Video Killed The Radio Star: Lyrics And Meaning Of The Buggles' Hit

By | February 9, 2021

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The Buggles as seen on the sleeve art for the single "Video Killed The Radio Star." Source: Amazon

The Buggles, famous for "Video Killed The Radio Star," were a one-hit wonder -- but oh, what a hit, with prophetic lyrics and an overall meaning that would describe the MTV-disrupted music industry for years to come. The single was released at the end of 1979, as waves of change were crashing down on the record business. Punk and its offspring genre New Wave had rendered a lot of '70s music irrelevant -- particularly the genres of disco and soft rock. People wanted three-minute pop songs again, but this would be a kind of pop music that was noisy and weird, garage-rock DNA with science-fiction tendencies. Give it a thumping beat and don't spare the synthesizers.

And while you're at it: Get a new look. You're going to shoot a video and '70s lounge-lizard fashion won't do. Skinny ties, day-glo shirts, vinyl jackets, strange chunky glasses -- whatever it takes to make a clean  break with the bell-bottom decade that was ending. Nobody could say exactly what lay in store in the '80s, but it was certainly going to be different.

The Buggles were somewhat right -- video might not have killed the stars of radio, but the new media format was ruthless. Every single had to have a video, and every video needed to be hip and memorable. MTV arrived in 1981, kicking off with (what else) "Video Killed The Radio Star" as its first video, and there was no looking back. Were music videos just eye candy that supported pop songs? Or were they short films that happened to have a soundtrack? Could a really cool video make a weak song popular? These were questions that artists, directors, labels, and listeners (now viewers) would spend the next few years figuring out.

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The Buggles in the video for their hit single. Source: YouTube

“Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles became a #1 hit in the UK in 1979. For the two-man outfit -- Trevor Horn on guitar and lead vocals, and Geoffrey Downes on keyboards -- its success was anything but expected. First off, Horn, who'd written the prescient earworm did not start out as a singer or really even aspire to be a frontman. 

As he’d tell you, “Before I started Buggles I was a sort of loser record producer, I spent four years producing records for various people without ever making any money out of it or having any success at all.” Just a short while later “Video Killed The Radio Star” became the first song ever played on MTV and, ironically, proof of Horn’s conceit.