In Honor Of Its 32nd Birthday, MTV's 32 Most Iconic Moments


Dismissing MTV as just music television is damn near criminal. For the past three decades, the network has spawned a culture of its own, giving us everything from unplugged performances to raunchy cartoons and everything in between. Sure, there's been the occasional slip-up, but on its 32nd birthday, we can give some love to MTV for being brash, hip, and consistently setting its own trend. Isn't that what modern music's all about?

Relive the days of "Thriller" and Yo! MTV Raps while still keeping Snooki and the Jersey Shore crew close by. Let's relive MTV's 32 most memorable moments.

1. 1981 — 'Video Killed the Radio Star'

The channel launched at 12:01 a.m. on August 1, 1981 with this prophetic single from The Buggles. Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, The Who, and other popular acts saw their videos play shortly after. More than three decades later, this song's message still rings true. If internet killed the video star, what will take down the internet star?

2. 1982 — New Year's Eve Rock 'N' Roll Ball

The channel rung in the New Year its own way with Duran Duran, The Producers, Jack Mack & The Heart Attack, and A Flock of Seagulls (I see you Googling them, millennials) rocking live sets on December 31. New Year's Eve Rock 'N' Roll Ball was one of MTV's most buzzworthy original programs, and the second installment was shot in London after '81 was in New York City. Dig the amazingly archaic intro and the Frogger commercial?

3. 1983 — 'Thriller'

No words can do it justice. Music videos were fundamentally changed by this 14-minute mini-movie, and the single went on to sell over nine million units. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" premiered December 2, launching both him and MTV to bigger fame.

4. 1984 — First VMAs

The first-ever Video Music Awards (don't worry, lots more on those later) were memorable for Madonna's iconic performance of "Like a Virgin," replete with a wedding gown and a huge cake. ZZ Top, Rod Stewart, and Tina Turner also performed. The 2013 VMAs air this month.

5. 1985 — Live Aid

MTV catapulted the ongoing Ethiopian famine into a national conversation by broadcasting a benefit concert, Live Aid, on July 13, 1985. The show took place in London and was organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, but MTV's airing helped raise awareness in the states. Try not to get chills from Queen's performance. This was also the year that the network began airing safe-sex PSAs, marking its first venture into social advocacy.

6. 1986 — First Spring Break Coverage

You've seen the pictures. You've heard the stories. But Daytona Beach, Florida was never a popular spring break site until MTV began hosting parties and live shows there in '86. Starship performed in the inaugural year, while the Beastie Boys would appear for the second program. You can almost smell the booze, sunblock, and poor decisions.

7. 1987 — 'Remote Control' Premieres

MTV's original programming took off further with its first game show, Remote Control. The show featured pop culture trivia and skits and ran until 1990, notable for booting contestants from play with loud buzzers, "goodbye songs," and general jeering. In the final round, players were strapped to a bed facing nine TV screens and had to identify who was performing in each music video shown.

8. 1988 — 'Yo! MTV Raps'

The show that helped put hip-hop into the mainstream. Along with Aerosmith pushing Run DMC through a wall in "Walk this Way," Yo! MTV Raps was instrumental in broadening the genre's audience. The two-hour program ran until 1995, and featured comedy, live freestyles, music videos, and interviews. Just about every Golden Age star imaginable made an appearance. 

9. 1989 — 'Unplugged' Begins

The first of MTV's Unplugged sets began in November of '89 with Squeeze, Syd Straw, and Elliot Easton. It was a new kind of live performance for the network, one that saw the artist as stripped down as its music. Later Unplugged performances have come from everyone from Bob Dylan to Lil Wayne.

10. 1990 ‚ 'U Can't Touch This'

The beginning of commercialized hip-hop and cross-genre appeal. MC Hammer's sample of Rick James and his ostentatious clothing caught the attention of audiences all around the country. "U Can't Touch This" went on to win a VMA in '90. 

11. 1991 — 10-Year Anniversary

The network that many thought was too niche became a cultural phenomenon. MTV captured a decade of music's best (and worst), and did it with style that was seldom seen in '80s television. Just about all genres were covered equally, and the channel didn't focus too much on original programming or gimmicks. It was only the beginning.

12. 1992 — 'The Real World' Begins

This thing is still running? The Real World has been going strong (?) for more than 25 seasons, all thanks to the original series that chronicled the adventures of seven young adults thrown together in New York City. Also in '92 were the station's "Choose or Lose" campaigns to encourage voter participation and the first MTV Movie Awards. Truuue stooory.

13. 1993 — Jon Stewart

Before Jon Stewart successfully mixed snark with politics on Comedy Central, he had his own show on MTV with a similar format. Stewart would host musical guests and end with a live performance. Memorable episodes from the first season include ones with Marilyn Manson and the incomparable Weird Al.

14. 1994 — Kurt Cobain's Death

The channel nailed its coverage of Kurt Cobain's suicide, stopping programming on April 10 to deliver the news and reactions from fans and fellow musicians. Cobain was honored at the 1994 VMAs with a tribute segment.

15. 1995 — 'Waterfalls'

TLC's "Waterfalls" took home the big awards at the '95 VMAs and redefined the power of R&B women in popular music. The song headed CrazySexyCool, which sold more than 23 million copies and remains the best-selling album by a girl group in America. A new version of "Waterfalls" was released this year to commemorate TLC's 20th anniversary, despite rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes's death in 2002.

16. 1996 — Van Halen Reunites

It had been more than a decade since the members of Van Halen appeared together. But on September 4, 1996, all four rockers were together to present a moonman for best male video at the VMAs. Pretty historic stuff. The '96 VMAs also marked Tupac Shakur's final public appearance before his death three days later.

17. 1997 — Launch Of 'Live From the 10 Spot'

Another show for live music. Live from the 10 Spot aired at 10 p.m. (shocker) and featured sets from Dave Matthews, Green Day, and The Rolling Stones. The "10 Spot" continues to be used today, although now it airs shows like Teen Mom and Fantasy Factory.

18. 1998 — 'TRL'

Carson Daly and crew kicked off Total Request Live (TRL) on September 14, 1998. It was one of the network's first shows to incorporate a fan element and the internet, and every day a new top list of videos would air. Artists would also appear on the show and engage with viewers.

19. 1999 — Diana Ross Exposes Lil Kim

Five years before Justin Timberlake showed America Janet Jackson's breast, Diana Ross exposed Lil' Kim at the 1999 VMAs. The '99 VMAs was the network's most-watched program ever, and was also highlighted by a no-show DMX performance, appearances from Tupac and Biggie Smalls' mothers, and a random Kanye-esque stage crasher interrupting the Backstreet Boys to say "wake up at three." To this day, nobody knows what's up with that.

20. 2000 — 'Jackass'

The video says it all. "Cribs" also appeared that year.

21. 2001 — "Fight For Your Rights"

Not once at any point in this list did MTV shut down programming. Until January 10, 2001, when the network dedicated 17 hours of black screen to the victims of recent hate crimes. The program, called Fight For Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination, was sparked by the murder of Matthew Shepard and displayed names of teens victimized by hate crimes.

22. 2002 — 'The Osbournes'

Television's first rock 'n' roll family was the Osbournes, led by patriarch and metal artist Ozzie and outspoken wife Sharon. The Osbournes became MTV's most watched original series, while one of Ozzie's three kids, Aimee, refused to participate in the show's antics. The final episode aired in 2005. Just count the number of times they say "f*ck" in the first minute.

23. 2003 — You Got Punk'd

Ah, a year when Ashton Kutcher wasn't on Twitter and celebrities were pranked left and right. Punk'd aired March 17, 2003 and drew audiences for its brazen attempts to make everyone look like an idiot. My dad may or may not have bought me a shirt with the logo across the chest.

24. 2004 — 'Pimp My Ride' Made Everyone Feel Inadequate

The fact that this article doesn't have 22-inch rims and a jacuzzi in the back hurts more than you'll ever know. Anyone know if West Coast Customs is still a thing?

25. 2005 — Alicia Keys Goes 'Unplugged'

Unplugged returned after a lengthy hiatus to showcase a new generation of talented artists, beginning with Alicia Keys. The re-up featured internet broadcasting and was done live at MTV studios.

26. 2006 — 'The Hills' Happened

Yeah. Not every MTV program was top-notch, and The Hills was considerably less cool than the rest of the network's original series. Lauren Conrad was back at it again after garnering fame on Laguna Beach. The show was identified as many critics' guilty pleasure but was criticized for seeming scripted.

27. 2007 — ReAct Now

One of the biggest benefit shows in recent history, MTV partnered with fellow music television networks VH1 and CMT to put on ReAct Now on June 25. All proceeds — totalling more than $2.3 million — went to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The concert was four and a half hours long and featured performances from Beck, Coldplay, U2, Neil Young, Maroon 5, and just about everyone else you can imagine.

28. 2008 — 'Choose or Lose' Returns

A new installment of Choose or Lose put Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton together to address questions on the Iraq War and the national economy. It was highlighted, however, by the moving appearances of five Iraqi War vets. Campaigns like Choose or Lose helped set records in voter turnout for the '08 election.

29. 2009 — MJ Coverage

Michael Jackson's death was perhaps the biggest music news of the past decade, and like Cobain's passing, MTV went all out to honor an icon. Jackson's funeral was broadcast by the network for millions to see, and on MTV's 28th birthday, the "M" stood for "Michael" as an all-day tribute of interviews, performances, and music videos went down. Also, this happened that year.

30. 2010 — 'Hope for Haiti'

MTV Networks produced and premiered Hope for Haiti on January 22, 2010. The program, which also aired across 10 other major channels, broadcast from New York City, Los Angeles, and London, and was capped by appearances from Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, and countless others. Much of the recorded music was later sold to benefit the earthquake victims.

31. 2011 — Snooki Gets Punched

Jersey Shore caught the nation by storm when it premiered in 2009. Much to my chagrin, just about everybody was "DTF," "GTL," and a bunch of other ridiculous acronyms spawned by the reality show. It was The Real World on steroids.

But the Jersey Shore's peak came when star Snooki got punched in the face. If you somehow haven't seen this yet, you're in for something special.

32. 2012 — Snooki's Pregnant

Snooki and husband Jionni LaValle had their first child, Lorenzo, on August 26, 2012. It was the pregnancy that everyone was talking about, for better or worse. Ironically, Teen Mom and Sixteen and Pregnant were two of MTV's most popular programs at the time.

33. 2013 — "Wild 'n Out" is Back

Everyone's favorite urban-centered improvisational comedy is back. After six years, Nick Cannon's Wild 'n Out returned this summer to rave reviews and a No. 1 ranking for its time slot. Guests have included Kevin Hart, Mac Miller, and 2 Chainz. The show runs every Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET.

Where's MTV heading for the next 32 years? Who knows? We know that we'll still want our MTV for a while to come.