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

By Jack Ripley | January 18, 2024

Madonna - “Vogue”

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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Warner Bros.

The music video for Madonna's "Vogue," directed by David Fincher, is a visually stunning and iconic masterpiece of the 1990s. Under pressure to create a video for the song, Madonna turned to Fincher, with whom she had collaborated on previous videos. Filmed in a mere 16 hours, during her busy rehearsal schedule for the Blond Ambition World Tour, the video showcases Madonna and a group of exceptional dancers, including Luis Camacho and Jose Gutierez, who were voguing pioneers from New York City's underground ballroom scene. The audition for the video was held at the Tracks nightclub, and their mesmerizing dance moves instantly captivated Madonna. Impressed by their talent, she invited them to choreograph the video. "Vogue" received nine nominations at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, winning three technical categories, including Best Direction, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography. The video's sleek and elegant visuals, combined with Madonna's iconic poses, solidified "Vogue" as a timeless classic that continues to inspire and influence pop culture to this day.

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.