MTV is marking its 40th anniversary with a relaunch of its iconic image of an astronaut on the moon, with an MTV flag planted nearby.
On Sunday, the video channel unveiled a large scale “Moon Person” during a ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The new design was inspired by a Moon Person image created this year by Kehinde Wiley, who painted the portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. In an interview this week with The Associated Press, MTV Entertainment President and CEO Chris McCarthy said that the image of space travel fit well with the spirit of its young audience.
“This is our third generation that we’re reinventing for. Gen Z is by far one of the most interesting, incredibly creative and optimistic generations,” he said. “And so we thought, “Let’s go back to the origins and do it with NASA, but really do it about the next frontier, which represents generation Z and really represents a beautiful moon person that Kehinde built and where we’re going to be heading next.’”
NASA footage of the historic Apollo 11 landing in 1969, with the MTV flag added to the mix, were the first images to appear on MTV back on August 1, 1981, and the first video was the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” MTV vastly expanded the power of visual images in the music industry and has since broadly expanded its reach, broadcasting worldwide and adding such influential channels and programs as VH1, the Comedy Channel and the early reality show “The Real World.”
After fans, reviewers, music industry leaders and such artists as David Bowie criticized the channel for airing videos of virtually only white performers in its first years, MTV began playing more Michael Jackson and other Black artists who proved highly popular. The hip-hop program “Yo! MTV Raps,” which debuted in the U.S. in 1988, was lauded for highlighting a subculture which eventually became mass culture.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that we made mistakes along the way. One of the bigger mistakes in the early years was not playing enough diverse music,” McCarthy said. “So we certainly have had our bumps in the road and made some mistakes. But the nice thing that I’ve always learned at MTV is we have no problem owning our mistakes, quickly correcting them and trying to do the right thing and always follow where the audience is going.”
MTV now has a vast presence on social media, with more than 700 million followers of MTV Entertainment.
“We launched as a video channel on what was the new medium of the time in 1981, which, hard to believe, that was cable,” McCarthy said. “I think the fun and interesting thing about MTV … is to constantly have to blow yourself up and forget everything you knew in order for us to recreate a brand new entity for each generation.”
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