Qualifying art forms like music videos is subjective because what appeals to one person makes another hit the “pass” button.
Some would argue that a successful music video has to have countless likes, while others would counter that the lighting and location make for awesome videos.
We believe you’ll agree with our assessment as we investigate ten of the best music videos ever produced.
The 10 Best Music Videos Of All Time
In determining our list, we set aside our likes and genre preferences and zeroed in on music videos that became hits and impacted the medium.
Many of our choices won MTV Video Music Awards, and others, like “Video Killed the Radio Star,” foretold the impact music videos would have on the music industry.
So without further ado, here’s our list of the 10 best music videos of all time:
10. The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) – Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott released her first single, “The Rain,” and worked with famed director Hype Williams for her music video. Missy and Hype were the perfect pair, and The Rain reflected Elliott’s forward-thinking music vision.
Her music video is a montage of vivid colors, flashy dancing, and special lenses, with guest appearances by Lil Kim, Diddy, and Da Brat adding to the fun.
Missy Elliott creates progressive yet fun vignettes with a fish eye camera lens and wears an inflated black suit in many scenes that billows with air. As she raps, she plays with the balloon-like suit and enjoys feeling like “the hip-hop Michelin woman.”
The Rain was released in 1997 and was nominated for Best Rap Video at the MTV Video Music Awards, and to this day, it continues to influence artists and video producers alike.
9. Freedom! ’90 – George Michael
George Michael wrote, sang, and produced this hit in 1990 and created the groove using a beat from one of the best drummers of all time, Clyde Stubblefield.
The song he sampled was James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” which showcases Clyde’s drumming and ability to create a deep groove.
Interestingly, George Michael didn’t appear in this video but instead hired five supermodels that appeared on the cover of Vogue.
The music video for Freedom! 90 makes excellent use of shadows and lighting thanks to director David Fincher’s vision. Fincher used a large building in London that gives the video “a grandeur and a Blade Runner feel.”
Another feature of the video is that it’s over six minutes long, but the editing cuts it into morsels of delicious eye candy, making the video zoom past.
8. Like A Virgin – Madonna
Madonna’s smash “Like A Virgin” hit the charts in 1984 and made her a pop culture superstar. The video for the hit was filmed in Brooklyn and Venice, Italy, and although dated by today’s standards, was well-received at the time.
Madonna was known for being a strong woman and open about her sexuality, so it’s no wonder her music video “Like A Virgin” capitalizes on such stature.
Directed by Mary Lambert, who worked on Madonna’s “Borderline” video, they created a provocative music video with Madonna wearing sensual outfits while floating on a gondola, followed by scenes with her in a white wedding dress.
Sexual symbolism is associated with a lion prowling throughout the video and Madonna’s lover wearing a lion mask. All of this takes place in one of the most romantic locations in the world: Venice.
As one of the best female singers of all time, Madonna can attribute her fame to her music video “Like A Virgin,” which catapulted her to stardom.
7. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Before MTV (music television) and long before the music video craze, Queen made a video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” that would become a classic and make the biggest record labels in the world take notice.
Queen helped establish the music video format that labels use to help promote artists and aspiring bands, and the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video helped launch the MTV era.
The video starts with a reinterpretation of the cover for Queen II with the band shrouded in black and in a diamond shape. Their faces are lit overhead, which accents facial highs and lows, and the black background makes for an iconic look.
They lip-sync the acapella section, and then the video cuts to the band playing on stage dressed in 70s white satin jumpsuits and Freddie Mercury looking like a Spanish Matador.
The “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video is simplistic by today’s standards but paved the way for other music videos, bands, and MTV.
6. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
While “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the most forbidden riffs banned in guitar stores, the song is Generation X’s theme song and is from Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind.
The music video changed how MTV videos looked since the band was inspired by the 1979 cult film Over The Edge and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School by the Ramones.
In Nirvana’s music video, the band is playing in a gym at a pep rally where tensions build and lead to chaos. The “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video won an MTV Video Music Award and is one of Europe’s most popular music videos.
The video uses sepia tones and smoke to create a reality of brown color and indifference, and the cheerleaders have an “A” emblazoned on their uniforms to symbolize anarchy.
Nirvana posted flyers around town to invite kids to participate in their video, but when they formed a mosh pit, they went off script and began demolishing the set, making “Smells Like Teen Spirit” a classic.
5. Lemonade – Beyoncé
Critics have praised Beyonce’s album Lemonade as being her magnum opus, and her 2016 film of the same name is 65 minutes long and divided into eleven sections.
The prose for “Lemonade” is from a British-Somali poet Warsan Shire and many of her poems were adapted by Beyoncé for use in the film. Beyoncé also included
The ” Lemonade ” cast features several celebrities, including Serena Williams. In the “Forward” section of the film, the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Trevor Garner hold pictures of their slayed sons.
“Lemonade” is more of a film than a series of music videos, but it became a trendsetter and received critical praise like NPR, who went so far as to call “Lemonade” the best music video of 2016.
4. Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel
If the toe-tapping soulful groove from “Sledgehammer” doesn’t get you dancing, nothing will. The hit is from Peter Gabriel’s 1986 release So and includes other hit songs like “In Your Eyes,” “Big Time,” and “Don’t Give Up.”
Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” video won nine MTV Music Video Awards and is their number-one animated video of all time, but such accolades took a lot of work.
Creating the choppy yet hip look required the use of claymation, pixilation, and stop-motion animation, which meant Peter Gabriel needed to lie on his back beneath a sheet of glass for sixteen hours. Such laborious efforts were required so they could film one frame at a time to create a masterpiece.
The result of the painstaking work is a kaleidoscope of colors, images, and scenes, and if you watch until the end, you’ll see guest appearances by his daughters Anna-Marie and Melanie.
“Sledgehammer” remains the most awarded music video and continues to inspire videographers, musicians, artists, and directors alike.
3. November Rain – Guns N’ Roses
The song “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses was released in 1991, peaked at number three on Billboards Hot 100, and is the fourth longest single in Hot 100 history.
The concept for the production of “November Rain” came from the short story “Without You” written by Del James, and the music video became the most expensive video ever produced.
Its storyline follows the main character, lead singer Axel Rose, at his wedding to Stephanie Seymour, Rose’s girlfriend.
Later in the video, the storyline jumps to Rose attending his wife’s funeral, and between these story arcs, there is concert footage of Guns N’ Roses playing at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles.
The song is over nine minutes long, and director Andy Morahan spared no expense when selecting locations, actors, and performing a concert complete with a symphony.
The wedding was filmed inside St. Brendan Catholic Church, and Slash’s guitar solo scene was filmed in New Mexico, while the church used in this scene was brought in specifically for the video.
In 2018, “November Rain” was the only music video before YouTube to surpass one billion views, which is why it is one of the best music videos of all time.
2. Take On Me – A-ha
Norway’s top pop band, A-ha, contributed a music video that pushed the boundaries of creativity and made the song “Take On Me” an international hit in 1985.
The most popular video of Take On Me is the second version directed by Steve Barron, who had worked on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video.
The music video used a cafe and sound stage in London for the scenes, but the video’s “look” was revolutionary. The plot is a romantic fantasy where a girl in a cafe enters the comic book she’s reading when A-ha’s lead singer, Morten Harket, invites her to join him.
The concept for the filming process came from Warner Bros. record executive Jeff Ayeroff, in which the video used a pencil-sketched animation and live-action combination called Rotoscoping.
Rotoscoping allows pencil animation to have life-like motions that accurately match the actor’s movements. All-in-all, 3,000 frames went through the Rotoscoping process and took 16 weeks to complete.
Aside from its innovative filming techniques, “Take On Me” helped the band skyrocket to success with viewers on MTV, and it won six MTV Music Video Awards.
And when the video was remastered for release on YouTube, it received 1 billion views by 2020, proving that “Take On Me” will continue to impress fans worldwide.
1. Thriller – Michael Jackson
If you grew up with MTV, you remember when the music video for “Thriller” came out because there were viewing parties around the world for the December 2, 1983 release.
Director John Landis, who had worked on An American Werewolf in London, extended Michael Jackson’s song into a fourteen-minute film that cost half a billion dollars, making “Thriller” the most expensive video of its time.
“Thriller” follows the plot line of many horror films of the 50s and includes a classic convertible, clothing, and romance. In addition, Landis and Jackson added zombies, perhaps influenced by the cult classic Night of the Living Dead, to add to the horror aspect of the video.
Many Hollywood celebrities like Rock Hudson, Marlon Brando, and Fred Astaire attended the filming, as did former first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
“Thriller” was the first music video to turn a song into a film format, and the budget required many locations, actors, choreographers, and crew. While indeed an expensive project, the result has made “Thriller” one of the most visually stunning music videos.
Adding to the horror motif was the voiceover work of Vincent Price, who was famous for playing in horror movies, and his voice ideally suited the script for “Thriller.” And no one had a more creepy laugh than Vincent Price, who comes in at the end of the video with his bone-chilly chuckle.
One scene, in particular, is the most popular amongst fans: the zombie dance. Michael Jackson worked with choreographer Michael Peters to develop zombie dance moves, and they have been replicated worldwide by fans and have been in films like 13 Going On 30.
That concludes our roundup of the 10 best music videos of all time. We’re sure some videos were familiar, while others might be brand new.
We learned that artistic elements like stop-action and Rotoscoping influence the genre and have a far-reaching impact.
While the number of views is essential, to be classed as one of the best music videos of all time requires a creative vision that transcends time.
What’s the best music video of all time, in your opinion? Leave a comment below.
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