Real Estate Killed the Radio Star?

No, not quite. That happened years ago when MTV began tinkering with its programming and started slowly phasing out music-related content. New Yorkers, at least some of them anyway, are mourning the loss of MTV’s iconic Times Square studio on Broadway after landlord S.L. Green and the music network’s parent company, Viacom, opted not to renew the space after the 12-year lease term ends. According to the New York Post, the studio could fetch a rent close to ten times that when MTV inked the space back in 1997. As MTV empties the space, so will the shallow entertainment memories of the pop culture machine — a machine responsible for indulgent pop singers, the stereotype perpetuating rap stars, herds of screaming teenie boppers and talent-less TV personalities like Carson Daly.

With “TRL” put to bed, the glass covered studio clearly no longer meets economic viability. In fact, the network no longer seems to have a need for a music video studio of any kind. And the network that revolutionized the music industry –- for better or worse –- has turned its back on the very form of entertainment for which it owes its success to.

When is the last time anyone has seen not only a music video air on MTV, but content of any kind that relates to the music industry? The videos where there in the 80s, when I was forbidden to watch them and my parents had the station scrambled. When I became old enough to watch (in high school), only a few hours per day were devoted to music and today it’s home only to low brow reality programming like “Next” and “Teen Cribs.”

If you ask me, it’s a cop-out.

MTV transformed an audible industry into a visual one. The music video called for the mass manufacturing of image, adding new synthetic layers to a once authentic art form. Video producers, stylists, image consultants, choreographers were given the authority over this new model of mass marketing music. The artists were merely the puppets. Even artists as talented and self-righteous as Eddie Vedder couldn’t boycott the music media giant, though Pearl Jam was successful in a brief music video hiatus. And live music today is rarely performed without visual stimulation; less mainstream bands even play with lasers, lightshows, colorful backdrops or even snippets from their own music videos on stage.

If not for MTV, would Puff Daddy, Gwen Stefani or Jennifer Lopez have their clotheslines and fragrances? Doubtful. Could an unsightly, though lyrical genius like Bob Dylan have made any significant headway if he had emerged in the MTV era? Doubtful. Would the robotic and flamboyant artists like Lady GaGa and Katy Perry –- who sound more like machine than human — be successful without the music video? Doubtful. They can’t sing, but they sure look good, right? Thanks to MTV culture, musicians are entrepreneurs first, artists second (if at all).

And now that the network muddied the meaning of music and played a part in driving creativity to the ground, MTV has more or less wiped its hands clean of music programming altogether. MTV was the problem. What will be the solution?

 

Jason Turcotte

Jason Turcotte is a former CCT Graduate Student.