When MTV first launched in 1981, it was a music video channel. Its debut featured the Buggles’ hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” and was guided by television personalities known as video jockeys (or VJs). The early years of MTV showcased music videos from a variety of popular genres, but it quickly became synonymous with rock and pop artists such as Madonna, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran. Some would even argue that these artists owe their superstar status to their exposure on MTV.
By the ’90s, MTV started to lose its way as a music video outlet. Parent media watchdog groups criticized the network for airing music videos that depicted satanism, drugs, violence, and other inappropriate content. As a result, many music videos were edited to remove explicit imagery and censored or banned from the airwaves entirely. The ’90s also saw the introduction of the first reality show, The Real World, which gradually caused MTV to devote less and less time to music videos.
By the 2000s, MTV had largely stopped playing music videos and focused more on original programming like Beavis and Butt-head, Celebrity Deathmatch, Jackass, and a slew of edgy reality shows. However, the music program MTV Unplugged still airs to this day and a new program called MTV Fresh Out premiered in 2020.