Way to go, David Bowie! In this 1983 clip, the Thin White Duke calmly and politely expresses his disapproval of MTV’s policy of not airing the music videos of black artists. He repeatedly challenges Mark Goodman, one of the network’s original VJs, who tries in vain to spin his station’s ludicrous policy. He says that people in the Midwest would be “scared to death by Prince or a string of other black faces…We’re a rock-n-roll station.” Bowie wasn’t buying any of it! Check out his wry smile at the end of the interview, when he sardonically says, “I understand.” (And, for the record, Prince himself is from the Midwest — Minneapolis, to be precise.)
Hey, the corporate suits who developed the network named it MTV, as in MUSIC television, not RTV, as in ROCK television. It was Michael Jackson who finally broke MTV’s color barrier when the station began airing his “Billie Jean” video on a regular basis in 1983. Interestingly, MTV aired Blondie’s 1980 rap-styled song “Rapture” soon after the network’s debut on August 1, 1981, but they wouldn’t feature any black hip-hop artists until the mid-80s.
It took MTV Europe to get the ball rolling. In 1987 they launched Yo! MTV Raps, a show that was developed for U.S. television a year later. It ran from August 1988 to August 1995. As much as I’d like to think that Mr. Bowie’s criticism helped bring about change, we all know that money is the driving force behind all decisions made in corporate America. The execs at MTV simply realized they could turn rap into revenue by pulling in a whole new segment of viewers.
© Dana Spiardi, January 12, 2016