"You had a song, and that was the excuse for doing a vaguely experimental film thing as cheaply as you possibly could. And MTV needed stuff desperately. So if you gave them something that fit their parameters in terms of length, boom, you got it on TV...that seemed wonderful at the time. It allowed all kinds of music to be played that weren't getting played on the radio. Things would get heard first on MTV, and then radio would start playing it. MTV was less restrictive at that point in terms of styles of music.
"Of course, all that changed."
--David Byrne, interviewed by Simon Reynolds, TOTALLY WIRED: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews (2008)
On this very day 30 years ago MTV began broadcasting, and we're delighted to note and honor the occasion. Though the network long ago devolved into nearly constant reality television programming, introducing some of the most odious and irritating people to ever become prominent in the public eye, in its early years it offered a forum for the then-novel medium of music video, which went from a fad to a primary way of engaging new music.
The era described by Byrne above truly was a golden age of experimentation, and with so many directors bringing avant garde influences to bear, it was the first exposure many viewers had to experimental filmmaking techniques. (Indeed. well into the 80s one occasionally saw colorized clips from Un Chien Andalou between videos.) Many of the most accomplished and stylish filmmakers, from Russell Mulcahy (who's returned to the network as a producer and director of the Teen Wolf series) to award-winner David Fincher began as music video directors.
It could be argued that the network continued to be influential even after they started programming non-music content. Among the comedians prominently featured early in their careers by the network are Adam Sandler, Denis Leary, and Jon Stewart, whose The Jon Stewart Show was an early glimpse at the talent that would dominate the discourse of fake news on The Daily Show today.
Now that MTV has said upfront that they're no longer a music video channel, one must take to YouTube and Vimeo for one's music video fix. Even as the curatorial role has shifted from network to consumer, the spirit of the music video remains as alive as ever, and the spirit of experimentation can even be said to have resurged in recent years.
That spirit is alive and well on Jaman, where a thread in our Forums has a number of notable music videos collected. Dive in, and share some of YOUR favorites, be they retro or today.