20 Acts That MTV Made Super Famous

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Photo: jonlo168, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Our 20 Acts That MTV Made Super Famous article takes a look at both unknown acts that MTV made famous and already established artists that MTV made even more famous than they already were. The latter statement is an important one to recognize because inevitably readers will argue that some artists on this list were huge before MTV. And of course, that’s true. Yet, MTV took certain artists with huge followings and took their popularity to an entire new level reaching an audience that may never had found them. That was the beauty of MTV in the eighties. They were so extremely powerful that they could take a Michael Jackson or Peter Gabriel and turn them into bigger stars than they were before the channel began heavily promoting them. This one is fun and it’s mixed between those artists who were unknown at the time, new groups and artists, and of course, the great acts who already were stars but who MTV turned into mega superstars.

# 21 – The Buggles

Famous for one reason only and that’s being the band that had the first video ever played on MTV. So we added this one as an extra to the list. The band featured Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoffrey Downes who is on this list twice as he also appears with the band Asia. So we

# 20 – Tommy Tutone

867 -5309 is all we pretty much have to say about this one. And it turned out that’s all they pretty much had to say too. But man was this song and video popular

# 19 – The Police

Yes, the Police were very popular before MTV, but the channel heavily promoted every one of their videos turning them into the most popular band in the world in 1983.

# 18 – David Lee Roth

Do you remember Dave TV? Yes, Van Halen was one of the biggest bands in the world before MTV and they didn’t need MTV at all to make them any bigger than they were. Yet, the channel did raise the stardom of their lead singer David Lee Roth who loved every minute of it. The channel was probably partly to blame for the man leaving Van Halen as they helped David Lee Roth promote his Crazy From The Heat videos convincing the star that he could be even bigger on his own. Wrong!

# 17 – Dire Straits

Although the band had been around since the 1970s, their “Money For Nothing,” video featuring a guest vocal by Sting video elevated them to superstar status for a brief time

# 16 – Prince

Another already-made superstar was helped by MTV in promoting the videos for his film Purple Rain which got heavy airplay on the channel. Along with Michael Jackson Prince played a prominent role in getting the channel to air more videos from black artists.

# 15 – Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer made a pair of videos with an all-female backing band all dressed the same and in the same exact makeup that went what we would call viral in today’s world.

# 14 – Nirvana

MTV played the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” almost every 15 minutes. And the music world completely changed after that.

# 13 – Peter Gabriel

Yes, everyone knew Peter Gabriel from the incredible body of work he had released with Genesis and his early solo albums. Yet MTV turned Peter Gabriel into one of the biggest stars in the world with their promotion of his very creative videos from the So album.

# 12 – ZZ Top

ZZ Top had been around since the early 1970s and had already had a successful rock career and a loyal fan base. Nonetheless, that car and those three girls that fueled a series of ZZ Top videos that were played heavily on the channel turned a pretty popular rock band into a household name around the world.

# 11 – The Bangles

The Bangles exploded on MTV with the release of the video for “Walk Like An Egyptian.” These musicians were so beautiful and super talented, they were made for a channel like MTV, and MTV turned them into superstars.

# 10 – Whitney Houston

By the time Whitney Houston arrived on the scene in 1986, MTV had changed in its embrace of black artists and pop music. It was perfect timing to promote one of the most gifted singers to have come along in twenty years. Videos for “How Will I Know,” and many more went viral as MTV heavily promoted Whitney Houston helping her become one of the biggest stars of the decade of the 1980s and 1990s.

# 9 – Whitesnake

David Coverdale had been around for a while before MTV made him ten times more famous than he ever was before. Yes, he sang lead vocals for Deep Purple and his band Whitesnake had released a series of albums before the arrival of the channel. Yet, when Whitesnake released those videos starring Tawny Kitaen, the band exploded in popularity around the world.

# 8 – Cyndi Lauper

No one had ever heard of Cyndi Lauper before the release of the video
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” When MTV placed her video in heavy rotation the entire world fell in love with Cyndi Lauper.

# 7 – Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson had released a few records that had gone nowhere despite her famous name. However, when MTV put her video “Nasty,” which also starred an unknown Paula Abdul into heavy rotation Janet Jackson became a huge star with many more hits and videos that followed that were equally promoted by the channel.

# 6 – Huey Lewis And The News

Huey Lewis was and still is a great rock and roll band that could play their hearts out However, Huey Lewis just had a look that was balanced between that regular guy with movie star looks you find in a sports bar watching a game on a big screen tv while holding a Budweiser in a can. It worked perfectly for MTV and the channel played their videos all the time. No way they would have been as big as they were without MTV.

# 5 – Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister was a bar band for a long time. However their videos for the songs “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and “I Wanna Rock,” were heavily promoted by the channel with both video’s introductions featuring a character similar to the Douglas C. Niedermeyer character from the film Animal House played by Mark Metcalf. That actor made those videos legendary.

# 4 – Duran Duran

While MTV’s early audience was heavily male-dominated, the band Duran Duran helped find the channel a female audience and in turn raised the band’s popularity to extreme heights.

# 3 – Asia

Asia’a debut album featured the hit single “Heat Of The Moment.” It would become one of the most played videos in the early days of MTV. There have been many supergroups formed throughout the years but none had the promotional machine that MTV gave the band’s first single “Heat Of The Moment.”  Everyone knew who Asia was because of MTV.

# 2 – Michael Jackson

Of course, Michael Jackson had already been a huge star long before the arrival of MTV. However, MTV took this huge star and turned him into a God. Videos for “Beat It, Billie Jean, Bad,” and of course “Thriller,” would become some of the most-watched videos of all time on MTV. Michael Jackson along with Prince would break the color barriers on MTV that plagued the channel’s early years.

# 1 – Madonna

There is no doubt that Madonna stands as the musical act who most benefited from the exposure MTV gave her. Of course, Madonna also proved to be advantageous to MTV’s benefit as millions of viewers were glued to the channel every time a Madonna video was played. Madonna’s beauty and made-for tv personality along with her first four albums of brilliant pop music were promoted brilliantly through well-done videos that MTV could not get enough of. And neither could we.

20 Acts That MTV Made Super Famous article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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