What Did Video Kill?
It’s a trivia question. We’ll get to this soon. But first let’s get on with history.
Although the origins of music videos began with “musical short films” that first appeared in the 1920s, they really came into prominence in the 1980s when MTV created their channel around the medium and it changed how we received our music. Instead of just listening we now had a medium for “viewing” music. Indeed, it revolutionized the music industry.
As with most things that change our cultural landscape, the very first musical artist that launched the music video era has largely been forgotten (well, that’s our opinion). It kills us that we don’t immediately know because you’d think we should know this. But knowing it must be among a few artists that we can recall, a bit of time is taken to this curious and interesting challenge and immediately icons like Rod Stewart (no), Madonna (no), and Springsteen (no, no, no) come to mind. And then if we close our eyes and remember those days of Pac-Man, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Reaganomics, Rubik’s Cube (okay, copy that… we get it), we’ll come up with the answer. Pat Benatar! But… no (she was Buzz Aldrin, number two).
Okay, so who? So here we return to out trivia question. Well, stumped on who was the absolute first who appeared on an institution that played giving in, we do in fact Google the question, “What was the first music video aired on MTV?” and find that it was “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by the Buggles, which thus began an era of 24-hour-a-day music on television that would eventually change the cultural landscape. With this new creative outlet, the music video would, by the mid-1980s, evolve to play a prominent role in popular music marketing. Many important artists of this period, most notably Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, and Madonna, owed a great deal of their success to the appeal of their videos.
The advent of high-quality color videotape recorders and portable video cameras happened to coincide with this new wave of “filming” one’s songs and MTV quickly churned them out in droves. Because some of the keys to the development of the modern music video was this advent of relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use video recording and editing equipment and the development of visual effects created with techniques such as image compositing, there was this initial DIY work ethos inherent to the beginning of this new era. However, eventually, as with any new art form made available to a creative community who would come to be limited only by their imaginations, However, as the genre developed, another wave, one created by music video directors schooled in the medium they were trained in to shoot movies, increasingly turned to 35 mm film as the preferred medium, and costs shot up. In 1983, the most successful, influential and iconic music video of all time was released: the nearly 14-minute-long video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” directed by John Landis, which set new standards for production, costing over $800,000 to film (in 2018, this would be the equivalent of over $2 million).
As the music video evolved and became a must of every musical artists (from 1991 to 2001, Billboard had its own Music Video Awards), artists and directors continued to raise the bar of both creativity and expenses. Two of the most expensive videos produced of all time were Madonna’s “Bedtime Story,” which cost $5 million, and Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream,” which purportedly cost $7 million, and remains the most expensive video ever made. By the mid-2000s the medium at the forefront of viewing videos was changing. MTV and many of its sister channels had largely abandoned showing music videos in favor of reality television shows which had become more popular with its audiences, and which MTV had itself helped to pioneer with their show “The Real World,” which had actually premiered back in 1992. 2005 saw the launch of YouTube, which made online viewing of video faster and easier; and soon other platforms (Google Videos, Facebook, Vevo, etc.) appeared using the similar video functionality technology. These websites changed the manner in which music videos were viewed and some artists began to see success as a result of videos seen mostly or entirely online. In 2009, Thirty Seconds to Mars’ music video “Kings and Queens” was uploaded to YouTube on the same day of its release (where it has garnered over one hundred million views) and was featured as iTunes Store video of the week and one of its most downloaded videos ever to be featured.
In effect, as MTV transitioned from music videos to reality TV, the Internet has breathed new life into the music video, where it has flourished on numerous YouTube channels, one of which is our own Soul Sessions USA site.