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Music / Video Killed the Radio Star

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"(Oh-a oh-a) You were the first one
(Oh-a oh-a) You are the last one"

"Video Killed the Radio Star" is a 1979 song by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley, first performed by Woolley in 1979 for his debut album English Garden before Horn and Downes recorded their own version as The Buggles, becoming the debut single for the latter's 1980 debut album The Age of Plastic. Though both versions saw single releases parallel to one another in 1979, the Buggles' rendition, released through Island Records, was also released with a promotional music video that was shot in a day on a budget of $50,000.

While reaching the top ten chart positions in many Anglosphere and European countries, the song barely scraped a Top 40 position in the United States when it was first released. But then on August 1, 1981, at 12:01 AM EST, MTV hit the airwaves for the first time, and aptly, the music video was the very first to play after the promotional bumper. It had since been used as a milestone, like when MTV played its millionth music video on February 27, 2000, or when MTV Classic opened in Ireland and the UK on March 2010.

Tropes came and broke my heart:

  • Chroma Key: An early usage towards the beginning, and it shows, particularly when the explosives effect have bled into the girl where some darker shades in the hair should be.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: The Buggles' version rewrites the second half of the first verse, replacing the narrator's fantasizing over old radio stars with a description of how new technology ends up perverting older classics, tying in with the Buggles' dystopian lore (about a mad scientist pumping out Shoddy Knockoff Product versions of classic hits) and more thoroughly emphasizing the Ludd Was Right themes.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Trevor Horn's part as the eponymous radio star in the Buggles' music video is shot in black and white, with the contrast cranked up to the highest possible level.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: The second bridge says that we ought to "put the blame on VCR" (VTR in the Bruce Woolley version) for radio's obsolescence in the song's setting.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: That tall, dark-haired keyboardist dressed in all-black who suddenly appears in the final 30 seconds? A young Hans Zimmer, who assisted Horn and Downes with synthesizer programming on The Age of Plastic.
  • End of an Age: The song focuses on how television supplanted the radio as a means of entertainment.
    • And it would also serve as a harbinger of image-centric videos supplanting radio songs alone. Fittingly, it was the first music video aired on MTV.
  • Fade to White: How the music video ends.
  • Ludd Was Right: The song's narrator bemoans how advancements in technology have rendered all of his childhood pastimes and icons obsolete, witnessing landscapes of abandoned studios and old greats shoved through the filters of new devices.
  • Mad Scientist: Trevor Horn appears as one for the majority of the music video, tying in with the trope's importance to the Buggles' fictional backstory.
  • Radio Song: A well-known example, with the narrator of the song reminiscing about the times listening to the radio.
  • Retraux: Trevor Horn's vocals are processed to sound like they're being sung through an old ribbon microphone (Horn collaborator and Art of Noise bandmate Gary Langan speculated in 2001 that it actually was sung into a ribbon mic), and Horn himself affects a Mid-Atlantic accent like those used by radio performers during the 50's and 60's.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Horn appears in a snazzy tux during his parts in the video as a radio star, contrasting the synthetic-looking lab coat he wears as a Mad Scientist.
  • Shout-Out: Based on the short story "The Sound-Sweep" by J.G. Ballard, about a mute boy who "vacuums up" sound in a future where ultra-sonic sound has replaced audible, regular sound, happening upon an opera singer in an abandoned theatre.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Within the first minute, the radio blew up, which eventually leads to a similar effect utilized on a pile of animated, discarded radios. Given that it's an early use of the Chroma Key, some of that first explosion bled into the little girl near the radio.
  • White Void Room: Most of the music video is set in one; a similar setting is used in the video for "Living in the Plastic Age".