This week, Billboard is celebrating MTV’s 40th anniversary. The channel, which launched on Aug. 1, 1981, had an enormous impact on the music business. It quite possibly represented the biggest shake-up of the established order since the Beatles-led British Invasion of 1964.
Today, we’ll look at eight times MTV’s impact was seen at awards shows in the 1980s.
January 1982: Just five months after MTV went on the air, two early MTV favorites, Go-Go’s and Adam & the Ants, were nominated for best new artist at the 24th annual Grammy Awards. They lost to a more traditional Grammy choice, pop singer Sheena Easton. But MTV faves continued to be nominated in the category. The following year, Human League, Men at Work and Stray Cats were nominated. (Men at Work won.) The year after that, all five best new artist nominees were MTV favorites: Big Country, Culture Club, Eurythmics, Men Without Hats and Musical Youth. (Culture Club won and accepted the award live via satellite from London. Boy George offered up this zinger: “Thank you America. You’ve got taste, style and you know a good drag queen when you see one.”)
Feb. 28, 1984: Donna Summer opened the 26th annual Grammy Awards with a busy, conceptual performance of her smash “She Works Hard for the Money.” It was one of the first awards show performances that was clearly influenced by MTV. Other MTV-style performances on that show: Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feelin’.” This was the show where Michael Jackson became the first artist in Grammy history to win eight awards in one night – a sweep that was fueled by his mastery of music videos. It’s interesting that he elected not to perform on the show. Perhaps he correctly foresaw that the focus would be on him the entire night even without his performing.
April 9, 1984: The Irene Cara smash “Flashdance…What a Feelin’” won the 1983 Academy Award for best original song. Flashdance, starring Jennifer Beals, has often been described, by both fans and detractors, as an extended MTV video. “Take My Breath Away,” which won three years later, and its parent film Top Gun, also show the influence of MTV. Giorgio Moroder composed both of these songs.
Sept. 14, 1984: MTV launched its own awards show, the MTV Video Music Awards, which, at its peak, was buzzier, especially with younger viewers, than the Grammys. Three of the first four VMA winners for video of the year (Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”) were Grammy-nominated for record of the year, suggesting that the more established show was paying attention. The highlight of the first show was Madonna’s performance of “Like a Virgin,” during which she famously writhed around on the floor in a wedding dress. You would never see that on the Grammys — which was entirely the point. The jaw-dropping sequence set the standard for future pop awards show performances. If you wanted to be buzzed about the next day, it was no longer enough to merely re-create the hit. An awards show performance had to be an event in its own right.
Jan. 28, 1985: Not content with giving out three video awards, as they had the previous year, the American Music Awards gave out 12 awards for videos, which was nearly half of the 27 total awards presented that year. They gave out best video and best male video artist, best female video artist and best band/duo/group video artist in each of the three genres the show focused on back then – pop/rock, soul/R&B and country. Lionel Richie’s “Hello” won favorite video in both pop/rock and soul/R&B; Anne Murray’s “A Little Good News” won favorite video in country. The AMAs repeated this in each of the next two years. It may seem excessive — OK, it was excessive — but it shows how much the industry wanted to show that it was on the video bandwagon.
Feb. 26, 1985: In his acceptance speech for album of the year for Can’t Slow Down at the 27th Grammy Awards, Richie doesn’t mention any of the songwriters or musicians or label executives he worked with, but instead reserved his thanks for the two directors who helmed the videos for the album’s hit singles — Bob Giraldi (who directed “Hello,” “Running With the Night” and “Penny Lover”) and Bob Rafelson (who directed “All Night Long (All Night)”). Again, it’s a sign of how dominant videos were in that era.
May 6, 1985: Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” won video of the year at the 20th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, as country awards shows got in on the act. Williams’ video also won in that category at the CMA Awards five months later.
Summer 1985: Miami Vice (famously pitched as “MTV cops”) was nominated for 15 Emmys, including outstanding drama series, in its first season on NBC. Composer Jan Hammer received a nod for outstanding achievement in music composition for a series (dramatic underscore). The soundtrack album, which featured hits by Tina Turner and Peter Gabriel, among others, topped the Billboard 200 for 11 weeks, surpassing Henry Mancini’s The Music from Peter Gunn as the longest-lasting No. 1 TV soundtrack in chart history.
MTV continued to impact awards shows even after the 1980s. Two albums that were recorded for the channel’s Unplugged series – Eric Clapton’s Unplugged (1992) and Tony Bennett’s MTV Unplugged (1994) – won Grammys for album of the year.