mtv is bringing back intimate 90s concert show 'unplugged'

The network is courting an authenticity-craving generation.

by Hannah Ongley
18 August 2017, 4:20pm

Before Instagram allowed Frances Bean Cobain to drop an acoustic Jimmy Eat World cover and Ariana Grande to bust out Spice Girls hits in the bathroom, there was MTV Unplugged. The show mostly featured famous musicians stripped of stage makeup and electric instruments playing their own songs plus covers, often creating chart-topping hits in the process. Mariah Carey's 1992 version of The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" became the pop diva's sixth #1 hit. Nirvana's brilliant Unplugged appearance a year later is probably one of the best live albums ever recorded. (The thrifted cardigan Kurt Cobain wore throughout the 14-song set recently sold at auction for $137,500).

MTV started airing episodes less frequently in 2009, when fans began going online. Now the network is hoping to lure them back to the box with an Unplugged 2.0, Variety has learned. The new version will air on September 8 with a performance by teen pop sensation Shawn Mendes, whose dizzying rise to fame actually fits pretty well with the Unplugged ethos. His musical debut was a six-and-a-half-second acoustic cover of Justin Bieber's "As Long as You Love Me" uploaded to Vine in 2012. Shawn's show will go down at L.A.'s Ace Hotel, but MTV plans to switch it up venue-wise for each new episode of Unplugged, selecting places of personal meaning to the featured artist. "Like where the artist played their first major show," said Amani Duncan, executive in charge of music for Unplugged, "or maybe they choose a location to make a pro-social statement, or it's, 'I always wanted to play Carnegie Hall.'"

This generation's insatiable appetite for nostalgia isn't the only thing driving MTV's revival spree ( TRL, after coming back for voter registration last year, will air in something closer to its original format this fall). We now have an equally strong craving for authenticity in pop music. It's what has allowed former Disney star Selena Gomez to dodge the pitfalls of child stardom, become the most-followed person on Instagram, and rack up 63 million views on a music video that's literally just her lips moving. If MTV wants to air an Unplugged Selena episode we're definitely willing to put our phones down for a bit.

Selena Gomez
Shawn Mendes