The 25 Best Music Videos of All Time
From Michael Jackson to Taylor Swift and all the Beyoncé in between
Some days you're tired and frustrated and sleepy and hungry and not sure exactly what you're doing with your life. And that's when Janet and Missy and Gaga and, hell, even Sinéad come to the rescue. However you need to feel, these are 25 of our go-to jams.
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson (1982)
The hardest decision we’ve ever made? Picking between “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal” and even “Remember the Time.” But of all the MJ classics, this one holds up the best.
“Take on Me” by A-Ha (1985)
Animated charcoal sketches and the catchiest damn song in existence make up this ’80s mega hit.
“Express Yourself” by Madonna (1989)
The queen of boundary pushing in her prime--directed by the then little-known David Fincher.
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé (2009)
Remember when Kayne interrupted Taylor Swift accepting the MTV Video of the Year award and said “Imma let you finish and I'm sorry, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time”? He was right.
“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift (2015)
But America’s latest sweetheart has come a long way, from staging high school meet cutes to starring in a mini action movie with her now-infamous squad.
“Work It” by Missy Elliot (2002)
Missy’s most successful single to date may or may not have had anything to do with breakdancing middle schoolers.
“Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul (1989)
Same goes for tap-dancing cartoon cats and ’80s pop stars.
“What Have You Done for Me Lately” by Janet Jackson (1986)
Fun fact: The friend posing the “but what has he done for you laaattteeelllyyy” question is, yes, a young Paula Abdul, who also choreographed the routine.
“Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak (1991)
Master ’80s fashion photographer Herb Ritts shot a singer and a supermodel rolling around in the waves, and it was goooood.
“Freedom! ’90” by George Michael (1990)
But if we’re really talking supermodels…
“Hey Ya” by Outkast (2003)
A re-creation of The Ed Sullivan Show, this gave us the aughts' inescapable catchphrase, “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.”
“Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters (1999)
This wacky cast of characters (and Tenacious D cameos) solidified Dave Grohl & Co. as just the coolest.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
But first, there was this punk-rock pep rally led by anarchist cheerleaders, with Grohl on drums, that single-handedly ushered in the Grunge Era.
“Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1997)
And who ushered in the ’00s-approved futuristic fashion? Well, that would be Puff Daddy, Mase and a slew of primary-colored tracksuits, paying homage to Big Poppa.
“Gangnam Style” by Psy (2010)
This kooky dance craze introduced the world to K-pop and became the first video to reach 1 billion views on YouTube. (It’s currently rocking around 2.4 bill.)
“Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel (1986)
Another game-changing video for its time... You’ll never not remember a stop-motion dancing chicken.
“Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake (2002)
Was there ever a pop-culture controversy as juicy as a revenge song for Britney Spears? This was the breakup anthem of the early ’00s.
“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga (2009)
And this, the breakup anthem of the late ’00s--complete with monster pods, flaming beds and Alexander McQueen’s now infamous armadillo heels.
“I Want to Come Over” by Melissa Etheridge (1996)
Oh hi, ’90s Gwyneth Paltrow--who is playing a lovelorn stalker? All right.
“Sabotage” by Beastie Boys (1994)
An episode of Ray Donovan or a ’90s white-guy rap group? All thanks to Spike Jonze.
“Tonight Tonight” by Smashing Pumpkins (1995)
Based on an early French film depicting a trip to the moon, this video’s opera-like set pieces go well with the heavy orchestration.
“Nothing Compares to You” by Sinead O’Connor (1990)
This Irish singer hadn’t yet begun courting controversy by tearing up pictures of the Pope on television. She was just extreme-close-up-style and incredibly moving.
“UNTITLED (HOW DOES IT FEEL)” BY D’ANGELO (2000)
And then this extreme close-up was just…um…sorry, what were we talking about?
“Hurt” by Johnny Cash (2002)
Widely listed as the best video of all time, this meditation on life and loss (which takes Nine Inch Nails’ lyrics and sets them to video from Cash’s life) is eerily beautiful.
“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992)
All hail the sporadic movie clip.