop listeners always received good music and made it easy to keep up the mainstream hip-hop music.

MTV Unplugged

MTV Unplugged an American television series on MTV showcasing artists playing acoustic instruments. The show aired from 1989 to 1999 and less frequently from 2000 to 2009 as MTV Unplugged 2.0.
The show is still on but has lost popularity among the listeners.
Most of the artists who appeared on the show released their Unplugged session as an album.
Only a few bands could get the opportunity in this show. And the ones who did were able to sell the sessions.

Eric Clapton’s Unplugged 1992 sold over 26 million copies worldwide and also became the best-selling live album of all time.
Other Unplugged albums that went platinum include

  • Mariah Carey 1992
  • Rob Stewarts 1993
  • 10,000 Maniacs 1993
  • TonyBennett 1994
  • Page and Plant 1994
  • Nirvana 1994
  • Alice in Chains 1996
  • Shakira 1999
  • La Ley 2001
  • Ricky Martin 2006
  • Lauryn Hill 2001
  • Alicia Keys 2005

Also Read: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2021 Celebrates Diversity in Music