watch David Bowie blast MTV for not playing enough Black artists in 1983
As revolutionary as MTV was in its early years, the music video network was also under fire for not playing enough Black artists. They were taken to task on this by David Bowie -- who was part of the network's early "I Want My MTV" campaign -- during a 1983 MTV News interview with original VJ Mark Goodman. MTV itself posted the interview in 2016 and it's been making the rounds again in the wake of protests against systemic racism and police brutality that have followed since the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hand of police (and in the wake of the entertainment world making changes that aim to decrease racial inequality).
At the start of the interview clip, Bowie says, "It occurred to me, having watched MTV over the last few months, that’s it’s a solid enterprise, really. It’s got a lot going for it. I’m just floored by the fact that there are so few black artists featured on it. Why is that?"
Goodman is on the defensive for the whole interview, and says "We have to play the music that we think an entire country is going to like. And certainly we are a rock ‘n’ roll station. Now, the question would be asked, should, since we’re in New York, should [W]PLJ play, you know, the Isley Brothers. Well, you and I might say, well, yeah, because we’ve grown up in an era when the Isley Brothers mean something to me. And so do the Spinners way after the Isley Brothers. But what does it mean to a 17-year-old? Well, when you talk on the phone to these guys like I did when I was in radio, it’s scary."
Bowie replies, "Well, I'll tell you what it means. I'll tell you what maybe the Isley Brothers or Marvin Gaye means to a black 17-year-old. Surely he’s part of America as well....Do you not find that it’s a frightening predicament to be in?"
Near the end of the segment, the camera slowly zooms tight in on Bowie's faces as he listens to Goodman saying, "there certainly are a lot of black kids and white kids who may want to see black music, but there’s a ton of them who are -- it’s not like it was in ’67 where you say, 'Yeah, I’m not into that, but you are? Yeah?' Now it’s, 'You’re into that? I don’t like YOU.' And that’s scary, and we can’t just turn around and go, 'Well, look, this is the right way!' We can only teach, I think, a little bit at a time." Bowie, smiling, replies, "Interesting. OK, thank you very much." Goodman asks, "Does that make sense? Is it a valid point?" and Bowie, still smiling, says "I understand your point of view" and laughs.
You can watch the whole interview below.
Also, flash forward 10 years to 1993 when David Bowie told The TODAY Show that the only artists who were being truly creative were rappers: