Downtown Julie Brown talks ’90s MTV, the rise of Mariah Carey + why entourages are the worst

“The ’90s were just a whole bunch of fun. It was the kind of place that everybody wanted to be in,” says Downtown Julie Brown, who is perhaps best known for her stint as an MTV VJ in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and now hosts the Back in the Day Replay on SiriusXM ’90s on 9. “There was such a sense of freedom about it.”

And who would know better than one of MTV’s second-generation VJs and the host of Club MTV? In fact, Julie can pretty much sum up the entire decade in one metaphoric recipe: “The typical ingredients for a ’90s dish was Wilson Phillips, Nelson and Poison, you add a tad of Bell Biv Devoe and Bobby Brown, and some Babyface, chop in a few hits of Billy Idol and Prince, and Keith Sweat, and, of course, one of the main ingredients is New Kids on the Block mixed together with Johnny Gill and Bon Jovi, add a little Sweet Sensation, and put Mariah Carey on top, and that would be your perfect ’90s dish.”

Julie name-drops myriad ’90s artists, but she’s particularly enthusiastic about Mariah Carey and watching her rise to fame. “I think the thing with Mariah Carey (and the thing about the ’90s) is being a part of the beginning of someone’s greatness was so exciting,” says Julie. I mean, I just remember Mariah Carey coming in with her demo tape that had all the tracks on for her first album. Playing Vision of Love, you just knew right there and then that she was gonna be unstoppable. And she was unstoppable. Starting off on that first note of Vision of Love to that end note, you knew she was gonna be in our lives for the entirety.

“It was so exciting being there at her beginnings and still being part of her world today and seeing how she blossomed from this young, shy girl. I used to see Mariah Carey at all of our little party clubs in New York City, showing up in her little black stretch dresses and all of that beautiful hair. So sweet but so determined. And never pushy. She wasn’t one of those artists who was like, ‘Play my song! Play my song!’ This was purely a girl that would stand in a room and exude stardom.”

Though Julie loves the pop world, her favorite aspect of ’90s music was witnessing artists mix genres. “Watching Billy Idol go mainstream, especially with The Cradle of Love — the song and tour — and watching him cross over to that audience — that was because the wave of being set by the music of the ’90s, being able to mix. When Poison was singing Unskinny Bop, I mean for me, that was so pop. When we had Run DMC collaborating with Aerosmith, I think that showed it all. And Aerosmith, you couldn’t live the ’90s without Aerosmith. You couldn’t eat or drink anything without Aerosmith. For me, they were the dominant force of the ’90s.”

Finally, Julie can’t say enough about the early days of MTV, the creation of Club MTV, and hanging out with famous musicians like old friends. “Martha [Quinn], Mark [Goodman], and Alan [Hunter] were the ones that gathered me together and helped me on my journey of MTV, and that’s when we came up with Club MTV. Me being a fan of British pop and dance music, [Club MTV] was a way that MTV could actually mix in dance music with rock n’ roll and have a host that was knowledgeable about that. I came from a dance background. It was really fun to mix rock n’ roll with anything that had a dance beat. you’ve got Poison, The Dead Milkmen, Salt-n-Pepa. So whatever genre music you had, if it had a beat you could dance to, we put it all into Club MTV.”

“We used to hang with the artists,” Julie continues. “I think that was the greatest thing about the ’90s, where you were friends with the artists. The platform that MTV was, they used to just come and hang. Even if they weren’t on the show. While I was doing Club MTV, I’d have people just stopping by, from Robbie Nevil to Richard Marx. Iggy [Pop] would be there, and The Ramones… Everything was so easy. It wasn’t so stressful. It wasn’t full of bodyguards and a whole troupe of people behind them. I mean, David Lee Roth and Billy [Idol] and them would just be on the street by themselves. I think that gave you a sense of, as a fan, to be like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ Now, I see Justin Bieber at private events with a posse of 20 people that you can’t get through, and I find that offensive. It’s uncomfortable. But that was the ’90s. It was so personable. When you say you were there, you were there.”

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