In 1983, David Bowie released his mega-selling Let’s Dance album and handily proved he could not only survive but thrive in the MTV era. Tracks like “Modern Love,” “Let’s Dance,” and “China Girl” logged plenty of hours on the cable channel in those days, but the black artists who had so strongly influenced Bowie’s music were notably absent from the station. This frustrating discrepancy led to a rather tense conversation that year when Bowie sat down to chat with original MTV VJ Mark Goodman. In the wake of Bowie’s death, the decades-old clip has been getting some additional attention, as it still makes for riveting viewing today. As was his nature, Bowie is calm and well-mannered when making his case to Goodman, making sure to mix in some praise with his criticism:
It occurred to me, having watched MTV over the last few months, that it’s a solid enterprise, and 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.
Goodman, for his part, is a company man and does what he can to defend his employers. He refutes Bowie’s claim that MTV only plays black artists during out-of-the-way time periods and says that the channel is trying to include more videos by acts like Prince, despite the backlash that causes. The problem, he explains, is that MTV reaches the entire country and has to appeal to the widest (read: whitest) possible audience. It’s not like a radio station that can appeal to a local demographic. And some white teeenagers were making it very clear back then what they didn’t want to see on MTV, as evidenced by an angry letter sent to rock critic Dave Marsh by a disgruntled viewer. “Well, that’s his problem,” Bowie counters. Change is coming to MTV, Goodman promises, but it has to be done slowly and carefully. In the end, Bowie hasn’t changed his mind on the subject but graciously says, “I understand your point of view.”