I suppose I should have warned you that there would be a catch-all category. Music videos – because of primarily their length – can get away with doing something entirely conceptual, without clear plot or emotion, but still something freaking cool to look at. Some of these videos still draw us in using character or idea, but generally there was no other genre that they naturally fit into. Because of their un-film like way of using the music video medium, this category turns out some of the most memorable videos of all time. Let’s get to them.
10. Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill, 1998. Directed by Big TV!
If you’ve been following this Video Stars series, you may have noticed a theme of musicians making multiple appearances in their own video. Here we are again with Lauryn Hill showing us the best use of the split screen in music video history. The video is a perfect mirror of the song itself which marries doo-wop of the 50’s to hip hop of the 90’s. And to be honest, it becomes visual proof that the only thing better than one L-Boogie is two.
9. Hardest Button to Button – The White Stripes, 2003. Directed by Michel Gondry.
Although the concept itself is simple, I can only imagine the amount of labour would have been necessary to create this stop-motion classic; dragging numerous drum sets all over the place. To be exact: 32 Ludwig sets, 32 amps, and 16 mic stands, which when added together equal pure awesome-sauce.
8. Buddy Holly – Weezer, 1994. Directed by Spike Jonze.
Set within Arnold’s restaurant of Happy Days, Weezer – a 90’s band paying homage to a ’50’s rock legend – are cut seamlessly into an episode of a 1970’s show that pays homage to the decade from which Buddy Holly comes. Brilliant and believable, Spike Jonze makes yet another outstanding video.
7. Pursuit of Happiness – Kid Cudi, 2009. Directed by Megaforce.
Megaforce is able to capture a surprising, gravity-defying world where Kid Cudi is either dreaming or stoned out of his mind. Or perhaps both. That could also be the reason he chose a terrible mainstream version as the official video instead of this masterpiece.
6. Crazy – Gnarls Barkley, 2006. Directed by Robert Hales.
What does it say about you if you keep seeing Cee-Lo Green in your inkblot tests? I think you’re crazy… actually it’s more likely that you are watching this video for Crazy that finds a visual concept that questions the viewer’s mental state. Bryan Louie gets the nod for all the inkblot art design that is best described as mesmerizing.
5. Islands – The XX, 2010. Directed by Saam Farahmand.
I am pretty late to The XX fanclub – I’ve only started listening to them after discovering Jamie’s awesome remixes of Adele and Florence + the Machine – but this video is absolutely worth your attention. At first you think it’s the biggest cop out ever, but then you notice details, and how brilliantly it expresses the singer’s need for freedom from convention and routine. And then you watch it again.
4. Cry – Godley & Creme, 1985. Directed by Godley & Creme.
We all thought MJ’s “Black or White” was brilliant for the seamless morphing of faces, but this one-hit-wonder did it first, and for 1985 it was pretty darn good. Although sometimes a bit creepy, the up close faces are able to elicit sympathy as they sing about tears.
3. Let Forever Be – Chemical Brothers, 1999. Directed by Michel Gondry.
One woman’s reaccuring nightmare becomes another’s entertaining music video, with this magical illusion that juxtaposes crisp kaleidoscopesque images with effect-less handheld film, and as Gondry loves to do, makes us feel like we are watching one continuous shot. When I’m not thinking “this would be so fun to shoot”, I’m thinking “how did he do that!?”
2. Drop – The Pharcyde, 1995. Directed by Spike Jonze.
An early and stunning use of backwards filming. Sure Chris Martin did it, but he wasn’t rapping! These guys pull off all of the best backwards tricks, including graffiti, dressing themselves, realistic swagger, and pouring water. Not necessarily in that order. And although many more have attempted to follow in The Pharcyde’s footprints, they will forever need to fight to be more than a mere reference to Spike Jonze’s mastery of the technique.
1. Street Spirit (Fade Out) – Radiohead, 1995. Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
At first glance this video didn’t quite register when I watched it out of the corner of my eye. But soon enough I was sucked into the beauty of these juxtaposed ideas that defy the laws of time. The song is almost meditative, and the video lends itself to that as the black and white film exaggerates the play of light and shadow across Thom’s face. I notice something new everytime I watch it, and would likely rank this with the best of the best music videos of all time.
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.
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!
Here comes another 10 excellent music videos that you are going to want to procrastinate by watching on youtube! Action/Adventure may not be a normal category for music videos, but there are plenty of them. Unlike drama, their stories may not always be crystal clear, but we’re kept engaged because there’s always something happening: running, jumping, fighting, swaggering… you name it.
10. Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran, 1982. Directed by Russell Mulcahy.
This video was shot in Sri Lanka, which helps a lot with the Indiana Jones theme. For a video in the 80’s, this actually looked a bit like a film and fit the imagery in the song without being too literal. (I am so grateful there are no hungry wolves running around in this!)
9. 99 Problems – Jay-Z, 2004. Directed by Mark Romanek.
This one comes with a warning – there’s a bit of violence that you should know about before you watch. But you probably know that already, because the image is a powerful one that I think of nearly everytime I hear Jay-Z. I also regularly picture him in this video: black and white, walking around Brooklyn. This has less of a continuous plot as it is snapshots of being a black man in Brooklyn, but it still strikes me as action more than anything else.
8. Telephone – Lady Gaga & Beyonce, 2010. Directed by Jonas Akerlund.
Whether we like it or not, this has become somewhat legendary. The video has absolutely nothing to do with the song, and yet no one seems to care – it almost adds to the ridiculousness of the whole thing. This video has everything else you could imagine, and most things you never would (like cigarette shades). I still am not convinced why Beyonce would feel the need to pair up with Gaga, but in this instance it works. She was probably swayed with a promise she could drive the Pussy Wagon from Kill Bill.
I should probably add a warning to this as well, but I’m not exactly sure what I should say. Lady Gaga’s purpose in life is to make you cringe or feel awkward, and Telephone is no exception.
7. Glosoli – Sigur Ros, 2005. Directed by Arni & Kinski.
Another beautiful video by this team, featuring beautiful Icelandic children in beautiful Icelandic scenery. A visual representation of JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” quote about catching all the children jumping off a cliff. Clever and, well… beautiful.
6. Don’t Come Around Here No More – Tom Petty, 1985. Directed by Jeff Stein.
Who would have thought Tom Petty would make such a fantastic Mad Hatter, and who would have believed his band could have depicted Alice in Wonderland in an even creepier fashion? Apparently both the song and video were inspired by Stevie Nicks, which may explain why they are so full of mystery and excellence.
5. Beat It – Michael Jackson, 1982. Directed by Bob Giraldi.
I can’t believe I’ve posted this many videos before mentioning MJ. Don’t worry, this won’t be the last. His version of West Side Story is as good as anyone’s, and kicks off his long music video legacy of teaching the world that all conflicts can be solved through dance.
4. Everlong – Foo Fighters, 1997. Directed by Michel Gondry.
I am committed to watching everything Michel Gondry has ever been a part of, and this is one of many reasons why. Here my favorite director collaborates with a band with a huge and creative imagination to create nothing if not a visually stimulating, action-packed spectacle. I wish my dreams were directed by Gondry.
3. Hoppipolla – Sigur Ros, 2005. Directed Arni & Kinski.
Another cinematic jewel from Iceland, this time featuring not the young, but the older. This has become basically a perfect depiction of what I want to be like when I am a senior citizen.
2. Sabotage – Beastie Boys, 1995. Directed by Spike Jonze.
A masterpiece parody of 1970’s crime tv, complete with fake moustaches and plenty of chase scenes on foot and wheel. The Beastie Boys are masters of having fun and being filmed in the process, and nearly anyone who’s seen this wishes they thought of it first. Brilliant.
1. Thriller – Michael Jackson, 1983. Directed by John Landis.
I’m sure you were expecting this at some point. The only difficulty I had was in deciding which category it should be considered in. But this is quintessential action. Although we all know the dance, and we love the sci-fi effects of 1983, ultimately this video is ingrained into our hearts and minds because it continues to be one of the best examples of a video with a plot. It’s actually a little bit creepy – especially with Vincent Price and his pseudo-rap – and MJ makes a terribly convincing zombie. Music videos will forever pay homage to this with red jackets, mass choreography, and dancing zombies, and people everywhere will forever learn the choreography to show off at parties or in flash mobs. And all of these facts make the world a better place to live in. Thanks Michael.