We’ve been thrown so many music video gems over the years, and artists continue to push the boundary of what the medium can offer every single day.
Of course, out of those clips there have been a few standouts. From Queen’s iconic drag-based video for “I Want To Break Free” to Childish Gambino’s powerfully political “This Is America,” musicians far and wide have shown us that music videos have the power to change pop culture entirely.
Check out our list of eleven music videos that truly changed the game below.
Queen – “I Want To Break Free”
Queen really sparked controversy with their video for “I Want To Break Free,” when they decided to appear on screen in drag. Although this was a pretty common source of humour in England at the time, it didn’t fly in the States. When American viewers say Mercury vacuuming in a black leather skirt, Brian May clothed in curlers and a nightgown, John Deacon dressed as a grandmother, and Roger Taylor in full schoolgirl attire, MTV banned the video because Queen fans far and wide were scared of the repercussions of promoting cross-dressing.
Madonna – “Like A Prayer”
Another artist who loved to ignite a little controversy was Madonna, who really riled people up with the release of the video for “Like a Prayer.” The track itself revolved around a balance of religious language and sexual innuendos, and the accompanying video featured some shocking images like white supremacists, a black man getting arrested for the murder of a white girl, a cross burning, and a stigmata scene. Not only did the video bring about a lot of conversation, but as time went on, even the Vatican condemned the video.
Pearl Jam – “Jeremy”
Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” is still one of the most chilling tracks of all time, and it is based on high school student Jeremy Wade Delle who shot himself in front of his classmates in 1991. The accompanying video is no less jarring, as it’s full of rage and alienation from both frontman Eddie Vedder and 12-year-old star Trevor Wilson. The pair are so expressive in the clip that many viewers thought they appeared to be possessed as they screamed and shook in the dim, flashing background of the video.
A-Ha – “Take On Me”
Norwegian pop group A-Ha definitely round out this list with the release of “Take On Me,” which revolutionized music videos with their real-life/animation hybrid. The Steve Barron directed video took months to make, and it was the first time that a short-form video mixed both live action and rotoscoping illustration, instantly captivating viewers from across the globe. All of the drawings were hand done, and illustrator Mike Patterson created over 3,000 sketches for the completed video.
Peter Gabriel – “Sledgehammer”
Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” bounded onto the music scene with its groundbreaking stop-motion animation. The eye-popping visuals for the 1986 track really made waves, and, at the time, it was the truest form of out-of-the-box music videos. The video still boasts its spot as MTV’s most-played music video of all time, and it’s no wonder it holds that title considering how captivating the partially animated clip is. The shoot took an entire seven days, and Gabriel had to lie down under a sheet of glass as the video was created one frame at a time.
Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”
“Sabotage” saw the Beastie Boys spoof almost every brilliant cop show you could think of with this explosive 1994 video. Clearly the band loved a little police drama, as this Spike Jonze-directed clip sees the trio taking part in car hood slides, violent arrests, and bags of donuts. Some shows you might see parodied in this brief video include Hawaii Five-O and The Streets of San Francisco.
Eminem – “Stan feat. Dido”
“Stan,” which saw a collaboration between American rapper Eminem and British singer Dido, was a hit upon its release. The Dr. Dre-directed clip was a literal interpretation of the lyrics, as it saw Devon Sawa as Stan and Dido as his pregnant girlfriend. Stan slowly walks the line between fan and stalker, and as the clip progresses, Stan dyes his hair blonde, sits in a room full of Eminem posters, writes letters to Eminem about being his biggest fan, and eventually tyes up his girlfriend to stick her in a trunk and drunkenly drive off a bridge.
Madonna – “Express Yourself”
Madonna knew how to captivate audiences with her music videos, so it’s no wonder she’s on this list twice. This track was another single off of Like a Prayer, and the accompanying footage saw Madonna teaming up with director David Fincher. The music video was inspired by Fritz Lang’s dystopian movie Metropolis, and it starred the Queen of Pop herself as a seductress and boss of a factory full of enslaved shirtless men.
Foo Fighters – “Learn To Fly”
This beloved Foo Fighters track deserved a video that would be just as well received by fans as the legendary tune. The “Learn To Fly” music video premiered on MTV in 1999, and it later went on to win a Grammy for Best Short Form Video. The clip sees cameos from the members of Tenacious D, who play sketchy airport workers that slip powder into an airplane’s coffee pot, sending the staff and passengers on the trip of a lifetime.
Beyoncé – “Single Ladies”
Try and find someone who doesn’t know at least part of this dance, we dare you. Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” was a cultural phenomenon, really hammering home the legendary singer’s status as a triple threat. The clip showcased Bey’s talent as she pulled off the distinctively difficult dance, dressed in a black bodysuit with a bionic arm. This black and white video was intoxicating, truly captivating audiences across age groups and from around the world.
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
This politically-charged video went viral just last year when Childish Gambino debuted his revolutionary track, “This Is America.” The clip juxtaposes Glover cheerily dancing shirtless in an empty warehouse before he spontaneously shoots the people around him as a statement on gun violence, racial inequality, and police brutality. The video has nearly 507,000,000 views on YouTube, so it has clearly left a mark on the current musical and political climate.