By Elizabeth B. Christian, Ph.D.
Question: How does a medium born with the message announcing music video’s victory over radio survive when it turns on itself and kills the video?
This is exactly the quandary MTV has found itself in thanks to the technological and cultural shift that began in the mid ‘90s.
Gen Xers fondly remember the summer day in 1981 when MTV debuted, proudly declaring from its first televised tune, by the Buggles, that “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
The death of the video star, however, hasn’t come so proudly. In fact, many of us didn’t even realize what was happening bit by bit as new technology made pirates out of our young and sell-outs of our music television stations.
Now the golden age of music video is behind us, and we can only long for weekend holiday marathons of nostalgic pop-up video marathons to tell our kids there was a time that MTV really meant Music Television and had nothing to do with Snooki and The Situation, and the idea of reality television on MTV would have been blasphemous.
MTV, once a 24-hour-a-day bastion of music videos, by the year 2000 devoted just one-third of the day to that. By 2008, music video comprised just three hours of MTV’s air time because of the rise in convenience of Internet viewing, according to an NPR study. For the first time in its history, by spring 2009, MTV hosted no music video programs hosted by VJs.
But like the much-declared deathknell of journalism, the music video hasn’t died. It’s been reborn in the last few years bigger than ever—and as spectacular as any Lady Gaga get-up you can imagine!
In fact, my children would read this and wonder what all my fuss is about. Music videos are everywhere. They’re all over the Internet, and they see them on televisions in the gym and on video games. So why am I complaining?
Because, my dears, today any tone-deaf teenager with a cell phone and a Mac can record a decent enough music video! Heck, some of them are better than a lot of the classic early ‘80s videos we hate to admit we loved. And they upload them by the tens of thousands to YouTube, Facebook and other social networking sites. They go viral. As a writer for NPR put it, even “Madonna could not become Madonna from this platform today.” There’s too much noise to filter through. And most of us just don’t have the time or patience to do it.
Elizabeth B. Christian is assistant professor of journalism at Louisiana Tech University and author of Rock Brands: Selling Sound in a Media Saturated Culture.