The Buggles once proclaimed that video killed the radio star, but it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the slogan became prophecy. As radio and MTV grew increasingly formulaic, along came MTV2 and MuchMusic. MTV2, then known as M2, became a 24-hour-a-day Buzz Bin for emerging artists. No Britney Spears, no Creed—just alternative counter-programming to TRL. Since the pre-MTV days of Friday night video blocks, the music video medium has evolved slowly into something more than a marketing tool. Initially music videos were just another way to promote albums, but videomakers quickly realized there was art to be made. Though the three oldest videos on our list (Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” Queen & David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” and “Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”) addressed their respective texts with decidedly different genre approaches, each one aimed to do more than sell records. No other artist has embodied this ideal more than Madonna, who has continually pushed the boundaries of video art and has single-handedly changed the way artists and music are consumed. It’s no secret that without MTV Madonna might not be who she is today. She is the artist with the most videos on our list—11 in all—with Björk, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, and Annie Lennox (including her work with the Eurythmics) tying for a distant second place with three clips apiece. On the other side of the lens, videomakers-cum-Tinseltown-commodities David Fincher and Spike Jonze each helmed six videos on our list, while Michael Gondry and Mark Romanek, who found success with last year’s One Hour Photo, each directed five. While MTV and VH1’s own lists often seem to cater to populist opinion and favor controversy over artistry, Slant Magazine has sorted through the vaults (and we’re not kidding when we say that) and compiled a list based on what we think will survive the networks’ own expiration dates. Notable omissions include “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys (though their videos are consistently good, “Sabotage” is superfluous by Jonze’s standards), R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” (we opted for less heavy-handed R.E.M. clips like “Imitation of Life” and “Drive”) and Korn’s “Freak on a Leash” (the anti-gun commercial it was inspired by is far superior). Now, without further ado…
Christina Aguilera, “Dirrty” (Director: David LaChappelle)
Elbow-deep in sweat, chaps, naughty school girls, cockfights, female boxing, mud wrestling and Thai signs that, when translated, read “Young Underage Girls,” Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video caused a nasty stink in 2002. The clip’s most poignant moments include guest artist Redman punching a dancer sporting a bunny costume and a scene in which Aguilera and a group of her young frolicking friends get hosed down in a men’s restroom. At the end, a spent and extrra-dirrty Aguilera attempts to wipe what can safely be assumed is Syphilis from her mouth.
No Doubt, “New” (Jake Scott)
For “New,” their contribution to 1999’s Go soundtrack, No Doubt enlisted director Jake Scott to help create a retro-rave club setting to juxtapose the band’s edgy new wave rock. Each band member assumed a role: Adrian was the speed freak, Tom was the club entrepreneur and Gwen was the free spirit who just came to get her groove on. Fuzzy plotlines aside, the gorgeously filmed “New” rang in the post-ska No Doubt as we now know them and reintroduced Gwen Stefani as fashion’s diva du jour.
Daft Punk, “Around the World” (Michel Gondry)
A group of Cold War aliens, ’50s-style swimmers, skeletons, mummified women and statuesque ravers circle each other onstage in this demented clip for Daft Punk’s “Around the World.” Director Michel Gondry keeps things simple—via a series of effortless zooms and overheads timed to the circular choreography, he evokes dance music’s appeal as an ageless global phenomenon.
Run-DMC vs. Jason Nevins, “It’s Like That”
DJ Jason Nevins made Run-DMC sound cool again with his remix of the group’s first single, 1983’s “It’s Like That.” This old-skool-meets-new-skool clip for the song works off the combative nature set up by the “vs” between Run-DMC and Nevins. A group of ravers gather together in an abandoned warehouse, fending each other off not with fists but with body moving. Killer choreography and silky camera moves are director Marcus Sternberg’s visual weapons of choice. More importantly, though, this anthropological celebration of alternative modes of competition works as a continuation of Jennie Livingston’s legendary documentary Paris Is Burning and Madonna’s “Vogue” video.
Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (John Maybury)
In stark contrast to the often excessive videos of its time period, Sinead O’Connor and director John Maybury’s minimalist video for “Nothing Compares 2 U” proclaimed O’Connor as an iconoclast to be reckoned with. Moody images of O’Connor walking through a paganistic, gargoyle-filled park were offset with close-ups of the singer’s porcelain face against a black background. And yes, that’s a real tear.