When I was in primary school, MTV was already MTV. Every time I come home from school, switching our TV on to MTV seemed automatic and I’ll be glued to our couch and just watch music videos. Somehow, somewhere in between my childhood, MTV has influenced me greatly – from the stickers on my room, to the way I think and dress.

During those days I’d welcome any music I encountered in MTV – from metal to grunge to alternative rock. I was mesmerized by the appeal and creativity MTV provided in their shows (of course, musicians and their respective directors are to be given credit, too, for creativity).

One thing that stood out in MTV’s time as a “Music” Television was their unique and sometimes eccentric animated identity. Over the span of more than three decades of air time, MTV has provided different versions of their identity – from morbid guillotines to sharp and futuristic animation.

Here are some videos from the first two decades of MTV:


The 1980s saw the birth of MTV. It was a milestone, as it became one of the most influential forces both in music and in popular culture. The branding campaign “I want my MTV” became so ubiquitous, different musicians appeared on air to promote MTV. It was also the era where “VJs” or video jockeys became widely popular, with Martha Quinn, one of MTV’s first VJs during the 80s, becoming a well-known personality.

During the early part of the ‘80s, most of MTV’s animated IDs were inspired by cartoons, as Fred Seibert, then MTV creative director, put it “Cartoons seemed to be the closest visual equivalent to rock and roll.” Majority of the IDs that were made during the ‘80s used some psychedelic colors and pop culture references, specifically the Apollo 11 mission where still and photographs of the mission were used by MTV as the mark of its beginning.

Late in the decade, different styles of animation have been applied to MTV’s IDs. Most of these IDs used clay-mation or stop motion styles to accentuate organic movement or a sense of realism to MTV’s identity.


The ‘90s saw the decline of hair metal bands and the rise of alternative rock. This is the decade where I grew up and saw bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden rise to fame and challenge rock and roll legends for their fame. Sadly, it’s also the decade where we saw their fall.

Much of the ‘90s was made up of angst driven songs, “grunge” guitar lines, and sometimes, unintelligible lyricism. During this era of MTV, the animated identities still flourished and have focused more on stop motion and claymation techniques. These animated identities mostly provided dark and brooding atmospheres to disturbing animations – ranging from decapitations to dark, steampunk-like metamorphoses.

The themes of MTV’s identities from this period may have been influenced by the angst driven and apathetic music of the early ’90s. The themes eventually changed as alternative and grunge music waned and paved the way for pop music.

Aside from providing groundbreaking animated identities, MTV also provided quality animated series to their subscribers – Beavis and Butthead, Daria, Aeon Flux, Celebrity Deathmatch, etc. These series became cult classics with a strong following even today. These animated series and MTV’s animated identities became the network’s primary asset, second only to the music they showcase.

In the past decade (2000-2010), the only redeeming shows that I saw on MTV were Jackass, Viva La Bam, and Wildboyz (which basically had the same people: the CKY crew) which seemed to show some hints of the ‘90s version of MTV – punk attitude and the I-don’t-care-what-they-say philosophy. During the ‘90s it was about the value of entertainment that people received, now, it’s all about the money the network makes.

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Posted by Cadence Wu

Cadence is a senior blogger at You the Designer, a graphic design blog that features inspiration, resources, freebies, and tutorials for designers. Her quest to share her appreciation of art and graphic design has led her to contribute articles for different sites. Cadence also writes for UPrinting tackling topics from printing to business and advertising, being an aspiring marketer herself.

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