In the early 1990s, MTV made both the very concept of summer and hot 20-somethings in bikinis integral parts of the network’s warm weather programming slate. And thus, the MTV Beach House was born.
The Beach House, which literally began as some pale, dorky VJs attempting to introduce Tori Amos videos while frat boys tossed frisbees around them, eventually became a summertime cable TV institution. Premiering in 1993, when American youth culture was still grappling with grunge sensibilities, all that sunshine made a strange bedfellow for angsty performances from bands like a fledgling Radiohead. But the disparity between the grinning college freshman in their daisy-print bikinis and a miserable-looking Thom Yorke groaning, “Maybe if I grow my hair I could become Jim Morrison,” clearly an unwilling hostage of the band’s publicity team, is a fascinating look at MTV as a network attempting to figure out how to sell teenagers gum and hair care products while maintaining its status as an organization on the cutting edge of youth culture.
From the outset, the Beach House was part performance venue, part American Bandstand for the Nirvana set. But mostly it was the original influencer house, where brands hoping to peddle shit to kids paid for their products to be featured amongst much prettier kids—though at first, occasionally Radiohead or Lisa Loeb would show up to make the entire thing look pretty fucking awkward. As time went on, the Beach House became more seamless, performances from Garbage and No Doubt began to seem more natural, and by the time Kelly Clarkson arrived in 2003, she was mingling freely among the bikini folk whilst crooning about an independent woman realizing her mistake and falling in love. It was still awkward as hell, but by the end, at least, everyone seemed to know exactly what was supposed to be going on in this house.