No one knows how to throw a party like MTV. So there must be quite a bash planned for Aug. 1, celebrating 25 years on the air. Right?
Sorry. MTV is staying in that night. There are no plans to even mention the birthday.
When your average viewer is 20 years old — too young to remember Martha Quinn, not even born when Madonna buckled on her “boy toy” belt — perhaps it’s wise not to mention you’re 25. MTV wants to be the perpetual adolescent.
On a relentless mission to stay hip, MTV casually discards generations. Yesterday, “Beavis and Butt-head.” Today, “Laguna Beach.”
And at each stop, MTV changes pop culture.
Without MTV, you might not have reality television. Commercials wouldn’t have vertigo-inducing quick cuts. Musicians wouldn’t need to look like models to survive. Kelly Osbourne wouldn’t have gotten near a recording studio. And only seamstresses would know about wardrobe malfunctions.
Our birthday present is a look back at 25 memorable MTV moments:
1. THE DEBUT: Aug. 1, 1981. The first video? The slyly prophetic “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the now-forgotten Buggles. Only a few thousand people on a single cable system in northern New Jersey could see it. Sometimes the screen would go black when someone at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR. Within a few years, millions of kids demanded their parents buy cable so they could see MTV. Along with CNN, it led TV’s transition out of the three-channel world. “This was the fuse that lit the cable explosion,” said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
2. BEAT IT: March 31, 1983. Michael Jackson becomes the first black artist with a video on MTV. The segregation was MTV’s early shame, ironic considering its later role in popularizing rap. And the early snub wasn’t forgotten: “You don’t have all of music television when you are leaving things out,” says Los Lonely Boys singer Henry Garza.
3. THRILLER: Dec. 2, 1983. Less a video than a 14-minute mini-movie with Vincent Price, ghouls and goblins, the premiere of Jackson’s “Thriller” was an event. MTV gave it a set time on the schedule — several, even. It was the apotheosis of the idea of music videos as an art form. With director John Landis involved, it also was proof that Hollywood’s finest weren’t looking down upon what are essentially promo clips.