Back when the Grammy Awards launched in 1959, music videos weren’t even a thing. But 25 years later, thanks to the ’80s advent of MTV, videos had become a major source of music discovery for the average American pop fan. So in 1984, the new Grammy category Best Music Video was introduced. The award’s first recipient? MTV posterboys Duran Duran, of course.
This year’s nominees are Beck, Kendrick Lamar, Jain, Jay-Z, and Alessia Cara featuring Logic and Khalid. But before the Grammys crown this year’s winner, let’s reflect with a visual history of the category. Happy viewing!
1984: Duran Duran, “Girls on Film/Hungry Like the Wolf”
No band defined MTV’s early era as much as these five Boys on Film from Birmingham. This is one of only two Grammys that Duran Duran has ever won. They picked up another Grammy in ‘84 for — what else? — Best Music Video, Long Form, for their self-titled video anthology.
1985: David Bowie, “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean”
This mini-movie, directed by Julien Temple, starred the late Bowie as the flamboyant rock star Screaming Lord Byron. Byron was one of Bowie’s less successful alter egos, but incredibly, this video scored him his only real Grammy win while he was alive — aside from a long-overdue Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, and a Hall of Fame honor for his Ziggy Stardust album in 1999. Bowie posthumously added to that tally last year, for his final album Blackstar.
1986: USA for Africa, “We Are the World”
This video obviously supported a good cause, but the fact that it beat out the video that clearly inspired it, Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” still makes us feel slightly uncharitable.
1987: Dire Straits, “Brothers in Arms”
Surely this award was just a make-good for not giving it to Dire Straits the year before, for their VMAs-sweeping video classic “Money for Nothing.“
1988: Genesis, “Land of Confusion” (for the short-lived category Best Concept Video)
This video gave the term “political party” a whole new meaning! The puppets here were from Britain’s satirical sitcom Spitting Image, which, like similar American show D.C. Follies, starred felt recreations of Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Margaret Thatcher, and other public figures of the day. This video is pretty dated now, but it’s still a classic. And in these crazy political times, we kind of think a remake starring a Trump puppet is in order!
1989: “Weird Al” Yankovic, “Fat” (for Best Concept Video)
Al has been nominated overall for 15 Grammys, and has won four times — once for this video, and three times for Best Comedy Album. So clearly, that means he’s been robbed 11 times! We’re hoping Al wears his multi-buckled fatsuit to this year’s ceremony. (Bonus clip below: Al shows up his Grammy collection back in 2015!)
1990: Michael Jackson, “Leave Me Alone”
Almost every video MJ made was Grammy-worthy, but this was his only solo video to take home the trophy. And he only won the category after Weird Al’s above-mentioned “Bad”-spoofing video was honored in the category!
1991: Paula Abdul, “Opposites Attract”
Sadly, this is the only time in his career that MC Skat Kat received any Grammy recognition.
1992: R.E.M., “Losing My Religion”
This artsy VMAs darling, which picked up nine nominations and six Moonmen at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, beat out the very MTV-unfriendly Garth Brooks, Bob Dylan, and Billy Joel to triumph that same year at the Grammys.
1993/1994: Peter Gabriel: “Digging in the Dirt” and “Steam”
One of the greatest music video artists ever, Gabriel picked up back-to-back Best Music Video Grammys in the mid-’90s. But we still think “Sledgehammer” was robbed!
1995: The Rolling Stones, “Love Is Strong”
Any struggling music video director or movie director no doubt aspires to one day have a career like David Fincher’s. Box office buffs definitely know Fincher from his impressive filmography (Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl), but the man’s dark, sometimes creepy aesthetic can be traced back to his work on memorable videos for Madonna, Don Henley, George Michael, and Aerosmith. However, it was his monsters-take-Manhattan treatment for bigger-than-life rock stars the Stones that garnered a Grammy. Spoiler alert: When Fincher came out of music-video semi-retirement a few years ago to direct “Suit and Tie” by The Social Network star Justin Timberlake, he scooped up another Grammy in this category.
1996: Michael and Janet Jackson, “Scream”
From the art direction to the choreography, this Mark Romanek masterpiece was just about perfect. Reportedly the most expensive music video ever made, at $7 million, it was worth every penny.
1997: The Beatles, “Free As a Bird”
The reunion video by three of the Fab Four won over older Grammy voters and beat out that year’s VMAs darling, Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight,” for Best Video honors in ‘97. It also trumped another ’90s classic, Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.”
1998: Janet Jackson, “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”
Janet Jackson + Mark Romanek = another Grammy-winning tour de force, with this classy clip.
1999: Madonna, “Ray of Light”
Madonna was definitely partying like it was 1999 at that year’s Grammys: Her Ray of Light album was up for Album of the Year and won for Best Pop Album, and its title track won for Best Dance Recording. The “Ray of Light” video was also the big winner at that year’s VMAs.
2000: Korn, “Freak on a Leash”
This wasn’t the only Grammy win for the nu-metalheads. Their “Here to Stay” won for Best Metal Performance in 2003.
2001: Foo Fighters, “Learn to Fly”
Judging from this wild ride through the friendly skies, we’d sure like to be on the party plane that’s whisking the Foos to this year’s ceremony.
2002: Fatboy Slim, “Weapon of Choice”
While this cult clip is total comedy gold, actor Christopher Walken is actually a pretty impressive hoofer in this. In his best hotel-themed performance aside from that “Continental” skit on SNL, Walken took over the lobby of L.A.’s Marriott in this Spike Jonze-directed tour de force, and he put his little-known background as a trained dancer in musical theater to brilliant use. “Weapon of Choice” won six Moonmen at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards — including one for Walken for Best Choreography. Incredibly, this is the only time that Jonze has won a Best Music Video Grammy.
2003: Eminem, “Without Me”
If only Triumph the Insult Comic Dog had attended the Grammys in 2003, as he did at 2003’s VMAs, to defend bespectacled EDM guru Moby’s honor. But we have a feeling Eminem didn’t thank Moby in his Grammys acceptance speech.
2004: Johnny Cash, “Hurt”
Probably the most moving video in this category’s history is this Mark Romanek-directed classic, which soundtracks Cash’s lump-throated cover of the angst-y Nine Inch Nails ballad. The country legend’s wife, June Carter Cash, who appeared in the video, died three months after filming; Cash passed away four months after that. “Hurt” was Cash’s last chart hit before his death.
2005: U2, “Vertigo”
Widely considered a comeback song for the band, “Vertigo” also took home Grammys for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. U2 will perform at this year’s ceremony.
2006: Missy Elliott, “Lose Control”
A video epic that co-starred Ciara and, for reasons still largely unexplained, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, this song sounded just as epic when Missy came out of hiding to perform it at 2015’s Super Bowl with Katy Perry.
2007: OK Go, “Here It Goes Again”
It marked a changing of the old guard when YouTube stars OK Go’s viral treadmill romp trumped big-budget videos like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” and the Killers’ “When You Were Young” in this category. Really, OK Go deserves a Lifetime Achievement Grammy at this point.
2008: Johnny Cash, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
It was a fitting tribute to the Man in Black when he won this award for a second time, posthumously. If all of the celebrities who made cameos in this one (Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Keith Richards, Johnny Depp, Sheryl Crow, Owen Wilson, Kate Moss) got together again, it’d be one helluva Grammy party.
2009: Weezer, “Pork and Beans”
In an extremely meta homage to the aforementioned viral-video age, Weezer enlisted numerous YouTube celebrities (Chris “Leave Britney Alone” Crocker, Liam Kyle Sullivan, Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday, Dramatic Chipmunk, Kevin Federline, that “History of Dance” guy, et al) for the most shareable video ever. The Grammy voters gave this one lots of Likes.
2010: Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow”
This was a dazzling clip, for sure, but the intro seemed more like an ad for the then-of-the-moment HP Touchsmart. Maybe Hewlett-Packard was a Grammy sponsor that year?
2011: Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”
“Bad Romance,” arguably the best entry in Gaga’s totally gaga videography, was also up for 10 awards at 2011’s VMAs, and it took home seven, including Video of the Year. It’s no wonder this fiery video was so epic, since its director, Francis Lawrence, went on to direct the Hunger Games movies.
2012: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
Best Music Video was the most minor of Adele’s accolades in 2012. She was positively rolling in Grammys, winning for Album, Record, and Song of the Year — categories in which she won last year, for her third album, 25.
2013: Rihanna, “We Found Love”
This video was widely assumed to be inspired by Rihanna’s tumultuous relationship with on/off abusive boyfriend Chris Brown. Just four years earlier, Brown had been arrested after assaulting Rihanna following a Grammys pre-party. But the night Rihanna received this award, she and Brown attended the ceremony together, and they canoodled in their seats all night long.
2014: Justin Timberlake, “Suit and Tie”
JT was shockingly snubbed in the major categories at that year’s Grammys (and he was snubbed again last year, too), but he still picked up three awards, including this one for his David Fincher-directed comeback clip.
2015: Pharrell Williams, “Happy”
Pharrell got happy again when he received another Best Video nomination for “Freedom.”
2016: Taylor Swift, “Bad Blood”
Taylor achieved her #squadgoals when her supermodel-filled sci-fi adventure triumphed at the Grammys two years ago. This time, Kanye West didn’t object.
2017: Beyoncé, “Formation”
Bey’s Lemonade controversially lost out in the Album of the Year category to Adele, but she still stole the show, now only with her gravity-defying performance while pregnant with twins, but with this stunning, Melina Matsoukas-directed clip from her snubbed visual album.