MTV turns 25 today, and love it or hate it, it’s hard to imagine a pop culture landscape without it. Like the iPod, it took an that took an existing type of musical content — music videos had been around for decades — and turned it into a disruptive force.
And then abandoned it almost immediately. If they first made their name by the novelty of the music video, they kept their name by slowly turning their focus away from those videos. (Variations of the “MTV doesn’t play videos anymore” jokes started almost immediately and have aged worse than the channel itself.) Even though I have pretty much stopped watching MTV, I have always admired how they’ve managed to stay relevant. And I think that the they fact that they made it part of their programming philosophy to continually change in the same way that pop culture continually changes is how they’ve done it.
Seriously, it’s a pretty neat trick to figure out that one generation of kids are going to love 120 Minutes and/or Headbangers Ball and/or and Yo! MTV Raps, but their little brothers and sisters are going to love Bevis and Butthead, but their little brothers and sisters are going to love Carson Daly but their little brothers and sisters are going to love Laguna Beach. And they’re all going to love The Real World and your crazy awards shows.
For better or worse, MTV has somehow managed to stay iconic after all of these years, and how many things from 1981 can say the same?