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Hey! This week’s episode is one of my favorites. It’s a case study on MTV. At its peak, MTV was the center of pop culture. At its low points, MTV was an excuse for a business. I’m joined by friend of the pod, Zack O’Malley Greenburg. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.
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Why MTV was a category creator
Before MTV, most of the music on TV was live performances. Artists went on American Bandstand, The Phil Donahue Show, and Soul Train. Some artists made videos (known as “promotional clips” at the time), but were few and far between.
The modern music video didn’t exist. Neither did the expectation for record labels to give their videos to a brand new cable TV network for free! But MTV was a category creator. It’s rise was the perfect storm of ongoing trends:
– untapped teenage market
– rise of cable TV
– improved special effects
If MTV were a venture-backed startup, its pitch deck would have had a 2×2 matrix with the MTV logo solely featured in the upper-right quadrant (and rightfully so.)
MTV started with a bang, but it only had a library of around 200 videos. The network sold just $500,000 in ad revenue in its first year. While several British artists like Duran Duran and The Police leaned into MTV as a new distribution channel, several American record labels told MTV to kick rocks. The labels felt that their music should be paid for. Sound familiar?
Despite its early struggles, MTV’s fate improved after two big moments: 1982’s “I Want My MTV” campaign and 1983’s “Thriller” music video by Michael Jackson.
I Want My MTV was the network’s campaign to get cable providers to add MTV to its lineup. Both fans and artists, like Mick Jagger and David Bowie, picked up their phones and made calls. It proved that MTV was the gold standard on customer loyalty. The network executives were confident that once its audience had access, the viewership would translate to sales for MTV’s suppliers—the record labels.
Yet MTV needed something more. In 1983, MTV was sadly reluctant to play music from Black artists. But the tides started to turn after Michael Jackson. He released the music video for “Billie Jean,” which paved the way for his 14-minute short film, “Thriller.” MTV technically co-financed the project—a rare move for the network—but it paid off for everyone involved. Thriller became the best-selling album of all time, MTV went to another level, and so did music videos. Michael’s hit paved the way for Madonna, hair metal bands, the VMAs, MTV’s golden era.
the shift away from music videos
The music video boom was a great business for most of the 80s and early 90s. The videos were bigger and better. They drove customers to buy albums at the record store. They inspired the film industry to make teen-oriented movies. And the record labels and MTV eventually reached a financial agreement for compensation. Everybody ate.
But as optionality increased on cable TV, the MTV execs realized the sad truth: if fans don’t like a particular video or genre, they change the channel. And if they change channels, there’s a risk they may not come back during that viewing session.
MTV tested the waters with a game show Remote Control (1987), but it went all in with 1992’s The Real World. The soapy reality show started with a bang. The early ratings were 3x higher than music videos, and the show’s structure meant that viewers stayed to watch the entire thing. Its success sparked the slow, then sharp, pivot away from music videos and towards reality TV shows. With their low cost and high demand, the economics were too good to ignore.
That’s when the complaints began to grow. “Remember when MTV actually played videos?” “Reality TV ruined the network.” “I miss the old MTV.” Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between a consumer’s idealized statements and the consumer’s actual behavior. MTV would have kept playing videos if more people watched music videos than reality shows, but that wasn’t the case!
These statements echo broader consumer disconnects across entertainment. Moviegoers complain that Hollywood doesn’t make original blockbusters, but fans don’t show up for those movies as they showed up for Spider-Man: No Way Home. Readers envision themselves reading more longform thinkpieces, but the clickbait generates much more traffic. People say they miss when ESPN focused on SportsCenter highlights, but the ratings show that viewers prefer to watch Stephen A. Smith debating any and everyone.
MTV has heard criticism about its programming since it started. A lot of it is valid. But, its decision to be less reliant on music video content helped the network withstand the music industry’s decline in the 2000s. Fans may have slowed down their trips to Tower Records, but didn’t slow down their desire to watch Jackass.
In 2009, MTV had its most popular show ever, Jersey Shore. Its most-watched Video Music Awards were in 2011. The network was still in good shape.
But as cord-cutting and social media took off, MTV lost its cultural influence.
the ridiculousness of Ridiculousness
Today, most of MTV’s programming is filled by Ridiculousness, a show hosted by MTV veteran Rob Dyrdek, who is joined by a celebrity cast who watch and comment on blooper real clips. It’s cheap, easy to produce, and give MTV’s older audience the comfort food it wants.
My issue isn’t that MTV shows the same thing over and over. Most popular cable TV networks—Fox News, ESPN, MSNBC— do the same. But my bigger issue is… why does it have to be Ridiculousness? Why THIS show?
In 2022, Bravo had nearly twice the average viewership as MTV. Bravo has dominated with The Real Housewives, The Vanderpump Rules, Below Deck; the list goes on. Bravo even has its own BravoCon convention. The network is dominating a lane that MTV used to own.
The same audience that watched TRL 20+ years ago is the same audience that now watched Bravo. MTV should have owned this lane the same way that VH1 has Love & Hip-Hop.
The cultural cache MTV had for its first few decades was unmatched. We may never see another company quite like it.
If you liked this breakdown, check out the full episode. Zack and I also talked about:
– Yo MTV Raps!
– the VMAs
– which artists won and lost the most from MTV
Dan Runcie [00:00:32]:
You’re about to listen to a deep dive on one of the most influential companies in music in our lifetime, and that’s MTV. Think about MTV’s journey over the past 40 years. It says a lot about where music has gone, where the industry has gone, and so many of the rises and falls that we’ve seen in this episode. We talk about the early days of MTV and how they truly created a category around music videos. They weren’t even called music videos in that same way before MTV. But we saw the evolution and we saw some of those challenges MTV had in the early years until some pivotal moments that helped create the trajectory and the impact that then led to the epic run. That the channel. Had in their eighty s and ninety s. We also talk about some of the controversies as well, and some of the big pivots they made, especially the pivot away from showing music videos and towards showing reality TV and other programs. We talk about the economic implications of those decisions as well. And we talk about some of the iconic programming that MTV had, like the VMAs TRL, the Movie Awards, Jersey Shore, Road Rules, Real World, and so many more. I’m joined by Zach O’Malley. Greenberg, friend of the Pod, and we took a trip down memory lane with our own memories of MTV. Zach has some funny stories about him attending MTV itself and what its evolution in culture and some of the missed opportunities. But also we break down where MTV is today. This is a channel that shows Ridiculousness on repeat a majority of the time. So we talk about MTV’s role as a cable company or cable channel rather in 2023, what some of its opportunities are, some of the missed opportunities along the way, and who are the people that won and lost the most over the journey of MTV? So let’s dive in to a deep dive on music television. All right, today we are back to talk about one of the most influential companies in the history of the music industry, a company that changed its trajectory and says a lot about where music has gone over the past 40 years. That’s MTV. And here to break it down with friend of the pod, Zach Greenberg. And Zach, I got to ask you, do you remember the first time that.
Zack Greenburg [00:03:13]:
You watched know it was funny. I was never really an MTV kid growing, you know, I think it just kind of had to do with my parents and sort of the TV watching diet. But I just remember going to other kids houses and it’d be like, oh, yeah, you want to watch TRL or something. And just having my mind blown by this whole other dimension of music that was showing up that just kind of didn’t otherwise make it into my life. And it really was, it was like seeing music in the third, so so it totally makes sense that MTV had this incredible impact on our generation and so many others. I don’t know, how about you?
Dan Runcie [00:03:58]:
Yeah, I think mine was mid 90s, maybe ll cool Jace doing. It was being played at the time. And at that age, I was still watching your nickelodeon, Fox kids, maybe some Disney channel stuff, but I really wasn’t tuned into that. And that was just kind of like, whoa, what is this? And then that then goes down this gradual thing. If I had it all when my parents are watching, they probably would have felt some type of way about it, but it probably wasn’t until a few years later when it really became more of a regular viewing for me. But wow, what a journey. And we’re going to get into all of that. But I think the best place to start with this is even before MTV gets started. So let’s go back to the beginning, late seventy s. And music videos really weren’t even called music videos at the time. That was a term that came I believe the term that was often used was promotional clips. And there was this vision by this guy, John lack, he was an executive at Warner amex satellite entertainment company, which is a mouthful, and they had nickelodeon, they had the movie channel. But he saw this overlooked opportunity with teens. He felt like there was shows and programming out there for kids, there was shows and programming out there for adults, but there really wasn’t as much for teens. So that then starts a few things where he’s experimenting on a few different shows, and then that brings him to pop clips, which ironically was on nickelodeon, of all places, to then give them a preview of what’s there, people get a sense for it, and apparently the ratings take off. And at that point that’s when they said, okay, we have something here, we need to build this up a little bit further.
Zack Greenburg [00:05:45]:
Yeah. And I think ultimately MTV was a joint venture between was it Warner and American Express. I think that’s how it started out. Which is kind of wild when you think about that. Like American Express getting into what MTV turned out to be even then, and then what it is now, which are two very different things. But I think just the idea of the music video back in the day, it was sort of just a throwaway thing dating back the nobody really put much thought into it. And in a funny way, I mean, we can talk about this more as we get into the rise in the fall, but I would argue that music videos today have drifted back toward what they were back then. Now that it has been deemphasized a little bit. But when you think about the greatest videos, what are the videos that stick in your mind? Certainly for me, all of the great videos that came out of the 80s or 90s or the early aughts, maybe this kind of golden age of music videos brought on by the rise of MTV.
Dan Runcie [00:06:51]:
Right. Because if you look back at some of those videos, sure, you had videos like Bohemian Rhapsody, which did stand out. That of course, is a video that came in the 70s, but for a lot of what stood out, it’s like talking heads that are floating in this blackdrop. Right. It’s not the craziest thing in the world, but a lot of it was just these grayscale videos of bands performing in front of a TV and the experience of someone watching a musical performance on TV was seen as the live thing. Right. Are you going to get on American Bandstand? Were you going to be on Soul Train? Were you going to be on Phil Donahue or one of these other shows? So the thought of having a standalone pre recorded clip that you then put out and share just wasn’t something that people necessarily were thinking deeply about.
Zack Greenburg [00:07:44]:
Yeah, and I think in a lot of know, it was a proxy for touring. Like you would put out these promotional clips to try to make it in markets where you didn’t necessarily have an audience or maybe you would use them to sort of butter up like a regional audience before you announce tour dates there so that you’d increase the ticket sales. And I think also in those days, a lot of people forget, but you would tour an album to promote you go on tour to promote an now. Now you put out an album to promote a you know, back in the day you’d make the money on the records, now you make the money on the road. Unless you’re Drake, in which case you make money on the road and from the streaming. But yeah, I think that it’s important to think about the role between touring, putting out albums and then the music video and how they fit together very different than it is today.
Dan Runcie [00:08:43]:
Agreed. And I think the other thing too, just with this time of MTV coming up, is that you also have the rise of cable too. You’re starting to see more options beyond what’s just happening from a broadcast perspective. You’re seeing more unique channels, which obviously paved the way for Nickelodeon, for the movie channel, for some of the things under that Warner Amex umbrella. So once they decide to get this going, lack then hires Bob Pittman, who was a former radio guy himself. And that was a common theme that we saw with MTV. And they’re thinking of names, they’re thinking of rockbox, they’re thinking of TV One. And MTV Music Television did seem pretty basic, but they eventually were able to make it work. And they had this whole concept where they’re like, okay, what is the thing that we want to do to make a statement? What is the access to information that we can get? Or what is the type of statement we can get? So they said, okay, we can get footage of the moon landing, literally one of the most iconic visual moments that you’ve ever seen on video from the 21st century. They have that plant the MTV flag, and then they’re off to the races. And before we get there, I do want to talk a little bit about the business model because I think that was the interesting thing, because their whole pitch was we’re going to get the record labels to give us the videos for free, and we want them to give us the videos for free. Because we view ourselves as radio. We view ourselves as visual radio in the same way that they give the radio stations for free. They wanted them to do the same. And the response was somewhat ironic, but it probably wasn’t too surprising just seeing how things were. The record labels told them to kick rocks, but eventually that changed over time.
Zack Greenburg [00:10:29]:
When you look at it sort of in the context of the fullness of time, right, it’s not too different from the social media model. Let’s get celebrities to give us free content that will make people watch our thing, and then we can sell ads against it. So it’s a brilliant business model. And in know, I would argue a precursor to Facebook or Instagram or TikTok or whatever, right? You’re having suddenly a generation of kids being able to see their musical heroes up close. The creators are putting this stuff out for free, right, and giving it to the network, the platform, and then they’re selling ads against it. So brilliant business model. Of course, the labels were not so keen on it early, but it went from a phase of MTV begging labels to send over videos to labels begging MTV to air the, you know, I think what happened in between is kind of like the most interesting part how did it kind of reach that point, right?
Dan Runcie [00:11:47]:
Because the early start wasn’t it was a big splash at first, right? Because you have the buggles video, killed the radio star, perfect song to kick things off. But there were only depending on who you ask, some say they only had 100. Some say they had 250 music videos. But that was all they had at the time. So there was a lot of repeat. There were a lot of artists who leaned in then they may not have wanted it. Like, I heard that A Rod Stewart just had a bunch that he just wanted to submit. And then similarly, a lot of the British artists leaned in. And those artists, even before the American artists did so there was a lot of Duran Duran the Police, they called the British Invasion was one of the terms that they used there. But the thing is, those couple years were a little bit tough for MTV because I think a few things happened that first year, at least from what I read. This was from the I want my MTV book. Bob Pittman had said that they only sold $500,000 worth of ads in that first year and they just had a hard time getting advertisers bought in to some of the videos themselves. Things are racy and the network definitely had its challenges. But I think there were two things that we can dig into. One was the IWA my MTV campaign. And then the second was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Would you agree that those are probably the two main things that changed things?
Zack Greenburg [00:13:10]:
Yeah, absolutely. Although I would say Billie Jean paved the way for thriller. And the story of that is one of my favorite stories in the history of music. So if you look at the money behind the business, right, it wasn’t doing so well in terms of selling ads in those early days. However, the MTV goes on air august of 1981, 300 cable outlets, audience of 2.5 million homes. But within a year, it’s up to 2000 affiliates. More than 17 million households. Households, not people, right? So maybe you’re going if you’re assuming two or three people per household, you’re going from six or 7 million to something like 50, 60 million in the space of a year. So obviously, the capacity to sell ads, even if you’re not selling it that much on a per ad basis, your audience is so huge, the ad inventory just sort of like massive amounts of space to place ads eyeball to get on those ads. So you kind of had this machine that was just ready to start churning out money and all you needed was to sort of generate more interest, right? And I think the I Want My MTV campaign was just a brilliant way of doing that. I want my MTV. And you had all these different artists coming in and just saying that phrase or singing that phrase in their own sort of different mean. Do you remember any specific artists that you heard in that campaign back in the day?
Dan Runcie [00:14:49]:
Yeah, so one of them, Mick Jagger, he was one of the big guts that they were able to get, so he was able to push it. And then there were a few artists, too, that said, hey, I know that this is seen as a promotional thing, but the more that I push this, the more it ends up benefiting me as well. Right. So they understood that. They saw the landscape. It made perfect sense because you then have the fans calling their local cable providers to then be like, hey, not only do I want cable to come through to my area, but I also want you to make sure that you’re adding MTV, because that was a whole thing growing up too. That I think depending on your age, may be easy to forget. Where depending on where you live, you may not have gotten certain channels on your cable stream and it wasn’t until the late 90s that you had, like, digital cable and all these expansions. But I remember even places or channels like the Disney Channel didn’t come in certain areas. And in the was one of those. But this was one of those campaigns that helped make it ubiquitous.
Zack Greenburg [00:15:50]:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think just having hordes of teenagers kind of demanding of their parents, like, oh, can we get the MTV package? That resulted in a lot of cable providers having to provide it. And of course, that’s another great thing for the business model. I mean, if you have cable companies paying you whatever it is, like a buck a subscriber or something for MTV, that’s basically free money. Once you’re operating whatever your operating costs are, whatever they are, and then you’re getting these subscription fees on top of it, you just get to expand it at such a rapid rate and you’re getting all this free content. It’s an amazing business model. So, yeah, I think that the ad campaign was huge, but you still had this issue of MTV being pretty segregated. They weren’t playing hip hop. Maybe they were playing like a little bit of Lionel Richie, but it was almost exclusively white rock know, along comes Michael Jackson with Billy Jean. And Michael Jackson was always really interested in film. He never liked to call his music videos. Music videos are always short. Like, this Billie Jean video was kind of a total masterpiece, and he really wanted to make sure that it got on MTV. So I wrote about this in my book, michael Jackson, Inc. Walter Yetenikov was the head of CBS Records at the time, which had Michael Jackson for the Thriller album. And he just come over I guess the Jacksons had been on CBS, and then he put it off the wall as his solo album. I think it was epic. And then it was CBS anyway, so walter Yatnikov was this caricature of an 80s record executive and just like cocaine all over the place and just constantly drinking and philandering and what have you messing around. But to his credit, he really wanted to defend Michael Jackson, I think out of self interest. He wanted Thriller to be huge. He knew how great it was. And he also wanted to help break the color barrier in music videos. So he was kind of like the branch of, of the music video era and in Michael Jackson’s, Jackie Robinson. So Walter Yetnikov calls up Bob Pittman, and this is from my book. I interviewed Walter Yetnikov before he unfortunately passed away. He calls up Bob Pittman, he says, Are you the chief schmuck? Bob Pittman goes, yeah. Yetnika says, I want you to play Billie Jean. It’s not up to you. Well, let me tell you what’s going to happen. I’m going to pull every CBS records video. What are your artists going to do? They’re not going to have to worry about MTV. If I pull everything, Quincy Jones, who’s very close to Steve Ross, who owns the other half of MTV, is surely going to pull out. And then you can have Warner and CBS pulling their stuff, blah, blah, blah. So eventually MTV caves. They put on Billy Jean and it becomes this just like, massive video. This is what, 83, I think 82, 80, something like that, that paves the way for Thriller to become arguably the most influential music video of all time. And really Michael Jackson becoming the biggest star in the world. I think so much of it had to do with having that video aspect, right? Because it wasn’t just that he was a great singer or songwriter or had a great producer in Quincy Jones, but obviously he could dance like nobody else. But if you don’t have the visual element, if you don’t have music videos, that’s kind of lost in the shuffle because you can’t really it’s not like everybody’s going to be able to go out and see him on tour. And even if you made it to a tour in the 80s, if you were a kid going to see one of these big apps, he’s sitting way up in the nosebleeds and you can’t really see Michael Moonwalking. And the jumbotron isn’t really kind of what it is these days. So I think that not only did it make the career Michael Jackson, but it just added this third dimension to all music that sort of hadn’t been there before.
Dan Runcie [00:20:19]:
It changed the company altogether. And we’ve talked about this on past podcasts. In terms of category creation, this is where the modern concept of what a music video is and could be really started. Because sure, you started to see some experimentation in the early couple of years with MTV, but everything changed after Thriller. Then that’s when, as you mentioned before, I think that’s when things really flipped. We started to see more, even more examples of like you shared of the record labels calling on MTV to push and to promote certain videos, which is a theme that I think we saw time and time again continue know, all the way up for decades after that. The other person too, that came shortly after Michael. But as we think about her career, I think it’s a little bit unique is Madonna. Because Michael is someone who I think was already a star off the wall, was already successful. So this just brought him to this otherworldly stratosphere that we just hadn’t seen any solo act to go to before. But Madonna is someone that everything about her was tailor made to succeed on MTV. Coming out with statements, everything about her is visual how people connected with her. Her 1984 VMAs performance, singing like a Virgin and every other time that she’s done where she’s reinvented herself, she had different identities. I don’t think that is as possible when you’re purely existing on radio and from an audio perspective, but the visuals really made it possible for her to be who she was. And I think that she was very successful, obviously throughout the decades. Not necessarily as successful as Michael, but I’d argue that relative to her Delta, I think that MTV played an even bigger percentage factor in terms of her career and what she was able to achieve than maybe honestly anyone else I could think of from the 80s.
Zack Greenburg [00:22:22]:
Yeah, I think that’s a fantastic point. And she definitely had a unique aesthetic and with sort of like all the accessories and different things, different looks that you had going on. I think it’s worth noting here that another consequence of the video MTV era is that stars started to care a lot more about their appearance. Right? And you had the 80s sort of glam rock type of thing going on. Everybody was wearing just tons of makeup and big hair. You know, dudes, ladies, everybody, you know, just like really eyeliner the whole thing. And and there was an emphasis on appearance, you know, sort of sort of like really over the top kind of get ups. But I do think this is a moment where music became more of.
Dan Runcie [00:23:22]:
Zack Greenburg [00:23:22]:
You looked suddenly was important in a way that it hadn’t been before. So that back in the day, if you were, let’s say, not a traditionally attractive person, it didn’t really matter as a musician because you weren’t really like front and center on screen all the time. In the MPV era, that began to change. And so an artist like Billy Joel not sort of like the prettiest dude in the world, that was sort of like a different set of considerations. And I always kind of wonder if that’s part of the reason why Billy Joel essentially retired in 1993. He put out his last album, River Dreams. He was arguably one of the biggest artists of the early ninety s and all of a sudden just kind of stopped. And he keeps touring and all that, but he was certainly never a glam rock guy and I don’t think he was sort of into the whole aesthetic. I’m not sure that he could have pulled it off and he wasn’t into it anyway. So you kind of wonder what sort of an effect that visual emphasis had on certain artists who weren’t traditionally attractive. I do also think that on the flip side, it increased the objectification of women in music videos, things like that, tropes of girls in cages and you know, all that kind of thing, you know, that that became kind of like an icky consequence of the of the video age. And, you know, I think there’s sort of like a superficial element that began to take over. Maybe there were artists who came on who were sort of good looking and you could produce the video in such a way and produce the music in such a way that it sounded good, but they were never actually going to succeed on tour because they couldn’t really replicate that in a live setting. And so you had maybe a few more One Hit Wonders or like acts that didn’t really have legs in the long term as a well rounded live music sensation as well.
Dan Runcie [00:25:23]:
I do think One Hit Wonders did uptick after this as well because it was easier to achieve the look and the vibe, but not necessarily have the longevity behind you because you clearly needed the package to be able to have those repeat sales. So that’s a good point. There the other thing that happened.
Zack Greenburg [00:25:42]:
Yeah. And just like some oh, go ahead. Oh, I was going to say I’m a big nerd, obviously, and I did Acapella in college and we recorded a couple of albums and I was the business manager, I believe, the year that we recorded an album. But there were just some things that you could record in the studio that you would never perform live because hitting the high note or something like that was just it was like 50 50 at best that you were going to hit it. But if you had studio time and you could sort of like Auto Tune or do multiple takes, then why not? So I just remember there being songs on our albums that we never performed live because it was just too difficult to pull off. And I think that’s in a way, a microcosm of the music video age. Obviously there’s some of that just with recording, but certainly with videos you can have a certain level of production, I guess, not only audio, but video that you could never really pull off in a concert. And you know, and certainly in these days, you know, in the modern day concert business, sets have gotten just really over the top and ridiculous and and, you know, just visually incredibly stimulating. But I think in those days, it was harder to capture that live. And so there’s a lot more kind of imagination that you could apply to the visuals when it was in a one off video type of scenario.
Dan Runcie [00:27:09]:
Yeah, definitely. I feel like you start to see artists do more of this stuff now, which is now leading to this ongoing debate we keep hearing about whether artists should be singing over their tracks in concerts or people getting mad when artists lip sync. But it’s to that point, I mean, you can take that 50 50 risk when you’re doing a music video or if you’re doing a solo thing, but it’s a little dicier when you’re actually in front of thousands of people. The other thing that happened right around this time is on the business side for MTV. They end up getting acquired and they end up doing a deal, so they end up doing a deal with Viacom. And this is the same structure that they largely are under today. But in 1984, in that post thriller era, MTV started having a pretty sizable and strong business. $109.5 million in revenue, almost $12 million in profit. Water Amex had owned 66% of the business, and they were reaching 26 million households. And a lot of that was more so just the continued growth and development of cable. The acquisition also included VH One and Nickelodeon, and then not even too long after that, they were entertaining offers to go back private again for nearly $500 million. So the 80s was such a growth uptick period, and you started to see that on the recorded side of the business as well. Because the reason that the record labels were pushing and trying to get their videos played is because you were able to see the impact of you have your artist music video that’s put out that gets regular airtime on MTV, and then you see those records getting sold at tower records, at strawberries, or wherever people are buying their albums from.
Zack Greenburg [00:28:58]:
Yeah, and it’s just the machine. We talked about the machine. Everything was in place and they just needed to have content to put into the machine and get people to be engaging with the content. And once that happened, it really was a money making machine. You have free content coming in. The cable providers are paying MTV to be in their offering selection of cable. So the only costs really to MTV at that point were just staffing. And I guess this is before they had really begun to get into producing their own things, which kind of happened. I mean, I guess that was kind of starting to happen around this time and then became more and more a part of what MTV was doing as it kind of moved away from music videos. But that was the best business model, right? Free content. Have people pay you to run free content all day long, right.
Dan Runcie [00:30:01]:
It was working really well and. The thing that they started to realize, which I do think sets the tone for where this conversation will go eventually, is MTV’s decision to eventually move away from videos. But one of the things that I think they noticed is that if there’s a video that fans like, they’re more likely to stay on that channel, but if there’s a video that they don’t like, they’re more likely to move off of that channel. And as cable expanded, as other things expanded, they did start to see more of that pull to, okay, how do we keep these viewers locked in and not just have them change the channel if there’s something different that they see? So oftentimes you’ll hear people refer to the golden years of MTV being this 1981 to 1992 era. Ironically, 1992 is when the real world starts. That was the first true reality program that they have. But I do want to highlight a few things that happened before that. You alluded to this earlier, but you started to see more and more complaints from artists and the industry as well, who felt like music videos were turning people into one, trick ponies and record labels forcing artists to make music videos and artists complaining that now I have to care so much more about this appearance and you want me to do this thing. And now this is being heavily weighed into, am I going to get signed? Am I going to get this? Am I going to get that? And it is ironically similar to the same stuff you hear today about TikTok and how artists feel about the record label trying to get them to do more clips and the artists complaining about that and people saying that TikTok is turning the industry into this, that. And the third, these conversations come up time and time again. And that’s one thing that stuck out as I was reading through things. I was, huh. When they say TikTok is the new MTV, they’re not just talking about in terms of where culture sits, but they’re also literally talking about the intra industry.
Zack Greenburg [00:32:02]:
I mean, absolutely. And I think, again, this might be something we get into a little bit more later in the conversation, but I almost think that where MTV went wrong was and I guess the timing just didn’t quite work out, but MTV was ideally positioned to create its own social network, right? I mean, because it essentially was a social network without the social aspect. And as soon as that became possible, with the rise of the Internet and the mainstream, MTV could have owned that, right? I mean, even when you think about MySpace, that was a music oriented site. It was a music oriented platform. If MTV had been able to kind of own that space, there’s no reason it couldn’t have kind of continued to be as relevant as it always had been. Because what do people do on TikTok? They just kind of tune in and look at videos, and they do it on their phone. But in MPV, it was like that, except you sit in front of a TV. If you could have just transferred that idea. You had the branding that people used to kind of sitting in front of it and seeing their favorite stars. I think it would have been like a pretty obvious move. But the timing didn’t quite line up. They were already in the early 90s moving more toward producing their own stuff. The content business is never a good business. It’s much better to own the platform. But everybody, once they have a good platform, they want to start producing their own stuff, and then they pay all this money and then they become much less profitable. So I guess that’s kind of what happened.
Dan Runcie [00:33:42]:
Let’s talk more about this one soon. I feel like we have a whole category on where MTV is now, what could or should have been. But yeah, let’s talk about that one in a minute. I do want to talk about some of the programming before we get into the reality piece of it. I want to talk about Yomtv raps, because this is an important show. You mentioned earlier about the racism, lack of black artists being shown on MTV. Some of the responses you heard there’s that iconic David Bowie interview where he literally calls out the people to say, hey, why aren’t you playing more music from black artists? That, of course, was before we saw Billie Jean and Thriller. But still, hip hop just wasn’t necessarily getting its shine. Even after Thriller and the success there, it’s like they kept moving the goalpost. But then things change after.
Zack Greenburg [00:34:36]:
Yeah, you know, um, TV raps, I think I think that might be the most important show in history to know. It may not be the best known, but just in terms of culturally what it meant in terms of bringing hip hop to the mainstream and bringing hip hop to be a part of MTV more broadly, you can’t underestimate that. So they bring in Bad Five Freddy, one of the pioneers of hip hop, who in the early days really connected what was going on in the South Bronx with the downtown. You know, he would go and take and, you know, like new wave rockers up to the Bronx and show them what was going on with DJing and graffiti and break dancing and all this stuff. And so that’s why the first rap to end up number one on a chart was Debbie Harry, right? I mean, with rapture, and she shouts out, fab Five Fredy told me, everybody’s know all that stuff. I mean, that’s a result of Fab Five Freddy kind of bringing hip hop into the mainstream music scene. Bring it downtown. And so he was kind of the ideal emissary to bring hip hop to tens of millions of households across the country. And I think that he had this sort of perfect combination of he had very engaging interviewing style, but also just an authenticity to the genre as a pioneer of hip hop himself. As a graffiti artist, he would go and tag the four train or the five train sorry, that’s a train that runs from Yankee Stadium down to Grand Central. And he would go and tag it with these Andy Warhol style Campbell Soup know. So you imagine these people getting on the subway in Midtown, and all of a sudden they see pop art coming down on the subway. And I think that’s when people sort of started to get the idea that this wasn’t just like a bunch of vandals, right? It was these young guys and gals with really kind of impressive artistic sensibilities who were having a conversation with the sort of avant garde pop art of Andy Warhol and all that stuff. So Fabridi comes in to MTV with the on TV raps, and it’s a mix of playing music videos by hip hop artists, but also him interviewing them. And so he’s going out and talking to Snoop and and when I was writing my book Three Kings, I interviewed him about it and he mentioned there was this time when I think NWA was promoting its second album, and Dr. Dre said he’s like, we want to become billionaires. We’re at to take down Donald Trump. Which sort of is kind of fascinating, right? Obviously, Dre almost became a billionaire with the sale of beats, and hip hop has sort of taken aim at Donald Trump in a different way. I think in those days, he was the sort of aspirational wealth mascot, and now he’s a punching bag. And I love kind of looking back at those moments and seeing how kind of odly prophetic they were. But um, TV raps was a home for a lot of that.
Dan Runcie [00:38:04]:
And it elevated a lot of this too, because there were folks like Ralph McDaniels doing his thing with video Music Box. But I don’t think that a show like that necessarily got the budget or got the level of exposure that, UMTV, raps did. And you see those iconic clips of them with Wutang clan them with other groups that were iconic. He was touched in with the culture in that way. It’s interesting because that show, maybe it was mid 90s when it ended, it was like somewhere around there. But that, I think, kind of highlights a bit of this shift that we started to see with MTV, because you would have them just show music videos, then you had programming that was still directed around showing you music videos, but then you really started to see things shift into other types of content. So I do want to talk about a few of the shows that we have here. I do want to talk about the VMAs, but I want to talk about movies first. And I want to talk about that first because even though MTV wasn’t historically a music channel, they did get into movies. And I think they also influenced movies, maybe even before they got into movies because later in the 80s, you started to see the Brat Pack and all of those movies where now people see the success that you’re able to have with MTV and having music television as the thing that connects this group of people. And now people see that. They say, okay, well, let’s have movies. And that’s where you see all these rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore movies like Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s, Fire, Pretty and Pink, all of that. And then you extend to the next decade where you know your scream and I know you did last summer. And singles reality bites. All of these shows, Cruel Intentions, that also in some ways, some of their scenes feel like music videos in a lot of ways, where you clearly saw that influence there. And then MTV eventually has its own award show. So movie awards start, I think it’s 92 was when they had the first show. And they have all of these awards that clearly line up with the MTV demographic, like Best Kiss and stuff like that. And you start to see a lot of people play into that. So they were wise about the multimedia expansions. And I think a lot of that was how influential it was just from a cultural perspective and then the business just making complete sense to go into.
Zack Greenburg [00:40:28]:
Yeah. And I think the other thing was MTV was very smart about maintaining the sort of edgy ethos to it. And I remember another Fab 530 story he told me that back in the day, I think it was 1988 or 89, and the Grammys had sort of snubbed hip hop per usual. Yomtv Raps hosted a Grammy boycott party and I think Will Smith came in and like Slick Rick and ice Tea and this is in late 80s in La. And Fab told me, all of a sudden this old guy rolls up on a motorcycle and it’s Malcolm Forbes, the owner publisher of Forbes Magazine at the time. And fab’s like, yo, Malcolm Forbes, you know about hip hop? And he’s like, I’ve got the chapter around the verse. I think it kind of emphasized, first of all, how far hip hop had come in terms of being something that MTV actively ignored in this very racist sort of way to being a driving force, like pulling MTV forward and getting the attention of people like Malcolm Forbes within just five years. Right? But not only that, it was a really savvy look for them, especially with the rise of the VMAs as this other kind of like big time awards ceremony to be edgier than the Grammys, to be like the people’s. Version of the Grammys or something, which were increasingly sort of fuddy duddy and old white dudes. Kind of like celebrating each other and overlooking what else was happening in the culture. So, yeah, I think stuff like that really paved the way for the VMAs to have a cultural imprint. And I think it’s too bad that I’ve always thought VMAs was sort of like bad branding for MTV because if they had just called it the MTV Awards, right? Like, now it’s the VMAs, but you don’t get the MTV. The VMA brand might outlast MTV itself. I don’t know. We’ll see.
Dan Runcie [00:42:58]:
So almost like, should they just have combined it? And then if you wanted to add in movies, then add that into the broader show.
Zack Greenburg [00:43:04]:
Yeah, just call it the MTV Awards, like, whatever, right? I mean, and then it could have taken on the you I don’t know. People probably know what BMA stand for, but do they know that it’s an MTV production? I guess you get you get the moon, man. But I don’t know, I think it would have been better for the brand if it had been more directly. It’s also kind of redundant. Like the Music Television Video music Awards give me.
Dan Runcie [00:43:33]:
Yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, I think you still probably could have had two separate shows because I do think it’s helpful for a channel like that as we continue to see today to have two separate ad units that’s like, okay, this is our big things this year, as opposed to just having one. But whether it’s know, Bet Awards is just like, one thing, but Bet has other awards, too, but that still isn’t the Bet Awards or whether it’s Grammys or any of the other things. So, yeah, MTV Awards probably would have made more sense. And with that, I think we should probably just dig into the VMAs a bit more. So this is, of course, the oldest awards show that they have. I believe this year should be the 40th year of the VMAs, if I’m not mistaken. Because if it starts in 1984, this is 2023, I assume that this would be year 40. But with that, it’s interesting to think about this because this show clearly rose in popularity, as you mentioned earlier, starts off with a bang, with Madonna in the wedding Dress with like, a version. And every year it did become this opportunity for people to level up, always consider itself to be a know off center, pushing the boundaries. And that’s something that we continue to see. Do you remember the first time that you sat down and watched a VMAs in the appointment television setting of like, okay, this is what I’m doing tonight. We’re watching the VMAs?
Zack Greenburg [00:44:54]:
I can’t say that I do. It was sort of like oxygen. It was just there. And you don’t remember the first time that you consumed it. But I do think another there are a lot of epic moments in the VMAs. We could talk about Kanye and Taylor Swift in 2009, but I think one pretty funny thing was in one of the earlier VMAs, michael Jackson was kind of getting sick of being called Jacko or the Gloved one. And so he was invited to appear at the VMAs and he said he wouldn’t show up unless MTV said that all of their VJs would start referring to him as the King of Pop exclusively. And this is a name that Elizabeth Taylor allegedly had come up with for him, but maybe he came up with it himself. I don’t know. Anyway, they went along with it, and so the VJs started calling him the King of Pop, and then now he’s the King of Pop. There are always these little concessions that get thrown in at awards shows like this. Whatever ceremonial award is being given, it’s like, what was the behind the scenes horse trading that went on to make it happen? There were a lot of pretty creative ones, right?
Dan Runcie [00:46:18]:
We even still see this today, where last year I’m pretty sure this was last year taylor Swift comes to the VMAs. And at this point, Taylor Swift doesn’t need to come to the VMAs. But you can clearly read between the lines and they say, okay, we’re going to award you video of the year. I forget the video that she had won for, but we’re going to award you Video of the year. And she uses that as her opportunity to be on stage and announce that she’s going to drop midnight. So it was the perfect moment for her. But she’s not going to show up at that award show and not know and leave it up to chance if she’s going to win or not. And it’s interesting that’s the kind of stuff that could happen at the VMAs that I don’t think really happens at the Oscars or things like that, maybe at some other award shows. But yeah, so that’s something that I’ve kept in mind there. But one of the things that I think about as well, I mean, from a ratings perspective, this show clearly peaked 2010, 2011. Whenever, like, Gaga either showed up in the meat dress or the egg, that’s when the ratings were the highest. I want to say they were getting over 10 million viewers for it. And for a cable show broadcast, that’s pretty high, especially in that era, maybe a college football bowl game and like a few other things were getting that many ratings for a cable broadcast, but it was doing pretty well then from that perspective. And yeah, they were able to capture the zeitgeist. I think back to shows like 1999, that VMAs, I feel like that was really when you caught TRL at its ultimate peak and stuff. And I remember as a viewer there, this is why the first time that I picked up the difference between, as you mentioned earlier, how the VMAs may vote on things versus how the Grammys may vote on things. And it was a big year for like, backstreet boys, Limp Bizkit, Brittany and Sync and all those kinds of bands. But when it came to the Grammys, it was Santana and Rob Thomas, that smooth song, and Santana Supernatural album, and that album just taken over and sweeping the Grammys and stuff. And that’s when you realize that, oh, yeah, the Grammys, that’s more about the Clive Davis group and that whole machinery, and the VMAs is more about the Carson Daley group and that whole machinery. And that was probably the youngest that I realized. I was like, okay, these are two very different.
Zack Greenburg [00:48:44]:
I think, you know, interestingly VMAs have been kinder to hip hop over the years than the Grammys have, which isn’t really saying much, but I think that’s also a divided line. When you think about where MTV was even in the late 80s with the onto your raps and the Grammy boycott party and all that stuff, versus the Grammys still having this big problem acknowledging hip hop that has only kind of started to get better in the past couple of years.
Dan Runcie [00:49:16]:
Right, agreed. And you’ve been to the VMAs, right?
Zack Greenburg [00:49:19]:
Yeah, I’ve been to both. I’ve been to the Grammys a lot. I’ve only been to VMAs once, but I was writing the story about Normani, and so she was performing, and so I went out, I was sort of backstage with her team, and her publicist was like, do you want to go sit in Normani’s seats? We can go sit in Normani’s seats because she’s not going to be using them because she’s performing. I was like, all right, sure. So we sit down, and DJ Khaled comes in and sits in front of me. Taylor Swift walks down the aisle, is sitting a few rows away, and Gigi and Bella Hadid are, like, over the know, it’s like everybody’s kind of sitting down. I’m like, okay, this is pretty interesting. And then the lights go down, lizzo comes on, and basically, whatever’s next happens, there’s still this empty seat next to me. I’m wondering who’s going to sit down. All of a sudden, in comes Lizzo, and she’s in this enormous pink tutu, and she just sits down the seat next to me, like, oh, hey, I’m Zach from Forbes. I was working at Forbes at the time, and she’s, hey, you know, I don’t have anywhere near enough money to make it onto your list, and we kind of had a laugh about that. But she’s, like, sitting down in this enormous tutu, and it’s sort of, like, flowing over my entire body, and I’m just immersed by her tutu. And so Lizzo, this is when she had just gotten onto the scene and was sort of, like, at the very center of the you know, she was up for a bunch of wars as they kept cutting to her on TV. And I just remember when I got home, my wife was like, was Lizzo sitting in your lap at the VMX because her tutu was sort of I looked like my head was kind of like poking over her shoulder like a parrot or something. But it looked like she had just totally enveloped me. And this was like a very OD experience. Anyway, that’s my VMA story. But no, I don’t know. Have you ever been to the VMAs of Grammys?
Dan Runcie [00:51:34]:
I have not. But if we weren’t recording a podcast, I’d pause to be like, hey, I’m going to get back to you right now. I’m going to go watch this video to go see exactly what this happened. So maybe I’ll do that after.
Zack Greenburg [00:51:48]:
There were like a bunch of friends were doing sort of like screen grabs and circling my face and tagging me on Instagram. So it’s probably somewhere I’m zogblog on Instagram. It’s probably somewhere way back in there. But I really do, like, from certain angles, it’s just sort of like my disembodied head floating on her shoulder. I mean, it really looks like you copied and pasted me, but there I was.
Dan Runcie [00:52:16]:
Do you have more fun attending the VMAs or the Grammys?
Zack Greenburg [00:52:20]:
Oh, the VMAs were way more fun because I didn’t have to cover them at the time. It was sort of just like context for an eventual story. So it was mostly just getting color for that piece on Normani and talking to her backstage. And then I could really sort of sit out in the crowd and enjoy the know, they’re great performances, and you get to really take them, you know, at the Grammys, though, if you’re going to cover the Grammys, you get seated in the back in the press room in this sort of sweaty, windowless corner of the Staples Center or whatever it’s called now. And you watch everything on closed circuit TV and you bang out stories. But it’s not very glamorous if that’s sort of what you’re into. The one cool thing about covering the Grammys, I would say, is they bring the artists backstage and you do sort of like a mini press conference. And so it’s an easy way to interview people who you might not otherwise be able to interview and sort of just do a whole bunch of interviews at once. But yeah, those were always very long days. And the press corps, we were always too tired to go to any parties after. So it was just like, grab an in n out burger, know, go home, crank out your last story, and go to bed and get up to crank out the next. So yeah, I think that the VMEs were a little more fun.
Dan Runcie [00:53:50]:
Zack Greenburg [00:53:50]:
Although the Grammy week in La. Is always a blast and there’s a lot of interesting stuff to do.
Dan Runcie [00:53:55]:
Agree. Yeah, that’s definitely the pre event that is more interesting. And I feel like it’s interesting now because I feel like from a youth perspective, at least when I was in middle school, high school era, there was much more water cooler. Talk about the VMAs than there ever were. The Grammys. I mean, maybe the year that JLo wore the green dress, the Grammys got a lot more discussion, but outside of that but I think things flip now. I mean, I talked to my cousins who were teenagers and stuff, who love music and there’s much more intrigue in Grammys and those things than there ever are VMAs. But moving on to some of the other program because I know we want to hit a few of these, I think it’s probably a good time to talk about reality TV overall because now, at least in this part of the story, we’re into the is when The Real World starts. And this is where things really start to change for MTV, as I mentioned earlier, they started to see some of that disconnect of if there’s a video that someone doesn’t want to watch, they may change the channel. But the day they put on that pilot episode for The Real World, they said the ratings went up three x compared to what they were showing else before that. And that first season of The Real World in a lot of ways was so iconic. It was a good time capsule for grunge culture and was able to show you things uncut in a way that whether it’s Singles or Reality Bites or 920 or any of these shows that were captured around that area, didn’t quite get in that same kind of way and things took off. And you just started to see the programming shift more and more to that. And one of the things that I thought a lot about with how this change gradually started to happen over time is, I think, in entertainment and content overall, there is a bit of this disconnect between what consumers say they want versus how consumers actually behave. And consumers say they want more music videos. Fans, other people say they want more music videos and want MTV to play more music videos. So when you give them that, they don’t watch it as much as they watch the stuff that they might complain about, which is the reality shows and all of the different derivatives of the dating shows. And Real World Road Rules challenges and eventually Jersey Shore, which ends up being the biggest show that MTV ever had from that perspective. So the ratings are telling you one thing, but the consumers say this and it reminds me of this place that Hollywood has been in for the past 20 plus years where people complain about why doesn’t Hollywood make more original content. Remember when we were growing up, you had Armageddon and all of these other blockbusters that were original IP in the stuff. But when they take risks to make stuff like that, people don’t show up. You know what people show up for? They show up for Spiderman No Way Home, they show up for the IP that’s there in a way that if you remove the IP and kept the story, then you would lose a large percentage of the audience. And MTV did follow the economics. Whether or not people felt like they should or shouldn’t have followed the economics, I think is up for debate on what they feel like the purpose of MTV is. But from a business perspective of giving fans what they want, it reminded me a lot of this debate that we’re seeing in Hollywood.
Zack Greenburg [00:57:13]:
Yeah, no, I think that’s a great way of putting it. And you could argue that it’s the same in journalism, too. Right. Everybody says, I hate clickbait and let’s have more intelligent I hate hot takes. But that’s what people click on. It’s not just clickbait because people know that that’s what it is, but they still click on it. People still click on hot takes. And so I think the news business has moved more toward lists. I mean, certainly I’ve been there at putting out lists of the top earning rappers or whatever it is. I would much rather do an in depth profile of Ludicrous than tell you how much money he’s making. But you want to know how much money he’s making? More than you want an in depth profile of not you, Dan. I think you would want the in depth profile.
Dan Runcie [00:58:04]:
We’re fellow nerds here. That’s why we’re doing maybe.
Zack Greenburg [00:58:07]:
Yeah, but people want that quick hit. People want the information just injected into their veins. People want to know who are the ten most whatever. So I think that’s the same thing with reality TV and it’s like, yeah, consumers can say they want one thing, but their actions lead in another way, and especially in businesses that have been really under pressure from the shift to web based everything like media, like television. You have to follow the money or you’re going to go out of business. Right. And so MTV came under tremendous pressure as time went on because TRL what’s the point of TRL when you have YouTube? And so what’s the point of VJs when you have influencers anyway? I mean, VJs were kind of the first influencers, you could argue, in some ways, just famous for being famous and a lot of the same things that we see on social media influencers. Right. So that whole narrative that we’ve been talking about all episode about MTV being sort of like a proto social media, like social media without the social, like the interactive social part.
Dan Runcie [00:59:26]:
Zack Greenburg [00:59:26]:
I mean, there was a social aspect, like sort of a water cooler, what’s going on in the Zeitgeist thing. But obviously you didn’t have sort of like individual profiles. You couldn’t interact with people in the same way. Yeah, I think that reality TV was sort of like the only place for them to go because you’re not going to be doing the thing that you came there for at again. Right. It’s like MTV is trying to find a way to produce. Something cheaply that a lot of people are going to want to engage reality. Creating reality TV shows is a little more expensive than having record labels give you videos for free, but it’s certainly not as expensive as developing scripted series and things like that. And as it happened, they were really good at, you know, even sort of quasi reality stuff. Know, jackass I don’t know if you’d call that reality or, you know, that that’s obviously not very expensive to produce. I think in a way, MTV kind of led us down this path, but it wasn’t really a great path. It wasn’t a great path by MTV. But what else is MTV going to know as sort of like the traditional model?
Dan Runcie [01:00:47]:
Evaporated right. And I think they leaned into other areas that were tangential to this that proved their cultural influence, too. I remember growing up seeing MTV spring break, well, younger than I ever could have when I ever even go on spring break. And I think even things like that, even though we weren’t watching MTV in college, it still influenced, oh, yeah, let’s go to Cancun. Why? Because you still think about MTV 1997, them going to Cancun or wherever they had went to things like that, just stayed in grade with you. And then MTV also dabbled into animated stuff, whether it was Beavis and Butthead and Daria. That’s another thing where I think those shows I don’t think they cost that much to make, but they were able to capture a zeitgeist, and they were willing to create things that attracted teens. And if it weren’t for those shows and we then see Adult Swim and all of these other channels that came after with all of these more adult leaning cartoons. Granted, I know you had The Simpsons, but I think that still didn’t quite hit that teenage angsty level that I think like Beavis and Butthead or Daria did. And then you also had MTV leaning into politics and things like that. Whether it was Rock the Vote or Diddy really leaning into Vote or Die and things like that. They helped with the Super Bowl programming, obviously. I know this is Rock Nation’s late now, but know, decades ago it used to be MTV. You remember that one that had the matchup of Nellie and Aerosmith and Mary J. Blige and NSYNC? That was an MTV production. So they had their hands in all of these types of things.
Zack Greenburg [01:02:22]:
Yeah. And I think that sort of would have been another pivot for them if they could have stuck the landing on that a little bit better. MTV Presents. MTV is producing this or that. If there was a way that they could have made that more of almost like, I don’t know, MTV presents the Thanksgiving Day Parade or something, a way of bringing youth to things. The Thanksgiving Day Parade is more about really little kids. But MTV presents the Thanksgiving Day Parade like, oh my god, we’re going to have Run DMC and Aerosmith performing on a float underneath Snoopy or something. Just sort of like creative ways to leverage their brand rather than just going all fully down this reality TV path. I think another thing that maybe a better analog or maybe a better comparison that they should have been able to do is if they could have become something like Vice was in Vice’s Heyday. There was definitely a path to do that. I guess Vice’s Heyday is kind of over and there are some problems with Vice, too. But there is a certain youth energy that it could have, I think, brought into the next era. But part of it was that I think they trashed their brand. Right. A lot of these reality shows and clip shows just really it was very low brow, wasn’t cool anymore, and you couldn’t have that kind of edgy vibe of a brand like Vice. And that in turn made doing things like MTV presents the whatever less compelling, less valuable.
Dan Runcie [01:04:14]:
Yeah, I feel like the last moment they had that before it really became just reality and then gearing up for awards shows was that late 90s, early 2000s, like TRL era? Were you a big TRL watcher?
Zack Greenburg [01:04:28]:
Again, it was more of like a thing that I would watch at other kids houses and there was just this sort of element of like, whoa, it’s just this other dimension to music. Right. But I think the TRL thing, the TRL era also overlapped with file sharing. And let’s say it was something that I was interested in early on, and I guess we all were, right?
Dan Runcie [01:05:01]:
But we all did.
Zack Greenburg [01:05:02]:
That was a lot more you could have a yeah, I don’t know. I know there are a lot of music executives who listen to this. I want to be careful. I don’t want somebody chasing me down. But I think Apple deleted all my you know how itunes does that? It just like deletes all your old files anyway, all your old music files, and it replaces them with theirs. I think you couldn’t find any dirt on me anyway at this point. But yeah, no, I mean, TRL is one thing, but if you really wanted to listen to whatever weird music I was listening to at the time, or I remember back in the day, in the late 90s when starting to get into Baltimore, I was really into French, Celtic, rap, stuff like that. I mean, you couldn’t find that on TRL. But I don’t know. What was the first time you saw TRL?
Dan Runcie [01:05:54]:
Yeah, I probably started watching either 98 or 99. I think it debuted in 98 because it was like Backstreet Boys in a corn were like I feel like they were some of the popular videos around then, I think. And then by the end of 1998, you had Brittany’s debut, and I think that was a huge moment. And then in the same way that we were talking about madonna as being probably the biggest artist who I’m not sure where their career would have been without MTV. I think Brittany may have been that for the 2000s where TRL really became her vehicle. I think the boy bands and that whole bubblegum pop era was as well. But I think especially her just given the heights that she was able to reach. And then a couple of years later, we saw it with eminem too, because he’s someone that if there wasn’t MTV and you’re just relying on program directors at radio stations to go promote this person’s music and you’re hoping that dr. Dre’s. Co sign is enough for that. Would eminem have broken out the same way that he was able to? Well, I mean, you kind of saw this in the mid 90s when I think he had that invincible album and things just didn’t quite break through. And I wouldn’t say that he wasn’t not talented as an MC then. So I do think that when I think about the those are two people that I think really lead into and truly benefited from it. And I mean, I know there’s others as well, like your kid rocks, limb biscuits and corn, like the new metal wave and stuff, but just considering the eminem really became the biggest selling artist of the 2000s, he had songs talking about, if I was white, I wouldn’t have as many followers. And I go on TRL, look how many hugs get. Like he was aware of the game. But I think those two probably benefited most from the TRL machine.
Zack Greenburg [01:07:42]:
Yeah, I think that’s a great know as far as who benefited the most from MTV over its grand history, I’d probably still go back to MJ, but really I think that there was a direct benefit for him. I think all their artists benefited indirectly and it became such just sort of like an assumption that it was part of the music scene that you were going to put out videos, that people didn’t even directly trace it to MTV anymore. But when you think of any artist who does a lot of videos, who sort of like video focused, kanye did a lot of, kanye was pretty epic when it came to his video. So you could really put any big video artist as a primary beneficiary of MTV, I think.
Dan Runcie [01:08:32]:
Yeah, I would say so. Especially. We haven’t even mentioned hype williams yet, but I think everything that he did with music videos, the artists that he was working with, missy, timbaland, all of those MTV just enabled this. And going back to the movie tie and the movie belly, which was pretty much an hour and a half music video is stemming from what you were able to do with that and with music videos as well. Even though reality TV was taken off, music videos were having just this big moment, especially in the TRL era. Art. It wasn’t uncommon for a superstar artist to have a music video with a $2 million budget. And they did it because they knew that they were going to make the sale from it. I believe it was like one of those in sync videos. Maybe it’s like, bye bye bye, or it’s going to be me. One of those. I’m pretty sure I was well over a million, maybe close to 2 million. But it ended up being, I think no Strings Attached ended up being the best selling album for 25 years until Adele released that album that wasn’t on streaming initially. 25, that one. So they put the money into it, but they knew that it was there. And obviously you alluded to it earlier with Napster and the decline of the CD era. But MTV was able to withstand some of this because of the reality TV people were still tuning in. So there was this lag where obviously MTV’s decline was coming, but it didn’t decline as quickly as the music industry did because MTV had had the content and the programming that was there that wasn’t reliant on music industry sales the same way that the music industry itself was. So it’s one of those things where I know that’s a common thing that people get frustrated about, where companies will leverage music to grow and then once they become sustainable and the music industry is still trying to find its way, those companies go on to do big things. I think that’s a common thing we’ve heard in Tech over the past 15 years or so. But I do think that definitely lined up with some of the MTV criticism as well.
Zack Greenburg [01:10:39]:
Yeah. And I would add sort of the rise of product placement in music videos as another thing that kind of degraded the product. And as the MTV promotion machine kind of wound down, it wasn’t so clear that music videos were going to be these great drivers of sales for albums and album sales were going down. So that was kind of another problem. But then you still had now this assumption that if you were a big artist, you were going to have a big video. It was sort of a prestige thing. And so in order to make the videos work, you had to have these really egregious product placements in the middle of your videos. And then it kind of began to move a little bit back toward that same corny promotional thing that videos had started out as. And I think that further kind of reduced the emphasis on music videos more broadly. So this kind of vicious cycle began to come into effect. I guess though, to tie it back to hip hop with Beats. I mean, Jimmy Iovine made this edict that every video had to have Beats in know that was coming out on there’s your there’s your product placement. But that was a little bit more tasteful than some of the other was it? There was like some Lady Gaga video and there was an ad for plenty of fish, like some Blatant promotion, plenty of Fish dating site. I don’t know, it got pretty corny and I think really contributed to the demise of the music videos and art form.
Dan Runcie [01:12:12]:
So with that we should fast forward to today. 2023. Ridiculousness is on MTV 20 hours a day.
Zack Greenburg [01:12:21]:
Oh God. Yeah.
Dan Runcie [01:12:22]:
How did we get here?
Zack Greenburg [01:12:23]:
Yeah, if you sort of follow that kind of business model to its logical end, right? I mean it’s raced to the bottom. What’s cheaper than reality TV? Yeah, clip shows. Just like have some dopey clip show and run it over and over and over again. And I think Ridiculous is TV is now it’s like the vast majority of MTV programming. It’s something like wasn’t it like 60% of all hours that MTV is on air? It’s like ridiculousness. Yeah, just dudes hitting themselves in the nuts or something. And I guess people watch it. I guess enough people watch it and it’s cheap enough to produce that they’re doing okay on it. But that’s not a long term plan. And if you want to look at blooper reels, you can always just go online.
Dan Runcie [01:13:25]:
Zack Greenburg [01:13:25]:
I mean it’s the same thing as music videos. So if MTV doesn’t find some other know, the end will be coming. I mean, I kind of don’t see any way around that. Honestly. The brand means something, but who knows what it means anymore. And the core business is gone. And I think it’s just sort of like I don’t know, people still have dial up internet, like some people, a couple of people, and it’s going to go away. The last remaining stragglers. Right? So it’s just like how long are the last few holdouts going to stay that you could eke out a profit running a business like that? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic.
Dan Runcie [01:14:06]:
I think we’re seeing something that is somewhat similar to what we’re also seeing with ESPN to some extent, right? You saw these channels that rose with cable, hit their stride in the they were still doing it and then sure, cord cutting that happened and it’s still happening. They were able to weather the storm to some extent. But between the cord cutting and just the shifting economics in terms of how people consume the main thing that they were known for, it’s now leading us into this thing where you don’t hear as many sale or discussions about MTV. I mean, right now it’s currently under Viacom with a number of other properties. But you’re starting to hear this now with ESPN under Disney. And what is Bob Iger going to do? Will they sell it to Apple? Apple clearly wants to all of these things, and I think the same way that you saw it with them, the same way that you saw it with Sports Illustrated, with print magazines decades earlier, these iconic brands that mean so much in culture and entertainment that lock themselves to the medium as opposed to being a bit more broad. Beyond that, I think it’s only a handful of companies that have really been able to withstand several different mediums and still be successful outside of the broadcast channels and places like that. But I do think that MTV has suffered a bit of that fate. But even within that, I still feel like there are certain challenges because of course, ESPN in some ways is very different because just the cost structure is so different where they’re trying to get live sports rights. And that is a very expensive business and you obviously need a certain amount of revenue both with carriage fees and with advertisers to justify that. But on MTV, obviously, it’s a very ridiculously cheap product to make. I mean, the most expensive, maybe what they’re paying Rob Jerdeck, and we could get into that in a minute. But they have this show which they’re essentially showing the type of stuff you see on House of Highlights. Not the sports content, but like the blooper reel types of stuff. You’re having these celebrities come through and then give their commentary on it. That’s cheap to make. But then I read some interview where they had interviewed the people that are currently leading MTV now, and their thought was like, okay, well, the people that are watching cable now, it’s an older audience. They want a bit more of that comfort food, and they’re not against showing them the same thing over and over, all day long. And that I do agree with because you look at other channels, other shows, even ESPN, as strong as it still is, all right, the day after, all of the programs are pretty much designed after, okay, what happened yesterday? Let’s talk about it. And we have rotating heads, different formats, but that’s roughly what it is. And even shows like Bravo or E and some of these other reality networks that they do show the same shows over and over, whether you’re seeing Real Housewives back to back, you’re seeing Below Deck or Shahs of Sunset, all of these other shows that are quite popular. That then makes me think, though, that I looked at the ratings with it. Bravo, which is a relatively newer show compared to MTV, is getting at least twice as many viewers regularly than MTV is. And Bravo primarily relies on reality TV shows, whether it’s The Housewives and some of the other ones I mentioned. That should be from a pure business perspective, that should be what MTV is, at least having some foothold in the fact that they kicked off everything with these reality TV shows with Real World and then now other channels are now doubling their viewers essentially because they learned from what MTV did. It’s like, I get it. It’s hard to have the same cultural music zeitgeist when you’re a cable channel. But people are watching cable to catch up with all of that Bravo content, that kind of stuff. When you mix in some of the flavor of love and some of the stuff the love and hip hop that’s been on VH one that should be on MTV because a lot of the audience, especially a lot of the Women that Would watch MTV 20 Years ago, a lot of them are now watching Bravo and E. And I Feel Like that could have been if you’re going to say, okay, what could succeed in cable television in 2023 that MTV Realistically Could have done? I feel like that could have checked that box.
Zack Greenburg [01:18:22]:
Yeah, that’s true. But I think when you sort of hitch yourself to a generic wagon, maybe I’m mixing my metaphors, but reality TV, there’s no reason why you would go to MTV over anywhere else for reality TV. Sure they could be doing more of it and more of the music related stuff, but it’s not like a medium that any one channel really owns or that it’s like reality TV is reality TV wherever it is. And there’s nothing that differentiates MTV anymore when it comes to that. So music television, you want music, you want to watch music videos, the only place you can do it is MTV. And they just, I don’t think ever really figured out what to do once you could find music videos everywhere on the internet.
Dan Runcie [01:19:15]:
And I agree with that. I think that that worked so well for them in the early days when they had the brand. It was something unique. They were able to do that. But even today where I think even if you look at ESPN being still, despite nostalgia, one of the more successful cable networks, or if you want to throw in the politics news channels, what else could they do now that would make business sense just given where the business is today?
Zack Greenburg [01:19:40]:
Yeah, I have no idea. I think we could get into the missed opportunity section, what they could have been doing but it’s too late now and I think they missed their chance to start a social network or have mean I guess when YouTube was starting I don’t know, to really try to compete with YouTube, buy YouTube, whatever you know what I mean? And for that to be like in other words, if they could have found a way that you can go to MTV.com and watch videos and if that would have become sort of like the milieu through which people watch videos online, then that would have been a great business. But they didn’t do it and now they’re just kind of this race to the bottom.
Dan Runcie [01:20:34]:
So Google buys YouTube, I think it was 2006 for a billion dollars. Could Viacom have done.
Zack Greenburg [01:20:44]:
It’S probably out of MTV’s price range by then. But could they have bought YouTube earlier on? Could they have started a competitor to YouTube? You got to think also they had such a head start where there were takedown notices and don’t forget. Right? Like, it took a while before the music industry could kind of get on board with YouTube and figure out what’s a fair I guess people use YouTube to listen to music more than they use it to watch music anyway. But MTV had these great relationships with the labels. Don’t you think they could have found a they could have preempted YouTube in many ways. I don’t just I think that would have been a logical path, but they know never really did it. I mean, if Netflix could pivot from physical DVDs being sent to your house to streaming, why couldn’t you know more toward doing something online? But I think it was probably one of those situations where they’re like, we don’t want to cannibalize we put it online? Nobody’s going to watch the TV channel, blah, blah, blah. And then they just watch the opportunity go to know there’s still a path for nostalgia. Right? I mean, there’s a big market for nostalgia. We’re doing an MTV episode right now. And so I guess the brand of MTV is still valuable to certain generation nostalgia stuff. But I don’t know, man, it’s a rough moment.
Dan Runcie [01:22:27]:
Netflix’s Pivot, I think is a good example. Granted, I do think that they probably had the flexibility because they were a independent company. I know they tried to get bought by Blockbuster. Blockbuster wasn’t interested, but they were an independent company. And the fact that MTV was under Viacom, they were already within the cable network complex where this is the business we’re in, and we’re going to run this cash cow as long as we can. And that’s just kind of what the higher ups do. And that’s kind of the same thing that we’ve seen and we’ve talked about in some of the record label conversations we’ve had, right? What makes a cash money different from a Def Jam? And you think about some of the decisions that a company like Def Jam has where it’s like great brand, but the minute that you’re wholly owned or majority owned by the broader powers that be, you do become engulfed in that. And it’s kind of harder to make those distinct differences. And I feel like that’s what we’re seeing here a bit now with MTV.
Zack Greenburg [01:23:28]:
I just go back to if you see a reality show, there’s no way you don’t really care what network it comes on. You don’t go to a certain network expecting the best reality. You tune in because you want to watch the show, not because of something more related to the network. I think in journalism you see that too, right? If there are very few brands where you go to that publication’s website just to see what’s going on. I mean, the New York Times for me would probably be it. Or if you’re a music person, maybe you go to Billboard or Rolling Stone or something. But I think most publications are fighting for viewers with that clickbait, what’s the splashy headline, what’s going to get to the top of the Google results? And it doesn’t really matter what the front door looks like. You’re fighting for people to come in through other areas, but it’s a much better business if you can have everybody come in the front door, and MTV just doesn’t have that anymore.
Dan Runcie [01:24:29]:
Agreed? Agreed. Yeah. So we talked through some of the missed opportunities there. Did you have any others?
Zack Greenburg [01:24:38]:
Yeah, an MTV branded social network. An MTV YouTube an MTV TikTok Right. These are all companies that came up while MTV was around and had a little bit of money. I don’t know, partnerships. Even if you couldn’t clone the thing or buy the thing, you could have I don’t know, is there an MTV TikTok partnership that would have sort of elevated MTV? Could you have had done some sort of almost syndication deal with influencers where you bring some of their stuff to MTV? I mean, maybe there is something like that. I don’t know. It’s so off the radar these days. There were ways to stay on the radar, and I think there are just so many missed opportunities, I’m not sure I could pinpoint a single one.
Dan Runcie [01:25:36]:
Yeah, I agree with all of those. And then I think, similarly, do you have a dark horse move? Well, I guess it probably is similarly because the dark horse is more so something that they did that is under discussed, but something that MTV did that doesn’t get talked about enough today.
Zack Greenburg [01:25:51]:
I don’t know that it’s a dark horse move, but I do think Jersey Shore, as much as I’ve been shitting on reality TV here, I kind of hate reality TV, but I really was pretty addicted to Jersey Shore because to me, if you are watching reality, like, you want it to be the least amount of thinking involved. Right? If you want to be entertained in that way, you don’t want to have to think at all. And Jersey Shore is just the perfect guilty pleasure. I remember when it first came on, it was probably like 2009, something like that. So it was way after the MTV heyday, but that show is huge, and it made, like, pretty enormous stars out of Snooki and DJ Polyd and some others. I don’t know if it’s a dark horse, but how about this my dark horse? How about DJ Polly D? The Music Network puts out a reality show and this guy becomes a DJ, right? I mean, I remember DJ Polly D one year when I was doing my list of top earning DJs for Forbes, he made something like $10 million, and a lot of it was from Jersey Shore, but a lot of it was also from him going out and getting paid, like, 50 grand a show in Vegas or wherever. And I think he was all right, but 50 grand a show. That’s like what Quest Club was getting at the time. In a funny way, MTV did create a music star, even way after its heyday of creating creating but elevating music stars. There was DJ Polyd kind of doing his thing. And I think out of all of them, he has sort of the most sustainable career because I don’t know that any of them could go out and get that much money just for an appearance. And he’s certainly been able to do that pretty nicely.
Dan Runcie [01:27:54]:
Jersey Shore was brilliant. There’s no other way to say mean, even though it was technically after MTV’s heyday, it was the highest rated show that they’ve ever had and it really wasn’t even that close. It’s pretty impressive. And yeah, those numbers are wild. That’s like Calvin Harris at Wet Republic numbers. Maybe not anymore, but like when he first started, that’s insane.
Zack Greenburg [01:28:20]:
Oh, yeah. I think now he’s getting like seven figures.
Dan Runcie [01:28:23]:
Yeah, for sure. My dark horse move is how they position everything with VJs and making that its own thing. Because I think now you see with companies like whether it’s Barstool or whether it’s The Ringer, other places that really put effort into making its media personalities become either personalities or stars that the people want to follow in their own right, whether it’s independent or in conjunction with the actual programming. That was a really good thing on them because I think that even you take shows like TRL, like people remember what it was like with Carson Daley or someone like an Ananda Lewis or Dave Holmes who had been there for years. Them doing that, I think, was an earlier version of what we’re now seeing, where people talk about, oh, you need to make your writers and your journalists be personalities. I’m sure that you probably had or there’s probably discussions about this at Forbes and places like that as well, like that you’ve worked. But yeah, that was one of the things where I said, okay, they’re not just having these people know voices to say whatever they are, but you do get to see a little bit more personality, some uniqueness as well. And that’s something that stuck out in the early days. And yeah, as you mentioned, Polly D, even though he wasn’t a traditional VJ, someone having the platform from MTV being able to go in, do their own thing.
Zack Greenburg [01:29:49]:
Yeah, I’m kind of surprised too that there weren’t more musicians, sort of like washed up musicians who didn’t have anything better to do, but who were still big names kind of coming back and being VJs and maybe they thought it was beneath them or something. But I think that would have been an interesting way of integrating music into MTV a little more directly. But probably they would have wanted way more money than whatever anonymous VJ came and then that they made the know. And I guess we saw this with ESPN a little. Bit too. It’s like, you know, if you’re the right kind of place, you can hire somebody for pretty cheap and then make them into a star. And then eventually they become too expensive for you and they go do their own thing. And then you can just kind of keep creating stars. And there’s probably a better business model know luring some name to attach to your shows.
Dan Runcie [01:30:41]:
It’s a good point because we saw in ESPN how expensive this right. Like part of the thing is like okay, why would you fire Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson from NBA and ESPN? Well they got expensive is essentially the water cooler discussion. And I think you saw this on other networks to some extent. Like Bow wow was a host on 106 and park and he also was someone who benefited from having his music videos on 106 and park several years earlier. But you didn’t see as much of this on MTV. I’m sure someone listening could probably share a few things that probably missing off the top of the head, but yeah, you didn’t quite see as much there. And I think it would have made perfect sense and yeah, they probably would have required a lot of money. But I’m sure that there’s just so many levels of starters, especially all the one hit wonders that MTV had birthed in places like that. Like having those people come in, they would have been more affordable and they clearly saw the impact of the platform. So I guess before we wrap things up, who do you think won the most from yeah, let’s start with the first question. Who do you think won the most from know?
Zack Greenburg [01:31:51]:
I was going to say Michael Jackson, and I think that’s a fair way of putting it. However, I’m going to go with the hot take. All right, here we go. I’m going to say taylor Swift. I’m going to say that Taylor Swift from that moment at the VMAs, and I actually did a thing on this Forbes, I mean, if you chart her annual earnings from that moment in 2009 through today, I mean, it’s just like a rocket ship taking off. Would Taylor Swift have become Taylor Swift even if she hadn’t been interrupted by Kanye at the VMAs? I’m sure she would have. But that moment of Taylor and Kanye at the can, we can do a whole episode on that, right, on what it means and sort of like obviously Kanye shouldn’t have done it, but the backlash was really disproportionate and I think deeply racist and whatever, we can get into that. But the fact is that Taylor Swift emerged from this as know, suddenly one of the there’s such a wave of goodwill for Taylor Swift. Like poor Taylor Swift. This terrible thing happened to her and I think made her so appealing in the mainstream and made her such a superstar. Not that she wasn’t a star already, but a mainstream superstar in a way that she wasn’t at the mean. Kanye west was a much bigger star than Taylor Swift was at the time, and I think that it elevated her on a national international stage in just a way that was very positive for her, even though the episode was not fun for her. I’m sure it just a wave of sympathy and positive feeling that really helped, I think, hasten her rise to superstardom. So I’m going to go Taylor Swift. How about that?
Dan Runcie [01:33:40]:
It’s a hot take, and I agree with you that I think she still would have been a star without it. But I do want to highlight the broader thesis of what you said, which is, I think sometimes people underestimate the impact that scandal drama, gossip can play on an artist, even a superstar’s career. You brought up Taylor. I’ll also mention Beyonce because the fanfare and the fandom of Beyonce from when the elevator incident happened with her and Jay Z in 2014, leading up until her dropping Lemonade, that album was a huge hit. But people would be lying to themselves if they didn’t at least say part of listening to that album is okay, what is she going to say about all this shit that has been happening and that people have been talking about rumors for the past two years? Because from Three, Bonie and Clyde up until the elevator incident, this was like, oh, you never hear anything about this couple. They’re off doing their own thing, they get married secretly and stuff like that. And I mentioned that because I think even with the most talented superstars, these are two of the biggest stars that we’ve ever seen in music. Whether it’s that incident with Taylor, any of the continued Kanye drama with Kim Kardashian and the famous song Know, songs about ex boyfriends and things like that, all of those things play into what makes people intrigued. And sometimes that may get casual fans to become real fans, and I think even more so with Taylor recently. Whether know the Scooter Braun breaking ticketmaster, anything that provides these opportunities to have your fans rally around you helps give you that boost. It’s not the only thing. There’s plenty of other factors. But I’m glad you mentioned it because I think that those things in general play a bigger factor than I think even the diehards of the industry like to give it credit for.
Zack Greenburg [01:35:33]:
Yeah, and I do think her first moment like that was 2019. Yeah, maybe we’ll do an episode just on that.
Dan Runcie [01:35:43]:
So mine is another hot take of who I think benefited most from MTV and that’s Rob Durdeck. This man has, okay, dominated this network for almost two decades now. So just hear me out for a second. Robin big starts in 2006. They have their run, they do their thing. And then after that you have Rob Deirdek’s Fantasy Factory. But around this time, he starts to be a producer and a co creator of these shows. So he’s now getting equity stakes in these shows and points on everything. And he also has a stake in Ridiculousness Too, the show that is responsible for 60% of MTV itself. And he has spun it up into having these different ventures where he’s selling this and that. And the same way that a content creator, like whether you take like a Logan Paul or something like that, has been doing their things directly off of YouTube and hoping for the brand placements and all of that money. Rob’s been doing this on MTV, so he’s getting the MTV money, and he’s also still doing his own product placements through all of these shows because he wrote it into his contract that way. So despite the decline that MTV has largely had in the Rob Durdeck era, this man has cleaned up that cash cow and is still continuing to do so. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up on a Forbes list at some point.
Zack Greenburg [01:37:07]:
I think that’s a great one because I don’t see Know being as successful as he was otherwise. It’s not like Taylor Swift where I think it was going to happen anyway. So I think that’s a great take.
Dan Runcie [01:37:18]:
Yeah. All right. Who do you think lost the most? I know that’s a bit of a weird frame, but yeah. Do you think anyone lost?
Zack Greenburg [01:37:26]:
Well, keeping with my Kanye and Taylor thing, I’m going to go with Kanye. How about, you know, on the one hand, Kanye did go on to be a billionaire after that, so it kind of pokes a hole in my argument. But then he also became not a billionaire. I really do think that that whole episode and sort of just like the magnitude of the backlash, I think it totally changed him. And I think that it made him paranoid and sort of fundamentally, I don’t know, negative in his outlook at the world and what might happen, which I think I could kind of understand. I also think that he was basically exiled for, like, a couple of years. He did come back from that to create My Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy, which I think is the best album of this millennium, personally. So that’s great. I’m not really doing a good job of selling my argument that he was the biggest lizard, but no, I think that it fundamentally altered his world outlook in a way that contributed to his downfall. Obviously, there’s a lot of other stuff involved in that and mental health issues and certainly his own demons. And look, if you’re putting out anti Semitic statements, if you’re trashing any group of people, whether you’re dealing with mental health issues or not, that’s just, like, absolutely unacceptable. So there are a lot of other factors at play. But I do think that it sort of shook him to his core in a way that continued reverberating long beyond that 2009 VMA moment.
Dan Runcie [01:39:18]:
I get it. I think that his mother passing and then this VMAs happening, I think maybe two years after or something like that. Those are probably the two biggest catalysts.
Zack Greenburg [01:39:30]:
Yeah, those are the two big, like.
Dan Runcie [01:39:32]:
Oh shit, what’s going to happen? Granted, we obviously know that pain makes art. And from things that I’m sure we’ve both read and listened to, there is a direct corollary to the VMA incident and some of the inspiration that leads to My Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy. So yeah, it is this ironic thing where obviously he had success after that. Plenty of commercial success, plenty of household hits, but wasn’t necessarily the old ever ever.
Zack Greenburg [01:40:02]:
I mean, I think old Kanye died at the in a way, in a best I think Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy was his best album. And you could also argue that Jesus was artistically more challenging and more of a statement than anything old Kanye put out either. But in terms of just his success as a mainstream superstar, old Kanye, I mean, man, we could go through the catalog, but that was stuff that everybody could get into, just about everybody. So I think it definitely took them in a different direction, for better or worse.
Dan Runcie [01:40:47]:
Mine is a vague who lost the most, but artists that were either, to be blunt, A, not visually appealing in their appearance, their vibe, or artists that just didn’t play the game. I think there were a lot of artists who were quite talented in the 90s but just didn’t lean into the whole TRL thing. And if they didn’t have that, then they either hoped that the musicologists had their back. Right. I think about artists like Cheryl Crow, for instance. She has All I Want to do saw she had a few hits in the 90s, but I don’t think she ever really hit that MTV era. This was around the time when you kind of saw the country pop crossovers and stuff, but I don’t think she was ever really willing to do that. So I feel like kind of got a bit lost in the mix. There still a successful career, but whether it was that or know, like black artists before Michael Jackson, hip hop artists before Yomtv, raps that just didn’t get the same breakthroughs. But yeah, those are probably the ones that I would say lost the most. And then maybe similarly, some of the artists today that have tried their antics, I probably would have made them as big as Madonna if they did them in 1984. But they’re trying to do it now and shock value just kind of falls flat in the age of instagram TikTok and all of the content channels we have now.
Zack Greenburg [01:42:10]:
Yeah, it’s a good point about artists maybe like Billy Joel who didn’t have the look, or Bob Dylan who didn’t care. Maybe I think Billy Joel didn’t really care either. And maybe Bob Dylan didn’t have the look either. I don’t know, but they didn’t continue to have the sort of commercial success that the Rolling Stones did. Mick Jagger was happy to go on and do all this stuff, and obviously Bob Dylan and Joel still, you know, sell records and can tour and sell out an arena, but they’re nowhere as financially successful as the Stones are anymore.
Dan Runcie [01:42:42]:
Zack Greenburg [01:42:42]:
And haven’t been for decades. Right.
Dan Runcie [01:42:44]:
Agreed. All right. Anything else at MTV before we close this out?
Zack Greenburg [01:42:50]:
I think that’s all I had. Yeah, that was a really fun know to go from the Jackie Robinson of music videos of MJ to Lizzo sitting in my lap to, like, reality TV. I think we covered it all.
Dan Runcie [01:43:06]:
I think we covered it all, too. So I don’t know about you. I don’t want to log off and just go watch some ridiculousness for the rest of the day.
Zack Greenburg [01:43:12]:
Oh, God, let’s go veg out on the couch for the rest of our lives. All right.
Dan Runcie [01:43:18]:
Thanks again, man. Appreciate it.
Zack Greenburg [01:43:20]:
Thanks for having me, Dan.
Dan Runcie [01:43:24]:
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