Unplugging a generation

MTV-sponsored acoustic performances that defined the ‘90s and early 2000s continue to showcase music at its finest


Kennedy Tetour

MTV Unplugged defines a generation with acoustic performances from the worlds biggest artists.

Gabe Santos, Arts and Entertainment Editor

MTV Unplugged’s concept is one that I find very interesting. Taking the biggest artists, stadium performers, and putting them in an intimate acoustic setting has led to some of the most unique performances of all time. In retrospect, the early days of Unplugged define the decade they existed in.

The first defining performance was Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1990. This would set the tone, defining the beginning of the 90’s, still led by classic and glam rock of the 80’s. That tone would be kept by Elton who would perform that same year, and Paul McCartney who would be featured in 1991.

Along with the popular rock acts of the time, stars like Mariah Carey, who would make an appearance in 1992 would get their share of representation. It wouldn’t be until 1993 that the avant-garde music of the decade would really take control, when Nirvana would have their career defining show, and by far the most iconic of all the MTV Unplugged performances.

This, accompanied with other more status quo acts like Bjork (who would be featured again in ‘98) and Bob Dylan (‘94) would now be sharing the Unplugged name with grunge and counter culture icons Hole, Alice In Chains, and Fiona Apple throughout the mid 90’s.

However, the 90’s weren’t just a decade for rock music, but also the rise of hip hop and R&B. Erykah Badu would perform in 97’, the first of many neo-soul esc. acts that would grace the show. 

With more common acts such as Shakira, and Incubus showing up in 98’, MTV threw a curveball with having their first international show in Germany, with band Die Fantastischen Vier in 2000, which would also be the first of many. With the 90’s coming to an end, the 2000’s opened with a bang, featuring Lauryn Hill and Jay Z who would set the tone for their own decade, one that would be ruled by artists like them.

MTV Unplugged would not quit. Between the years of 2002 and 2020, it would be host to Alicia Keys, Korn, Mary J Blige, Amy Winehouse, Paramore, Katy Perry, Lil Wayne, and Shawn Mendes. In the year 2020, the heat of the pandemic and quarantine, MTV Unplugged “At Home” launched, keeping the theme of intimate performances alive with Wyclef Jean of Fugees fame, Shaggy, and Miley Cyrus.

Unplugged still goes on to this day, and acts as a “State Of The Culture” in a lot of ways. However, its golden age in the 90’s and early 2000’s is likely to not be topped.