It’s time to tune back in to 'Unplugged' on MTV

The first episode of the reboot aired on Sept. 8 and featured Shawn Mendes. Mendes, although only 19, has been a fan of the “Unplugged” series for a long time, ever since seeing a clip of Pearl Jam performing in 1992. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Originating in 1989, the acoustic music show “Unplugged” aired on MTV regularly until 2000 and then less frequently until 2009, occasionally with episodes being shown online only. The series showcased musicians typically playing acoustic instruments and versions of their songs. The show gathered artists from all different genres, pop to country, typically with one group or artist per show, and they traded in their electric instruments to perform a combination of their hits as well as covers.

Some of the most memorable names to grace the “Unplugged” stage include Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Nirvana, Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi and Kiss. In more recent years, that list grew to include more contemporary pop artists, such as Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, Lil Wayne and Adele, among others.

The show comes in light of MTV receiving a lot of criticism for their lack of actual musical content on their television channel. There was a missing component of “Music Television” and that was the music, as the network began to air more and more reality TV shows and coming-of-age stories. Now MTV is bringing the music back with a major push for live music and music-inspired programming. MTV’s decision to bring the classic show to the next generation was a logical one, considering the popularity of other similar shows, such as the Acoustic BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. Artists’ acoustic performances on this or other programs often go viral on social media.

“At MTV, the brand equity is still so strong,” said Amani Duncan, MTV senior vice president of music and executive in charge of music for “Unplugged.” “It gives us an opportunity to bring back nostalgia and also recruit an entirely new consumer who may not know what ‘Unplugged’ was because they weren’t born.”

The first episode of the reboot aired on Sept. 8 and featured Shawn Mendes. Mendes, although only 19, has been a fan of the “Unplugged” series for a long time, ever since seeing a clip of Pearl Jam performing in 1992.

“It wasn’t so much about the commercial showman side of it; it was really about the music,” Mendes told Variety.

Mendes’ manager, Andrew Gertler, expressed hopes that the show’s relaunch would be able to inspire a whole new generation of musicians and promised that every song during Mendes’ set “is different from what anyone’s heard before.”

A unique feature of the reboot is that it will be recorded in different venues with significant meaning to each performing artist. Mendes’ episode, for instance, was filmed at an intimate stage, the Theater at Ace Hotel. Producers requested that audience members checked their phones at the door in order to create the proper “Unplugged” environment (and prevent leaked footage, of course).

“’Let’s take it to cool locations’ was the thought,” Duncan explains. “Like where the artist played their first major show, or maybe they choose a location to make a pro-social statement, or it’s, ‘I always wanted to play Carnegie Hall.'”

Mendes performed several songs in his concert, including stripped down versions of “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” “Ruin,” “Stitches,” “Mercy” and other hits from his most recent album. Only time will tell if Mendes’ kickoff performance will come to be thought of in tandem to such memorable moments as Bruce Springsteen ignoring the show’s title and breaking out his Telecaster, one of Kurt Cobain’s final performances before his death, a Kiss reunion or The Eagles performing for the first time together in 14 years.

Also yet to be established is if the producers will release acoustic, “Unplugged” albums associated with the show, as they did during the original series. This produced successful albums like Mariah Carey's “MTV Unplugged” (1992), Eric Clapton's “Unplugged” (1992), Rod Stewart's “Unplugged...and Seated” (1993), Nirvana (band)'s “MTV Unplugged in New York” (1994), Shakira's “MTV Unplugged” (1999), Lauryn Hill's “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0” (2001) and Alicia Keys' “Unplugged.” Some artists even received Grammy Awards for the live recordings of their respective performances.

The network is bringing back the revitalized series as part of what it’s describing as “an overall re-dedication to music.” They’ve already announced some of the upcoming artists, and they include big names, such as Bleachers, Lorde, Carly Rae Jepsen and more. The show will air every Friday and can be seen online on MTV.com as well.


Julia Mancini is the associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.mancini@uconn.edu.