he music video may hardly be in top cultural form at the moment, with both the channels previously known as Music Television and Video Hits 1st becoming bigger misnomers by the day. But even if these previously monolithic video outlets don’t seem to care too much about spreading the gospel anymore, in actuality, possibilities for video watching are arguably greater than ever. Deluxe cable channels like MTV Jams and VH-1 Classic are living up to the 24-hour-a-day music promises previously made by their parent channels, and with larger and more diverse playlists than ever before. And far more miraculously, with the advent of YouTube, video freaks finally have the capabilities to view almost any video they want, whenever they want. Music video democracy is at an all-time high.
With that in mind, we here at Stylus have democratically selected our humble and largely unofficial picks for the 100 best videos ever made, and are presenting them here, fully equipped with YouTube links for your viewing pleasure. Our list spans over four decades of music videos, from Bob Dylan & D.A. Pennebacker’s arguable creation of the art form in 1965 right up to a barely month-old Hot Chip video by Garth Jennings. We’ll be unveiling 20 a day, so be sure to check back throughout the week to keep up. Relive some of your favorite music video memories, and hopefully make a few new ones as well, as we count down the greatest hits of the music video medium.
080. Britney Spears – “…Baby One More Time”
(Dir. Nigel Dick, 1999)
How exactly does one praise Britney Spears, “…Baby One More Time,” and particularly its accompanying video without coming off at least vaguely lecherous? It’s partly nostalgia, to be sure—pre-Justin, pre-Crossroads, pre-K-Fed, pre-“Toxic,” pre-pregnancies, pre-pregnancy photo spreads…didn’t life seem so much simpler?—but it’s also undeniably iconic. Britney’s schoolgirl get-up belongs in the Smithsonian, somewhere between Marilyn’s wind-blown Seven Year Itch dress and Janet’s malfunctioned Super Bowl attire. The video’s PG-13 naughty private school theme gels seamlessly with the song’s puppy love histrionics, and the results are flat-out classic. Which is to say, no matter what stupid shit our Brit does or says, we’ll always have “…Baby One More Time.”
079. Three 6 Mafia f/ Young Buck, 8Ball & MJG
(Dir. Bernard Gouley, 2005)
Great songs don’t need great videos to announce their greatness. But great songs can use great videos to introduce great groups to the world. And that’s exactly what “Stay Fly” did. And that’s exactly why Juicy J, DJ Paul, Crunchy Black put everyone’s name in lights in the video to “Stay Fly.” The group has been hustling in Tennessee since forever, but they knew that this was their big shot—and they didn’t disappoint. The girls are hot, the white people are terrified, the guest stars are famous (Young Buck) and regional heroes (8Ball & MJG), the frenetic camera work matches the song (except when the stout 8Ball takes over and everything begins to stand slooow dooown), and Juicy’s glow-in-the-dark goblin T-shirt has become iconic. What else can you ask for?
078. Missy Elliot f/ Ludacris – “Gossip Folks”
(Dir. Dave Meyers, 2001)
There’s a gaggle of multi-ethnic kids, and the video is shot in a school—two strikes already on paper, but there’s nothing wrong with “Gossip Folks” in practice, a video that finds the perfect balance between expository schoolhouse clichés and dance sequences that are showy, but never tiresome. The kids are cute but not obnoxious, and where else is gossip as common as it is at school? When the professor at the Music Video Academy lectures on turn-of-the-millennium pop, and asks the student operating the projector (or future equivalent) to cue up Britney’s epochal “…Baby One More Time,” one can only hope the kid has the guts to throw this out instead, and that Missy is rightly remembered as the one that really moved dance floors and school halls in the early Oughties.
077. Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
(Dir. Samuel Bayer, 1991)
I could go on with the blah blahs about how this defined a generation, about how 15 years ago it probably didn’t seem that stupid to have cheerleaders wearing anarchy symbols, and about how “It’s about a deodorant!” and all that, but here’s what’s really striking about this video: For a band that publicly decried ever looking “cool”—they often looked like hobos, and not hipster junkie hobos from the 70’s, just regular old high school dropout hobos—they never looked better than in this video. Kurt, if not sexy, at least looked healthy, Dave Grohl’s shirtless drumming seemed natural, and even Novoselic acted like he belonged. There’s a point where Cobain is unleashing another chorus, and the kids are coming off the bleachers and almost mobbing him, Kurt screaming them back to their seats; it might be the only time in his entire life the Cobain looked “cool,” and it was very likely the only time he ever felt that way, too.
076. New Order – “True Faith”
(Dir. Philipe de Couffle, 1987)
Beautifully random and impeccably synchronized to the music, “True Faith” intercuts performance footage of the band with a weird netherworld where brightly attired clowns jump backwards, slap each other to the beat and sign the words to the song (or possibly just gibberish, but properly timed gibberish), clad in a rotating, round ensemble that resembles one of those inflatable punching clowns. Like all the best non-sequitur videos, all the fighting and jumping and dancing begins to seem fitting almost immediately, until the beginning of the song instantly brings to mind that odd featureless room stocked with jesters. For a song and a band so concerned with the mundaneness of human emotion, it's a masterstroke to marry that tone with the garish acrobatics and puzzling conflict on display in the “True Faith” video; not only is it eye-catching, it stays with you.
075. Master P f/ Silkk the Shocker, Mystikal, Fiend & Mia X – “Make ‘em Say Uggh”
(Dir. Michael Martin, 1998)
Criminally overlooked subplot of this video: There is a basketball game being played, and some of the players appear to playing some pretty hearty defense. In fact, if there was ever any question about the sexual or societal subtext of the phrase “Make ‘em say ugh!” this video obliterates them, proving that the No Limit’s most indelible slang was basically just a rallying cry for all things shiny and awesome. There’s no gang wars, no racial tension, no sexual abuse; just a hotly-contested basketball game with a Gorilla mascot, some cheerleaders, and a raucous crowd. And a huge golden tank, of course. “Make ‘Em Say Ugh” is the answer to the question: “What if that gym in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video didn’t suck?”
074. Aphex Twin – “Come to Daddy”
(Dir. Chris Cunningham, 1997)
Who knew that the world’s collective nightmares involved Richard D. James’ face grafted on to hoards of crazed schoolchildren? When this was released, Australia was yet to enter the era of 24-hour music television, so my exposure to “Come to Daddy,” was limited almost entirely to its appearances on Rage, a late-night music program broadcast by the government-owned ABC. There is little more terrifying than waking up at 3 a.m. after falling asleep on the couch, and being confronted by a run-down tenement echoing with the digital shrieks of a fiend emerging from a television set. If Aphex Twin wanted your soul, Chris Cunningham’s video was surely the means of taking it.
073. Bjork – “It’s Oh So Quiet”
(Dir. Spike Jonze, 1995)
Bjork’s genius gift for finding beauty, terror, and magic in the commonplace means she’s perfect for musicals, something Lars Von Trier would make into a masochistic display for 2000’s Dancer in the Dark. Five years earlier, however, Spike Jonze was the first to perceive Bjork’s song-and-dance potential, giving the singer a drab canvas of auto mechanics, mailboxes, and deliverymen and letting her giddiness over newfound love transform them into perfectly choreographed props that move in tune to her heart’s demands. The song’s message concerns the power of love to alter our psychic landscape, and Jonze nails it perfectly in making the backdrop so purposefully unglamorous and benign. In love, the mind can truly make a heaven of hell, and if Tires Plus ain’t the latter I don’t know what is.
072. OutKast – “Hey Ya”
(Dir. Bryan Barber, 2003)
Three years removed from those tasteless feather get-ups and “roses really smell like boo-boo-boo,” are we ready to collectively re-admit that “Hey Ya” is pretty awesome? If not, I understand. We all went a tad apeshit. But if we are ready to resume shaking it like a Polaroid picture, the video is the best place to start “getting” it again. And it’s not like it’s tough to get anyway. If it’s too meta and cute for its own good, it’s also flat-out delirious, Leprechaun-clad frontman Andre swaying those chicken legs like “Sex Machine”-era James Brown or a Greyhound over a fire hydrant. We still like, you know, pop, right?
071. Lisa Loeb – “Stay (I Missed You)”
(Dir. Ethan Hawke, 1994)
With some songs, it seems like there’s only one video that could possibly have been made for it. Appropriate for a song that never pauses even for a breath, the video for Lisa Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You)” features little but an uninterrupted tracking shot of Lisa walking around her bare and desolate apartment. It feels so real and unforced that watching it almost seems intrusive—this actually seems like it could be Lisa just thinking out loud while pacing around her apartment, the same sort of naturalistic charm that made “Stay” such a surprise hit in the first place. Ethan Hawke has failed miserably at more artistic mediums than 99% of us will ever even attempt, but he nailed it with this one. And if you’re not already sold, two words: those glasses.
070. Juvenile – “Back That Azz Up”
(Dir. David Meyers, 1999)
Women from all walks of life: young office professionals, high school girls playing hookie, even safe, auntie-looking women dropping it like it is the hottest of hot. Juve’s “Back That Azz Up” does a lot of transgressive work in its three-minute video—all of Cash Money is decked in the early-vintage set-up of small chains and white tees; besides the guy who’s rapping, the group is nearly indistinguishable from the raucous concert in the video. Juve raps from behind barriers of chain link fence as the crowd goes nuts and presses against the wire-mesh. I remember when this song and video absolutely invaded the white-bread Eastern ‘burbs. I saw what this video did for girls who would go to Smith or Princeton and work for a senator or goody-goody NGO. No matter your color, size, creed or age, if you can’t let the video’s dusty neighborhood party infiltrate your pleasure centers, you’ve got bigger problems than reconciling yourself with the South.
069. Daft Punk – “Da Funk”
(Dir. Spike Jonze, 1996)
Oh, the pathos! Charles, hobbled by the crutch of an inescapable attachment to a “Da Funk” blasting boom box, meets rejection on the streets of New York City, in the form of an exasperated bookseller, a pair of unkind children and an attractive ex-neighbor with whom, due to his sound system, he cannot catch a bus downtown. I would imagine the video has something important to say with its portrayal of the ever put-upon Charles’s optimistic attempts to negotiate his Big City Nights, only to encounter rejection and insurmountable obstacles at every turn, but Daft Punker Thomas Bangalter assures us that it is “just a man-dog walking with a ghetto-blaster in New York.” OK, fine, but the difficulty of the dog-guy’s travails, and the way he greets them with such unassuming friendliness and indefatigable good humor makes him undoubtedly one of music video’s most lovable creations.
068. B.G. – “Bling Bling”
(Dir. Scott Kalvert, 1999)
A real group effort: Cash Money standing on an anonymous bridge, and two quick camera cuts to cars and motorcycles later, everyone is rushing the camera, sticking wrists, pinkies and necks toward the lens, slathering the camera’s eye with carat after carat. It’s a flagship anthem, each young lion trying to find new ways to express just how goddamned rich they are as the camera hovers on the spoils: aimless, blank-eyed women gyrating around Ducatis, Hummers, and (inexplicably) VW Beetles. This video, in so many ways, helped set up the East Egg/West Egg dichotomy between New York/The South. Old vs. new. Restraint vs. exuberance. The moody soliloquies of the standard-bearing metropolis vs. the succinct, patois-inflected catchphrase. For an artifact of the new, moneyed South, it’s only fitting that the video’s most symbolic moment has Cash Money’s best weapon, Mannie Fresh, descending from a “candy-coated helicopter” and carrying a Nuclear Football-looking briefcase that presumably holds, in the eyes of a suddenly Lear-ish NYC, all of the Dirty South’s state secrets.
067. We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Going to Use It – “Love Is the Slug”
(Dir. Nick Small, 1986)
I learnt to dance in the indie clubs of Birmingham, and the main thing I learnt was this: don’t dance like nobody’s watching. Dance like everybody’s watching and you are, in fact, really good at dancing. The best way to do this is to make up a dance routine all of your very own for each individual song, including moves pertaining to the lyrics wherever possible. The video for “Love Is the Slug” takes this noble concept and bases an entire video around it, and films it in An Actual Indie Club In Birmingham In The Late 1980’s, resplendent with craply mirrored walls, a drunk guy who either isn’t with anyone or is with some people who have long since dissociated themselves from him, and first-hand evidence of what happens when you take STUDIO LINE hairspray and six-inch heels out of the hands of trained professionals. The high point: probably the bit where Fuzzbox illustrate “I feel emotion, I feel pain” by stumbling backward into a wall and going “Ow.”
[William B. Swygart]
066. R.E.M. – “Imitation of Life”
(Dir. Garth Jennings, 2001)
While it would certainly be well within our rights to forget the last decade or so of R.E.M., it shouldn’t be at the expense of this criminally overlooked, mind-bending 20-second pan-and-scan masterpiece for the band’s last great single. With camera as grappling tool scanning the clip’s living mural of simultaneous disparate images (Peter Buck being “that guy” with his mandolin while man on fire falls in awesome pool), director Garth Jennings manages to perfectly capture all that Stipe evokes: misguided desires, unexpected disappointments, the party you’re not invited to that doesn’t even exist. But even a pale imitation of life can be better than the real thing
065. N.W.A. – “Straight Outta Compton”
(Dir. Rupert Wainwright, 1988)
The power of the music video writ large. NWA were straight-up pussy, a ragtag group of geeks who'd lose a straight man-on-man dust up with Crowded House. Ice Cube's gait here in particular gives the impression that his spine is constructed entirely from marshmallow. But they learned from Mussolini: look grander by being shot from beneath. Add to this camera trick people walking around with their shoes on fire, masturbatory gun craft, cops with cartoon moustaches, lingering cartographer friendly map shops, Eazy E getting skin like the Fresh Prince returning to West Philadelphia, and you've just made the CPT Chess Club look a) cool and b) like the kind of guys who could cause a kerfuffle. So iconic that Rockstar managed to create an entire video game from it.
064. My Chemical Romance – “Helena”
(Dir. Marc Webb, 2005)
MCR lead singer Gerard Way might fancy himself as one of the great rock stars, but here, it doesn’t matter. I can’t get away from his eyes, because I don’t know what he’s looking at, or where he’s looking from. He quivers, he scowls, he never looks away, he shifts through all the gears he can muster but never gets any closer to what it is he’s looking for. At times you can argue that he’s trying too hard, and it’s all just a pose because death and being all-too-serious sells. The thing with “Helena” is that talking about it in those terms just feels fucking wrong. A series of moments, turning points, choreographed and stage-managed to perfection, but that’s art, isn’t it? It’s never for shock or for schlock, but because of the momentum, sheer, raw momentum, incessantly building to the explosion of pressure, as Helena seizes up and falls, stiff as a board, into the coffin. It’s clean, precise, and devastating.
[William B. Swygart]
063. 2Pac f/ Dr. Dre – “California Love”
(Dir. Hype Williams, 1996)
Does anyone doubt that this is what 2095 will be like? A post-apocalyptic California is ruled by tribal overlords—one of whom employs Chris Tucker as his hype-man—that are waging war over the West Coast’s dance floor. You know a video is predicting truth when the most unrealistic part is Dr. Dre repping Sacramento. Director Hype Williams is on some Bruckheimer shit here, aping Mad Max, dancing around in the Thunderdome and racing around the desert on dirt-bikes. Tupac and Dre have rarely looked looser, which is strange, considering they’re dressed like castoffs from the Gladiator set trying to get into a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A strangely stupid, strangely captivating, strangely hilarious re-imagining of Hollywood’s wild wild west.
062. Duran Duran – “Girls on Film”
(Dir. Godley & Crème, 1981)
You gotta hand it to Duran Duran. When every other band has bought a private yacht on which to do their cocaine, they're the kind of guys figuring out how to get a private yacht that’s actually made out of cocaine. Godley & Creme directed this remarkable tribute to arrow-straight male sexuality—it begins with two models in negligees having a pillow fight while straddling a shaving cream-covered pole, and doesn't really let up. Between cuts to the band, who seem to be "performing" to this makeshift theatre of the male Id, we get a man ridden as a horse, ice cubes on nipples, girls in Sumo diapers, some slightly disturbing lifeguard fantasy, and, of course, two hookers mud-wrestling. Like no other band in the 80's, Duran epitomized the queasy edge of rock excess, and "Girls on Film" is all their schoolboy celluloid fantasies realized.
061. Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean”
(Dir. Steve Barron, 1983)
“Billie Jean” is a dream of Michael Jackson, literally circa 1983 and ostensibly (if not credibly) “gritty.” It’s the seedy side of some vintage Hollywood movie set, harmless insofar as its star is “childlike.” You half-expect Gene Kelly to turn up for a quickie tap solo, yet at the same time, you want to warn Michael that he’s moon-walking toward actual danger—toward infamy and rhinoplasty and Elizabeth Taylor. That’s because this marks the precise point of no return, of the transition from “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” to “stop fuckin’ with me.” You want to warn the poor guy somehow, but you can’t. The dream is over.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-07-18