Silent Shout: MTV Classic Is A Force For Good

Carl Williott | August 17, 2016 10:00 am

Silent Shout is our recurring dispatch from pop’s fringes. It may not be music for the masses, but — to paraphrase *NSYNC — this might be pop.

Note: If you wanna skip over a short essay arguing that ’90s babies need to tune into MTV Classic, scroll down to the purple-and-green checkerboard for the new tunes.


After spending a couple weeks with MTV Classic and its video blocks, I have determined that despite its existence as a blatant nostalgia-culture cash-grab, it is a Good Thing. Here’s my reasoning:

1. There were many bad things about the MTV era: the network’s initial reluctance to air videos from black artists, Jesse the VJ, those TRL fan cut-ins in the middle of videos, the fact that they were just another gatekeeper deciding what you got to listen to and when.

2. There are many bad things about the streaming era: the shady stats, the piss-poor royalty rates, the exclusivity wars.

3. There are many great things about the streaming era: The freedom to choose what music you experience and when, pretty much without limits, is a staggering cultural development! Like, imagine living when the printing press went mainstream — that’s basically what we’re experiencing with the internet. And it has developed to the point where we have the ability to seek out music that fits the exact specifications of our own individual tastes just with a few taps on a tiny computer that we keep in our pockets.

4. There were many great things about the MTV era: Even now, with all this freedom, we still want to be told what to listen to. Hence the proliferation of music sites, curated playlists, satellite radio stations and streaming algorithms. Seeking out new music is hard, and that’s partly why MTV was king, with genre-specific shows like 120 Minutes or Yo! MTV Raps. But the real thrill came from their random video blocks, which helped you come across things you weren’t even looking for or aware of. That doesn’t happen now. You live in your meticulously curated streaming bubble, and there’s no MTV to sneak in and pierce it. Today, it’s possible to go very long stretches without ever hearing music you don’t wanna hear. Which also means occasionally missing out on music you didn’t know you wanted to hear.

5. There are many bad things about nostalgia oversaturation: Fuller House, for instance.

6. MTV Classic is one of the good outgrowths of the nostalgia-media complex: Sure there’s the whole “this is what rappers used to dress like, this is what rock sounded like before Nirvana” aspect of the channel’s Classic Video programming, which of course gives people in their 30s and 40s warm memories. But think about how the experience of watching a string of random, forgotten music videos could impact millennials. The same way Friends is becoming a sensation among ’90s babies because it gives them a tidy glimpse of what hanging out was like before smartphones and social media and constant connectivity, MTV Classic can let them sample existence before the perpetual streaming search. People who never experienced a world without Napster or iTunes can DVR the 5 a.m. slot and throw it on after class, recreating that strange time when choice didn’t reign and songs were simply presented to you, whether you liked them or not. It’s not a place you’d wanna live, but it’s an important place to visit for a couple hours here and there, and MTV Classic is letting us do just that.

If there’s a through-line to the five new alt-pop songs featured below, I guess it’s that these are exactly the type of buzz bin oddities you’d stumble upon back in the day, while half-asleep on the couch waiting for the MTV overlords to play the new NIN video again.


silent shout header

Cosima — “Had To Feel Something”

The debut song from this 22-year-old Londoner exists in that subdued trip-hop/R&B realm that flourished in the mid-90s. These things would burrow into your head on one listen and then seemingly disappear into the MTV archives forever. But now you don’t need some network executive to deem it worthy of another play, and that’s unquestionably the best aspect of our current digital music moment.

Fauna Twin — “Water On Mars”

Parisian singer-songwriter Claire Jacquemard and Welsh artist Owain Ginsberg team up for this project, and they just signed to Crammed Discs. All we have to go by is debut single “Water On Mars,” but its psychedelic gallop will appeal to anyone who got into their labelmate Juana Molina‘s last LP. The song provides plenty of gristle to chew on ahead of an EP later this year and the duo’s debut full length in 2017.

Warpaint — “New Song”

Never thought I’d be talking about hypnotic rockers Warpaint in a pop context, but here we are with their beat-driven new song “New Song.” The Cali quartet’s signature harmonies are present, but some weird chirps and sharp disco drums take the focus instead of their rhythm section’s usual spiral-sprawl interplay. It’s the lead single off the band’s third album Heads Up, out September 23.

serpentwithfeet — “Blisters” What do you even call this? It’s beautiful and confounding, alternating between the orchestral and the ominously minimal, with the Baltimore singer’s vibrato serving as the connective tissue. Produced by Björk‘s recent collaborator The Haxan Cloak, it certainly brings to mind their work on Vulnicura, as well as the beautiful gloom of ANOHNI‘s Hopelessness, but with less of a focus on atonal electronics. It’s his second song, and the title track from his EP out on Tri Angle on September 2.

The Faint — “Skylab1979”

Amped-up synth-pop is no longer cool or exciting, and that’s partly because ’00s dance-punk godfathers The Faint were already making such sounds nearly 20 years ago. The Omaha band is releasing a much-deserved career retrospective, CAPSULE:1999-2016, on September 30. This is one of three new tracks on the comp, and its serrated keyboard riffs are just as propulsive as the ones from their Danse Macabre prime; it’s a burner built upon nostalgia for a recent subgenre which was itself nostalgic for a genre that peaked in MTV’s early years.