From the deep and emotional mini-movies to the goofy, high-energy dance numbers, music videos are one of the most enduring ways that we celebrate music. Here are just a few of the best music videos of all time!
1) Michael Jackson – Thriller
You know Thriller. Everyone knows Thriller. It’s one of the most famous music videos ever, one that’s been covered, remixed, and parodied everywhere from American high schools to Filipino prisons. You don’t even have to sing the song for people to recognize it; just do the left-and-right zombie dance with your arms. Then go on a Michael Jackson binge and enjoy other classics like Beat It, Billie Jean, and Smooth Criminal. Each one was a cultural reset just as much as Thriller.
2) Beyoncé – Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
Beyoncé is no stranger to hits, but Single Ladies was a lightning rod that lit up the entire cultural landscape. It went viral before going viral was really a thing! Between its black and white filter, its leotard-and-high-heel costume combo, and its endlessly imitable dance, this is the video that Beyoncé will be remembered for 100 years from now.
3) Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody is the most famous song that nobody can completely sing. Go ahead; try it at karaoke and see how people fumble over cries of “Bismillah!” and “Scaramouch, Scaramouch!” When you’re done laughing, go back and watch the music video, which includes Queen’s iconic honeycomb-style portrait poses backlit to show off both their cheekbones and their metal ’70s hair. It’s hard to believe that they shot such a legendary music video in just four hours.
4) Spice Girls – Wannabe
Wannabe is how you take a good song and make it great. It was already fun, catchy, and perfect for the blossoming girl group, but the video dialed things up to 11, using a single-take concept filled with color and choreography to showcase everything that the Spice Girls could do. It even established the distinct personalities of the girls, putting them in the outfits that would come to define them.
5) Madonna – Like A Prayer
Like A Prayer is relatively tame by today’s standards, but when it was first released in 1989, it caused an absolute sh*tstorm of controversy. The Vatican condemned it; foreign countries refused to play it on television; Pepsi dropped a $5 million contract with Madonna because of it. The video’s sins were mostly because of its intersection of race, religion, and sex, including its scenes of Madonna getting frisky with a black Jesus and dancing in front of burning crosses.
6) Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.
As a “virtual band,” Gorillaz has always released animated music videos, but Feel Good Inc. is the one that put them on the map. It explored the crossroads of freedom, consumerism, and media, and it drew inspiration from people like Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli fame. Most importantly, it showed the world that an animated music video could be successful: Both song and video went down in pop culture history.
7) Alanis Morissette – Ironic
In addition to teaching everyone the wrong definition for the word “ironic,” Alanis Morissette tried new and interesting things in this video. For example, she played four distinct color-coded personalities all interacting with each other during a car ride. Back in the days of MTV and VH1, she even had the closed-captioned lyrics match the personality currently singing.
8) Panic! At the Disco – I Write Sins Not Tragedies
At just three minutes long, I Write Sins Not Tragedies packs a lot of visuals into a small package. Its overall theme is about Brendon Urie breaking up a wedding, but that’s like saying that Thriller is about a man going to see a movie. It leaves out a lot of relevant information about props, costumes, body paint, flash mob dancing, and what a punk rock circus-themed gothic aesthetic looks like. Just give it a watch today and you want be disappointed.
9) Adele – Hello
The first release of Adele after a long break, Hello was such a highly anticipated video that it was destined to become a pop culture icon. However, its visuals matched its hype, using a sepia-toned filter over dreamy camera shots to really establish the mood of the song. It isn’t particularly complicated, but it’s proof that music videos don’t need to be filled with razzle dazzle to capture an audience’s attention and make them feel something.
10) Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer
You might not remember this song, especially if you were born after 1986, but it was hugely popular back in the day. It used both stop-motion and claymation to create a music video that tricked your eye at every turn. People were so impressed that they gave it nine VMAs, which is still a record today.
11) Nine Inch Nails – Closer
Few music videos have ever shocked the nation like Closer. Between its crucified monkeys, violent bondage, spinning pig heads, and still-beating dissected hearts, there’s so much grotesque imagery that your mind won’t even know how to make sense of everything that you’re seeing. The good news is that the censors were equally confused, so even though they took a hacksaw to the broadcast version, they weren’t able to undermine the impact of the video and the legacy that it would come to have for future rock music.
12) Eminem – The Real Slim Shady
Eminem had a lot of great videos, and some people would argue that ones like Lose Yourself or Stan ft. Dido are better. However, none of them would’ve existed without the original Slim Shady. It was Eminem’s stamp on the world post Slim Shady LP that solidified him as a bonafide superstar to the world, and it established him both visually and lyrically as a white rapper that would go on to scandalize parents for years to come.
13) Rihanna feat. Jay-Z – Umbrella
You might have seen a YouTube or TikTok parody. You might have seen a crossdressing man doing the complete choreography on a stage. Either way, you’re definitely familiar with Umbrella, one of the most amazing song and video combinations of Rihanna’s career. Everything about it is perfect, which is probably why it experiences a renaissance every few years or so.
14) Childish Gambino – This Is America
This is America is another music video that shook the world as soon as it was dropped. Culturally speaking, it landed like a hurricane, and people could do nothing but flail around in its wake. It explored questions of race, gun violence, and much more, all of it set to a deep and hypnotic bass that had you replaying the song over and over. It’s only four minutes long, but it makes every second count.
15) A-ha – Take On Me
You might be most familiar with Take on Me through memes, but its music video was a genuine game-changer back in 1984. It combined animation and live action through a painstaking, frame-by-frame tracing technique called rotoscoping, and its story was a meta one that involved its main characters trying to escape their 2D world. The video amazed audiences so much that it catapulted the song to stardom even though it had flopped originally.
16) TLC – Waterfalls
People tend to remember Waterfalls for the shots of the trio singing in front of an actual waterfall, but the video was so much more involved than that. It featured several storylines tackling sex, drugs, and HIV/AIDS, and it was actually the very first mainstream song to depict HIV/AIDS deaths. Its social consciousness has given it the label of “a video (speaking) for a whole epidemic.”
17) Fiona Apple – Criminal
Skinny, strung out, and writhing around floors and bathtubs, Fiona Apple was just 18 when she starred in the music video for Criminal. It prompted a lot of debate about the dangers of her influence on the youth of the ’90s, including her promotion of “heroin chic.” Today, of course, there’s nothing in the video that you can’t see in teen dramas, but it definitely had people clutching their pearls back in the day.
18) Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
Combining elements of pop, soul, boogie, and even disco, Uptown Funk was an instant earworm for Gen Z. The video, however, is what made it transcend into true greatness. From the doo-wap dancing to the nostalgic throwbacks of perm curlers and ’70s and ’80s fashion, it was a rollicking good time, and it made people hit “replay” again and again. Uptown Funk is currently one of the most streamed videos of all time.
19) Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
Bad Romance isn’t the most outlandish of Lady Gaga’s music videos; that honor belongs to something like the murderous revenge epic Paparazzi or the nine-and-a-half minute Telephone that basically functions as a short film. When it comes to the videos that define Mama Monster, however, you have to talk about Bad Romance. Everything from its lighting to its staging to its choreography is unforgettable. Throw in a catchy song, and you’ve got a timeless masterpiece.
20) Coldplay – The Scientist
Using reverse chronology, The Scientist tells its story backwards, elevating an already-awesome song into legendary territory. The video employed a technique called “reverse motion,” and singer Chris Martin had to learn how to sing the song backwards to go along with it, which took a full month. The end result was worth the effort, however. It racked up awards like crazy.
21) BTS – Fake Love
What happens when you combine a Korean boyband with an epic time-traveling tragedy? The answer is Fake Love, one of their interconnected music videos based on an ongoing saga with fictional versions of themselves. It’s heavy in clues, symbolism, and metaphor just as much as b*tchin’ dance moves, and it defines the new era of connecting multiple music videos into a kind of multiverse.
22) OK Go – Here It Goes Again
This is another video that went viral before the world actually knew what that meant. YouTube was in its infancy, and OK Go put more effort into passing around hand-burned DVDs than encouraging streams on the new digital platform. It wasn’t until the fun and crazy choreo prompted a media frenzy that the band realized they’d been focused on the wrong thing. According to their guitarist, “Our tombstones will read: One of Those Treadmill Guys.”
23) Britney Spears – Oops!… I Did It Again
Britney Spears had many iconic looks over the years, including her sexy Catholic schoolgirl getup in Baby One More Time, but it’s Oops!… I Did It Again that really gave her staying power. That skintight red jumpsuit was all that anyone ever talked about on MTV. It’s proof that a single, striking visual can carry an entire video.
24) R.E.M. – Losing My Religion
You could make a drinking game out of the thematic imagery in Losing My Religion. There are references to a Soviet filmmaker, an Italian painter, a Colombian author, and both Christian and Hindu deities. The whole thing is modeled after a 1990s Indian film aesthetic, too. It’s a grab bag of tricks, and it won “Best Short Form Music Video” at the Grammys for its ambition.
25) PSY – Gangnam Style
We can’t talk about famous music videos without talking about Gangnam Style. It has billions of views, making it one of the most-streamed videos of all time, and it’s the absolute king of parodies, remixes, covers, and imitations. The horse galloping dance is a living meme. Gangnam Style will probably still be around even after the Internet explodes, proving it’s one of the best dance songs of all time.
Did we miss out on any of your favorite music videos of all time? Let us know by contacting us today and we’ll be sure to consider your input!
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.