On Aug. 1, 1981, a cable network called MTV started appearing on television sets...well, not everywhere, because households weren't as digitally plugged in as they are now.
But whomever was watching at 12:01 a.m. ET was treated to footage of the Columbia space shuttle launch countdown that had occurred earlier that year, as corporate visionary John Lack intoned, "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll." That was followed by an astronaut planting a fluorescent-pink flag stamped with the acid-green MTV logo on the moon (in case you ever wondered why the physical MTV Video Music Awards are moon people)—a mash-up of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing and pop culture history.
The first music video ever played on MTV was the already two-year-old "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Bugbles, which had premiered on the BBC's Top of the Pops but, prior to the launch of Music Video Television, had just been sort of floating in space, without a planet to call its own. Then came Pat Benatar's "You Better Run," and the kids started flocking.
Soon enough, "I want my MTV" was more than a brilliant marketing slogan.
And since any foray into new territory benefits from a wise shepherd, so did MTV provide guides into this fun, young, subversive world in the form of video jockeys—veejays, or VJs for short.
The network started with five and over the years dozens of people have cycled through that universe, some more memorable than others, but all picked because they were deemed the best ones to deliver the goods and represent the culture the network was selling at any given moment in time.
With the 2021 VMAs coming up on Sunday, the existence of the virtual ceremony itself representing its own unique notch on the timeline of how MTV has rolled with major changes (in viewing habits, in how people listen to music, when big gatherings like award ceremonies turn into potential super-spreader events in a pandemic...) through the years, we're checking in on what four decades' worth of MTV VJs have been up to since: