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MTV birth and death with Michael Jackson
Music Television, more commonly known as MTV, was said to be born with the release of Michael Jackson’s historic video “Billie Jean” off of the album Thriller. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and MTV both grew into music icons after the 1983 premier of “Billie Jean”. Once the video broke into the MTV video rotation, Michael Jackson changed music history forever. The movie like storylines and the innovative dance moves of Michael Jackson displayed in “Billie Jean”, “Thriller”, and “Beat it” propelled Michael Jackson into music superstardom. Never before did an audience experience a performer like Michael Jackson. His electric dance moves are still mimicked by many of today’s performers. The video “Billie Jean” was just a taste of what was to come from the sensation
Michael Jackson was not unknown when Thriller was released, he already had 5 number one hits with the Jackson 5, and his 1979 solo album Off The Wall went platinum. Off the Wall reached number 3 on the Billboard 200 in 1980 and established Michael Jackson as a solo artist on the rise. The album had two songs “Don’t Stop ‘til you get enough” and “Rock with you” that were number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Off The Wall along with his work with The Jackson 5 had created a star out of Michael Jackson, but that was only the beginning to his career. Most musicians hope for the success that Michael Jackson had reached by 1980, but he was only getting started. He had established himself as one of, if not the best singers in the world.
After his work on Off the Wall, Producer Quincy Jones worked with Michael Jackson to put out the best selling album of all time, Thriller. It wasn’t expected to be the greatest selling album of all time. Quincy Jones said that it was rushed together in three months to reach a production deadline. MTV wasn’t giving airtime to black artists, so sales expectations were not high. The first song released on Thriller, “The Girl is Mine” a duet with Paul McCartney, didn’t set the world on fire. It was a hit reaching number 2 on the billboard charts. The song did not have a video, but MTV did agree to play videos for the next singles to be released. These would be the first videos by a black artist to be played on MTV. The back to back release of “Billie Jean” and “Beat it”, accompanied by their innovative videos featuring the unique dance moves of Michael Jackson, put both Thriller and MTV into living rooms across America. MTV’s follow up with the mega video for the song “Thriller” cemented Michael Jackson in superstar territory. Michael Jackson ascended to levels of stardom that few other artists (if any) have reached, and he brought MTV with him.
At the same time that Michael Jackson released Thriller, MTV grew from a relatively obscure channel into a cable powerhouse. MTV was a must watch network throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990’s. The new release of an album from one of the top musicians of the era had to be accompanied by music videos. These videos, and the exposure gained through them on MTV, could turn an album into a monster hit or leave it in obscurity. Musicians would do anything to get into the video rotation so that they could get that much needed exposure. Sadly, it appears that the networks coverage of music will end less than one year after the funeral of Michael Jackson. This isn’t news to anyone who watches MTV, or for those of us who stopped watching MTV years ago. MTV abandoned music a long time ago. Once they dropped TRL the “music” network pounded the final nail in to the coffin of their music video coverage.
What happened to the videos? MTV was always known for their innovation. They developed a network that dominated the 18 to 34 audience like no other television network in history. They created several shows that focused on young people from every group in America. MTV created “Head bangers ball” for the young metal heads and “Yo MTV Raps” for the young black audience. The show TRL took care of the teenyboppers while crossover videos by musicians like Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson appealed to all groups. MTV’s influence in America allowed it to execute a campaign to “rock the vote” in the 1992 election. That effort is credited providing significant help for the Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
The innovation of MTV was also the downfall of the networks coverage of music videos. In some people’s opinion MTV’s innovation of the modern reality TV show was the downfall to several television channels. In 1992 MTV introduced the world to “The Real World”. “The Real World” was the first modern reality show on TV and it has run continuously until this very day. It draws viewers with minimal production costs. The stars of the show are unknown, and easily replaced. No writing is needed as the show was just watching the drama of their everyday lives. “The Real World” was so successful that MTV started devoting more and more of its time to reality shows.
In Nov. 2008 MTV made the decision to cancel TRL. The popular video show that hosted the hottest pop music artists for 10 years came to an end. The music video officially left Music Television. It wasn’t until February of 2010 that MTV finally abandoned music completely by removing the name “music television” from their logo. The MTV network will include an M that has no meaning. Maybe it stands for modern reality TV, but the network does not have anything to do with music. As we say goodbye to Michael Jackson, the king of pop, we can also lower Music Television into the grave. Both careers began together and now they will both end within one year of each other. We will always have the great contributions of both Michael Jackson and Music Television. Michael Jackson will even continue releasing new songs in the future. It is too bad that they will not be in any kind of video rotation on MTV.