"And music still on MTV..." - Bowling for Soup, 2004
The media giant MTV was spawned in 1981 as a medium to incorporate visual elements into the increasingly commercial and thus pervasive world of music and pop culture. Simple enough. Video jockeys would stream music videos 24/7 to give viewers a better understanding of their favorite artists’ perspective.
From that moment, music and culture became inextricably meshed through an eclectic blend of alternative tunes that soon came to the forefront of the American youth rebellious consciousness. Quintessential 80’s artists such as Mötley Crüe,Duran Duran, Van Halen, and Bon Jovi flooded the airwaves to kick off a prolific start to a channel that defined the decade’s extravagant fashion aesthetics and synth-pop-rock brand of music.
At a time when there was a gaping lack of personal connection between artists and their fans, MTV proved to be an instant success that would pave the way for countless artists to elevate to stardom. While some say that the transition of music onto television depreciated the quality of music into a brazen mess of cheesy, hastily fabricated hooks incorporated into headache-inducing color schemes and bad hair, it is undeniable that MTV set the music industry on a course that it would never deviate from.
To this day, popular music videos casually garner hundreds of millions of views. Thanks to modern advancements in technology, music-seekers no longer have to turn to MTV to consume their favorite artists’ videos, but rather command access to them at the tap of a finger through YouTube. This has led to a decreasing need for MTV as a venue for what they themselves initially pioneered.
Faced with the need to reinvent itself, the now ironically-named network gave way to a dramatic increase of non-musically oriented content. By 2008, MTV was airing just three hours of music videos per day. The remainder of airplay consisted of an unprecedented myriad of reality, news, and talk programs designed to give its viewers a glimpse into the lives of pop-culture driven youth of America. While enduring widespread scrutiny from musical pundits, it was clear that the original format of the channel was no longer viable.
We at Lampin', a couple of painfully nostalgic mid-90’s boys, lament over the transitional period experienced by MTV in the mid-2000’s. Our experience with MTV came at the cornerstone of the channel in which music videos were disappearing at an alarming rate in exchange for second rate TV.
At a time when we were just beginning to peak our prepubescent heads into the hodge-podge world of pop culture, our eyes were immediately drawn to a place where so much musical history had been chronicled. I can still remember the crusty-eyed pre-school mornings in which I would get up early to get my fill of videos, ranging from Nelly to My Chemical Romance to Daft Punk. You didn’t even have to like the music to understand that it was important to the ever-(d)evolving musical landscape.
And of course we didn’t just tune in to TRL. We were becoming young men, and Nickelodeon just wasn’t giving us that “mature” edge we so desperately sought after. As we entered the pure hell that is middle school, it became evident that we needed a deeper perspective into the world of young adults. Unfortunately, our search for a broader scope on life led to grossly scripted dating shows, obscenely vapid reality programs, and a few titles that have stood the test of time as fundamental building blocks of who we’ve become.
At the time, however, it was all gravy. As 12-14 year olds without a clue, we ate it all up with unblinking eyes, as we were supposedly getting invaluable insight into how life really was. The stars had aligned perfectly. On one end, a struggling network grappling with its fabled history and a need to keep its ratings up. On the other, two procrastinating students coming home to an unattended TV with a poorly developed palate for entertainment. We invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with us as we revisit a few of our favorites from a not-so-golden era of MTV’s tail end of airwave of supremacy.
"I play college baseball. So I can't wait to show this girl my big bat." Nice.
Next was the Tinder before the dog filter. And there was no hiding behind the anonymity and vastness of the Internet. The pure savagery behind proclaiming the Trumpian “Next!” as soon as the contestant stepped off of the bus was always welcomed graciously.
The concept behind the mini-dates were always ludicrous and unabashedly superficial, but in retrospect, the merits behind it weren’t all that different when compared to contemporary dating. The choice between a negligible amount of cash and a second date with someone with the personality of a JC Penney mannequin was a grueling one, and was quick to reinforce the idea that you can always place a monetary value on the company of the other sex.
The monotony of the contestants was also a key aspect of the show. On the male side, the daters seemed to embody the aesthetic of a Good Charlotte concert attendee, complete with a Quiksilver t-shirt over a white long sleeve. On the female side, a heavy stream of jean skirts and dyed blonde hair, tastefully styled to cover one eye, adding a mystique that screamed “I was raised from Limited Too and Disney movies."
And lets not always forget the “weirdo” contestant, the one that was immediately Nexted and helped forge an unbreakable bond between the other contestants in the RV, one that would surely reunite them at a TGI Friday's for years to come.
RIP Charlie Murphy.
Before the days of Jersey Shore, there was the Real World. Running for over 20 years beginning in 1992, Real World was the perfect formula of putting a group of overly-dramatic, purposely stereotypical young adults in an IKEA-furnished house far beyond its inhabitants’ financial means.
The events that ensued hardly captured the essence of anything resembling the “real world”, but how would us preteens know that? To us, our future realities would undoubtedly consist of interracial, intersexual fights wielding household items with a side of occasional shower sex.
We were taught invaluable life lessons that were otherwise unavailable to us, such as how to irrationally deal with those different from us and manage relationships with an unrequited selfishness. The show thrived off inter-house clashes, and housemates were able to air grievances to the camera at the end of each week, and were offered no guidance to solve their problems.
There seemed to be an inherent lack of good judgment throughout the program, and the house, equipped with everything one would need to make a good life, was just never able to reach homeostasis. Now that’s good TV.
Looking back, Made is my biggest regret in terms of time invested in MTV programming. Here you have these hopeful high school students, with grandiose dreams of becoming a ladies’ man, break dancer, Motocross riders, etc. These are kids who, against all odds, take up a hobby they have no experience or necessary skills for, and without fail, they come up short of their goal.
The coaches were always overly pushy and never adjusted their tutelage to the needs of the individual. But how could you blame them? If you’re a world class break dancer, it would be pretty damn frustrating trying to teach an uncoordinated white kid who just wants to learn the moves the old guy was doing on the Six Flags commercial.
There was a certain loftiness to each and every one of the dreamer’s goals that made them nigh unattainable. This trend rang true in every case study I can recall, and it did nothing but kill/prevent me from having any dreams at all. While reveling in the failure of others may be the main allure of reality TV, it would have been nice to see a first place trophy hoisted in the air rather than seeing a single tear cascade down little Danny’s cheek when he was eliminated from the first round of the big checkers tournament (I made that up but you know what I was going for).
Absolutely unwatchable banter between the dad and girlfriend.
For those unfamiliar, Parental Control was a dating show centered around parents' despair over their teenage child's significant other. It'd open with showing just how much of a piece of shit this guy or girl was – complete with them breaking shit, swearing, or smoking the cigarettes (shouts Latarian Milton).
After interviewing a bunch of candidates, the parents then pick two suitors that would hopefully replace their child's terrible boyfriend or girlfriend. Both the replacements would go on an absolutely ridiculous date (ridiculous might be something of an understatement – we are talking hot air balloons, helicopter paintball, and speedboats) with the parents' child.
Mind you, when I was 12 and watching this, this was fucking real life. I thought these were dates I could go on when I was older. Instead, my go-to date was trying to get a handjob during a movie at the AMC Promenade Mall (the absolute shittiest mall in America).
Anyways, looking back at clips from the show now, it's absurdly obvious how fake and staged this show was. According to one YouTube commenter, this show was mostly used as acting reel material for up-and-coming actors. I choose to believe this just as I believe every other YouTube comment that I read. Fake or not, Parental Control had a large impact on my life, and the hours spent watching it made me a better man.
Pimp My Ride
Best rap laugh: 50 Cent or Xzibit??
Now famous for the set of memes it has inspired, Pimp My Ride had an undeniable impact on pop culture during its three year (which felt more like 10) run from 2004-2007. Let it be known that the move from West Coast Customs to GAS was one of the worst moves in television history. The introduction of this guy whose name I don't care to look up was an absolute travesty.
My first introduction to the word "pimp" was from none other than X to the Z himself (my second, was through 50 Cent, which gave me more of a context to what a pimp truly was). Everything from the fantastic theme song to the ridiculous reactions had me hooked. Although now it may seem ridiculous to put three Xboxes in the trunk of your car, at the time that was the coolest shit I have ever seen.
Not surprisingly, the cars that were pimped out apparently took forever to finish and had plenty of problems after they finally did get done.
Adventures in Hollyhood
Coming off of their legendary Cribsepisode and an Oscar victory, the legendary duo of DJ Paul and Juicy J move from their home state Tennessee out to sunny California, where of course hi-jinx ensues. Take this description from episode 2 of season 1:
"The guys get kicked out of their house because Big Triece urinated in Jennifer Love Hewitt's yard, and have to find a new place."
Like what more could you possibly want from a TV show. Besides better acquainting me to the greatness that is Three 6 Mafia, the show forced me to buy the entire Jackass 2 soundtrack on iTunes because it wouldn't let you buy "Gettin' Fucked Up" on its own.
Now you're probably noticing the absence of one of MTV's all-time greats MTV Cribs. To tell you the truth, it didn't come up in mine or Nev's planning of this article. However, I have an explanation (or excuse, depending on how you look at it) as to why.
The majority of the shows we picked were absolutely horrendous. While it may have driven countless nouveau-riche celebrities to go broke, Cribs is markedly superior to all of these shows in every aspect imaginable. Redman's dead/sleeping cousin (and entire episode), Pretty Ricky making sugar water, and Scott Storch's Bugatti are legitimate great moments in TV history, not preteen fodder that can only be looked at positively through nostalgia. When choosing our favorite MTV shows, it's easy to skip over Cribs because we were thinking purely about the so-bad-that-they're-good shows.
On another, more somber note, the idea of this article was conceived upon hearing the news of Christopher "Big Black" Boykin's untimely death. While neither of us were regular viewers of Rob & Big, this article is dedicated to the memory of Big Black.