Watch the Cure’s First-Ever U.S. TV Performance
The Cure were somewhat regular faces on MTV, especially in the early days, when the fledgling network had like a dozen videos on the shelf and showed the same ones about nine times a day. But aside from catching ‘Let’s Go to Bed’ or ‘Close to Me’ (if you stayed up real late) in their original video forms, the band hadn’t appeared on any U.S. TV show.
They were regulars, sort of, back home in the U.K., where they showed up on ‘Top of the Pops’ and other music shows from time to time. Then again, they were a bit bigger overseas. Up until 1987, the group — which formed way back in 1976 — hadn’t cracked the U.S. Top 40, even though a handful of singles received some airplay over here.
Here’s the Cure on ‘Top of the Pops’
But mostly, as the college-rock underground gave way to the modern-rock scene, the Cure were a cult band in the States, hardly fit for prime-time or mainstream consumption. By 1988, MTV’s influence had grown enough to not only stock its library with every conceivable genre (R&B! Metal! Pop-metal! Alternative! Whatever the hell Richard Marx was doing!), but also to make its annual Video Music Awards a must-see event for people who care about such things.
And that’s where and when the Cure finally appeared on U.S. television for the first time. It wasn’t on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It wasn’t on ‘American Bandstand.’ And it sure as hell wasn’t on any of the late-night talk shows, which were still kinda scared by anything resembling youth. So on Sept. 7, 1988, with ‘Just Like Heaven’ finally and recently giving the band its first Top 40 hit (albeit, it stalled at No. 40), the Cure made their debut U.S. television appearance.
There’s nothing really special about the performance. The group pretty much plays its breakthrough hit the way thousands (millions?) of new fans were familiar with: straight-up with very little frill. There are no guitars thrown haphazardly in the air, there are no off-color words to keep the censors on their feet and there are no stretched-out bits of psychedelic noise that makes Cure concerts such a drag at times.
From the moment host Arsenio Hall (sporting Walter White’s hat) introduces the band to the last minute or so of the song where Robert Smith looks pleasantly pained (which, really, is the only way to truly experience Robert Smith), this promotional-appearance run-through of ‘Just Like Heaven’ is by-the-numbers Cure, through and through.
But it’s an important piece of the Cure’s history … if you happen to think the U.S. is a significant step in world domination (and as far as pop culture goes, it is) and the MTV Video Music Awards are a big deal (eh … it courts fickle fans who may or may not be there when your next record comes out). Either way, it set up the group for its heroic takeover of the U.S. the following year, when it released ‘Disintegration,’ arguably its best album.
Yes, this is their best album
So even if the most notable thing about this performance is Smith’s impossibly high hair, there’s a stark professionalism to it that would serve the Cure well over the next few years, as modern rock became a commodity and the pop charts would open its arms to a bleeding rainbow of bands and sounds — sorta like what MTV was doing during its nascent years. Only this time, there were more than a dozen players, and the Cure weren’t there by default. They earned their spot.