Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I Want My MTV YouTube

Beloit College recent released their annual mindset list for incoming freshman. It places the class of 2011 in perspective by outlining some of the differences that shape their worldview as opposed to that of their professors.

One entry to the 2001 list caught my attention: for freshmen in college, MTV has never featured music videos.

For those who came in late, "MTV" originally stood for "Music Television" and the cable channel did nothing but play music videos. In the late 1980's it reshaped the musical landscape. Artists' fortunes rose and fell as their videos either entered heavy rotation on MTV or were discarded.

Eventually, the network started creating its own programming which eventually changed MTV from a video jukebox to a 20-something lifestyle network.

So those born in 1989 have never experienced "Music Television." But that's OK -- they have YouTube.

While many people only think of YouTube as a place for stupid pet trick videos or goofy Interent memes such as "Turtle Boy," it's actually a vast repository of all kinds of video material -- including music videos.

Many independent artists have self-posted their own videos, of course. And there's a fair collection of live performances, both professionally recorded and surreptitiously taped.

But record labels, both large and small, now use YouTube the way they used MTV in the 1980's to promote their acts. Everything from Natashia Bedingfield to Cat Power to A Band Called Quinn can be found on YouTube.

And unlike MTV in its heyday, the content isn't solely tied to current releases. It's easy to find videos from the 90s like Blind Melon's "No Rain." Or you can go back to the 1980's and catch the same videos your parents saw when MTV was new.

In the 1950's through the 1970's -- before music video came into its own -- TV variety shows served as the primary visual showcase for artists. Many of these performances have found their way on the site as well.

Watch a young and innocent Marianne Faithful perform "As Tears Go By" from a 1965 episode of Hullabaloo; Kansas performing in 1976, or Ike Turner playing on a St. Louis 1959 TV show when rock and roll was brand new.

Unlike the old MTV, YouTube's video offerings span the globe as well as time. Artists from all over the world can be found on YouTube. And all genres are there, too -- country, blues, jazz, folk and so on. NPR recently ran a story about classical music videos on the site.

So don't feel sorry for the class of 2011 and what they may have missed. MTV's role has been taken over by YouTube. And considering the vast array of content, it's an upgrade.

- Ralph

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