TV Flashback Tuesdays: 1990s MTV Promo Spots
MTV used to be cool. That’s right, I said it. There was a time when MTV could introduce you to new music, maybe even new ideas. The channel of Justin Bieber and Teen Mom marathons once took pride in being a real alternative to what was available elsewhere on the dial.
It’s easiest to remember this when watching MTV’s old promo spots, 10-20 second bumpers that identified that you were indeed watching Music Television. There are certain spots I closely identify with my MTV-watching days in the early-to-mid 90s, just as I was beginning to form my pop culture identity. To someone whose tastes were as unformed as Jell-O, it was refreshing to see a network so full of bravado, so unafraid of being strange.
This 1995 spot, called “Crab Legs,” seems like it could have been a commercial parody on Adam Sandler/Chris Farley-era SNL.
“Disaster Dolls” has sort of a Tim Burton quality to it. It’s also unapologetically nonsensical.
Most of the promo spots make no sense though, since its more about branding MTV’s “anything goes” attitude in terms of its programming. The bumpers were also about revealing the MTV logo in creative ways, like this 1992 animated spot that’s funny as it is gross. You can tell Nirvana and Guns ‘N Roses were in heavy rotation at the time.
One of my favorite ones was the Peter Lorre spot, because at the time I found it compelling and just a bit creepy. Thanks to YouTube, I just learned it was based on the classic 1932 film M. How interesting that MTV, a channel famously obsessed with youth, once used a decades-old foreign-language movie in its promo spots.
Of course not one of these would find its way onto MTV today. The channel, which is turning 30 next year–lets all take a minute to feel old–long ago smoothed out its rough edges to plastic perfection, embracing celebrity and flash over quirkiness. But these promo spots will always serve as a tidy time capsule of its rebellious teenage years, not to mention the last time anyone from my generation said “I want my MTV!” and meant it.