I need to stop watching MTV.
Late last night I was sitting on my couch next to my roommate. We were sharing a pizza and channel surfing, and we landed on an MTV2 segment about a coming backlash against pop music. They named this backlash as the rock/rap fusion exhibited by bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, using interviews with Kid Rock, Perry Farrell, Green Day, Marilyn Manson, Billy Corgan, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others. A rerun of a feature originally aired by MTV at the end of 1999, this was the program that originally caused me to write my rant about seeing the fnords on MTV, nearly two years ago.
The program ended and I changed the channel from MTV2 back to MTV. My roommate looked over in surprise. "I thought we were watching MTV before," he said.
I shrugged and changed the channel again. "No, that was MTV2. MTV doesn't ever play music videos any more, except on TRL. MTV is playing a Real World marathon or something right now."
"Damn. I thought MTV2 only played music videos. If that's true, then why did they just finish playing a one hour feature about the resurgence of rock music?"
"Actually, that was a rerun. The other thing MTV2 does is rerun a lot of old stuff from MTV. Music is still the channel's focus, but it hasn't been all videos all the time for a while now."
We continued watching television in silence for a minute or two. Slowly I remembered what had inspired my fnords rant the winter before last. I told my roommate, "Actually, all of my best writing on the Internet is about how much I hate MTV."
He took another pull from his beer. "Viacom's a motherfucker, man."
After that, it didn't feel like we had much more to say.
Actually, I don't watch MTV much anymore, because I get very angry about the state of popular music every time I watch MTV, VH1, or MTV2. I wish I could say that this is a new situation for me, but it isn't. I've been like this for a long time now, and it's getting worse, not better. These days, I need a fifth of rye whiskey just to get through an hour of music videos without stripping down to boxer shorts and a cowboy hat and shouting profanities at my TV screen. I try to avoid this behavior, because my neighbors don't much like it and it terrifies my roommate. So, most of the time it's just easier to turn off the television.
I'm very conflicted in my feelings about MTV. On the one hand, I respect the MTV Video Music Awards a hell of a lot more than I respect the Grammys, but on the other hand, I blame MTV for the ascendancy of pop music in today's recording industry.
I know blaming them for the popularity of pop music is unfair. I know that the artists, the audiences, and the record labels are all complicit in it, and that the formula we see on MTV today is a natural result of the way we spend our money. What MTV does to maintain the status quo isn't so much corrupt as it is pathetic. What's popular has nothing to do with what the people playing the videos like, just like it has nothing to do with what the record executives and adult consumers like. It's about how fifteen year olds are spending their money. And today's fifteen year olds like what they like, partly because of their parents, because of their older brothers and their older sisters. They grew up in houses playing metal, playing grunge, playing alternative rock and gangsta rap. Just as a slightly older generation latched onto those musical styles as a backlash against the disco of the seventies and the pop of the eighties, today's adolescent generation has latched onto boy bands and girl power and Latin sensations and teen idols as a backlash against the angst and cynicism of their older siblings.
These kids stayed at home and watched their big brothers set fire to Woodstock '99. They remember the candlelight vigils for Kurt Cobain. They saw gangsta rap die with Biggie and Tupac. They saw Columbine live on CNN. And they wanted no part in any of it.
And so I try not to blame MTV, but it still all comes back to them. Because we had after-school specials and Disney cartoons, but our younger brothers and sisters have Pokemon and Total Request Live. Carson Daly comes out for an hour or two every day and tells our kids who it's okay to love. And Carson Daly speaks for MTV, and MTV speaks for the record labels. It seems like the music industry made a collective decision a little more than five years ago that it was easier to market bubblegum, Carson Daly, and Gideon Yago than it was to market angst and Matt Pinfield. That music didn't need to be serious any more, because serious artists sue their record labels, go six years between albums, kill each other in drivebys, and shoot themselves. That if we couldn't have any more twenty album, multi-decade juggernauts, then we should build shorter life cycles for rock stars into the expectations of our next audience.
It's been five years of the Spice Girls and Destiny's Child, of Ricky Martin and boy bands, of Britney and Christina, J'Lo and Puffy and Aaron and Jessica and Mandy and Pink and 'Lil Bow Wow. MTV does their periodic features about the cyclic nature of pop music, their vague threats about the coming apocalypse of electronica and ska and swing and rock/rap hybrid super-bands, but all those features only have one message between them: record companies, you'd better keep paying us our fucking money or we're going to take away your gravy train. We're going to teach children that cute and disposable are bad things, that soft is only okay if it means something. We're going to put them in touch with all that anger and bitterness that their big brothers and sisters have, and there's going to be nothing for it except for you to go back to the real artists that you've shunned in favor of the cheap and manufactured crap you've been forcing down everyone's throats for years.
That's the message MTV occasionally sends. They send it, and when the record labels hear it, they're afraid. They pay their money, and MTV plays what they're paid to play.
And here I sit. The living room is dark except for the flickering blue light coming from the television screen. As it flashes, it illuminates me, here on my sofa in my boxers and a cowboy hat. Pan to the right, then down to my clenched fist, and there it is, my trusty bottle of Wild Turkey Rye. clenched in my fist. It's almost empty now, and when it's gone, I'm going to start cursing at the TV screen again. Before that happens, I need to shut everything down. I need to go into my bedroom. I need to read a book, I need to play some music that I'll never again hear on the radio, that I'll never again see on television. I need to stop watching MTV.