As mentioned in the previous post, I’m splitting this review up into parts since it’s such a long book. This part covers chapters 13-20.
I feel like now we’re getting into the meat of the MTV story. Music videos had now established themselves as a way to get sales. Even the Boss finally caved and made videos for a few songs from Born in the U.S.A. Although his videos were mainly concert footage at first, “I’m On Fire” actually has something of a plot. Because music videos are so big, artists are having more of a say instead of just producers. See: Prince’s paranoia about his creative vision.
Because music videos were now mainstream, each one had to be bigger than the last. And perhaps one of the biggest music videos of all was (and is) Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” This is where the book, though admittedly bloated, is quite enjoyable: it dives into the minutiae of making something so iconic. You get to hear the story from the people who were actually there.
It’s also the fun part of the book because Madonna has now arrived. The interviewees make a good point that the Madonna/MTV relationship is something of a chicken-and-egg situation: MTV was just hitting the mainstream as Madonna became ascendant, but who really influenced whose success?
The authors continue to do a great job stitching together the interviews to make a coherent story. For example, in the chapter on Madonna, producers and artists describe how Cyndi Lauper could have been the next – or another – Madonna because they were both big at the same time and had a similarly weird/experimental sound. The only problem was that music was changing so fast back then and Madonna continued to evolve while Cyndi didn’t. Then they cut to a soundbite from Cyndi herself where she acknowledges that, too. It’s a quiet, sad moment in the midst of a technicolor era.