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The 100 Greatest Music Videos of All Time

The Buggles once proclaimed that video killed the radio star, but it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the slogan became prophecy.

The 100 Greatest Music Videos of All Time

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…

100. 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.

99. 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.

98. 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.

97. 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.

96. 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.

95. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Jeff Stein)

Only in a Tom Petty video can Alice trip her way through Wonderland. A naïve Alice downs psychedelic shrooms courtesy of a hookah-smoking caterpillar. As the crazed Mad Hatter, Petty fucks with her high. The clip itself hasn’t aged well but its stunning art direction was remarkably ahead of its time. Here, it’s a virtual threat to Alice’s confused sense of perspective. When the munchies kick in, Alice herself is downright edible.

94. Paula Abdul, “Cold Hearted” (David Fincher)

A group of record executives arrive at a rehearsal hall where Paula Abdul is waiting to audition her new music video concept. The execs sit and watch in horror as Abdul and her troupe of dancers (who appear as if they’ve been plucked right off New York’s dingy city streets) pull the shades and unveil their racy creation. Inspired by the dance sequence “Aerotica” from Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and directed by a then-virtually unknown David Fincher, American Idol Abdul’s campy “Cold Hearted” is, along with Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Madonna’s “Vogue,” one of the greatest clips of the “dance video” genre.

93. OutKast, “B.O.B.” (Dave Meyers)

OutKast’s urgent “po-wer music electric revival” is matched with a video clip courtesy of Dave Meyers that is just as brilliant and high-energy as the song. The video deftly mixes the soulful with the decadent as a pre- (or post-) apocalyptic community (including dancing hoochies, bone thugs and choir women) flocks to the last house on Earth for one final dance call. It’s all about peace, love and heading into your next lifetime with a smile on your face.

92. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Scar Tissue” (Stephane Sednaoui)

In 1999, Red Hot Chili Peppers returned with new do’s and John Frusciante in tow. The stylish first video from their much-celebrated Californication was simple and profound. Directed by Stephane Sednaoui, who helmed the band’s famously silver-hued “Give It Away,” the symbolic “Scar Tissue” found the Chili Peppers driving across the desert in a red convertible. Beaten, bandaged and at peace, the band mimes their broken instruments to the familiar riffs of Frusciante’s guitar. The clip was a beautiful metaphor for the band’s resolve and triumph over death, drugs and, most of all, time.

91. Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun” (Howard Greenhalgh)

Director Howard Greenhalgh challenges American complacency in his apocalyptic video for Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” The clip mocks and exaggerates our society’s search for truth in television and its gratuitous exploitation of the earth. Soon nature turns itself on the unsuspecting suburb. A tall, thin blonde bakes in the sun as a Barbie doll is scorched on a barbeque. For torturing a cockroach under a magnifying glass, two young boys are burnt under the giant lens of the Black Hole Sun. In the end, the town people’s distorted self-images and general arrogance becomes their end.

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