Happy Birthday, MTV! Let’s Celebrate 32 Years of Actin’ Up (With GIFs!)

Photo: (MTV, Getty)

Photo: (MTV, Getty)

By Rachel Taylor

After more than three decades on the scene, MTV’s good just keeps getting better. From Marky Mark in his underwear to the first lady addressing education, here are MTV’s top pro-social moments of the past 32 years (with GIFs!)

1981: MTV airs a multicultural act on its very first day of broadcasting. The 58th video played on August 1, 1981 was “Rat Race” by The Specials, a band from England.

1982: MTV tries out its first campaign, “I Want My MTV,” to get in more households and spread that social good!

1983: MTV helps break the barrier African American artists are facing to get airtime, many thanks to a guy named Michael Jackson and girl named “Bille Jean.”


1984-1984: MTV helps launch one of the first LGBTQ anthems, Depeche Mode’s “People are People.”

1985: MTV puts on Live Aid, one of the biggest charity concerts of all time. Sixteen hours of music, 1.4 billion viewers, and over $200 million raised to fight the famine in Ethiopia? Yeah, we’d call it a success.


1986: MTV and Whitney Houston believe that children are our future and help “Greatest Love of All” shoot to the top of the charts.

1987: As a part of MTV’s Rock Against Drugs (RAD) campaign, Jon Bon Jovi goes off the script to tell it to us straight: “There ain’t no winners out there doing drugs.”

1988: Run-D.M.C. tells us to run and V-O-T-E (for president, that is) at MTV’s Campaign Convention concert.

1989: MTV airs an environmental PSA about acid rain.

1990: A PSA for MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign features Madonna wrapped in — what else? An American flag!!!


1991: MTV hosts the first Annual Rock n’ Jock B-Ball Jam, with proceeds going to charity. Cue Marky Mark‘s tighty-whities halftime act


1992: MTV encourages us to vote with a new pro-democracy campaign called Choose or Lose.


1993: MTV’s “Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign airs its first TV promo.

1994: Season 3 of “The Real World” features Pedro Zamora, one of the first openly gay men living with HIV on television.


1995: MTV’s continues it’s “Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign and another promo is broadcasted.

1996: The psychedelic MTV “Choose or Lose Bus” rolls through 48 states to promote voter registration.

1997: MTV launches It’s Your (Sex) Life, a public information campaign to support young people in making responsible decisions about their sexual health.

1998: MTV introduces Staying Alive, an initiative to fight HIV.

1999: The mothers of Biggie and Tupac meet on the VMA stage and encourage us to use music to spread love.


2000: The Rock the Vote bus takes to the streets with a four-month tour, and MTV encourages us to “piss off a politician” by voting.

2001: MTV stops regular programming for 24 hours to raise awareness about hate crimes as part of the campaign Fight For Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination.

2002: MTV recognizes World AIDS Day with a Staying Alive concert broadcast from Cape Town, South Africa.

2003: MTV Europe launches EXIT, a campaign to end exploitation and trafficking.

2004: Diddy wears the same shirt for a lot of months straight and tells us to “Vote or Die” as part of MTV’s Choose or Lose campaign.


2005: Twenty years after Live Aid, MTV follows up with Live 8, a string of charity concerts around the world raising awareness about famine in Africa. A major venue was in Philadelphia, and that means only one thing — the entire crowd coming together to recite “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme.

2006: MTV and The Jed Foundation team up to launch Half of Us, a campaign to raise awareness of and provide resources for mental health issues.


2007: MTV and the Clinton Global Initiative come together to engage college students in global action.

2008: mtvU dedicates its March programming to college students’ mental health.

2009: MTV launches Get Yourself Tested (GYT), a campaign to increase STD testing, and A Thin Line, a campaign to help stop digital abuse.


2010: MTV, The Jed Foundation, and Brittany Snow join forces to create Love is Louder, a campaign to encourage young people to spread love not hate.

2011: MTV adds a social activism category to the VMAs, “Best Video with a Message.” Vote for your favorite video here! Oh, and one other thing: MTV Act is born!


2012: MTV’s Power of 12 campaign is launched to encourage voting.

2013: MTV Base lets us hang out (on Google+, but still …) with none other than The First Lady! Mrs. Obama discussed one of MTV Act’s favorite topics, education.


Time flies when you’re having fun and doing good. Here’s to many more decades to come!

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