The 1990s on high rotation

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In the early 90s I worked at Music Television (MTV) in London. 

We had huge televisions bolted above our desks that screened music videos all day, every day.

Office work is dull and one would expect music videos to offer some relief from the tedium.

But not these videos. 

They were selected for high rotation (good for the musicians and their royalties, but not so good for our sanity) and featured:

  • Who is It by Michael Jackson
  • What is Love by Haddaway
  • Damn I Wish You were My Lover by Sophie Hawkins 
  • I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston and
  • Rhythm is a Dancer by Snap

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Watching Whitney Houston profess her undying love for Kevin Costner, Sophie B Hawkins gyrate on the floor in a lumberjack shirt and Michael Jackson’s plastic surgery mishaps was bad. However, our misery was compounded by management’s insistence we not be distracted by the videos and the boss berated me whenever I got caught gazing at the screen.

All this made me wonder about all these televisions and their ultimate purpose. Was it a Pavlov’s dogs -inspired experiment where we mentally jumped to a stimulus we associated with the videos?

Was it an alternative to the Chinese water torture where the same videos were played relentlessly until we all went mad?

Perhaps it was measuring the effects of screen addiction in an era before smart phones and social media.

Or was it simply to impress musicians and investors who ventured into the  bowels of MTV?

I never got my answer. 

These days MTV rarely plays music videos. Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston are long gone. Who knows what happened to Sophie B Hawkins, Snap or Haddaway.

What I do know is that whenever I hear those songs my brain throbs, I’m back in 1992 and all I want is a TV screen above my desk.

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About the author

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.


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