I have been waiting and waiting for this. I still have one more category to go after today, but I have been anticipating this particular group of ten videos more than any others. Here are the top 10 dance music videos of all time:
10. Runaway – Kanye West, 2010. Directed by Fredrico Fellini & Stanley Kubrick.
Why yes, I am one of those who think Kanye will get the Grammy nod this year for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but that’s not the point. This video is strikingly beautiful in its juxtoposition of ballet dancers, warehouse setting, and Kanye’s rap, yet everything works more than anything the rest of us could have imagined. By far the most noteworthy excerpt from the full-length film. If you do still want to watch the whole thing, you can watch it here.
9. Like a Boy – Ciara, 2006. Directed by Diane Martel.
The choreography is great, but that’s not even why it’s here. Sure, Ciara isn’t the only woman to ever try to use a music video to question gender roles, but here she plays both parts incredibly well, always looks super fly, and shows off her moves, which are as smooth as ever in this vid. I think we also get a kick out of watching Ciara grab her crotch and kiss her biceps.
8. Vogue – Madonna, 1990. Directed by David Fincher.
Perhaps I should have warned you, there is something about a black and white dance video, because this is clearly not the first and certainly won’t be the last. The dance in this video is subtle, because Vogue is all about the relationship between style, grace, and attitude. But it is indeed a dance, and has inspired many partiers throughout the following decades to “strike a pose” whenever the moment deems it appropriate.
7. Alright – Janet Jackson, 1990. Directed by Julien Temple.
In the style of a 50’s musical, we get to watch Janet have fun dancing around an old-school New York in a pinstripe suit. Madonna got to do Dick Tracy that year, and perhaps Janet got jealous and made this video? I dunno, but “Alright” is proving to stand the test of time, and even being referenced by other younger dancers like Usher (at 1:35 in this Janet tribute) and Chris Brown in Yeah 3x.
6. Tightrope – Janelle Monae, 2010. Directed by Wendy Morgan.
Perhaps I should have also warned you of the number of women in suits that appear on this list! Janelle Monae (if you don’t know her, here’s a blog I posted earlier this year) is a genius, and her feet are full of magic. As for the video, it has a great story, the production is perfect, and it makes us want to dance just like Janelle Monae, although most of us can’t because of my previous sentence.
5. Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO, 2011. Directed by Mickey Finnegan.
I’m positive this is the only video from this year I’ll have in any of my lists. I’ve hummed and hawed over it; how can we possibly know if this will stand the test of time? I guess we can’t, and at the rate that many of us are watching it, there will likely come a time when we are so sick of shuffling. However, I’m not there yet, and this video has a hilarious concept, and some truly great hipster dancing… which until PRA, I had thought was an oxymoron.
4. Lose Control – Missy Elliott feat. Ciara & Fat Man Scoop, 2005. Directed by Dave Meyers.
This video reminds me of reminds me of a video game the way it finds itself in 5 distinct settings as if they are levels to achieve. Each one is full of stark and surprising visuals that incorporate some truly phenomenal dancing. Besides, even in real life the combination of Missy and Ciara is one of my faves to dance to!
3. Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) – Beyonce, 2008. Directed by Jake Nava.
This has become the “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” of music videos; it is one of the most parodied videos of late; although attempted by many the dance is actually really difficult; and the whole thing – although Beyonce and her dancers are scantily clad – comes off as incredibly classy. It’s because of this that “Single Ladies” has been elevated to legendary status.
2. Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson, 1986. Directed by Colin Chilvers.
Although we don’t understand what’s going on (even in the context of Moonwalker – the film for which Smooth Criminal is the climax) we can’t help but be sucked in to the general action of gangsters in a nightclub. Not only is it full of drama and intrigue and costume and swagger, but the quintessential Jackson moves that, for most of us, define our pop King.
1. Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson, 1989. Directed by Dominic Sena.
The only person in the world that could beat MJ in a music video contest is his sister. Choreographed by Anthony Thomas (who also choreographed “Alright”) this video uses a harsh militant routine that fits with the song and setting of an abandoned warehouse, and shows off Janet dancing unlike she ever has before (or after for that matter). With the very short exception of some solo dance moments, the group is always dancing together in tight formation to a street style that seems as though it musically and physically demonstrates what a true rhythm nation could be. Or perhaps it’s just a lot of fun to dress up and look tough. Either way, I’m sold. Although it sounds crazy cheesy, and I know nostalgia is probably working against me, this video still has the power to inspire hope and desire for a better world. If you could stomach more of me praising JJ’s Rhythm Nation, here’s my blog devoted to the whole album.
PS. I can’t not mention the runner up for this list, because it was so hard to leave out. Another video by Wendy Morgan, this time for Gnarles Barkley’s “Going On”. Check it out if you have time and space to move in your seat. My other difficult choices in case you’re interested, were MJ’s Bad and Daft Punk’s Around the World.
I am hardly an expert on animation, but these are the 10 that stand out as music videos using the medium creatively and fittingly:
10. Tonight, Tonight – Smashing Pumpkins, 1996. Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris.
The dreamy imagery in this video is inspired by the album cover art of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and turn of the century silent films. I feel like I’m reading a storybook where the pictures are coming to life.
9. I Miss You – Bjork, 1995. Directed by John Kricfalusi.
Directed and animated by the creator of Ren and Stimpy, we see Bjork as a cartoon sex-symbol. And believe it or not, it gets even stranger and stranger from there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
8. D.A.N.C.E. – Justice, 2007. Directed by Jonas & Francois.
Such a simple concept, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how they do this so smoothly. The t-shirt designs are fun, hilarious, colourful, and keep our attention throughout the whole video.
7. Float On – Modest Mouse, 2004. Directed by Christopher Mills.
This video is complete with stop-motion sheep heading towards their unfortunate destiny. This song is awesome on it’s own, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a video you can’t take your eyes off of.
6. Fell In Love With a Girl – White Stripes, 2002. Directed by Michel Gondry.
I would argue that LEGO is to this day the best toy ever invented, and here the brilliant Gondry uses it as one of the best stop-motion tools ever. This video makes me want to listen to the White Stripes all day while playing LEGO.
5. Flood Pt. 1 – The Acorn, 2008. Directed by Christopher Mills.
Although not as popular as Mills’ “Float On”, there is something so stunning about not only the style, but also the musicality. Everything is to the beat, and yet it doesn’t feel over-emphasized. The characters, though only 2 dimentional drawings, are so compelling. Everything seems just right – I almost wish the song was written for the video instead of vice versa.
4. Do The Evolution – Pearl Jam, 1998. Directed by Kevin Altieri and Todd McFarlane.
A comic rendition of a not exactly sugar coated human history set to the ironic lyrics of “Do The Evolution”. Somehow this one video is able to touch on nearly every tragedy and issue ever referenced by nearly any other video. Pearl Jam don’t make a lot of videos, but when they do, you can trust that they’ll go all out.
3. One More Time – Daft Punk, 2003. Directed by Leiji Matsumoto.
This is here less based on the one video, and more as a representation of the film from which it comes – Interstella 5555 – the anime that goes along with Daft Punk’s album Discovery. “One More Time” is my favorite, and kicks off the film by introducing us to it’s main characters – the band, The Crecsendolls. The other highlight for me is “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.
Although not the first video to ever use this kind of animation, thanks to Nick Park it was the first to use it so well. Sledgehammer continues to be a marker for all videos that use stop-motion animation and holds the record for video to be most played on MTV ever, proving that it continues to translate 25 years later.
1. Take On Me – A-ha, 1985. Directed by Steve Barron.
Not only is the animation incredible (transitions between live action and drawings are seemless), but the story is uber 80s romantic. I mean, this video caused numerous women around the world to fall in love with a line drawing. Unfortunately the lead singer Morton Harket is far more appealing as a cartoon than the live action version of himself. Still, the combination of story and the use of brilliant graphics make for an absolutely legendary video.
Sci-Fi tends to be a popular genre for music videos, possibly because it’s far easier to draw attention in a short amount of time, focusing on using special effects rather than storyline to convey an idea. I had the most difficult time yet in narrowing these down to only 10. So don’t judge me too much if a favorite isn’t here. Also, don’t expect Thriller or anything else that appears in another list – I’m only considering any music video in one particular category.
10. Can You Feel It – Jackson 5, 1980. Directed by Bruce Gowers and Robert Abel.
I think in the end I couldn’t not add this video, if for no other reason than it gives us historical context for MJ’s relationship to music videos. For 1980, the visuals here are over the top and in our face, setting the standard early for Michael, and giving him a strong sense of relationship between song and video before many others ever did.
9. Home – LCD Soundsystem, 2010. Directed by Rick Darge.
Not so much the effects, but the plot in this one draws me in, as a robot tries to party all night with the local hipsters. I am pleasantly surprised with how easily I sympathize with this wordless and generally unimpressive robot.
8. California Love – 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre & Roger Troutman, 1996. Directed by Hype Williams.
A classic post-apocalyptic America set in 2095, where California
still knows how to party better than anyone. I’m not sure why they bothered to make a second video, but they did, so make sure you click the pic and watch the right one.
7. In This World/In My Heart – Moby, 2002. Directed by Stylewar.
Right up there next to E.T. and Wall-E, these are some of the most loveable aliens on film. Beautiful, emotional, and importantly for this particular top 10 list, Sci-fi.
6. Virtual Insanity – Jamiroquai, 1996. Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
I suppose this is supposed to be on another planet, although this is never explicit. Still, I would love to travel there one day. Jamiroquai put themselves on the pop map with not only this song, but this powerful visual to conect it with.
5. Sock it to Me – Missy Elliott, 1997. Directed by Hype Williams.
Missy is stylistically carving out an entire culture for herself in 1997 with this and Supa Dupa fly (with the help of Hype Williams’ fisheye lens and Timbaland’s beats). Here she takes inspiration the Mega Man music videos and creates some visual fun to go along with her audio good times. On another note, I wonder whatever happened to Da Brat’s helmet… I would look boss in that thing.
4. Rockit – Herbie Hancock, 1983. Directed by Godley & Creme.
A lot is going on, not only in this video, but in music history. Here, Hancock is building a bridge between pop and jazz in an important way, and although it is moving towards the future, it still looks a little raw like the robotics in this vid.
3. Scream – Michael & Janet Jackson, 1995. Directed by Mark Romanek.
When I first heard about this video I was 13 years old, and I remember thinking, “Finally Michael and Janet together”. And to this day when I watch it, although it’s hard not to notice the amount of effort and money that went into this video, what gives it an unmatched charisma is the duo involved. Janet looks as boss as ever, and both of them are bound by both love and anger.
2. Intergallactic – Beastie Boys, 1998. Directed by Nathaniel Hornblower (aka: MCA of the Beastie Boys).
Parodies bode well for these boys, while Sabotage worked off of Crime TV, Intergallactic bows to Japanese monster movies. And what can I say, I am quickly acknowledging my soft spot for a dancing robot.
1. All is Full of Love – Bjork, 1999. Directed by Chris Cunningham.
Slightly eerie, incredibly beautiful, and impossible not to watch. An appropriate video of robotic love to a song composed entirely from “sounds inspired by machines” according to Bjork. With both sound and film, Bjork shows us how sexy machines can be. Who knew?
Ok fine, this is probably my most debatable category in this series. Like in the world of High School movies many are duds but a few gems keep the genre alive, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s enough for a top 10 list. And oh look, here’s one now!
10. Whip My Hair – Willow, 2010. Directed by Ray Kay.
This one surprised me slightly, but in the end it made the cut, simply for being cute and kid-friendly without making my lip curl like say, Lil’ Mama did. Willow has the attitude and spark of her mother, and the charisma and ears of her daddy – how could you not love that? The colours and hair are fabulous in this vid, and quite simply, it makes me want to crump.
9. Make Em Say Uhh! – Master P, 1997. Directed by ???
Yeah, I can’t find the director. Maybe he’s not proud of his work, or maybe this video isn’t what most people online have ever talked about. But it’s actually great, if only because something entitled “Make em say Uhh” is set in a high school gymnasium, and is actually all about basketball… How refreshing! Is this just nostalgic for me? I apologize if that’s the case.
8. 1979 – Smashing Pumpkins, 1996. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
This video will make you nostalgic for 1979 regardless of whether you remember it, or had even been born by then. It may not be set in a high school, but it’s clearly portraying a typically ideal teen life that is both culturally specific and transcendent. And it helps that the song is so perfect for this.
7. Opposite of Adults – Chiddy Bang, 2010. Directed by Waverly.
The bobble head is such a simple idea, but I can’t take my eyes off this video in a similar way to when I watch the one with the dog heads.
6. Hot for Teacher – Van Halen, 1984. Directed by Pete Angelus and David Lee Roth.
What High School was like in the 80s, or at least how David Lee Roth would have liked it to be. I wonder what the world would have been like if John Hughes (director of all those brat pack movies) had directed music videos…
5. Popular – Nada Surf, 1996. Directed by Jesse Peretz.
The band playing in the football field has been done a lot, but I think this is the best example of it. I love how the song is being said/sung by Matthew from Nada Surf as a lesson about popularity, and I love how the band looks like greasy college students. This one-hit-wonder probably wouldn’t have even been that if it weren’t for this appropriate, well stylized and memorable video.
4. …Baby, One More Time – Britney Spears, 1998. Directed by Nigel Dick.
Whatever we may think of Britney or this song, we simply can’t deny the influence of this video. What it does, it does well, and most of us will forever picture the Britney of this video when we hear her name or voice. Videos will be trying to copy this for decades to come.
3. Gossip Folks – Missy Elliott featuring Ludacris and Ms. Jade, 2003. Directed by Dave Meyers.
I simply could not put this video below Britney. At times it looks like an Adidas commercial, but that’s Missy… and that’s High School too. The colours are fantastic and the choreography is even more so. Out of every school shown in this list, this is the one I would like to attend the most.
2. Jeremy – Pearl Jam, 1992. Directed by Mark Pellington.
A haunting video that boldly and tactfully wrestles with bullying and suicide. The video jumps between contrasting images whether moving or still, or light or dark, and is meant to feel a little like a collage on film. Stunning and creepy in the right way.
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana, 1991. Directed by Samuel Bayer.
Basically the opposite of the pep rally in Master P’s video, and the antithesis to Britney Spear’s Hit Me high school. It gave voice not only to the grunge movement, but to unhappy high school haters everywhere. This was a band that saw through the plastic of popularity, and was ready to make some noise. The video itself is raw and eerie, and is so mentally linked with the song that it’s hard to think of one without the other, which is pretty much the definition of the role of a good music video. For a band that couldn’t care less about conformity, they certaintly used the tools of the mainstream well.
I should briefly note why The Ramone’s Rock and Roll High School isn’t on this list. For one, it’s because the movie is a movie, not a music video. And secondly, the music video is mostly clips from the movie. A lot of videos do that, but I don’t think it makes for a good video as it relies more on the nostalgia of the film than it does on presenting a story or concept itself. So there’s my rationalization. Hope you have fun watching the rest of these!