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5 Things I Learned Watching the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards

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Sunday night (August 27) all the cool kids, and adults who want to see what the kids are into, were watching the MTV Music awards. OK, lets be honest we all watch some clips online Monday.

Anyways, during the 2017 edition of the VMAs, a video of the 1989 VMA, commercials and all, was floating around my social media feeds. As a man who is infected with a sad case of ‘MTV when I was a kid’ nostalgia, I had to set aside house and yard work to watch (and let’s honest work-work).

Unfortunately I’m here to report that once again, everything from the time I was a MTV devote (’88-’93) does not hold up. It’s that high school crush you find on Facebook and realize how much you’ve grown and can’t believe you spent so much time with. Yes, this is the VMAs where Andrew Dice Clay did his Dirty Nursery Rhyme bit and got banned from MTV, and where Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora invented MTV Unplugged. But still, it was underwhelming.

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Here are five things I noticed while watching the 1989 MTV VMAs in 2017.

1) I forgot that there was time people under 50 cared about the Rolling Stones. 

I should amend that, people under 50 and Rock music snobs. Yes, “Paint it Black” and “Mother’s Little Helper” are two of the best rock song in the history of rock songs; and “Symphony for the Devil” went on to be a great Guns N Roses song. But, in 1989 The Rolling Stones were still a thing, at least someone was still trying to make them one. They were all over the new music promos, performances and commercials.

Well, I forget that in 1989 American pop culture was deep in a ’60s nostalgia phase. Former hippies were trying to repackage their youth and resell it to ‘the kids these days.’

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2) The VMAs Have Always Been a Mess.

You would think that after thirty-odd years they would have some idea how to produce an awards show. Missed cues, people on stage that don’t seem to know they are on TV, production mistakes.

What makes it even worse, is that now I can see how manufactured that chaos was. It my have been cute and fun the first few years, but by 1989 it felt too much like a camp talent show put together by adults with the mantra “The kids’ll watch this, who cares….remember the 60s?”

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3) I also Forgot that there Was a Time Paula Abdul was a Real Superstar.

If your only exposure to Paula Abdul has been, well, anything she’s done this century, then it’d be easy to forget that she was one of the hottest stars at the end of the 80s. Here album Forever Your Girl spawned three huge hits and a duet with a cartoon cat.

Let’s see Taylor Swift do that, the cartoon cat part.

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Paula won four awards that night including Best Female Video, Best Dance and Best Choreography. She performed a great melody of “Straight Up,” “Cold Hearted,” and “Forever Your Girl.” Those are great songs.

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4) It’s Time to Bring Back Julie Brown!

No, no, no, not Downtown Julie Brown. She’s great and all, but I’m talking about the redhead actor/comedian/singer/writer. Some people may know her as the Ms. Stoeger in the movie Clueless, or as the writer of Camp Rock. Maybe you know her from her two episode stint as Secretary Patti on Laverne & Shirley

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But, for me she is the star of MTV’s Just Say Julie!, the weirdest, craziest show my 13 year-old self ever saw. It was a spastic Pee-Wee’s Playhouse type show that took MTV as seriously as it deserved to be taken. Before Bevis and Butthead, Julie was mocking the things we loved, only to make us love them, and her, more.

During the 1989 VMAs Julie is doing interstitial comedy bits about her getting late to the show and her spot on the show was given away to Sheena Easton. Eventually she breaks into Easton’s dressing room and beats up a mannequin.

It’s time for the Just Say Julie! renaissance! There is a huge hole in the making fun of pop culture world now that The Soup and @midnight are gone. We need our Julie!

5) I Forgot How Much Great Music Came out of the Era.

Taking a look at the nominations for the 1989 VMA’s it’s a cavalcade of huge songs off of huge albums from huge artists. Along with Paula Abdul; we had Micheal Jackson’s Bad, Madonna’s Like a Prayer, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, Guns N Roses’s Appetite for Destruction and Metallica’s …And Justice For All. Plus this is the time of the rise of Bobby Brown, Tone Loc, and Living Colour. And they took Rap music seriously, in a 1989 sort of way.

In that weird time before Nirvana and Dr. Dre there was great music being made.

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