How Banning Neil Young Outed MTV’s True Corporate Colors | UPROXX
Neil Young's "This Note's for You"
In 1988, MTV placed a station-wide ban on Neil Young's video "This Note's for You" due to "problems with trademark infringement."
Neil Young's "This Note's for You" video satirized high profile musicians like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston for selling out by endorsing brands.
In response, Young offered to re-shoot the video; however, MTV claimed the lyrics were just as problematic.
MTV eventually reversed the ban and the Julien Temple directed "This Note's for You" went on to win Video of The Year at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1989.
From How Banning Neil Young Outed MTV’s True Corporate Colors | UPROXX by Michael Depland:
While “This Note’s for You” failed to get a spot in the rotation on MTV, the clip garnered a ton of play in Young’s native Canada on Much Music. The groundswell behind the video (and the irony of its mysterious, if not draconian, ban) eventually became too much. The ban was ultimately lifted and, in a sweet twist, bested Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video (which was also a purposefully provocative clip intended to annoy her corporate sponsor; in this case, Pepsi) to win the Video of the Year award.Young wrote the following open letter to the MTV executives:
Watching the video for “This Note’s for You” now, it doesn’t exactly have any subtlety to spare. He literally drinks a beer at the end of the clip that says “sponsored by nobody.” Yet, at the time, it was something revolutionary. Neil Young was an artist who was big enough, and had a long enough track record, that his successes didn’t hang on whether or not he was getting play on MTV. He saw that others after him would be dependent on the network and the larger corporatism that was on the horizon, however, and he acted.
More than 25 years later, it’s clear that some of Young’s fears came to fruition, but you wonder who could make the same kind of stand today and be heard, even if there’s no comparison for something as powerful and vital to the music industry as MTV circa 1988 now. (Or is there?) Overall, everything feels so democratized, but it is the big corporations who remain gatekeepers, with the ability to crush a rogue spirit at any moment. Hopefully we’ll still have a few artists willing to give them the kiss off they deserve.
6th July, 1988
MTV, you spineless twerps.
You refuse to play "This Note's For You" because you're afraid to offend your sponsors.
What does the "M" in MTV stand for: music or money?
Long live rock and roll.
Neil Young's "This Note's for You"
Excerpt from "Shakey" (Mcdonough, Jimmy (2003-05-13). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography (p. 619). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition):
Corporate sponsorship had become rampant in rock and roll. The Rolling Stones were sponsored by Jovan perfume, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood were selling beer, Michael Jackson had been bought by Pepsi for $15 million. And Young, to the dismay of MTV and some of his peers, decided to poke fun at it.More on Neil Young: Humanitarian Rebel With Causes.
The video was directed by Julien Temple, who would create Young’s slickest videos in the years to come. Temple matched the tone of the lyric perfectly. The spot opens with Young somberly walking the streets, mimicking Clapton’s beer commercial. As Young croons about having “the real thing,” ghoulish celebrity look-alikes prance about, with Whitney Houston using a brew to out a fire on Michael Jackson’s head. Then comes a devastating parody of Calvin Klein’s obtuse perfume ads: “Neil Young’s Concession for men.” Finally a sardonic Young peers into the camera, exhibiting a beer can labeled SPONSORED BY NOBODY.
Pretty funny stuff, and it got a whole lot funnier in July when MTV standards and practices banned the spot—allegedly because it made references to brand names. The fact that Young’s clip was an obvious parody made one wonder who was being protected: the audience or the advertisers. “We knew we were fucking with MTV’s wallet, which is worse than fucking with their hang-ups with sex and violence,” said Temple. “Their wallet is their most important asset.”
“What does the M in MTV stand for: music or money?” wrote Young in an open letter, dissing MTV as “spineless jerks.” The thrill of seeing MTV squirm on account of a forty-three-year-old rocker who wasn’t on their playlist was rich. MTV provided “This Note’s for You” the kind of publicity you can’t buy. “I still can’t believe that such a dumb little song helped resuscitate my career the way it did,” Young later told Nick Kent.
On August 21, the channel broadcast a special twenty-minute report in an attempt to explain themselves—and finally showed the video. Host Kurt Loder interviewed a grumpy Neil Young—looking absurdly cool in all white with huge sunglasses, a Cirque du Soleil T-shirt and a cap from Pink’s hot-dog stand.
“Your bosses or whatever, they really messed up,” Young said, going on to explain why he was even present for the interview. “You’re so big that if I don’t come down here, not only might I not get this video on, I might not get the next video on. How am I supposed to know? The last thing I want to do is rub it in your face…. I just want to get my video on the air so people can see it—they can judge for themselves.” Young declared MTV “should be called television music, not music television.”
Crazily enough, “This Note’s for You” would go on to win Music Video of the Year at the MTV music awards—although the sound feed mysteriously dropped when Young stepped up for his acceptance speech. In the long run, the victory would be meaningless, as MTV has remained almost completely Young-free.