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How five groundbreaking, teen-intoxicating videos got made, as told to Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum for their new oral history of MTV.

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Michael Jackson on the "Billie Jean" set in Los Angeles, 1983.  

When MTV launched, in 1981, it was an outlet for something that barely existed: The channel had about a hundred videos in its inventory, mostly by marginal or unpopular British and Australian bands. But it soon became the sun around which popular culture rotated. The MTV aesthetic during its golden age of 1981 to 1992quick cuts, celebrations of youth, shock value, impermanence, beautyinfluenced not only music but network and cable TV, radio, advertising, film, art, fashion, race, sexuality, even politics. The channel was plotted to captivate an audience whose interests had been ignored: John Lack, who started MTV, called teenagers the demographic group least interested in TV, because TV wasn’t interested in teens. Children had cartoons; adults had the evening news and most of the shows that followed it. Teens were untapped, an invisible power. MTV gave them what they wantedsometimes more or less accidentally. Before Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and text-messaging, kids did one thing, separately but simultaneously: They watched MTV. These are the behind-the-scenes stories of five history-making videos.


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