This post is brought to you by homework procrastination and lots of caffeine.
I miss MTV, back when it actually represented what it stands for, which is Music Television. Like most humans, I love music, and I love it when a good song is accompanied by a good video. Music videos can do so much to push a song into the world’s collective subconscious, illustrating the meaning behind the lyrics or remaining ambiguous yet beautiful. Since the ’80s, music videos have provided opportunities for music and filmmaking to merge, resulting in some pretty breathtaking and entertaining pieces, especially when directed by the likes of Spike Jonze or Michael Gondry.
All that being said, I present to you: the top 10 greatest music videos of all time as chosen by me. This list is mostly subjective, but I did try to take into account things like production value, artistry, creativity, the emotional response evoked, and how well the videos fit with their songs overall.
10. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor
This video is pure raw emotion. Most of it is just a closeup shot of Sinead’s face, but her performance as she sings is powerful to watch. At about the 4:00 mark, a single tear streams down her cheek, and it makes me ache every time I see it. This video proves that sometimes the best art is the simplest.
9. “Hurt” by Johnny Cash
Originally by Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash made this song his own, and the video does even more to ensure it belongs to him. It’s deeply personal. Footage of Cash performing the song in his museum is interspersed with images of his life, and it all comes together to form a poignant representation of the Man in Black.
8. “This Year” by The Mountain Goats
This video is both hilarious and shocking, and lead singer John Darnielle’s performance throughout is the icing on the cake. This is such an incredible song anyway, but the video is perfect. It’s a worst-case scenario accompanied by a message of hope.
7. “Here It Goes Again” by OK Go
OK Go choreographed and recorded this entire video themselves in one room with one camera and a few treadmills. It’s genius because they managed to create an instant hit with possibly the smallest music video budget ever. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun to watch.
6. “Coffee and TV” by Blur
I was obsessed with this song for a long time in high school, and now I don’t care for it as much, but I still love the video. It’s about an adorable milk carton’s quest for his missing person. I mean, how can you not love that?
5. “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai
This video is exactly what the song’s title suggests: virtual insanity. In one of the most unique videos of the ’90s, Jamiroquai’s smooth dancing throughout a constantly moving environment is addicting to watch. Plus, that hat.
4. “Buddy Holly” by Weezer
Weezer has a ton of good videos. I wanted to put “Pork and Beans” and “Keep Fishin'” on this list too, but I figured I’d better stick with just one. Directed by Spike Jonze, this video sees the band playing at Arnold’s Drive-In on Happy Days. Hijinks ensue, Fonzie dances, and it’s all shot seamlessly and simply awesome.
3. “Do You Realize?” by The Flaming Lips
This video is pure craziness (and so are The Flaming Lips), but buried under all the technicolor and animal suits is a heartfelt message of happiness and acceptance. Wayne Coyne proselytizes his hopeful view for us all as he struts down the Vegas strip, and by the end of the video, I feel like everything’s going to be okay.
2. “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
This video is a partial homage to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and it’s visually stunning. A werewolf dances before killing everyone, red glitter and confetti spray everywhere instead of blood, and Karen O keeps singing even though she’s decapitated. It’s awesome.
1. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson
“Thriller” is more than a music video. It’s practically a short film. The production value is incredible, and it even features Vincent Price! That alone is enough to make it the greatest music video ever made. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you know at least part of the Thriller dance. It’s as much of a cultural icon as Michael Jackson himself. Nothing can top it. It was unprecedented in its time and there’s been nothing like it since.
There are so many more videos I could have easily put on this list, but these are the ones that stand out the most, and I hope I’ve done them justice in explaining why. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments!