- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Music videos have changed so much over the years. A great music video can catapult a lesser-known artist into superstardom, or be the training grounds for talented young directors who eventually make their names in film and TV. Amazing filmmakers such as like Spike Jonze, the Daniels, and Melina Matzoukas cut their teeth in this versatile format. Long before MTV, one of the first music videos was recorded in 1894 by Joseph Stern and Edward Mark, when they set their song "The Little Lost Child" to a slideshow.
Musical accompaniment was also essential in Hollywood's silent film area before audible dialogue was standard, with a solo musician or band providing a live soundtrack—which enhanced the emotion and stakes of what was playing onscreen. To celebrate the great format, we rounded up the best music videos of all time. Don't be upset if your favorite wasn't mentioned—there are simply too many masterpieces to count.
Fatboy Slim ft. Bootsy Collins - "Weapon of Choice"
This could be the all-time greatest celebrity feature in a music video. Christopher Walken's stoic expression in this Spike Jonze-directed video—as he gets up and starts boogying in this empty hotel—is nothing short of delightful. This video could have gotten stale a couple of seconds in, but the choreography building up to the hilarious moment of him Walken around the lobby keeps the excitement going.
Michael Jackson - "Thriller"
This wouldn't be a proper list without "Thriller." Whether you first viewed this epic, 14-minute-long, musical journey when it came out, or heard about it years later, the video is excellent—and chock full of references to classic horror films. The level of production value is still impressive—and we don't see epic narrative swings like this music video nearly as often as we should.
Kendrick Lamar - "ELEMENT"
All of Lamar's videos would be worthy of this list, but his fiery and arresting video for his single "ELEMENT," off the album DAMN, is a moving example of the artistry possible with a music video. The video beautifully references several shots by the photojournalist and film director Gordon Parks, who was active in covering civil rights and poverty in America.
Queen - "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Some may forever associate "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Wayne and Garth singing along to it in their car, but Queen's hit single has a great video in its own right. The epic song cuts between parallel footage of a traditional performance and a ghostly setup of the band members singing in harsh light, with a field of dark behind them. Even if bits of it look dated, the video fits the song perfectly—and that guitar solo feels just as cathartic today.
Madonna - "Vogue"
Madonna's black-and-white "Vogue" video, directed by David Fincher, is a loving sendup of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as the New York City ballroom scene that developed the dance moves Madonna popularized in this video.
Beyoncé - "Formation"
"Formation" was part of Beyoncé's larger visual album Lemonade, and is dripping with more detail than some two-hour-long movies out there. This video will stay relevant with its iconic images—like Beyoncé singing on a police car sinking into floodwaters—and use of historical filming locations, like a New Orleans plantation house and Fort Macomb, a Confederate Army base that was taken over by an all-Black Union Army unit.
Daft Punk - "Around The World"
From the incredible collaboration between the electronic duo Daft Punk and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry, "Around the World" shows how great the results can be when you just commit 1000 percent to the weirdest ideas you have. Just putting dancers in weird costumes doesn't guarantee a classic music video, but the slick editing sells this odd world.
Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar - "Never Catch Me"
This song from the music producer Flying Lotus, with lyrics by Kendrick Lamar, will absolutely stick with you. Set at the funeral of two children, who then begin an extended dance sequence, the video is a gorgeous meditation on grief and death.
The Beatles - "Yellow Submarine"
The world desperately needs more animated music videos! This classic from The Beatles goes so far to capture the joyful feeling of the song. It's endlessly rewatchable—and the drawing style feels perfectly handcrafted, with an amazing eye for color.
Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu - "Q.U.E.E.N."
Monáe was clearly several years ahead of her time when the music video for "Q.U.E.E.N." dropped. Monáe and Badu both perform their parts wonderfully, and every setup is bizarre and delightful throughout the whole video.
Britney Spears - "I'm a Slave 4 U"
Spears' 2001 video for this single signaled her departure from a more sanitized pop persona, which made a landmark 2000s hit in the process. Spears' energetic commitment to the moves in the video is captivating—and the dystopian setting where Spears and her backup dancers are forced to dance to the point of dehydration is still well realized, over 20 years later.
Guns N' Roses - "November Rain"
This ambitious, tragic video for Guns N' Roses' iconic power ballad "November Rain" was based on the short story "Without You" by Del James. It is also lent a more epic quality through incorporating live footage of the band's performance at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles.
Missy Elliott - "Work It"
Elliott's pure charisma and showmanship is front and center for all of this incredible video. Enough said.
Outkast - "Hey Ya!"
Outkast always had extravagant music videos, but the video for their single "Hey Ya!" took it up a notch, with a cool effect showing Andre 3000 as every member of the band. It's a concept that harkens back to The Beatles' legendary concert for The Ed Sullivan Show.
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
You know your video is good when Weird Al does a parody of it—and Nirvana's grunge anthem, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," certainly has that with its setting of a school pep rally that devolves into anarchy by the end.
Paula Abdul - "Opposites Attract"
In "Opposites Attract," Paula Abdul breaks out some excellent dance moves with a rapping cartoon cat named MC Skat Kat. The delightful animation-over-live-action filmmaking known from movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Cool World is a great style for a music video. It's used perfectly here.
Fiona Apple - "Not About Love"
This video shows how amazing something can be with minimal production value. Zach Galifianakis lip-syncing and dancing is delightful in itself, but Fiona Apple following him around with a sheet of lyrics adds a goofy dynamic to a simple video idea.
Beyoncé - "Countdown"
Beyoncé is still pushing what music videos can be to this day, but one of her classics, "Countdown," still looks incredible. Its simple filmmaking tricks elevate it massively—like shooting some of Beyoncé's singing and choreography slowed down, then speeding it in editing to get a unique motion effect. The creative split-screens and vibrant colors also fit the joyful and frantic nature of the song.
Dead Or Alive - "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)"
English pop band Dead or Alive, best known for their single, "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)," bring the perfect amount of strangeness, style, and pure '80s energy to this video.
Sinéad O'Connor - "Nothing Compares 2 U"
This classic song from the Irish artist features her singing in a memorable close-up to camera, along with shots of her wandering a park in Paris. This video once again proves that complexity isn't always better.
Weezer - "Buddy Holly"
Another Spike Jonze-directed video, this is a sweet homage to classic TV with funny details like a sudden cut away for a commercial break and footage of Happy Days spliced in. The production design and costuming is great for the era, and Weezer even went the extra mile in post-production to make it feel like an old-school broadcast.
OK Go - "Upside Down & Inside Out"
You may have been expecting the treadmills, but the music video wizards at OK Go have so many other great videos to pick from! For their single, "Upside Down & Inside Out," the guys choreographed a whole video to do in an actual zero-gravity flight.
Childish Gambino - "This is America"
Donald Glover's music persona, Childish Gambino, made huge waves with this blistering single ahead of a 2018 SNL performance. The video was hotly discussed and analyzed after it dropped—and was more than worthy of it, given the layers of imagery at play and social issues confronted in both the song and video.
Björk - "Human Behaviour"
Any video from the Icelandic crooner is worthy of this list, and the oddly-designed and stuffed-animal filled world of "Human Behaviour" is as strange yet magnetic as the song itself.
The Chicks - "Goodbye Earl"
This amazing video from The Chicks features Jane Krakowski carrying out the murder of her abusive husband Earl, played as despicable as possible by the actor Dennis Franz from NYPD Blue. The bouncy rock song and colorful video, against the subject matter of domestic violence, invokes a powerful message with comparison to classic films like Thelma & Louise.
The Notorious B.I.G. - "Hypnotize"
Sure, the orange tint and old technology haven't aged in this video, but this sequence showing the late great rapper and co-producer of "Hypnotize," Sean "Diddy" Combs, on the run from various feds is still exciting. It opens with an amazing boat runaway—and throws in a car chase for good measure—along with some great dance scenes in the middle.
Twisted Sister - "We're Not Gonna Take It"
Another '80s classic, this rock anthem may feature a cartoonishly evil Bad Dad performance, but it's all in the name of making it feel all the better when he's blown through a window by the pure power of rock.
Talking Heads - "Once in a Lifetime"
Look, sometimes all you need for a great video is several David Byrnes convulsing around in front of a green screen! It may seem like these movements were completely off the cuff, but Byrne and choreographer Toni Basil styled his movements based on various religious ceremonies, people in trances, and even some televangelists.
JAY-Z, Kanye West ft. Otis Redding - "Otis"
This video does a great job in communicating what must have been a super fun day on set. There's nothing too complicated happening here—just Jay-Z and Kanye West customizing a Maybach 57, then taking it for a spin around an industrial lot.
TLC - "No Scrubs"
This video saw the incredible TLC collaborate with prolific music video director Hype Williams to great results. The group danced in a sleek space station-inspired set, with different scenes that gave every group member their own time to shine.
Taylor Swift - "Blank Space"
This hilariously self-deprecating song by Taylor Swift—from her album 1981—had a chaotic and supremely well-made video directed by Joseph Kahn. Team Swift found an excellent mansion location to film at, and the artist certainly committed to her erratic character.
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment - "Sunday Candy"
This video for the delightful song from the band the Social Experiment features Chance the Rapper and Nico Segal, AKA Donnie Trumpet. It boasts an impressive single-take shooting setup, with a ton of great set changes and group choreography.
Musical Youth - "Pass the Dutchie"
This earworm from the British-Jamaican group Musical Youth first released on their debut album in 1982, and is a combination of the songs "Pass the Kouchie" by Mighty Diamonds and "Gimme the Music" by U Brown. It also has a great music video of the young group performing against the London skyline, along with scenes of them pleading their innocence in court.
Beastie Boys - "Intergalactic"
Beastie Boys have so many incredible videos to choose from, but this homage to Japaese Kaiju films—which has a few parts filmed in public locations in Tokyo—is bursting with charm.
Mariah Carey ft. JAY-Z - "Heartbreaker"
If you haven't seen this music video, what if I told you it featured genuine laughs, an animated sequence, and a full-on fight scene? Mariah Carey and JAY-Z threw absolutely everything at the wall—and this video, directed by Brett Ratner, was one of the most expensive music video productions of its time with a $2.5 million budget.
You Might Also Like