The Best Music Videos Of All Time? Visual Storytelling in the Digital Age

By Jack Ripley | January 11, 2024

Eurythmics - “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)“

Few artistic expressions have captivated the human imagination quite like the music video. It's a visual medium that thrives on pushing boundaries, distilling melodies into unforgettable images, and shaping cultural narratives. From the intoxicating glamour of Madonna's "Vogue" to the mind-bending gravity-defying antics of Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity," from the kinetic, frenetic energy of Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" to the supernatural dance of the undead in Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and not to forget the surreal, gender-bending world of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," these music videos have forever altered the landscape of both music and visual storytelling.

In the short lifespan of the medium, music videos transformed from simple performance pieces to mini-movies where cutting edge directors learned their trade. These are more than just videos; they're time capsules, works of art, and cultural milestones. So, sit back and hit that play button, as we take you on a journey through some of the greatest music videos ever crafted. If you want to explore the magic of these iconic videos and discover the stories behind their creation, keep reading.

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RCA

The music video for "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)" by The Eurythmics is an iconic masterpiece of the early MTV era. Directed by Chris Ashbrook in January 1983, just before the single and album release, it became an instant sensation. The boardroom scenes, shot in west London, set the stage for a video that redefined pop culture. With Annie Lennox's androgynous image, her close-cropped, orange hair, and her striking suit and cane, she became an instant household name, smashing the traditional mold for female pop stars. The video's heavy airplay on MTV catapulted Lennox and Dave Stewart into superstars, showcasing their edgy, avant-garde style. "Sweet Dreams" wasn't just a music video; it was a cultural statement that continues to captivate and inspire audiences, solidifying its status as a classic in the music video pantheon. Lennox later said:

We wanted our visual statements to be strong and powerful, because we knew they’d be there forever. I wore a suit in the video with my cropped hair. I was trying to be the opposite of the cliché of the female singer. I wanted to be as strong as a man, equal to Dave and perceived that way.

Talking Heads - “Once In A Lifetime”

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Sire

The music video for the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" is a mesmerizing and enigmatic visual experience that perfectly complements the song's unique and thought-provoking lyrics. In the video, frontman David Byrne stands alone in a vast, empty white room, donning a suit, bowtie, and glasses. Behind him, footage of various religious rituals and multiple incarnations of Byrne himself are seamlessly inserted via bluescreen, creating a surreal and captivating backdrop. Byrne's performance is a tour de force of erratic and spastic movements, mirroring the rituals and trance-like states he studied from archive footage of religious practices around the world. Directed by Byrne and Toni Basil, with choreography by Basil, the video is a testament to their creative ingenuity and resourcefulness.

To enhance Byrne's jerky movements, Basil employed an "old-fashioned" zoom lens, resulting in a visual style that perfectly complements the song's hypnotic rhythm. Despite its low budget, the "Once in a Lifetime" video is an enduring work of art, a testament to the power of simplicity and creativity in the world of music videos. Basil later said of Byrne's memorable dance moves:

David kind of choreographed himself. I set up the camera, put him in front of it, and asked him to absorb those ideas. Then I left the room so he could be alone with himself. I came back, looked at the videotape, and we chose physical moves that worked with the music. I just helped to stylize his moves a little.