Youth Culture Window

What does the “M” In MTV Stand For?

We live in a world of acronyms and abbreviations, most of which carry significant meaning. Almost everyone knows what ASAP, VIP, AWOL, and NFL stands for. But when it comes to MTV, there’s some confusion about what that “M” actually represents.

“M,” As In…
This past weekend, MTV aired its 27th annual Video Music Awards show (aka, the VMAs). The self-proclaimed “biggest night of the year” is usually a gathering of the latest and hottest celebrity music makers who provide millions of viewers with a glimpse of their personality…and sexuality. 

In large part, MTV’s 2010 VMAs stuck with that unoriginal game plan. Sadly, this award show is both a reflection of today’s pop culture and a prediction of where pop culture is headed (I, Jonathan, talked a little more about this in my blog today).

However, after watching this year’s VMAs, we began to wonder “What does the “M” in MTV actually stand for?” Once upon a time, the “M” in MTV stood for Music, as in Music Television. But during the live show on Sunday night, we began to think the “M” stood for “mute-button.” (Yes, once again, MTV pushed the limits in all areas, including foul language that required “bleeping.”)

If you’re familiar with the programming of MTV, and more specifically the VMAs, you might have your own suggestions as to what the “M” in MTV stands for. Based on what I saw at the 2010 MTV VMAs, I have three guesses.

The “M” Stands for Mucky
Even before she took the stage, host Chelsea Handler’s opening video clip showed her getting her butt slapped by everyone in Hollywood…including Lindsay Lohan. Channeling Lady Gaga, Handler then took the stage and stuck to her usual script: crude, vulgar, and painfully unfunny standup. Here are a few quotes from her opening monologue:

“I didn’t drink all week in preparation for my hosting duties tonight. And my plan was to stay sober the entire show, but in an interesting twist, I am as high as a kite!” 

    • After the crowd cheers, she attributes her stupor to attending a prayer circle with Snoop Dogg.

“I was excited to do this awards show because every year something so exciting happens at the VMAs. But what I’m scared most is, that, this year, everybody – all of you idiots – will suddenly get your acts together, so I want to encourage everyone to be on their worst behavior!” 

    • (The crowd goes wild, of course.)

“And I’m not talking about just like some predictable awards show girl-on-girl kiss. We’ve all seen that, OK. I’m over that. I wanna turn this mutha out! Get your tongues ready because I want one shoved someplace it’s not supposed to be!”

“And if anybody wants to whip out a booby and give a nipple wink to the crowd, go for it! Once again, I’m talking to you, Taylor Swift. I would have directed that joke at you, Snooki, but your nipple’s already out. Oopsie.” 

    • When she got on the subject of teen sensation Justin Bieber, she talked about his usually well-behaved and docile personality, but admitted,

“There are a few things that actually piss him off. The main one being mistaken for a 28-year-old lesbian. His song ‘Baby’ is so amazing! It’s an amazing love song! Just imagine how good his music will be when he sees a vagina.”

These examples were only from her opening monologue. Throughout the night, she continued her sexual rants, as often as she could. At one point, she mentions being “dry humped by the guy who used to hold the umbrella” for a certain hip hop star. And when she referred to Katy Perry as both “boobalicious” and “assalicious,” the crowd got the point, even though she invented the words on the spot. (We apologize if we didn’t spell those words correctly.)

Katy Perry joined in the mucky humor. While making a presentation during the show, she handed the silver, metallic “moonman” award to young female rapper Nicki Minaj (who many know for her course rapping in “Bedrock”) and quipped, “Here’s one of your five men. Have fun tonight; he’s stiff.” 

The cast of Jackass also presented an award…while simultaneously promoting their upcoming 3D movie. One of the members of the crew ripped off his clothes, revealing a bizarre pair of exotic underwear with a dangling penis-like sock puppet.

There were more examples of the sex-laden humor, but I think you see why the “M” could very easily stand for mucky.

The “M” Stands for Monsters
When you think of “monsters,” you probably recall those creatures you thought lived under your bed when you were a kid. But that’s not what Lady Gaga thinks of when she says “monsters.” She’s referring to her fans. And at this year’s 2010 VMAs, she referred to them a lot…mainly because she won a lot.

Lady Gaga took home 8 different moonmen for her smash hits, including the grand daddy of all the awards, Best Video. While accepting her award for Best Female Video, early in the show, she said, “Tonight, little monsters, we’re the cool kids at the party.” Her closing words for this particular awards reception were, “And thank you to the gays for remaking this video over and over again.”

Later, while accepting her award for Best Pop Video, Lady Gaga dropped a line about “born this way” that got a few members from the cast from Glee – a cast known for their homosexual-friendly views – really excited. It was only after she won the biggest award of the night, Video of the Year, that she clarified her earlier statement.

“And I promised if I won this [award] tonight I’d announce the name of my new record. It’s called Born This Way.” A tearful Lady Gaga then spontaneously burst into previously unheard lyrics, a cappella:

How beautiful in my way
Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way

There is no doubt about it; Lady Gaga and her “monsters” had a sensational night. And if Lady Gaga has any say in the matter, MTV’s “M” will continue to represent her “monsters”… her fans.

The “M” Stands for Music
20 long years ago, the “M” in MTV clearly stood for one thing, and one thing only: music. Today, that’s not the case. In fact, earlier this year, MTV actually (and officially) dropped the word “music” from their famous logo.

But this year’s VMAs definitely revived music as the show’s missing link. In fact, I can’t remember a VMA that crammed as much live music into it as this one did (which may explain why the show went 15 minutes over its allotted running time).

The show opened with a live performance by Eminem and Rihanna, and never looked back. Justin Bieber escaped a street full of screaming girls to take the stage and perform a medley of his hits. Usher switched gears a bit, and offered millions of viewers a medley of his own…coupled with a heavy dose of technology-aided dancing.

Florence + The Machine sang a live rendition of “The Dark Days Are Over.” Linkin Park rocked Griffith Park with a cool version of “The Catalyst,” and Drake sang “Fancy” with a little help from Swizz Beatz and Mary J Blige. Rounding out the group efforts was B.o.B with Haley Williams singing their smash hit “Airplanes.”

And what will surely be the most-talked-about moments of the entire show began when Taylor Swift sang “Innocent,” a song that’s probably about her unexpected run-in with Kanye West during last year’s show.

And how did Kanye respond during his show-ending live performance? 

In typical Kanye fashion: with unmatched conceit and vulgarity. Here’s the chorus (from Runaway) he sang over and over again during the last song of the night:

I think it’s time we have a toast
Let’s have a toast for the douche bags
Let’s have a toast for the assholes
Let’s have a toast for the scumbags
Every one of them that I know
Let’s have a toast to the jerk-offs,
That’ll never take work off
Baby I got a plan
Run away fast as you can

Yep. Kanye had yet another memorable “moment” at the 2010 MTV VMAs.

Making Sense of the “M”
Regardless of what the “M” stands for, you and I have to help our teenagers make sense of it. MTV is not in the business of reporting culture; it’s in the business of defining culture. But we can’t afford to let MTV define our teenagers in the process.


  1. If the “M” stands for mucky humor filled with sensual references, we must offer a clear understanding of sex. There were many twisted messages about sex that came out of the 2010 VMAs, for instance, “a person is only as valuable as they are attractive,” and “when it comes to sexual acts, nothing is off limits or out of bounds.” Let’s face it: there are many, many voices wanting to weigh in on our kids’ sex lives. We can’t let the lies of Chelsea Handler or Katy Perry be the predominant message our teenagers hear. We have to speak often and clearly. Doctors orders.
  2. If the “M” stands for monsters, we must prepare ourselves for the forthcoming message from Lady Gaga about homosexuality. Don’t be confused; Lady Gaga is as much a spokesperson for homosexuality as she is an entertainer. And when it comes to homosexuality, Lady Gaga has an agenda that’s longer than Lil Wayne’s rap sheet. Parents and youth workers will need to formulate their own understanding of homosexuality before helping teenagers make up their minds. And our basis of truth on the matter must be the Bible, not Lady Gaga. (Hint: If Lady Gaga disagrees with the Bible’s teaching, at all…go with the Bible!)
  3. If the “M” stands for music, the simplest of the three possibilities, we still have to help our teenagers make wise choices with their media selections. Most of the music performed at this year’s VMAs contained disturbing messages and/or explicit lyrics. (Like I said earlier, producers wore out the mute button.) But don’t be misled: just because an artist doesn’t drop the f-bomb doesn’t mean his/her music is “clean.” We must help our teenagers put parameters in place that will guide their decision-making process. I suggest Paul’s standard in Philippians 4:8-9.

Maybe the “M” in MTV actually stands for “media.” After all, teenagers take in a whopping 10 hours and 45 minutes of media each and every day. To be relevant and helpful, parents and youth workers must address this huge intake of media and engage in conversation with our teens and tweens about their daily media choices.

If not, the “M” in MTV could stand for “mistake.”

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Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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