The suits at MTV sure do love August 1. In 1981, that was the day where their entire enterprise first officially launched, changing the course of the music business in the process. From the moment the institution played the first video, The Buggles and their track ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, everything changed. When it came time to launch MTV Europe six years later, the executives decided to not mess with the formula and chose August 1 once again; this time, the first video shown on MTV Europe was Dire Straits with ‘Money for Nothing’. Finally, when it was time to launch MTV2, I bet you can guess what date they chose.
MTV2 was originally conceived as a return to the network’s “all music videos all the time” origins. As programs like The Real World and Singled Out pushed the original channel further and further away from their initial ethos, criticism that MTV had lost the foundation of its initial success and cultural impact began to become louder and louder. Having the capital to splurge on an entirely separate channel, MTV made the move to reintroduce their music video-heavy format with MTV2.
Only this time, there were some necessary changes to be made. 1996 was a wonderfully nebulous time in music, where artists like Mariah Carey, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Boyz II Men were able to rule the charts. However, none of these artists would be played on MTV2. Focusing more on the alternative scene, MTV2 made their bones through playing artists more attuned to the Lollapalooza crowd, like Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins.
So when it was time to choose a video to officially christen the launch of the new channel, there was a fairly obvious choice: ‘Where It’s At’ by eternally creative genre-defying weirdo Beck. Odelay, released less than two months before, finally freed Beck from the albatross that was ‘Loser’, and his blending of hip hop, alternative rock, jazz, lounge music, country twang, and dance music was indicative of the kind of music MTV2 was hoping to align themselves with.
‘Where It’s At’ was a fantastically inane video to launch the new network: it’s got dancing robots, impromptu rap performances at used car dealerships, line dancing, and William Shatner references. In short, it’s everything and nothing, in a way that only made sense in the ’90s. MTV2 prided itself as the network with access to everything with respect and admiration for nothing.
The music videos and VJ format of the original MTV continued at MTV2 for about a decade, but just like the original network, MTV2 recognised just how much more attention, ratings, and profit reality shows made in relation to music videos. As the second network began to look more and more like its parent channel, the focus on playing music videos diminished. As of 2017, just like the original MTV, MTV2 no longer has dedicated blocks for music videos.
Check out Beck’s ‘Where It’s At’ down below.