90s MTV: Looking back at the Good Old days of Music TV

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If you were a teen in the '90s, then you must have witnessed the good old days of MTV. The days when the music was dope and had a message to pass to the fans. The music industry has transformed, and MTV is one of the biggest channels in the world that has really evolved over time to adapt to the changing preferences of music lovers.

Over four decades later, MTV is still a leading channel in broadcasting music all over the world.

Background History of MTV.
MTV (Music Television) is an American cable channel that was first launched on 1st August 1981. Based in New York City, the network was tested on 1st December 1997 in the form of Sight on Sound, as a flagship of the Domestic Media Network Division of ViacomCBS. The programming of MTV was initially done by Vide Jockeys. The channel has since reduced its emphasis on music in favor of programming for the original reality shows targeting teens and young adults.

As of January 2016, MTV has spawned various sister channels worldwide, some of which have become autonomous, with around 90.6 million subscribers in the US only. Immediately after its launch, the music stores moved with speed to get songs that are not even playing in the local radio station yet. New song releases were now done through MTV. Songs like Men at Work, Bow wow wow, and the Human league premiered on MTV and spread like wildfire in America reaching thousands of listeners even before the stores got a copy of the music.

At the time of its launch, MTV was targeting a demographic of 12 – 34 years-old audience. According to research carried out by MTV however, more than 50% of the audience ran from as low as 12 years-old to 24. The research went further to indicate that the age group would watch for about 30 minutes to 2 hours per day.

MTV’s original vision was to be a leading music TV channel, to play music videos 24/7, directed by VJs. The original MTV’s slogan was: You will never look at music the same way again”, and “On Cable. In Stereo.”

In 1984, MTV had a switch to copy full Top 40 radio stations. MTV’s earliest format was modeled on Album-Oriented Rock (AOR) radio. Young men and women were employed to host programming of the channel and to present music videos. The name VJ came from the initialism Disc Jockey (DJ). Thereafter, many popular VJs emerged.

Back then, MTV’s VJs were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, and Martha Quinn (1981). At first, famous New York DJ Meg Griffin was the VJ but later decided to quit. The VJs were hired to fit a certain target demographics of the music channel. Back then, there was uncertainty about the stability of MTV, therefore the VJs would keep two jobs. They would work part-time for MTV.

In the first few years of MTV’s appearance, very few black artists were included in the channel. Michael Jackson, Prince, Eddy Grant, Donna Summer, Joan Armatrading, Musical Youth, the Specials, and Hancock were among the most selected black musician on rotation. The specials were also the first people of color to appear on MTV and their song “Rat Race” was played as 58th Video on its first day of broadcasting, with an integrated roster of black and white vocalist and musician.
The Rise and Rise of the 90s MTV.

Let us now talk about everything that you need to know about the awesome ‘90s MTV. Right from its history to what has become of MTV today. We will also explore why the ‘90s MTV was so popular back then.

The reason why everyone loved the 90s MTV is quite clear. It can be summed up into:

  • The 90s music was sensational and touched the emotions more as compared to recent songs.
  • The selection of songs on MTV was just on another level.
  • The fact that MTV had all the latest music, really made the fans anticipate new things every week from the channel.
Sometimes I think the '90s was the only period when MTV didn't suck!

MTV has served a wide variety of purposes over the years. From 1981 to date, it was a cool music channel that helped propel many bands from the backyard into the limelight, like a proto-Pitchfork. At the beginning of the New Millennium, as I came of age, teenage music lovers like me would sing praises of MTV. It was like the god of new music at the time.

The basic programming of MTV back then included the Jerseys Shore Show and 16 and Pregnant were among the base programs. Now it may be hard to recall, but those were the days when MTV was not shit; in fact, it probably had a real meaning back then. It was the glories of the 90s when the channel was brave enough to state its opinion on politics offer amazing entertainment and remain socially conscious.

A good example of this is MTV News, which debuted in 1987 with its flagship show, The Week In Rock. The segment was hosted by the former Rolling Stone writer called Kurt Loder. The focus of this show was music news that is popular today and is concealed as the trading currencies of sites such as FADER and Noisey.

MTV News is best remembered as the first to announce Kurt Cobian’s Death (Nirvana Band). The popularity of This Week in Rock helped push further the programming of MTV news, the most important of which was Choose or Lose, which was most notable back in the days.

Originally intended to engage the young people in the political process and make them better politically aware in the run-up to the presidential election of 1992. This was achieved through a variety of approaches, ranging from the holding of town hall meetings that gave young people the chance to explicitly test presidential candidates ( a notable stunt that led to the iconic “boxers or briefs?” question directed to the then less popular Bill Clinton.

At the time, there was no single media outlet that did what MTV did as Choose or Lose in 1992. It was very commendable to see a music TV leverage on its influence to empower democracy. The UK VICE branch tried to make its own version of CoL for the General Elections in 2015, but unfortunately, the content was not good enough to service a social purpose. Choose or Lose helped MTV News win a coveted Peabody Award of journalism, which is not a small feat.

Some other notable aspects of the 90s MTV is the MTV animation. For many years, cartoons were regarded as an entertainment piece for children, but MTV demonstrated that when directed to adults, they can serve as a powerful form of satire.

History of the “MTV 90s”

To demonstrate that the 90s music was awesome, MTV launched the “MTV 90s”. The MTV 90s is a ViacomCBS Network’s international music TV channel. Music Videos from the 1990s are available on this channel.

On 5th October 2020, MTV Rocks were replaced by "MTV 90s". This channel is dedicated to bringing you all the nostalgia of the '90s. "I Will Always Love You" by the late Whitney Houston was the first video to be aired on MTV 90s. It is a channel for non-stop 90s hit songs. If you are, like me, a mad lover of the 90s hit, then MTV 90s is your channel of choice. You will be amazed by how many cool hit songs you missed back in the days.

The Girl-Power, Britpop, and Grunge, MTV goes back in time to the historic decade that was filled with amazing hip-hop, pop, rock, grunge, among others. Your favorite 90s artist will be featured all day non-stop from the Backstreet Boys, Take That, Spice Girls, Mel-C, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Oasis, and many others.

MTV 90s offers the best soundtrack of throwback music that will quench your nostalgia for the 90s. VH1 Classic Europe released a program on 30 November 2004 featuring 90s videos "Smells Like The 90s". This was a thematic program with clips from the 90s with VH1 Classic Europe. The programs included:

  • 90s Alternative – this included non-stop Alternative and obscure videos from back in the days.
  • Chilled 90s – Comprised of Laidback and chill out classic music from the 90s.
  • 90s Danced – comprised of the dance and electronic hits from back in the 90s and later 80s.
  • The 90s Partied – was made up of classic party hits from the late 80s to 90s.
  • Popped 90s – comprised of pop hit music from the late 80s through to the 90s.
  • Rocked 90s – Comprised of the rock hit songs of the later 80s to the 90s.
  • ‘90s Years – Comprised of a mixture of classic hit music videos from a selected year in the 90s.
The program called “VH1 Classic Europe” was terminated on 1st July 2012. Later on, in 2015, the '90s marathon "VHI Classic Europe was launched. It featured a marathon of 90s hit music videos themed "Nothing But the 90s", that was released every three weeks (mostly aired on weekends).

The program “VH1 Classic Europe – 90s Boys Vs 90s Girls” appeared again on 9th January 2018. After its launch the British music channel “MTV 90s” has been aired in its “Now 90s” format. As opposed to the “Now 90s”, the MTV 90s did not contain advertisements.

Things that made us Love the 90s MTVs (1991 – 1997)

During this period, MTV was popular for:

  • Alternative and Grunge Music – With the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in 1991, Nirvana led a sweeping move into punk Rock and Grunge on MTV. They started broadcasting videos from its widely advertised "Buzz Bin" at the end of 1991, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden Alice in chains, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos, PM Dawn, Arrested Devept, Bjork, and Gin Blossoms. In order to play videos of these other lesser-known music acts, MTV extended the rotation of their weekly alternative music program to 120 minutes. At the time, the popular cultures of grunge and hard rock expanded, with a range of expectations including Aerosmith and Tom Petty being graduated, with the glam bands and classic rockers in the 80s.
  • Gangsta Rap Music – In the early-mid-90s, MTV introduced non-pop rappers like Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G, Wu-Tang Clan, Ice Cube, Warren G, Ice-T, Dr Dre, Nas, and Snoop Dogg. In 1992, Dr. Dre’s G funk album “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” became a cross-over hit. His humorous video inspired by House-party became an MTV norm, considering the historical rock music orientation of the network.
  • Classic Electronica – By 1997, MTV concentrated heavily on taking electronic acts to the mainstream, including prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Crystal, Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, Pendulum, Aphex Twin, and Moby. Musicians like Madonna, Pumpkins, David Bowie, Radiohead & Smashing, and U2 experimented with electronica. During the same period, MTV tried to introduce neo-swing bands but they were unsuccessful.
  • Teen Pop Music – At the end of 1997, MTV started to gradually turn to Teen Pop music that focused on the successes of groups like Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, and NSYNCin Europe. Between 1998 and 1999, MTV's music included videos from boy bands like Backstreet Boys and NYSNC, Spice Girls, and teen pop princesses like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpsons. At the turn of the millennium, airplay was tremendously reduced for rock, alternative acts, and electronica.
  • Hip-hop – This kind of Bling Bling hip hop was dominated by the likes of Puff Daddy, Jay Z, Missy Elliot, Lauren Hill, Eminem, 50 cents, Jadakiss, and the associates at the same time on MTV. This era of hip-hop had a more refined sound and materialist theme. R&B was also a thing in the 90s with artists like Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Destiny's Child, Brandy, and 702
  • Rock – By the end of 1997, MTV gradually reduced its broadcast of rock music videos. This made people start speculating and saying that Rock is dead. MTV cited the fact that Rock music fans were, at the timeless materialistic and bought less music, and for this reason, MTV abandoned their once core music genre. All rock-centered shows were removed from the Video Music Awards.
Final Word

The nostalgia of the '90s music is so strong that many have written and documented about them. But how do you know that you are crazy about 90s music and by extension the MTV? When you can sing along the lyrics of the classic music, then you are crazy about the 90s music and happy about the nostalgia that it brings.

Which MTV songs did you love back in the days?


Omega Geeze
Jul 13, 2019
I remember when you could find The Head, Dara, Celebrity Deathmatch, and Beavis and Butthead on here. It was so awesome.