The 50 Best Music Videos of All Time

More than 40 years ago, MTV launched and introduced the world to promoting music with videos. Artists, bands, and directors took this opportunity to enhance the song’s emotions and use music videos as a great tool for storytelling.

Music videos were a great new artistic way to approach storytelling, and, at the time, everyone tried to experiment in order to try to create the perfect music video. This was the result of one of the best music videos ever created.

Listing the 50 best music videos of all time is just the tip of the iceberg. I guess the video really did kill the radio star.

Contents

1. “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads

Released in 1984, “Once in a Lifetime” is still one of the best music videos. The music video was directed by Toni Basil and David Byrne. It features David Byrne dancing on a greenscreen in a kind of “robotic” way. The choreography was done by Toni Basil, and he studied a lot of footage of religious rituals from around the world and tried to incorporate those into the dance in a very creative fashion.

2. “Goliath” by Woodkid

Yoann Lemoine, a great musician and an amazing music video director has done a lot of great music videos throughout his career, but “Goliath” definitely takes the spot for the best one. The video is inspired by the biblical account of David and Goliath and reflects the present world condition in which the dominated may defeat the “Goliath”. An amazing visual narrative, well worth watching.

3. “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails

The music video for “Closer” first aired in 1994, and it was directed by Mark Romanek. Something you never see anymore is a music video that encapsulates controversial art, religion, politics, etc. There are two versions of the music video for “Closer”, one that could be played on TV and another cut that was only available on the VHS/DVD “Closure”. Both are available on YouTube now.

4. “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel

MTV’s most-played music video of all time, “Sledgehammer”, helped Peter Gabriel take the No. 1 slot on the US Billboard Top 100. Directed by Stephen R. Johnson, the music video also has the most MTV award wins for a single music video as it has an amazing performance, direction, special effects, editing, and art direction.

5. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson

If there is one music video that I think most people know of, it’s “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. Around the world, it became an immediate sensation. Simply featuring Michael Jackson dancing a well-choreographed routine with zombies, in addition to good cinematography, is all they needed to be one of the most viewed music videos ever made.

6. “Dancing on The Ceiling” by Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie, an absolute legend; aside from the great songs he’s produced, you can’t leave out “Dancing on The Ceiling” when you talk about the best music videos of all time. It was reported to be one of the most expensive music videos to be produced at the time. It features Lionel and his friends dancing on the ceiling. 

7. “All Is Full of Love” by Björk

One of the best music video producers, Chris Cunningham, directed the music video for “All Is Full of Love”. The video is an exquisite and emotional depiction of two Björk-captured robots that sing to each other and fall in love as they are connected together. The film achieves a harmonic conclusion when the robots combine in an embrace.

8. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister

One of the most popular music videos by Twisted Sister is “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, directed by Marty Callner and released in 1984. The music video is a pure slapstick comedy where a father scolds his disobedient son only to be left with a series of failed retaliations. The son, being transformed into Dee Snider, sings to other children in the family, transforming them and forming the whole band.

9. “Like A Prayer” by Madonna

“Like A Prayer” is Madonna’s most popular and controversial music video. Directed by Mary Lambert, it features a young woman witnessing a killing of a white woman by a group of white men, all the while, a black man is being arrested for the murder. The video features a lot of Catholic symbols, including stigmata. It also includes cross-burning. A lot of religious people protested against the broadcast of the music video.

10. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam

The masterpiece “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam is considered by a lot of people to be the most complete song ever. Telling a story of a young boy named Jeremy who was bullied by his peers and ignored by his parents. After enduring that, he shot himself in front of his whole English class and the teacher. Not only does the song have amazing lyrics, arrangement, and feel, but it also has a great music video produced and directed by Mark Pellington.

Eddie Vedder, in an interview, said that he read the story of this 15-year-old boy and wanted to give it importance, thus writing “Jeremy”.

11. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” has an amazing music video directed by Jeff Stein, which is themed around the novel Alice In Wonderland. Tom Petty appears in the video as The Mad Hatter, where he and other characters experience bizarre events. The music video was released on February 28, 1985.

12. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

The music video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” was directed by Bruce Gowers and released in 1975. What later became one of the most iconic shots was then a pretty low-budget production compared to other videos on this list. With less than 5 hours of filming and only a 40,000$ budget, the British audience voted this the fourth greatest music video of all time in “The 100 Greatest Pop Videos” in 2005.

13. “We Only Attack Ourselves” by Funeral Suits

“We Only Attack Ourselves” by the Funeral Suits is one of the less popular music videos on this list, but it has an amazing story, a great mixture between sounds and visuals, and amazing cinematography. The music video has a lot of CGI elements and VFX shots.

14. “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

Directed by Howard Greenhalgh and released in June 1994, the music video became a hit and won an MTV award. It features a group of people with very exaggerated “grins” and bizarre traits, all getting swallowed up by the sun, thus creating a black hole. 

15. “Take On Me” by A-ha

“Take On Me” by A-ha was one of the most creative and technologically-advanced music videos of that time. Released in 1985 and directed by Steve Barron, the music video quickly became very popular. It was something new and innovative, with amazing animation techniques never used before in music videos.

16. “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.

The promotional video for “Everybody Hurts”, directed by Jake Scott, featured people stuck in traffic and subtitles of their thoughts. Everything about the song and the video is produced in a very thought-out manner. That, combined with great cinematography and editing, resulted in one of the most iconic videos that won four MTV awards and was nominated for a Grammy.

17. “Quand c’est?” by Stromae

A lot of Paul Van Haver’s music videos are great, but “Quand c’est?” is my favorite because of the very powerful message that it carries with it. It features Stromae dancing in a theater, communicating with cancer. The dancer was dancing in front of white light, almost looking like a silhouette, quickly becoming an illuminated body in a dark environment, when cancer “took” him.

18. “Learn To Fly” by Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters’ music video “Learn To Fly”, directed by Jesse Peretz, won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 2001. Among the band, it also features Tenacious D, who are smuggling their narcotics and hiding them in the coffee machine. What follows is a parody of the film Airport ’77. After everyone on the plane is intoxicated except for the band, who refused coffee are now forced to “learn to fly” and land the plane.

19. “Stan” by Eminem

Rap music is an excellent medium for storytelling, especially if they have a narrative music video behind them. Directed by Dr. Dre and Philip Atwell, the music video for “Stan” followed the story with visuals almost word-for-word. A great story, along with good cinematography, editing, and production, equals one of the most popular Eminem music videos.

20. “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” won four MTV awards for “Video of the Year”, “Breakthrough Video”, “Best Visual Effects”, and “Best Cinematography”, along with six other nominations. When it was released in 1996, it was one of the most popular videos on MTV. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the music video features a room with a floor that moves Jay Kay towards and away from the camera. 

21. “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes

Have you ever glanced at a TV, without sound, and knew exactly what was on at that moment? That’s how memorable the performance music video for “Seven Nation Army” was. The music video was directed by Alex and Martin, a Grammy-award-winning directing duo that produced a lot of videos for The White Stripes and U2. The music video is one seemingly continuous shot in black, white, and red.

22. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” by Panic! at the Disco

“I Write Sins Not Tragedies” is the first music video ever made by Panic! at the Disco, and immediately became popular and won the MTV award for “Video of the Year”. The video takes place at a wedding with Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Cirque. Vocalist Brendon Urie played the ringmaster and disrupted the wedding events while the bride ran out of the wedding, kissing one of the guests.

23. “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar

The music video for “Humble” is considered one of the most symbolic music videos. Directed by Dave Meyers and The Little Homies, the music video won six MTV Video Music Awards in 2017 and has amazing cinematography.

24. “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**k)” by Run The Jewels

The music video for “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**k)” features a white policeman fighting/wrestling with an exhausted black civilian. After a whole day of fighting, they both sit on the same bed, to give importance to the fact that this fight will start tomorrow over again.

25. “Come To Daddy” by Aphex Twin

This will be the second video on the list where we have Chris Cunningham as a director. Considered to this day one of the most horrifying music videos ever made, “Come To Daddy” by Aphex Twin is definitely one of a kind. While Chris is known to rely on CGI elements, on this one, he wanted more practical effects, so all the children chasing the old lady wore beautifully designed silicone masks.

26. “Ashes To Ashes” by David Bowie

The music video for “Ashes To Ashes”, directed by David Bowie and David Mallet, was one of the most iconic music videos of the 1980s. At the time, it was the most expensive music video ever made, and to this day still holds high on the list, with a budget of $500,000.

27. “Weapon Of Choice” by Fatboy Slim ft. Bootsy Collins

“Weapon Of Choice” features actor Christopher Walken dancing a beautifully choreographed dance in a hotel lobby in LA. Directed by Spike Jonze, the video won six MTV Video Music Awards.

28. “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

The first animated music video on the list is “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead. It was directed and animated by Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson and released in 1997. The video features the main character Robin, who is also the main character in Carlsson’s animated series.

29. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

One of the most iconic songs and music videos of the 1990s. Directed by Samuel Bayer, it features the band performing the song in a dank basketball gymnasium where students and cheerleaders listen to the song and eventually mosh-pit. The music video is also the first music video that Samuel directed.

30. “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys

Directed by Spike Jonze, the music video for “Sabotage” is essentially a parody of 1970s cop shows. The music video won the award for Best Video (VMA) in 2009 and was nominated for five other VMA awards in 1994.

31. “This Is America” by Childish Gambino

“This Is America”, directed by Hiro Murai, is one of the most popular music videos. After its release, it won a Grammy award in 2019 and three VMA awards in 2018. The video features shirtless Gambino dancing around in a warehouse and interacting with a lot of unusual events. It also contains many scenes involving violence.

32. “Hurt” by Johnny Cash

The music video for “Hurt” was directed by Mark Romanek, a long-time NIN collaborator. Romanek wanted to capture Cash’s life with a montage of footage from his early days and the actual shots they filmed in his house. In 2003, the music video won the CMA award for “Music Video Of The Year”, followed by a VMA award for “Best Cinematography in a Video”.

33. “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z

The second animated music video on this list is “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z. The video, directed by Jay-Z and Mark Romanek, uses a “Censored Eleven” style animation to emphasize the lyrics and the story. The video comments on African American culture while also depicting a lot of stereotypes.

34. “Freak On a Leash” by Korn

Directed by Todd McFarlane and released in 1999, the music video is a mix of animated and live-action footage. “Freak on a Leash” won a 2000 Grammy award for Best Short Form Music Video and two VMA awards for Best Rock Video and Best Editing.

35. “California Love” by 2pac feat Dr.Dre

Directed by Hype Williams, there are two parts to the promotional video for “California Love”. Released in 1995 and 1996, both videos gained international popularity. The first part was inspired by the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and ends with Tupac waking up with subtitles: “To Be Continued”. Part two is based on the remix version and starts with Tupac waking up from the nightmare and going to Dr.Dre’s party.

36. “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses

Released in 1992 and directed by Andrew Morahan, the 9-minute promotional music video for “November Rain” was one of the most expensive music videos ever made. Immediately after its release, it gained international popularity. The music video is inspired by Del James’s short story “Without You”.

37. “The Woodpile” by Frightened Rabbit

“The Woodpile” music video was filmed by Hand Held Cine Club. It was released in 2012, and the video features a cameo from all the band members. The whole music video is one continuous shot in a market where we see a guy hit in the head lying near the refrigerators and people gathering around. Great cinematography and camera motion throughout the video.

38. “Hungry like the Wolf” by Duran Duran

Directed by Russell Mulcahy, the music video for “Hungry like the Wolf” was released in 1982. It features the band going to Sri Lanka and experiencing some crazy adventures. After its release, it was heavily rotated on the MTV repertoire, playing even four times a day, therefore getting a lot of exposure and gaining popularity.

39. “Knights Of Cydonia” by Muse

The music video for “Knights Of Cydonia” was directed by Joseph Kahn, recorded in Romania, and released in 2006. A post-apocalyptic spaghetti western with occasional kung-fu cowboy and holograms is the only way to describe it. It won the award for Best Music Video in 2007 at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

40. “Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

One of the most creative music videos on the list, “Californication”, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, is set in a video game where every band member is a playable character going through different adventures and quests in California. In 2022, Miquel Camps Orteza (game developer) created an actual playable game based on the music video.

41. “Cryin’” by Aerosmith

Directed by Marty Callner, the music video for “Cryin’” was a great success on MTV, winning three VMA awards in 1994. The music video features Alicia Silverstone, Stephen Dorff, and Josh Holloway.

42. “Wrong Side Of Heaven” by Five Finger Death Punch

The “Wrong Side Of Heaven” music video was directed by Nicholas Peterson and released in 2014 it is a unique music video that is almost like a documentary, raising awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder and the suffering of veterans of the armed forces.

43. “Sonne” by Rammstein

The legendary Rammstein have their own list of best music videos, and as original as their music is, the music videos are the same thing. “Sonne” is best described as a reinterpretation of the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The video features the band members who play the seven dwarfs, who work in the mines extracting “drugs” or “gold dust” for Snow White. The idea for the music video came from Oliver Riedel, who mixed the song using the vocals from the original Disney animated film.

44. “Snuff” by Slipknot

Released in 2009, the music video, when released, was considered to be a short film format music video. Directed by Shawn “Clown” Crahan and P. R. Brown “Snuff” music video features Malcolm McDowell and Ashley Laurence as well as the band members. This is one of the three music videos by Slipknot that Corey Taylor was seen without his mask.

45. “Hey Ya!” by Outkast

The promo music video for “Hey Ya!”, directed by Bryan Barber, was innovative in both creative and technological ways of speaking. The music video was inspired by the Beatles’ appearance on Sullivan’s show. Filmed with a technique called motion control photography, it features amazing special effects. It went on to win four MTV Video Music Awards. 

46. “Welcome to the Machine” by Pink Floyd

Animated by Gerald Scarfe, Pink Floyd, who is considered one of the best audio-visual bands, brings to life a music video for “Welcome to the Machine”. Anyone who has seen Pink Floyd performing live knows how important visuals are to bringing the music even more alive than it already is. Music videos are not that different. The video was initially created as a backdrop film for Pink Floyd’s live performances for their 1977 In The Flesh tour.

47. “Crossfire” by Brandon Flowers

The “Crossfire” music video is directed by Australian film director Nash Edgerton and features Brandon Flowers and Charlize Theron. The music video features different scenes where Theron constantly saves Brandon from ninjas. Later, Brandon revealed that Charlize Theron was a fan of The Killers, and wanted to be a part of the video.

48. “One” by Metallica

The first music video by Metallica, directed by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon, features dialogue and scenes from the 1971 film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun. Originally, there were three versions of the music video.

49. “The Scientist” by Coldplay

Probably one of the most popular songs ever made and definitely one of the coolest music videos. “The Scientist”, directed by Jamie Thraves, plays in the reverse narrative. The technique for creating this special effect is reverse motion which is pretty difficult to pull off. Originally shot on 35mm film, the music video was remastered for the 20th anniversary of A Rush of Blood to the Head.

50. “Coffee And TV” by Blur

Directed by Garth Jennings, the promotional music video for “Coffee and TV” brings to life a sentient milk carton called Milky that searches for a missing person whose picture was printed on its side. In 1999 the music video won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Video.

Conclusion

The art of creating music videos is one of the most expressive art forms that engulfs a lot of people, and it’s an amazing visual medium that brings life to music. Compiling a list of the best music videos is not easy, and not every person likes different types of music videos as there are many different forms of music videos. However, we created a list based on popularity, technological advances, creativity, and story, which are all very important when creating a music video.

Emil Pachkovski

Emil Pachkovski is a drummer and filmmaker. He is an audiovisual artist that loves to create and explore the abstract art of music and visuals.

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