Imagine a world without Headbangers Ball, Beavis and Butt-head, Yo! MTV Raps, the Tom Green Show, The Osbournes, Jackass, Punk’d, Newlyweds, or Pimp My Ride. Now, brace yourselves: It was 25 years ago, on August 1, 1981, that MTV first went on the air, and the influence the network has had on all aspects of pop culture can hardly be overstated. In MTV’s early days, videos ruled, and made style icons out of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and, god help us, Boy George. Painted-on moles and black lace became ubiquitous among teenage girls, while teenage boys became … confused. It didn’t take long for major recording industry execs to become hip to the make-or-break marketing potential of the music video, hiring up-and-coming directors like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and David Fincher to create them. While it’s tough to say which came first — Adam Curry or the mullet — it’s indisputable that images from MTV spawned trend after trend, and made the small matter of taste beside the point. As viewership rose, MTV began diversifying its programming, with videos taking a backseat; by 1992, MTV was encouraging kids to “rock the vote,” and Bill Clinton was campaigning for the presidency of the United States in between episodes of Liquid Television and MTV’s then brand-new hit, The Real World. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
MTV Trivia: • MTV went on the air with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll!” • The first music video aired on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. • The five original VJs were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, and Martha Quinn. • Dire Straits’ 1985 song “Money for Nothing” began with Sting singing “I Want My MTV.” • Not everyone was a fan: witness the Dead Kennedys’ “MTV — Get Off the Air,” Beck’s “MTV Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack,” or Sublime’s “Don’t Wanna Be No MTV Motherfucker.”
— Shannon Kelley Gould