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

By Jack Ripley | January 25, 2024

Jamiroquai - "Virtual Insanity"

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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Sony

"Virtual Insanity" by Jamiroquai is undeniably one of those rare hit singles that owes much of its success to the sheer brilliance of its music video. Not to diminish the musical prowess of Jamiroquai, a band renowned for their pop-infused take on acid jazz, as evidenced by the infectious hooks and stylish sensibility present in "Virtual Insanity." However, it's the captivating presence of lead singer Jay Kay that truly steals the show. In the video, directed by Jonathan Glazer, Jay Kay effortlessly glides and dances atop a series of seemingly imperceptible moving sidewalks. Glazer's masterful staging of Kay's choreography creates a mesmerizing illusion, akin to a magic trick designed to invoke a sense of wonder. "Virtual Insanity" stands as a testament to the power of visual storytelling, elevating a catchy song to iconic status through its thought-provoking and visually stunning music video.

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.