“I Want My MTV” Review, Part 4

This segment covers chapters 34-46. The ’80s are now drawing to a close, along with MTV’s first decade. I liked this section of the book because it’s the more obscure part of MTV’s history. 1984 has passed and the “big” acts that kicked off the channel have either been left to obscurity, or have gone mainstream enough that they’re no longer as splashy.

Now MTV is starting to look more like the channel that I grew up with. They’re branching out from music, with the Remote Control game show and Cindy Crawford’s House of Style. MTV also started airing 120 Minutes, which was the kind of programming I would have watched had I been around during that era. It was the home of the emerging “alternative” genre. They played The Replacements, Nirvana, R.E.M., The Cure, and others that wouldn’t have been as popular during regular hours. (120 Minutes was tucked away in a Saturday slot.)

But the channel was changing in other ways, too. There were new VJs that were crasser, louder, and less interested in the music itself. MTV invested in turning these VJs into celebrities in a way they hadn’t with the previous crop. Meanwhile, Club MTV was yet another excuse to showcase beautiful girls dancing. The camera tended to…linger. From there, it wasn’t much of a leap from the channel’s “coverage” of Spring Break, which was the channel’s attempt to garner ad space from alcohol companies. You can see how that’s a precursor to the kind of reality shows MTV airs now: people partying hard and hooking up in a variety of settings.

On a more serious note, Yo! MTV Raps was a non-music video program that was particularly influential. It launched Will Smith’s career as the Fresh Prince, which, as DJ Jazzy Jeff comments, “introduced a lot of white kids to hip-hop.” The show really did integrate MTV, and cemented the channel’s longevity as a result – for better or worse.

Up next: the end of the book and my closing thoughts.

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