The evolution of MTV and music videos

40 years ago, MTV burst onto television screens and introduced music videos as true artistic mediums. Things haven’t been the same since

2021 marked the 40th anniversary of MTV’s launch. When the music channel debuted, it changed the music industry and was one of the major contributors to the culture and identity of an entire generation.

But a lot has changed in the last decades. So it’s time to take a look back at the history of music videos, how they have evolved over time, and what might be next for the medium.

First, let’s go back to where it all began. In 1981, the idea of ​​starting a new television channel devoted solely to music videos and music-related content was groundbreaking, and MTV hit the scene with a bang.

A new concept was born, and after its launch at midnight on August 1, 1981, MTV quickly gained popularity due to its young and fresh vibe, cool, camera-friendly VJs, and dedication to showing the best and the most popular music videos of the day.

It seems fitting that the first music video for MTV’s debut show was “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles. Although music videos have been around for many years, the launch of MTV revolutionized the medium.

The concept behind MTV was simple – showing music videos and music-related content all day, every day – and it worked phenomenally. MTV’s Golden Age lasted from the early 1980s to around 1992, and during its heyday had a huge impact on the musical landscape.

Exterior of MTV TRL Studios in Manhattan, New York

MTV quickly became the main platform for artists to promote new music, and the channel’s growing cultural importance led to bigger budgets and the production of more interesting and creative music videos. Inventive artists like Michael Jackson and the brands behind them began to reimagine what a music video could be, and the visual medium began to play a more central role in music marketing.

For many, the 80s and 90s represent the most interesting stage in the history of music videos. With budgets to spare, a number of groundbreaking music videos were released. Produced in the 1980s, Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” and a-ha’s creative “Take On Me” represent music videos that were hugely influential at the time and cemented MTV as a cultural force. There’s something powerful about combining visuals and images with music, and visual storytelling has quickly become an integral part of music making.

“For many, the 80s and 90s represent the most interesting stage in the history of music videos”

The music landscape of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s was deeply intertwined with MTV and other television channels dedicated to airing music videos, band and artist interviews, and other music-related content. the music. Artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Nirvana, David Bowie and many more owe much of their success to their popular and high-profile music videos, the launch of which was a huge event for music fans. – millions of people tuned into MTV at the same time to watch the premiere of new videos from big stars.

However, MTV didn’t make a lot of money playing music videos 24/7, and people started to lose interest in this type of content amid the rise of the internet and online music streaming services in the early 2000s. Sensing change in the air, MTV gradually shifted its mainline programming away from music-related content, capitalizing on the growing popularity of reality TV.

As music industry revenues began to decline over the years, music video budgets were cut and many of the videos produced were quite basic and boring. Although music videos seem to be losing their magic, many bands and artists have maintained their interest in visuals as a powerful tool to add meaning, purpose, or fun to a piece of music.

Some groups have taken matters into their own hands, a notable example being OK Go’s “Here it Goes Again”, a low-budget creative video featuring a tightly choreographed treadmill dance routine. Self-produced and released on YouTube in 2006, then a booming new site, the homemade clip became a pop phenomenon and one of the first viral videos.

“The enduring power of music videos is such that most of us can name multiple videos that are burned into our brains”

In the music industry, the use of video and visual components has in recent years been influenced by marketing budgets as well as the individual creativity of the artists themselves. The enduring power of music videos is such that most of us can name several videos burned into our brains, from early music videos like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” to big-budget modern hits like Lady “Bad Romance” by Gaga and “Single Ladies” by Beyonce.

Today, the future of music videos is uncertain. Music videos continue to innovate, and many artists are using the medium creatively, pushing the boundaries and changing the format and purpose of the videos accompanying their songs.

In 2021, many contemporary music videos have been released that bring something new to the genre, such as Taylor Swift’s short for “All Too Well” and Post Malone’s innovative double-phone video for his song “Circles”. With a tremendous amount of technological advancement in the music industry, it’s hard to say what the next step might be for music video support, but one thing is certain, music videos give artists a chance to explore their visual creativity, and visual storytelling remains a powerful tool within the music industry.

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