Why We Wanted Our MTV

Linda Holmes takes a trip down memory lane:

It’s hard to remember now, but at one time, MTV really was watched just like commercial radio was listened to: you would turn it on and see what came around, and if you particularly liked a video, you’d wait a while and hope you heard it. That’s what half the slumber parties of my adolescence were about: waiting for Michael Jackson or Duran Duran.

We don’t wait very much anymore. It’s not just that this model of MTV largely went away, or that getting most of your music listening through the radio faded. It’s that the entire idea of ephemeral availability — that you would have to sit and wait for something to be played for you, and that at other times you had to do without it — is simply not how people expect to digest much of anything anymore.

She notes the influence of MTV Unplugged:

MTV Unplugged played a critical role in the development of authenticity policing. The idea that pop stars — entertainers — had to prove themselves in stripped-down formats went hand in hand with the suspicion that they were inauthentic in the first place, an idea that music videos didn’t invent but certainly advanced. (Milli Vanilli released Girl You Know It’s True in 1989, the same year MTV debuted Unplugged.) …

In the end, MTV pushed spectacle in music, but simultaneously created a market for an authenticity proving ground, which it then filled. Just as “Money For Nothing” could be both of MTV and suspicious of MTV, artists could combat their MTV images … on MTV. That was the way in which the channel was revolutionary: for a brief cultural moment, it was both the disease and the cure – both supply and demand.