Death of MusiquePlus marks the end of an era

We don’t even watch television anymore — except for the Habs — never mind videos on TV. Still, for some of us, the news hit hard.

When the Backstreet Boys dropped in at MusiquePlus in 2005, it caused quite the frenzy — inside and outside the studio at Bleury and Ste-Catherine Sts. Gordon Beck / Montreal Gazette

The imminent demise of MusiquePlus really does mark the end of an era.

It isn’t the end of the videoclip era because music videos are alive and well on the web. But it does make it crystal clear that the good old music-video network is a thing of the past.

I know, most of us already knew that. The reality is that MusiquePlus, MuchMusic (now apparently called Much), and MTV haven’t been remotely relevant for years, and they have all moved away from focusing mostly on music. At first, they moved into trashy reality-TV programming. More recently, it looks like they’ve basically aired whatever product their owners could get their hands on.

Still, it somehow hit hard this week when news broke that MusiquePlus was going out of business. Groupe V Média, the Montreal-based TV company which owns the network, announced on Wednesday that MusiquePlus would be closing its doors in the fall, to be replaced by a new channel — still not named — that will focus on fiction programming targeted at a female audience.

Geneviève Borne, just one of the many former MusiquePlus VJs who went on to an illustrious career in the Quebec media, tweeted Thursday to riff on what many of us were thinking: If Video Killed the Radio Star, as The Buggles famously put it in their wacky-yet-inspired 1979 hit (two years before MTV launched!), then YouTube killed the music-video channel.

YouTube launched in 2005 and very quickly that became the place pretty well all of us went to watch music videos. Back in the heyday of MusiquePlus — and MuchMusic and MTV — the big thing used to be the video premiere. You’d stay home on a Friday night because Madonna was premiering her latest wildly ambitious videoclip at 8 that night and we really did care. It was maybe the craziest appointment television.

Of course, that makes zero sense in 2019. We don’t even watch television — except for Habs games — never mind videos on TV. So it wasn’t surprising to hear that V was shuttering MusiquePlus.

But those of us of a certain age felt a fuzzy kind of nostalgic sadness when we heard the news. Those were good times. One of the great things about both Plus and Much was that they played better music than the commercial FM radio stations, and a wider and more eclectic selection.

And all of the top artists of the day showed up when in town to chat with the MusiquePlus VJs. When I interviewed Borne a few years back, she reminisced about chatting at Plus with some of the world’s biggest stars, including Tears For Fears, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Duran Duran and Madonna. There would be mob scenes outside the studios with fans coming from far and wide to see their idols. Remember the pandemonium when The Backstreet Boys would swing by the MusiquePlus storefront studios at the corner of Bleury and Ste-Catherine Sts? It was brilliant!

The crowd outside MusiquePlus awaiting a performance by One Direction in 2012. MusiquePlus

You also have to marvel at the amount of on-air personalities who got their start at MusiquePlus and then went on to become bona fide TV and radio vedettes ici. That list includes Borne, Véronique Cloutier, Rebecca Makonnen, Anne-Marie Withenshaw, Sonia Benezra, Marie Plourde, Anne-Marie Losique, Claude Rajotte and Mike Gauthier. Pas mal quand même!

I wrote a column in 2015 when V was trying to relaunch MusiquePlus and at the time V program director Nathalie Brigitte Bustos was full of brave talk of how this rebranded MusiquePlus would be “like a little kid that wants to have fun, to be adventurous, to go discover everything.” Well, it wasn’t — and pretty well no one cared.

In an interview Thursday, Groupe V executive vice-president Dimitri Gourdin told me MusiquePlus has about a one-per-cent market share, and that’s not nearly good enough. V bought MusiquePlus and its sister channel MusiMax in 2014 from Bell Media and V successfully transformed MusiMax into Max three years ago. Since then, Max’s ratings have shot up 75 per cent, to around 2.1-per-cent share. The V executive hopes they can work the same ratings magic with what will replace MusiquePlus. They probably will, by programming things like Gossip Girl en français.

But it all sounds way less exciting than back in the day when we got our metal fix with SolidRock, hosted by the unforgettable Paul Sarrasin or got all romantic with Benezra on Rock Velours or maybe best of all laughed our heads off when music nerd Rajotte would literally destroy what he considered to be the worst CD of the week on his wacky show Le Cimitière des CD. (I know it was that long ago. They still had CDs!)

So, yeah, we all get our music-video fix online now, and in 2019 there are more options than ever before in terms of discovering new music, notably on the various streaming services. But I do miss the communal excitement of all of us seeing Madonna’s Vogue video at exactly the same time.

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