Top MTV Videos Of The ’80s & ’90s

MTV launched on August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll!”

Most of you may know the very first music video was the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” but do you know the second video that aired? Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run!”

MTV revolutionized the music industry and become an influential source of pop culture and entertainment, not only with its airing of music videos but also with its original programming. Shows like “The Real World,” “Beavis and Butthead,” and “The Osbournes” were incredibly popular and pushed boundaries.

But make no mistake, music videos were really what MTV was all about. Music videos became a key component of mainstream pop – and MTV’s heavy rotation of artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna helped turn them into global superstars.

So as we mark 42 years of MTV, we thought we’d look back at the top videos on MTV during the ’80s & ’90s! This is going to be an epic throwback!


1981: Of course, we have to start with the very first video that aired on MTV!


1982: MTV played this video so many times, the network is credited with helping make Duran Duran stars in America.


1983: Michael Jackson’s iconic video debuted toward the tail end of the year, on December 2. After each broadcast, MTV advertised when they would next play it, and recorded audience figures ten times the norm!


1984: This was the first year of the MTV Video Music Awards, and the winner of Video of the Year was…


1985: Don Henley was the biggest winner at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards, taking home four moon men.


1986: Dire Straits earned eleven nominations at the ’86 Video Music Awards, and this video was the most nominated video that year.


1987: Peter Gabriel set a record for the most nominations with 12!


1988: INXS was most-nominated and most-awarded at the ’88 VMAs. This song not only won Video of the Year, but Viewer’s Choice, too!


1989: Neil Young won the VMA this year for “This Note’s For You,” but didn’t win any other category! You could say it was something of an upset.  Madonna took home Viewer’s Choice for “Like a Prayer.”  And since we haven’t played “This Note’s For You” in 34 years, we figure we’d stick to Madonna here.


1990: Sinead O’Connor captivated MTV audiences with her music video, consisting mostly of a closeup of her face as she experiences sadness and anger after a breakup.


1991: R.E.M. led the VMA’s this year with most nominations and awards.


1992: Van Halen won Video of the Year, with Red Hot Chili Peppers close behind with three moon men. However, the biggest story of the ’92 VMAs was the scuffle between Nirvana and Axl Rose and Guns ‘N Roses. 


1993: The big winner this year was Pearl Jam, who won four awards for “Jeremy,” including Video of the Year. (Note: because this video discusses violence and self-harm, this video is only available by going to YouTube directly.  Watch by clicking the link.)


1994: Aerosmith won Video of the Year…

but that’s not what the 1994 VMA’s are remembered for.  Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley opened the show and then sealed it with a long kiss. David Letterman also escorted Madonna to the stage.


1995: TLC became the first African-American music act to win Video of the Year for “Waterfalls.” The video also won Viewer’s Choice.


1996: The Smashing Pumpkins had nine nominations and opened the show despite being down two of their five members. Their touring keyboardist had died days earlier due to a heroin overdose and they had just kicked their longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin out of the band.


1997: Jamiroquai won the top award in 1997, receiving 10 nominations for “Virtual Insanity.” Beck was the top winner of the ’97 VMA’s, taking home five moon men.


1998: Madonna topped the ’98 VMA’s, winning six awards, including Video of the Year for “Ray of Light.”


1999: Ricky Martin was the most-awarded artist of the evening and was the first Latin nominee for Video of the Year, but lost to Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop”, the first hip hop video to win the award.


2000: Eminem won Video of the Year, but the 2000 VMA’s was pretty notable for a few other reasons. Tim Commerford of Rage Against the Machine climbed some scaffolding and refused to come down after they lost Best Rock Video. He ended up spending the night in jail. Britney Spears also performed “Oops!… I Did It Again” dressed in a nude-colored bra top and pants.


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