I’m so old I remember when MTV played music videos. My not-yet-husband and I used to go to a frozen yoghurt store so I could watch MTV (we couldn’t afford cable). I love music videos. I still do although the thrill isn’t as intense as it was then, when it was a new way of interacting with songs you would otherwise only hear.
These are a few of my favorite music videos from over the years. This is not a top ten list but a “some I feel like enthusiasming about right now” list.
All Night Long (Lionel Richie)
This is a sweet, goofy video from 1983, and as much as I love it (and I do) just about everything from it is clearly from a different era. The style and color palette of the clothing has not, shall we say, worn well. Too many of the outfits remind me of the dread era of Jane Fonda Workouts. What were they thinking?
Lionel Richie looks so incredibly young and suave, and he has the effortlessly pleasing visage and presence of the videogenic. The infectious beat, the easy cheerfulness of the dance party vibe where everyone is celebrated and celebrating, and the unexpected policeman make this a classic that for all its hokey-ness never loses its appeal for me.
Beat It (Michael Jackson)
I asked my spouse what music videos were most memorable for him, and Beat It (1982) is the first one he mentioned. It was innovative, massively popular, and hugely influential, of course. However, while I appreciate its place as a classic, for me it hasn’t aged that well although the dance-off remains great and Jackson is a great singer. As with West Side Story, the dancers don’t really look as tough as they are meant to be. And it reminds me of how much women get relegated to the sidelines in this kind of story. That awful kiss in the diner makes me cringe every time.
Somebody to Love (Justin Bieber, featuring Usher)
No, no, stop. Don’t walk away. Bear with me.
I love the clever and flashy direction of this cheerful 2010 video. Okay, Bieber is not a great singer, and he can’t dance, but Usher can sing (and dance), and the dance crews are great, and diverse, and foregrounded as near equals in the sense that the video doesn’t work without them.
And–get this!–all the women are clothed! This is a bigger deal than you may realize in an era of so many music videos with clothed men and unclothed women, and I appreciate it greatly. Also, regardless of your Bieber feels, it’s a pretty great pop song qua pop song. And Usher can sing. Listen to him fancy up that melody.
Shoop (Salt-N-Pepa) (1994)
I miss 90s music. I miss this 90s music, the one with the women owning their sexuality and making their way in company with each other.
Express Yourself (Madonna) (1989)
“Come on girls, do you believe in love? Because I’ve got something to say about it, and it goes like this.”
Madonna plays multiple roles in a reworking of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The plot is classic, the man is beautiful, the jazz band-as-automatons is chilling and effective, and the video is visually sophisticated, with a filmic aesthetic and a gorgeous palette. Plus the song is sex positive!
Also: that milk.
Take On Me (a-ha) (1985)
That girl is me at 15.
Escapade (Janet Jackson)
Few songs and their attendant videos make me as purely happy as this one. (If I had to assign songs to characters, this would be Cat Barahal’s song.)
Despite its 1989 release, here we find no vintage 80s hair or vintage 80s clothes to date it a la “All Night Long,” so it still feels and looks fresh. Janet Jackson’s gear is always timeless, and her clothes were particularly to my taste during her RHYTHM NATION period. How much do I want that jacket???
The choreography is crisp and interesting, the carnival setting joyful and complex, and the video as dance-and-story is top-notch. There is a mysterious and handsome man. And Janet Jackson may have the greatest smile in the history of music videos. What’s not to love?
Black Hand Side (Pharoahe Monch featuring Styles ) and Phonte)
Great song and great video from 2011. This simply is one of the smartest uses of the medium to enhance & complicate the message, and of course it does not pull its social commentary punch. The sequence where he is walking along behind the young couple is sheer brilliance, deep insight into how much prejudice is embedded in the stories we tell ourselves about “how people are” and how racism constrains the stories we are willing to believe.
If I had to have a top three music videos of all time, this would be on it.
Fantastic Baby (Big Bang)(2012)
The clothes. The hair. The style. The beat. The owl. This is everything a music video is supposed to be.
That’s nine. What would you add?