Yes, admittedly, I was thirteen years old when it launched; which means Iím no longer part of the demographic its programmers, nor Mountain Dew, nor SEGA, really care about. But what had happened to the station that I loved so much, the station that gave me my first short haircut (a cross between Olivia Newton Johnís and Sheena Eastonís), college major (broadcast journalism so I could be like Martha Quinn), and rebellious courage ("Pappa, Donít Preach")?
Sometime after Real World: San Francisco, but before Loveline, MTV which I believe still stands for music television stopped showing music videos. At least, it wasnít showing them during timeslots when people like me (i.e. people with full-time jobs) were watching. Iíd glance at it now and then, usually via a muted box in the corner of the gym, but hadnít seen anything compelling in years. By the time Jackass had nubile young pranksters diving into pools of feces for laughs, I had tuned out completely.
Then, one magical Tuesday evening in May, a nice man from Time Warner Cable (which, interestingly enough, is owned by AOL Time Warner, the company that owns this website; and no, I donít get discounts) arrived at my door with a slim black box tucked under his arm. It didnít take long for my new digital television (a.k.a. DTV, natch) to be installed, and in a matter of minutes, I was joyously surfing past Animal Planet, over to Sundance, through HBO +, S, F, C, Z and L, finally settling down on channel 128: MTV2. It was like bumping into a childhood sweetheart in the produce aisle. I fell in love all over again.
I want my MTV2
I hadnít realized how much I missed my MTV. You see, I donít drive a car to work, I donít listen to the radio, I donít read music magazines. As a result, I had (though I would have never admitted to this) completely lost touch with pop music. Each September, Iíd devotedly watch the Video Music Awards (a.k.a. the VMAs) pretending to care whether Limp Bizkit or Eminem won for Video of the Year, but really, I was just a poser. The snippets of the videos theyíd show while announcing the nominees was about all I would see of these artists.
But lo and behold, after only three months, MTV2 is breathing life back into the portion of my cerebral cortex once reserved for top-forty music. Slowly, my viability as a Name That Tune contestant or a good karaoke party guest is returning. For example, the other weekend, on a compulsory Friday afternoon exodus from the city, I impressed a carload of friends by quickly identifying songs on Z100. "Wait," I said to a passenger whose fingertip was steering towards the "scan/seek" radio button. "Thatís Tool. I like this song."
MTV2 is almost exclusively dedicated to the airing of music videos. Granted, after a few days of repeated observation, it becomes apparent that itís dedicated to airing the same forty or fifty music videos over and over again. But the charm of a four and half minute orchestrated visualization remains the same and reassuringly, the art form hasnít changed much in twenty years. True, the special effects have gotten better Peter Gabrielís Claymation has been replaced with Matrix-like maneuvers and other Hollywood-quality tricks. For example, Toolís guitarist Adam Jones worked as a special effects designer for movies like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Terminator 2." Their video "Schism" is a mini-masterpiece.
A brief theory of music videos
But for the most part, the plots remain the same. About half of all music videos fall into a category mostly aptly called Angry Males, Angry White Guys being the largest subset of this group. Usually, itís not immediately clear whatís causing the said-maleís consternation, though often a sad looking model-like female is present. Sometimes the anger is directed towards her, other times, itís on her behalf. Sheís depressed, over a guy (an angry white guy), or maybe sheís a single mom or physically abused or suicidal, but, gee, sheís cute. Never underestimate the potential of Angry Males: Staindís "Itís Been Awhile," and Linkin Parkís "Crawlin" are in the top ten.
The second largest music video genre is the Pimps & Hos. These music videos are about sex and the sexual prowess of the artist. It could be male or a female, and though it originated in early rap and hip hop videos, itís no longer reserved exclusively for those musical styles. And you donít have to be traditionally sexy to indulge in this occasionally ironic form of self-worship. Missy "Misdemeanorí Elliot, Moby, Madonna, the Lady Marmalade quartet (the masturbatory Ms?). Oh yes, it helps if you have car in the video.
Perhaps the easiest video for a band to make is the Block Party. This is often an element used by Angry Males and Pimps & Hos, but it can stand alone if done well. Simply take a band, equip it with instruments and amps, place it in a public space, add thirty to one hundred fans eager for a moment of fame, and presto! See Sum 41s "Fat Lip" for this weekís edition.
The remaining videos can be divided into two opposing categories: the Literalists and the Nonconformists. The Literalists take the lyrics to their song, and act them out, almost frame for frame. Itís not a bad way to do it; in fact, often you canít get the damn song out of your head after seeing one. Think of the classics: Michael Jacksonís "Thriller," Bowieís "Lets Dance," even Janet Jacksonís new single "Someone to Call my Lover." Youíll never forget them.
And then there's transcendenceÖ
But they wonít rock your world. Thatís what the Nonconformists are for. You see, the original programming concept behind MTV and now MTV2 is really genius. You canít help but keep watching, because maybe, maybe the next video, the one after the commercial break, will be a Nonconformist, one that will stop you in your tracks, make you slackjaw with its originality, innovation, and bravery. It doesnít happen often, maybe one of thirty hits the jackpot on a good night, but when it doesÖ. Ahhhhh. These are the true artists. Fatboy Slimís "Weapon of Choice" directed by the Nonconformist King, Spike Jonze and featuring a tap dancing Christopher Walken. The fully animated band Gorillazís "Clint Eastwood." Anything by Bjork.
MTV has always been aware of the pre-orgasmic state it must keep its viewers in order to keep them watching. Knowing that it is not whatís playing, but whatís playing next that matters, theyíve created a completely addictive program for MTV2, called Control Freak. While theyíre watching the show, viewers are encouraged to log onto mtv.com and chose what video theyíd like to see next. Theyíre only given three possible selections letís be realistic here. As the current video is playing, the three contenders for the next round battle it out on the right side of the screen. The main video shrinks to make room for the three competitors, but who cares? I wanna know if Aerosmith is going to beat out the Chili Peppers again.
MTV celebrates its 20th birthday this week, pulling out gems from its archives and spawning waves of nostalgia and "What ever happened toÖ." chatter. Iím staying clear. Iíd much rather live in the highly anticipated near future, discovering new bands (right now, Iím watching Godheadís take on "Eleanor Rigby" when did the Beatles start allowing Angry Males to do covers of their songs?) and all the modern day joys and angst that goes with them. Iím going to log onto mtv.com, cast my vote for the Viewers Choice Video Award, maybe even take a stab at "Control Freak." What can I say? Iím just a TSMTV (thirty something music television viewer). Word.
Angela Matusik is the editor of InStyle.com