Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The 80's: MTV

In 1981, a small cable channel by the name of MTV launched with the words of "Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll". It's first images shown on TV was of the Apollo 11 moon landing with an "MTV" flag that was staked in the moon like the U.S. Flag in the actual Apollo 11 moon landing.

The launching of MTV would be landmark for the music industry. It featured artists from all walks of life and many genres. MTV started out as a channel that featured videos on a 24/7 basis – I say started out because they currently feature TV shoes, videos, and documentaries among other things. What MTV didn't feature much of were artists of color. The few artists of color MTV featured were Prince, Herbie Hancock, and Donna Summer. Even Michael Jackson himself struggled to get airtime on the new music channel. His break finally came in 1983 with his 'Billie Jean' video. But change was not immediate. "Billie Jean" was not added to MTV's "medium rotation" playlist (two to three airings per day) until after it had already reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

A month later, it was bumped up into "heavy rotation," one week before the MTV debut of Jackson's "Beat It" video. Both videos were played several times a day for the next two months; by early summer, the channel had ceased playing either song. But the impact was permanent as by that point the videos by other black artists such as "Little Red Corvette" and "1999" by Prince and "She Works Hard For The Money" by Donna Summer were in heavy rotation on the channel.

When Jackson's elaborate video for "Thriller" was released late in the year, the network's support for it was total, leading to a lengthy partnership with Jackson that helped other black music artists, including Prince, Tina Turner, and Jackson's younger sister Janet Jackson. MTV's style, hand-held cameras and quick-cut editing had its own impact on 1980s culture. Soon, everything on TV looked like it was done by MTV. More rap music acts were climbing the 80s pop music charts. The late 80s was playing the music of artists like MC Hammer, YOUNG MC, and Salt-N-Pepa played regularly on MTV and pop music radio stations.

"Went to Short Dog's house and they was watching Yo! MTV Raps."- Ice Cube, It Was A Good Day

On August 6, 1988, MTV launched "Yo! MTV Raps", a two-hour music video program that featured a plethora of rap videos, live performances and often times interviews with various rappers. Doctor Dré and Ed Lover hosted the show on the weekdays, which also featured Lover's "Ed Lover Dance". Fab 5 Freddy took over on the weekends.

Yo! MTV Raps was an instant success from the jump as Run D.M.C. featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince hosted its first episode. This episode became one of the most watched in MTV's three-decade history. Start-up artists and stalwarts alike had the chance to be heard in the largest of American media markets at the time. Yo! MTV Raps seven-year run was fruitful and though it later had to compete for audiences with programs like BET’s Rap City (started in 1989), it became crucial to the spreading of the subculture, one of the more influential realms of 80’s Pop Culture.