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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
MTV's League success
Human League
Human League: Going strong 20 years on
Phil Oakey, lead singer of the definitive 80s group Human League, says pop video channel MTV was vital to the band's global success.

Human League's glossy, geometrical look made them stand out. And 1981's Don't You Want Me was their biggest and most memorable hit.

But Oakey is adamant that their impact would have been minimal without the video they made for the track - spurred on by the advent of MTV in August the same year.

If MTV had not happened along then, we would have had a very much smaller hit - it was perfect for us

Phil Oakey

"It was absolutely critical for us and we were very lucky," stresses Oakey in an interview with BBC News Online.

"If MTV had not happened along then, we would have had a very much smaller hit - it was perfect for us."


For those growing up at the time, that atmosphere-laden video is emblazoned on the mind.

And, along with Oakey's kohl-rimmed eyes and lop-sided hair-do, it is how most people would illustrate Human League.

Oakey says the video was professional because it was made on film.

Human League
Human League had the perfect MTV image

But, like most other bands at the time, Human League had hardly heard of promotional videos - let alone make one.

"We were very lucky. We happened to have our most important video made by a guy who had been to film school.

"The fact that we got a really classic look was absolutely critical. And it also fitted with our music because our music's like a sound track."

Along with Oakey, Human League still consists of Susan Anne Sulley and Joanne Catherall.

All agree that MTV was the principal reason they made the video in the first place. Although not available in the UK, the cable channel's reputation spread fast.


Especially attractive to British bands was that MTV finally gave them a realistic chance of success in the US.

Therefore Human League had no choice but to make a video - although they all say they found it pretty tough.

Secrets from Human League
Secrets is a polished Human League work

"It was a pain in the neck," says Oakey, though he is able to laugh about the experience now.

"We loved films but we never thought we were good enough to do that sort of thing.

"It involved long days, everyone in the band fell out. Then when we saw it, we hated it."

But as a result, Don't You Want Me became a pop and dance smash in the US in 1982.

Oakey is uncertain whether MTV - and its promotion of the video - can be held solely responsible for the increased involvement of the marketing men in pop.

But he adds: "There is no doubt the rise of the video has coincided with music becoming very corporate and with people being either insignificant or massive."

And thoughts of video were naturally on the group's mind as they prepared to release Secrets - their first album in five years.

Out on 6 August, Secrets shows Human League have lost nothing of their polish. And, Oakey finally admits, the group's aversion to making videos has not gone away.

"We hate it - it's embarrassing. Nine or 11 people watch you jigging about to a song. It's idiotic," he cringes.

"And in my world there wouldn't be any videos - music is about so much more than just a background to pretty pictures."

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