MTV today is nothing like it was in the ’80s. When the channel premiered in the ’80s, it was the first time that most music fans had ever seen their favorite artists “in person” unless they had been fortunate enough to attend one of their concerts. Throughout the ’80s, MTV focused almost exclusively on music videos rather than MTV’s reality show focus of today.
The first MTV Video Music Awards was held on September 14, 1984 and was hosted by Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler. The coveted Video of the Year winner was The Cars’ music video for You Might Think!
The second annual MTV Video Music Awards was held on September 13, 1985 and was hosted by Eddie Murphy. Don Henley’s music video for The Boys of Summer won the Video of the Year.
In 1986, the MTV Video Music Awards moved from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, where it had been held the previous two years, to two locations simultaneously, The Palladium in New York City, and Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. This was also the first year that MTV’s VJs, “Downtown” Julie Brown, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn and Dweezil Zappa hosted the show on September 5, 1986.
And, the winner of the 1986 Video of the Year went to Dire Straits for Money For Nothing! This was kind of an upset considering A-ha’s music video for Take On Me won eight out of eleven awards it was nominated for including the Viewer’s Choice award.
In 1987, the awards show moved exclusively to Universal Amphitheatre, where it would stay until 1992 when it moved to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. ’87 was also the last year the MTV VJs hosted the show. The VJs were “Downtown” Julie Brown, Carolyne Heldman, Dweezil Zappa, and Kevin Seal.
One video dominated the awards in ’87! Peter Gabriel’s music video for Sledgehammer won a record-setting ten awards including the Video of the Year award!
In 1988, Arsenio Hall began his four-year stint as host of the show. Need You Tonight/Mediate from INXS won five out of nine nominations including the Video of the Year. This was also the year that Michael Jackson was awarded with the Video Vanguard Award. In 1991, the award was actually renamed the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.
The last MTV Video Music Awards of the ’80s was held on September 6, 1989. In ’89, four new categories were added to the ceremony (Best Heavy Metal Video, Best Rap Video, Best Dance Video, and Best Post-Modern Video). The first ever Best Heavy Metal Video went to Guns N’ Roses for their music video for Sweet Child O’ Mine. And, the Video of the Year award went to Neil Young for his controversial music video for This Note’s for You, which featured a Michael Jackson lookalike whose hair catches fire, and parodied corporate rock and the pretensions of advertising. The title of the song itself mocked Budweiser’s ‘This Bud’s for You’ ad campaign.
The ’89 show is also remembered for a couple other reasons. First, Andrew Dice Clay’s stand-up routine included adult versions of classicdef nursery rhymes, which led to MTV executives banning him from ever appearing on MTV again. And, second, according to Wikipedia, Def Leppard’s live performance of Tear It Down would be the last live appearance of guitarist Steve Clark before his death on January 8, 1991.