The Day the “Music” Died: Thoughts on MTV finally synthesizing music and culture and losing the “Music Television” name
by Marcus K. Dowling
With increasing regularity, music has become the key vehicle which we use to discover culture. Music provides a soundtrack and is the expression of the souls of those moved by culture to express to the world how a particular movement affects the universe. Until the moment The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” played on a brand new cable television network called Music Television on August 1, 1981, the message and concept of music actually being culture could be seen as crazy fallacy or dream sequence. But, as of February 8, 2010, that dream is now a reality as Music Television is now simply, MTV. In removing the concept of just televising music from their logo, it represents the shift into a new paradigm of music culture.
MTV’s assimilation of music into culture has been a slow yet logical process. The channel began as a primarily new wave and metal station, as those genres had their fingers on the pulse of video technology and were more than ready. Then, with Michael Jackson getting involved, the station was inclusive of black people and African-American expressions of culture as well, going so far as to launch Yo! MTV Raps which came to give shape, thrust and definition to just how hip hop music fit into global culture. Grungle, dance (remember the “Wubba Wubba Wubba” of “Downtown” Julie Brown on Club MTV), electronica and the bling era all were covered by MTV with expert skill, and ALL co-opted into the global mainstream. In retrospect regarding the news of the last week, the videos were not just ever music to the channel, they were inroads into branding the universe as a whole. In making music synthesize with culture and ultimately controlling it, MTV has easily become the most powerful media vehicle of all time.
The video is now an unnecessary medium for the network. They have channels not available on basic cable, MTV Hits, MTV Jams and MTV Tr3s, alongside sister channel VH1’s VH1 Classic, and sister channel BET’s BET on Jazz if you miss the videos. But for the mainstream, MTV has sliced out the middle man, and instead of using videos, uses agenda pushing original TV shows almost perpetually filled with background music. Twelve electro laden music videos are brightly colored snippets of people that are trapped within 3-5 minute blocks of expression. Jersey Shore minus commercials is 42 minutes of advancing the look, feel, stereotypes and appeal of a very popular and current genre of music, and a very potent force of culture.
Where MTV once had to pore through videos of non-mainstreamed artists to advance new musical visions, the universal blogosphere has strip mined and over-processed the search for new and relevant music to the point where MTV has no need to work, and can instead check Pitchfork, The Couch Sessions, Cream Team, Gorilla vs. Bear, Nah Right, The Smoking Section or any great number of outlets, and in processing the last ten posts, can have a fair assessment of where music is headed, and the music loving populace doesn’t need to see the videos on the network, because, well, they’re already plastered there.
MTV has harnessed the power of television. In removing the name “Music Television,” it merely means that they are embracing the totality of a cultural shift they created. From sympathizing people to the AIDS virus with the case of Pedro Zamorra on the Real World, to increasing voter registration with “Choose or Lose,” to Real Life, Road Rules, Made, My Super Sweet 16, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, and let’s not forget on a larger scale the Video Music Awards (yep, pretty much only known now as the VMAs) that made Taylor Swift a household name and yes, MTV Films, MTV has found how to create the ultimate 1:1 relationship between music and life. Music is always a VERY present part of these cultural impacting manuevers, and in all reality, if it weren’t for the music videos at the start giving the parameters upon which culture could be defined, then MTV would have no vacuum to fill.
An evolution has occurred. MTV as Music Television grew from the same movement and theory that saw art patronize and develop music. Andy Warholand the Velvet Underground. Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols. MTV and the entire universe. In synthesizing the raw matter of pop cultural expression in music video into cross cultural megalomania, the channel either deserves praise of hatred. But, no matter where they fall on your radar of emotion, respect is due. MTV has done something frightening, ridiculous and truly awe inspiring. “I want my MTV!” Well now you can’t escape it. Thirty years later, problem solved.