“While the history of pop music is dotted with the occasional teen idol, the MTV of my youth was full of grown-ups: Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Pat Benatar playing the world’s oldest teenage runaway in “Love Is A Battlefield.” But as soon as I boarded the mothership, the demographic dropped a decade. My very first day on air at MTV coincided with the first appearance of *NSYNC, and from there, it just got younger. After Britney Spears blew the doors down, there was a moment in the late ’90s when nobody in the top ten could legally vote; the buzzed-about celebrities roaming the hallways suddenly had tutors with them. MTV had always tried to lure teenagers, but starting in 1998, they used teenagers to do it. And they haven’t stopped. Neither has the rest of our our culture; TMZ has dispatched cameras to both Fanning sisters’ homecoming dances. Some of us took this shift as a cue to start looking outside 1515 for cultural enrichment; some did not. My colleagues at MTV were roughly 95 percent smart people who wanted to make engaging, memorable television, and 5 percent people who wanted to collect famous friends, and it was a special joy to watch the 5 percenters attempt to befriend 15-year-olds. I remember hearing a group of my co-workers boasting about the plans they’d made to hang out with Jamie-Lynn Sigler that weekend, and thinking, Congratulations, guys — you have dinner plans with a child.”—
Dave Holmes on the atmosphere at MTV in 1998, the era when my own post-grunge/punk reflexive MTV hatred peaked before sliding into collegiate disinterest and general non-acknowledgment of current pop culture. That downward trajectory in the age of pop stars is fascinating; on the face of it the exploitation of pop stars who are literally children seems repulsive (doesn’t just seem; it IS repulsive). But it makes far more sense that kids should crush on and idolize other teenagers than that they idolize or crush on Ric Ocasek. Without doing any research whatsoever, I’d bet you could chart the ages of the artists in heavy rotation on MTV and see a clear trend line from MTV’s start, when most videos featured established, rock-oriented acts and most rock stars were experienced, professional musicians, to the early 2000s, when the ages of MTV’s audience and its acts converged.
(Not that pop or rock stars weren’t always young, which they have been for a long time. Elvis was 19 when he started working with Sam Phillips. Diana Ross was 16 when she first auditioned for Berry Gordy. But the early years of MTV were full of wrinkled rock stars.)