Tyler Measom on I Want My MTV: 'It was our Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat rolled into one. That was all we talked about'
- Claire Sawers
- 6 February 2020
With the documentary about to get its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, co-director Measom discusses the influence of the transformative TV network
It was August 1981 when MTV first launched in America, a brand new network of rolling music videos and young, hyper presenters, offering an alternative to the tame after-school specials that were on TV at the time.
'I was ten years old and living in small town Utah,' remembers Tyler Measom, co-director of the documentary I Want My MTV, about to get its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival.
'We only had three channels at home and I was so jealous of my friends with cable. When I was round at theirs, I was mesmerised by MTV. I mean back in the 80s, of course there were nerds, outcasts, punks, goths… But if you lived out in the suburbs, maybe you were the only punk or the only goth. It used to take a while for trends to spread out to rural America. Suddenly this channel united teenagers – suddenly it was all there. Right in your home. MTV brought cool to Kansas.'
Measom's documentary uses the fast-paced, chopped up signature style of MTV to tell its story of a tiny team with a rebel spirit working in a New York office with 'puke yellow walls'. Borrowing from what the Brits had done before with TV shows like Top of the Pops, they created a medium where the weirdos were the stars, young people were the audience and music was the priority; this wasn't a platform for anything as worthy as education, it was about fun. What started out as a cult pop oddity grew and grew over the 80s and 90s, ending up as the multi billion dollar corporation that still exists today.
'When you think of the punk look, a lot of it's essentially about frugality; the ripped jeans and the shitty shirts. When MTV first started out, they did things on the cheap. They didn't have any budget. They also didn't have massive stakeholders – so they did whatever they wanted. They took risks. They didn't want to make the kind of TV that their parents wanted.'
By 1983 the channel had exploded in popularity, becoming a household name and part of the cultural zeitgeist.
'It was the precursor and the catalyst for how we share and create,' says Measom. 'It was our Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat rolled into one. That was all we talked about.'
Featuring iconic videos by Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Erik B and Rakim, Robert Palmer and Madonna (amongst many more) plus archive footage of David Bowie and Rick James alongside interviews with the original VJs and Run DMC, it's a heady, trashy, nostalgic look back on a golden, and very influential, era.
'They didn't always get it right. They were a little late in using black artists, for example – which the film touches on. But they were also innovative, way ahead of their time. Their ad campaign for "I want my MTV"? Now that's a viral campaign.'
Measom's own favourite music video, Dire Straits 'Skateaway', didn't make it into the final edit for space reasons, but he remembers how it blew his mind when he first watched it. 'It was genius! Other videos of that time were shitty. There is a lot to be said for curation – back then, ok sometimes I'd have to sit through bad videos on MTV before I got to the Twisted Sister one or whatever, but I discovered cool things that way.'
CCA, Glasgow, Sat 29 Feb, 8.15pm; Sun 1 Mar, 1.15pm. Festival Club: I Want My MTV Afterparty with MILK DJs, The Blue Arrow, Glasgow, Sat 29 Feb, 10pm.
Glasgow Film Festival I Want My MTV
Upstart music network MTV burst onto televisions on August 1, 1981. Via a combination of scrappy hosts, flyby-the-seat-of-their-pants production style, and music mini-movies, MTV was like nothing Americans had ever seen before. A nostalgic and thrilling ride, I Want My MTV takes its audience back to the beginning, when…