MTV celebrates 40 years of music videos, cultural influence

NEW YORK — Forty years ago today, MTV landed in living rooms across the country, changing the music experience forever.

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The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” launched the network’s round-the-clock music video format on Aug. 1, 1981, hosted by video jockeys, or VJs, and paved the way for some of the country’s first reality shows, most controversial animated series and headline grabbing awards shows that showcased some of the world’s most iconic performers at the pinnacles of their careers.

In celebration, USA Today took a look back at nine blockbuster videos; NPR examined the network’s role in nurturing next-generation animation; and NBC News explored the irony of the once-revolutionary network outsourcing its streaming efforts to Paramount+.

Meanwhile, MTV marked its 40th anniversary by relaunching the evocative image of an astronaut on the moon, with an MTV flag planted nearby.

Specifically, the network unveiled a large-scale “Moon Person” during a Sunday ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

According to The Associated Press, the new design was inspired by an image created this year by Kehinde Wiley, who painted the portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. NASA footage of the historic Apollo 11 landing in 1969, with the MTV flag on full display, was the first image ever aired by the network.

“This is our third generation that we’re reinventing for. Gen Z is by far one of the most interesting, incredibly creative and optimistic generations,” MTV Entertainment President and CEO Chris McCarthy told the AP.

“And so we thought, ‘Let’s go back to the origins, and do it with NASA, but really do it about the next frontier, which represents generation Z and really represents a beautiful moon person that Kehinde built and where we’re going to be heading next,’” McCarthy added.

Today, MTV boasts more than 700 million followers of MTV Entertainment across multiple social media platforms.

“We launched as a video channel on what was the new medium of the time in 1981, which, hard to believe, that was cable,” McCarthy said. “I think the fun and interesting thing about MTV ... is to constantly have to blow yourself up and forget everything you knew in order for us to recreate a brand new entity for each generation.”

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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