30 Years Later, 30 Reasons We Still Love VH1

Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It starts off like a Cinderella story: Once upon a time, in 1985, MTV got a nerdy stepsister called VH1. That stood for Video Hits One, and it was a channel aimed at the same lame-o middle-aged demographic that listened to adult-contemporary radio. And yet, despite all the Sting and Billy Joel videos, there was something about this fledgling network — something to suggest that maybe, just maybe, it could be kinda cool.
As the years went by, VH1 grew hipper and edgier, and in 1996, it debuted the irreverent game-changer Pop Up Video. The following year brought Behind the Music, and suddenly, this Cinderella story went all Frankenstein. In the decade that followed, VH1 produced a ton of original programming — some of it smart and centered on music (Legends, Hip Hop Honors), and much of it wacked-out, arguably tasteless reality fare starring has-beens and wannabes.
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Nowadays, VH1 has found a happy medium between music and reality, and in honor of the network's 30th anniversary, we're counting the 30 reasons we'll love and watch it forever, come hell or more Flavor Flav.
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It kicked off with class.

On January 1, 1985, VH1 officially launched with Marvin Gaye's performance of the national anthem from the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. At this performance in February '83, Gaye was wrestling with addiction and other demons, and by April '84, he'd be dead — fatally shot by his father. Built on little more than voice and drum machine, his "Star-Spangled Banner" touches on all of his personal turmoil, as well as the troubled state of the nation. It's spare, strangely funky, and insanely moving — a fine intro to the channel that would bring us Celebreality.
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For some reason, Don Imus was a VJ.

In 1985, Imus was a popular radio personality, so putting him on camera and letting him ramble grumpily about music and movies must have seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. According to Internet lore, he once referred to soul seductress Sade as a "grape," on account of the shape of her head, though evidence of this is hard to come by. (It was so much easier to be a turd in the pre-YouTube days.)
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It introduced us to Rosie.

Before she was all buddy-buddy with Madonna or adversarial with Barbara Walters, Rosie O’Donnell was a young comedian tapped to introduce videos and host Stand-up Spotlight, a then-novel showcase for fellow comics. Rosie was a natural, and in 1988, if you were on the fence about shelling out for Elton John tickets, she'd seal the deal.
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Elvira's Halloween show predicted a billion listicles.

In 1991, schlock-horror goddess Elvira hosted a countdown of the 21 greatest Halloween videos of all time. Sound familiar? That's because every pop-culture website has done its own version of that scary-vid list. How many thought to put INXS' "Devil Inside" at No. 2, though? Props to the Mistress of the Dark.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It kind of invented '8 Things You Need to Know This Morning.'

Full disclosure: R29's daily briefing isn't a totally original idea. In 1991, VH1 premiered Hits, News & Weather, a morning show featuring — you guessed it — music videos, headlines, and forecasts. It was a great way to keep up with the political upheavals in Eastern Europe and the personal upheavals fueling Michael Bolton's songwriting — and figure out whether to take an umbrella with you.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It still owns the a.m.

VH1 stepped up its morning game when it hired Nick Lachey to host Big Morning Buzz. The 98 Degrees singer was always a better TV personality than he was a pop star, and sometimes — as with his goofy 2014 year-end wrap-up song — this lovable lug gets to combine his talents and produce some TV that sends you out the door with a smile. He's like Regis with sweet pecs and a tribal tattoo.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
The '94 rebranding was music to our ears.

To boost ratings, VH1 transformed itself into VH1: Music First. This meant more video blocks, and for a few glorious years, the network even devoted July 4th weekend to playing everything in its vaults from A to Z. There's no better way to celebrate our nation's independence than watching 14 Billy Joel videos in a row.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It completely demystified the songwriting process.

In 1996, following the success of MTV Unplugged, VH1 got its own flagship performance show, Storytellers. This was a chance for artists ranging from Tom Waits to Christina Aguilera to share the often-inane stories behind lyrics you'd always thought were really meaningful. Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf"? Turns out it's not about man's search for meaning in the treacherous jungle of modern life.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Pop Up Video educated the masses.

As texting and Twitter have taught us, information is best when broken down into witty sentence-long bits and displayed via colorful bubbles. If America's public schools were to teach math and history using techniques pioneered by Pop Up Video — which debuted in 1996 and offered trivia and informative asides related to rock videos — we'd probably be a much smarter nation.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Three words: Behind. The. Music.

If VH1 has taught us one thing, it's that every pop star's life follows the same basic trajectory. Pick any episode of Behind the Music, and you'll see some famous musician journey from humble beginnings to superstardom, then drug addiction, then bankruptcy (financial and spiritual), and finally redemption. The premiere episode, all about Milli Vanilli, was truly heartbreaking and powerful, though in terms of sheer salaciousness, Mötley Crüe's takes the cake.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Legends got special treatment.

Some artists deserve better than Behind the Music, and for those, VH1 created Legends. Subjects include Bruce Springsteen, the Clash, U2, and Aretha Franklin — true giants who presumably never lip-synced like Milli Vanilli or snorted ants like Mötley Crüe.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Rock & Roll Jeopardy! made us feel smart.

Rule No. 1 of Rock & Roll Jeopardy!: There are no rules! Rule No. 2: Answers must be phrased in the form of a question. For four seasons beginning in 1998, host Jeff Probst held contestants to this totally square sentence structure, but even so, R&RJ was pretty fun. Unlike real Jeopardy!, you didn’t need a degree in physics or Russian literature to run a category and risk it all on a Daily Double. Simply knowing that Rolling Stone picked Beck’s Odelay as the best album of 1996 was enough.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Like Wu-Tang, VH1 is for the children.

As school districts across the country slashed budgets and cut music programs, VH1 sprang into action and formed its own nonprofit, Save the Music. Since 1997, the foundation has raised more than $50 million, ensuring that high schools of tomorrow will have plenty of band geeks for jocks to ridicule.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It predicted the female pop takeover.

Okay, maybe not, but with 1998's inaugural Divas concert, VH1 got Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan, and Celine Dion to perform on the same stage without clawing each other's eyes out. A bunch of sequels followed, and at the last one, in 2012, Adam Lambert hosted and Miley Cyrus was among the performers. Amazingly, viewers didn't claw their own eyes out.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
VH1 Classic scratched a pesky itch.

In the late '90s, people old enough to remember the "good old days" of MTV and VH1 began complaining that neither channel played music anymore. This was before YouTube came along to offer instant access to any obscure New Wave, alt-rock, or hip-hop clip you could think of. Enter VH1 Classic, which debuted in '99 and aired nothing but videos, 24/7. The potential for drinking games was boundless, but the real fun came in swilling coffee and staying up for days on end waiting for that elusive Ugly Kid Joe video you hadn't seen since '94.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
The original movies more or less lived up to their tagline.

Billed as Movies That Rock, the dozen-plus in-house features VH1 produced in the late '90s and early '00s were pretty watchable — especially Two of Us, all about a night in 1976 when Paul McCartney and John Lennon almost reunited on SNL.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It reunited us with old friends.

From 1999 to 2002, Where Are They Now? hipped us to what had become of our favorite one-hit wonders, hair-metal screamers, video vixens, child stars, teen idols, Saturday Night Fever cast members, and more. These updates generally ranged from mildly depressing to really freaking sad, begging the question, "Is it better to have rocked out in spandex and been swept aside by Nirvana than it is to have never rocked at all?"
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Photo: BEImages/Matt Baron.
Mark McGrath shocked us to our core.

Believe it or not, there are 100 moments in music history more shocking than Sugar Ray scoring a No. 1 hit, and in 2001, Mark McGrath and his goatee counted them down. In the top five, there were three murders, a suicide, and an accusation of child molestation. An updated version aired in 2009, as the recent death of a certain accused child molester necessitated some reshuffling.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It took nostalgia to the Nth.

Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best. In 2002, working from the template of a successful BBC show, VH1 got a bunch of random celebs — most of them C- and D-listers — and asked them to make snarky comments about pop-cultural ephemera from a quarter-century earlier. They called it I Love the '80s, and it was totally tubular. It spawned various '70s and '90s iterations, as well as I Love the New Millennium, which aired before the '00s were even finished. A proper I Love the 2000s premiered in 2014, but by then, everyone was too obsessed with 1994 to care. Funny how nostalgia works.
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Photo: REX USA.
Nugent blasted us with crazy bullets.

It wasn't enough to give gun-loving right-wing rocker Ted Nugent an episode of Behind the Music. Heeding the public's demand for more Nuge, VH1 gave us Surviving Nugent in 2003. Described as The Osbournes meets Survivor, this reality show featured a gang of brave contestants competing in outdoorsy activities — many involving guns — on Teddy's Texas ranch. Thankfully, everyone made it out alive, and one player, Tila Tequila, later got her own MTV show.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Respect for real hip-hop.

In the early days, the network didn't really mess with rap, but by 2004, demographics had shifted, and savvy execs created VH1 Hip Hop Honors, an annual celebration of game-changing MCs, DJs, producers, and even graffiti artists. The first class of honorees included Kool Herc, KRS-One, and Public Enemy, and the last one, in 2010, featured 2 Live Crew, Timbaland, and the Atlanta production squad Organized Noise. It was quite a turnabout for a channel that built its rep with Carly Simon and Elton John videos.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Respect for classic rock, too.

Hip Hop Honors worked so well that VH1 produced three years of Rock Honors. Here was a way to satiate oldster viewers while keeping current, and the first two installments found bands like Godsmack, All-American Rejects, and Queens of the Stone Age giving props to FM staples like Def Leppard, Heart, Queen, and Ozzy. The final one, in 2008, saw the Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, Pearl Jam, and others paying tribute to the Who, who also performed.
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Photo: REX USA/SNAP/Rex.
It turned "guilty pleasure" to "awesomely bad."

There's no reason to hate yourself for liking "Achy Breaky Heart" or "Ice Ice Baby" — no. 2 and 5, respectively, on VH1's 2004 list of the 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs…Ever! They were engineered to caress your ears and siphon dollars from your wallet, and kudos to the network for celebrating these and other memorable songs of dubious artistic merit — not stigmatizing them. That said, Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'," no. 4, isn't awesomely bad. It's horrendously, soul-crushingly bad. That should be another list.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
"Celebreality" captured the zeitgeist perfectly.

By 2005, that "music first" credo had long since bitten the dust. The network's new steez was throwing washed-up stars in L.A. McMansions and waiting for booze, sexual tension, greed, and shame to create the perfect atmospheric conditions for riveting television. And, did they ever! They called this programming block "Celebreality," even though the contestants were rarely proper celebs, and there was nothing even remotely real about the situations. Shows like The Surreal Life, My Fair Brady, and Flavor of Love were just right for the Dubya years, when life made about as much sense as the latter seasons of Lost.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Crazy shows begat even crazier ones.

The fourth season of The Surreal Life spawned a romantic connection between Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America's Next Top Model, and Christopher Knight, a.k.a. Peter Brady on The Brady Bunch. Instead of, like, moving off to the country and thanking their lucky stars they'd found love in a hopeless place, they let the madness ride and agreed to My Fair Brady. Over the course of three seasons, the program chronicled their courtship and marriage, with a bit of lesbianism, breast augmentation, and heavy boozing thrown in, just to keep it fresh.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Speaking of batshit shows begetting bat-shittier ones...

With Flavor of Love, a spin-off of Strange Love, VH1 reached a level of outlandishness that led journalists to pen think-pieces, rap fans to question their allegiance to Public Enemy, and everyone else to tune in regularly. Flavor of Love was ostensibly a dating show centered around PE hype man Flavor Flav, and in addition to Danish actress and model Brigitte Nielsen, who starred on the first season, the series featured a mess of young, crazy females competing for Flav's affections. In 2008, as Barack Obama made his historic bid for the White House, Chris Rock offered his thoughts on whether Flav was doing a disservice to the cause of racial equality. "Flavor Flav must be killed in order for black people to be truly free," he said. Flav lives, but the show, sadly, is no longer.
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
It also helped rockers find love.

"Every rose has its thorn," Bret Michaels of Poison once wrote, so you know he's a deep-thinking dude with a poet's soul. The bandana-clad hair-metal vet spent three seasons searching for a sweetie on Rock of Love, and while the show didn't yield a wife, it reignited his celebrity and scored him a bunch of other reality-TV appearances. It's like he said: "Every night has its dawn."
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Photo: Courtesy of VH1.
Intense sociological debates (no really).

Is VH1 wrong for airing shows like Basketball Wives and Love & Hip Hop, since they don't always portray black women in the most positive light? Or, is the network simply giving people what they want? Ratings often suggest the latter, though in 2012, online petitions circulated demanding that viewers boycott these and other arguably exploitative shows.
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Photo: BEImages/Jim Smeal.
Weave Trip actually sets a good example.

Scoff if you will: Tiny & Shekinah's Weave Trip centers on two black female entrepreneurs crossing the country and providing a valuable service people want. A mobile hair salon is no sillier than whatever artisanal food truck people are salivating over this week, so come on, haters — grab a kimchi taco and tune in.
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Photo: REX USA/MediaPunch Inc.
Tyra's repping for the trans* community.

In May 2014, VH1 announced that Tyra Banks would team with Gay Rosenthal to produce an eight-episode reality series about trans women living in Chicago. "The series will follow these women as they navigate dating, family and professional ambitions on their own terms in a city known for being equally modern and traditional," reads the press release. If this thing's done right, it could do a lot of good.
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