During MTV's first few years on the air, very few black artists were included in rotation on the channel. Those who were in MTV's rotation included Eddy Grant, Tina Turner and Donna Summer. MTV rejected other black artists' videos, such as Rick James' "Super Freak," because they didn't fit the channel's rock dominated format at the time. The exclusion enraged James; he publicly advocated the addition of more black artists' videos on the channel. Rock legend David Bowie also questioned MTV's lack of black artists during an on-air interview with VJ Mark Goodman in 1983.
Before 1983, Michael Jackson also struggled to receive airtime on MTV. To resolve the struggle and finally "break the color barrier", the president of CBS Records at the time, Walter Yetnikoff, denounced MTV in a strong, profane statement, threatening to take away MTV's ability to play any of the record label's music videos. However, Les Garland, co-founder of the channel, said he decided to air Jackson's "Billie Jean" video without pressure from CBS. In any case, MTV began showing the "Billie Jean" video in regular rotation in 1983, forming a lengthy partnership with Jackson and helping other black music artists.
According to The Austin Chronicle, Jackson's video for the song "Billie Jean" was "the video that broke the color barrier, even though the channel itself was responsible for erecting that barrier in the first place." After airing Jackson's music videos, MTV, then a struggling cable channel, became very popular. Jackson's videos were credited for this success and MTV's focus switched from rock to pop and R&B. This move helped other black artists such as Prince and Whitney Houston break into heavy rotation on the channel.