Steve Peake: Is there any way to put into words the mystique of '80s music? Other than nostalgia, what factors drive its continuing popularity?
Nina Blackwood: I think a lot of the appeal of the '80s has to do with the video age, because it was the first time you could actually see the videos to the specific songs. Sure, you had different performance programs before, like American Bandstand, where you could see your favorite artists lip-synch. But this was the first time that videos were part of the equation. The advent of MTV made the music more memorable for people who grew up in the '80s because you were seeing this new thing, this new technology, a new medium, really.
And also the new fashions, like Boy George with the makeup and the dress, later on the New Romantics, and then the hair bands, with the spandex and the hair spray. When you have the input of both the audio and visual, it has more of an impact. People say, "Hey, I saw that on MTV back when I was in junior high." Memory associations are much stronger. And because MTV was in such a baby stage, when it was new, people used to gather around and have MTV parties. That has a lot to do with why the '80s have become such a memorable era.
Also, for the most part, '80s music was fun. It wasnt like the '90s and the grunge movement, which I happen to like, by the way. But it was a lot of kinda down feeling, down on yourself and down on this or that. The '80s was happy music. Of course, there was some message music, like U2, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. Not everything was frothy and light, but for the most part it was music that makes you feel good. And I think especially in this age, people really need to feel good.
SP: What did you expect to happen with the MTV launch, and how did it differ from what actually happened?
NB: At the time I was working on TV pilots that dealt with video and music. I was already thinking along the lines that video music might be something that was going to take off, a year or two before MTV. It made sense, because TV and music, two popular pastimes, its like duh, kind of a good equation. But when I went to MTV there was no guarantee it was going to be successful, you know, like anything you put on either radio or television or movies. The Beatles, for crying out loud, nobody guaranteed theyd be successful. I thought Id try it for a couple of years and see how it goes, if not I could always go back to L.A. As it started picking up steam, we were sent around to different locations around the country that had started carrying MTV. The crowds kept getting bigger, as did our fan mail. As cable grew, so did MTV, and it took off like wildfire.
SP: Describe some memorable, groundbreaking '80s moments youve held onto over the years.
NB: Obviously, the launch was one of the most memorable moments of my life. Cable TV was in the baby stages, too. New York City didnt even have cable yet, if you can believe that, and neither did L.A. So we all had to pile on, the executives, producers, veejays and crew, into buses to go over to a funky club in New Jersey to watch the launch because they actually had cable.
Also, one time when I was working for another network later on, my co-host in London was Roger Daltrey of the Who. We were hanging around places like Abbey Road and shooting outside his childhood home. I could think of worse things to do than hang out with Daltrey in London.