MTV History: A Comprehensive Look at the Evolution of the Network

GettyImages 1151473762 3 e1685058667505
Getty Images

They don't call it the good ole days of MTV for nothing. If you got to witness MTV in the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s in any capacity, then you are somebody that got to watch the glory days of the network. While me might sound old here, there's nothing that compares to the feeling of rushing home from school so that way you could catch TRL and the latest music videos from your favorite artists. Sure technology has brought about many positive changes including things that make life easier and convenient (it's much simpler to watch a music video now than what it was 20 years ago), but that doesn't always mean that those changes have been for the better. There was beauty in the simplicity of life before the advancement of the internet, technology, and social media in a major way, and in our opinion, time will continue to prove that.

With the recent cancellation of MTV News (which to be honest many of us thought the show had been cancelled a long time ago), it had us thinking about just how much things have changed in the last decade or so. The one thing that can never be taken away from MTV is the success the network had in its heyday, and that's what we're here to talk about—that massive era that had an impact we'll likely never see again.

So here it is—MTV History: A Comprehensive Look at the Network. Told our way.

RELATED: The 9 Best Missy Elliott Music Video Style Moments

Before MTV:

GettyImages 139126377
Getty Images

What was life like before MTV? Well, it's important to remember that the original reason for starting the channel in the first place was to have a network that could be dedicated to music and music videos as there wasn't a television station specifically for that purpose. Before MTV, artists put their attention towards their live performances, and many times those live performances were repurposed for the respective music videos for those songs. The music videos that weren't live performances were honestly... quite bad. We'll get into this later, but there was one man that revolutionized music videos (you should already know who this is), but before him, videos pretty much looked like a collage of images put together with no storytelling, choreography, random objects like bubbles appearing out of nowhere, etc. It was bad.

Prior to MTV, USA Network would run a program called Video Concert Hall where several hours of music videos would be shown at a time, but MTV took the idea to the next level by creating a whole network exclusively around the video concept.

The Beginnings of MTV:

GettyImages 525525896
Getty Images

The early makings of MTV date back to the 1970s when future President and CEO Robert W. Pittman began testing the format through a fifteen minute show called Album Tracks on WNBC-TV. As for MTV—the channel launched Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. EST with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," and a clip of the first space shuttle launch countdown of Columbia.

Here's a clip of that exact moment.

The First Video MTV Aired:

The Michael Jackson Effect:

And once Michael kicked that door down, the floodgates opened for other artist to start experimenting with their own creativity for their music videos. The mid-1980s would bring about a number of legendary videos from iconic artists like Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Boy George, Bon Jovi, Guns 'n' Roses, U2 and plenty of other 80s elites.

The MTV Video Music Awards

In addition to the music videos, MTV also had multiple shows and VJs (video jockeys) as hosts. Some of these included Saturday Night Concert (1981-1987), Heavy Metal Mania (1985-1987), Club MTV (1987-1992), and Yo! MTV Raps (1988-1995).

Here's a fun clip from Club MTV so you can get an idea of the vibe.

MTV News

GettyImages 1178594858
Getty Images

In the late 1980s, MTV News hosted by Kurt Loder began, which was used originally used as a means to keep audiences updated with the latest happenings in the music industry, but wound up becoming so much more in the 90s and 2000s. The 1990s MTV era was a wild time full of equally wild events in the entertainment industry. Buckle up.

What are some of the defining moments of early 90s MTV? Is it Prince and the assless chaps?

GettyImages 2234430
Getty Images

The rise of Nirvana and its iconic lead singer Kurt Cobain?

This chaotic interview?

There were tons of artists that came up during the 1990s, and loads of moments so its hard to do a full breakdown of every major event that happened (really 1990s MTV can be its own separate article), but MTV News was on the scene for most if not all of them.

MTV Spring Break


GettyImages 1386914861
Getty Images

When you have an abundance of programming but only one channel what do you do? Start another channel. MTV2 aka M2 began broadcasting on August 1, 1996 with the first video being Beck's "Where It's At," and was known for doing cool things like playing Prince's music video "1999" for 24 hours straight on January 1, 1999 (a year that everyone believed the world was going to end). In fact, some actually preferred M2 to its mainstay with shows like MTV2 Request and Control Freak at the forefront.

Speaking of shows, these were some of the most popular during the 1990s and 2000s: The Challenge (which is still running), Beach MTV (1990-1997), MTV Jams (1992–2000), TRL (1998-2008), This Week in Rock (1987-1997), Diary (2000-2014), MTV Cribs (2000-present), and Pimp My Ride (2004-2007).

The 2000s, which is when I came up, was a really great time in MTV because you got to see the rise of superstars like Destiny's Child, NSYNC, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and rock bands such as Linkin Park, 2000s Green Day, etc. It was a fun time that I'm glad I got to experience live.

When people ask what it was like to grow up in that era of MTV, I always refer them back to this video of the Romeo Must Die special they did with Aaliyah:

Sometimes the glory days are just that—the glory days. Who knows what the future holds for MTV and its programming? Perhaps one day we will get music videos or music-related shows again. Perhaps not, but like we said earlier, whether you like this new era of MTV or not, the impact during its heyday can never be taken away.

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down