MTV

group of men standing by a wall in a run down urban street, photographed from a slightly raised angle

Frankie Goes To Hollywood © ZTT

The launch of MTV (Music Television) in the US in 1981 signalled a new era in which music video became increasingly important in the marketing of popular music. MTV meant that acts could be marketed simultaneously across the US and did not have to rely upon time consuming and exhausting promotional tours spanning large geographical distances. This new medium was particularly helpful to acts who had distinct and contemporary visual images, as the station launched with an agenda to move away from traditional rock programming towards more visually flamboyant 'new pop' acts. Liverpool synthpop act A Flock of Seagulls were among the new wave of British acts to benefit from the heavy rotation of their videos on MTV in the early 1980s. Their strong visual image and heavily synthesised sound were a perfect fit with the station's agenda and exposure on MTV resulted in their single 'I Ran (So Far Away)' getting into the top ten of the American Billboard Chart in 1982.

By the mid-1980s video had settled into being a central part of the promotional strategies used for selling an act. This increasingly competitive market meant that record companies used bigger and bigger budgets, employed the latest technologies and innovative promotional strategies in order to make their artists stand out from the pack. Frankie Goes To Hollywood's campaign for their single 'Relax' for instance included the release of two differing videos. The first was deliberately controversial, using explicit sexual imagery and an overarching homoerotic theme. Unsurprisingly this video was deemed unfit for broadcast on the BBC's 'Top of the Pops'. However, it did receive highly publicised stand-alone late-night screenings on commercial television stations in the UK, a move which, as Andrew Goodwin (1992: 93) notes, served to "generate a media event which helped to promote the single". A second, more straightforward performance style video was quickly released, filmed with the band performing in an empty club lit by lasers and dry ice. The addition of the second video meant that the band could now be shown on daytime television whilst maximising the benefits of the publicity that the controversy around the first video had generated.

The rise of these 'new pop' acts constituted a differing way of promoting records. Previously rock groups had relied on heavy touring - 'paying your dues' - to build a fan base. As Warner (2003, 77) notes, a remarkable feature of the rise of Frankie Goes to Hollywood during 1984 was that the band bypassed this system and achieved huge levels of success with hardly any live performances. Their singles - highly polished and layered productions that made full use of (then) state of the art studio technology - were very difficult to reproduce in the live concert setting. In this context video became a primary promotional medium and FGTH were part of a new set of acts specifically launched to use music video in this way.

The effects of MTV have been much discussed. A question often raised is whether, as a result of the video's growing visual sophistication and the ever-increasing competition for visual distinctiveness, interest in the music itself declined and music was deemed to be of secondary importance. (This is discussed in Andrew Goodwin's book, 'Dancing in the Distraction Factory' ,1992).