MTV Launch 1981

Take a trip back in time with us and explore the history of MTV's launch in 1981. See how it all began, what happened next, and its impact on music today.

MTV Launch 1981
MTV logo 1981

 Robert Pittman

In the early 1980s, a brand new concept hit the airwaves that would change the way we consumed music and popular culture as we knew it. MTV, or Music Television, was born and quickly became the ultimate destination for anyone who wanted to keep up with the latest music, fashion, and trends. Decades later, MTV has continued to be a force to be reckoned with, having influenced everything from music videos to societal norms and values. In this blog post, we will delve into the history and impact of MTV on popular culture, and analyze how this music channel paved the way for other music-oriented television programs, films, and related products.


The Origins and Milestones of MTV

Video Killed the Radio Star

MTV was founded in 1981 in New York by Robert Pittman, who was the programming executive for the Warner Cable company. MTV's first ever music video aired on August 1, 1981, and it was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. From then on, MTV continued to make history with their exclusive music video content, celebrity interviews, and original programming. They presented the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards in 1984, which have since become an iconic event for music and popular culture.


MTV's Impact on the Music Industry

Thriller Jackson

MTV quickly became a game-changer in the music industry, transforming the way music was marketed and consumed. For the first time, musicians had to have an image that was camera-ready, with many bands opting for hair and makeup makeovers that would fit the MTV aesthetic. This led to a boom in the production of music videos too, which became an essential tool for music promotion - an artist's video was as important as their song. A number of iconic music videos stand out from this era, including Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Madonna's "Like a Prayer," and Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf."


MTV's Influence on Youth Culture

MTV Headbanger's Ball

MTV had a profound impact on youth culture in the 1980s and 90s. It spoke directly to young people, with significant influence on fashion trends, language and behavior, and their worldview. The on-screen personalities of MTV became cultural icons in their own right: the likes of VJ's such as Kurt Loder, Martha Quinn, and Tabitha Soren. With the popularity of shows such as "Headbanger's Ball," the early 1990s alternative rock show "120 Minutes", MTV's "Unplugged" series, and more, the channel continued to influence youth culture and fashion throughout the decades.


MTV's Role In Media Consumption Trends

MTV Award

MTV revolutionized the way consumers consumed media, setting the standard for 24-hour high-quality programming and building an interactive, engaged community through participation with VJs and the network. One significant innovation of MTV's was their creation of specialized channels based on genres — pop, rock, hip-hop, etc. — giving viewers even more tailored content to choose from. MTV also helped introduce and develop live concerts as we know them today, with events such as MTV Spring Break, MTV Unplugged, and the annual MTV Video Music Awards.


The Shift Of Cultural Values and Tastes

1980s Madonna

MTV played an essential role in propagating popular culture, exposing young people, and normalizing rapid cultural change across the pop cultural landscape. Music videos and on-air personalities like Madonna and Michael Jackson signaled a shift towards images and artists as commodities. As sociologist Mark Andrejevic hypothesized, MTV’s influence was such that it made consuming as important as producing; it generated new cultural trends, icons, and movements that beings still imitate and reference even today.


MTV logo

MTV's influence on popular culture cannot be overstated. From music to fashion to youth culture, MTV paved the way for new trends, new behaviors, and new ways of thinking. As we look towards the future of music and media consumption, it's essential to recognize the trailblazing path that MTV made possible. With a focus on high-quality programming and community-building, MTV remains an important pillar of pop culture and a testament to the power that music television can have to create cultural movements that endure.