On August 1, MTV turned 40 years old. For younger folks reading this, you might think of MTV as the home of reality shows like Teen Mom and the like. Or the annual VMAs, the only time they really have anything to do with music anymore. But for its first two decades. MTV was very much about the music. And it determined the course of the music industry for the entire globe.
Now, thanks to YouTuber Max Speedster (via Laughing Squid), we’ve discovered a video that is the entire first two hours of MTV from August 1, 1981. And it is a very telling snapshot of the music industry at the time. The first video famously played on the channel was The Buggles’ “ Video Killed the Radio Star,” still an awesome New Wave tune, by the way. And the keyboardist? That’s none other than a young, snappily dressed Hans Zimmer, folks. You can watch the full video right here:
What does that video tell us about the music industry at the dawn of the MTV era? A whole lot. In those two hours, we see zero black artists, or any POC musicians really. It is a steady stream of white rockers. And we see dozens of male artists, and maybe five women. There’s Pat Benatar, Stevie Nicks, Juice Newton, the Pretenders, and maybe one more. And again, all white ladies. MTV big wigs used the anti-disco backlash of just two years prior as justification for not playing diverse artists, and catering only to white (racist) audiences.
But the rating just weren’t there with this approach. Within a year, MTV started to include music from artists like Prince and Michael Jackson. And they arguably shot MTV into the stratosphere. Pop acts like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Wham!, Whitney Houston, Twisted Sister, and dozens of others knew how to make mini-movies out of their videos, as opposed to the mainly “guys on a stage performing” videos we saw in those first two hours. But watching those two hours of early MTV is a fascinating glimpse into a music industry right before it changed forever.