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The 30 Best Music Videos Ever




Three weeks ago, in anticipation of MTV's 30th birthday today (Aug. 1), we asked our readers to celebrate three decades of music television by voting on the best videos of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, each week in a separate poll. Now, we are proud to present the top ten of each decade, as voted by you, the Billboard.com readers.

10. "Rhythm Nation"
Janet Jackson
(1989)

Janet Jackson's 1989 clip had a lot going for it: Years before Coldplay raided the Sgt. Pepper's jacket department, Ms. Jackson and her crew put on their military jackets and did the finely choreographed routine that fans everywhere wore out countless VHS tapes rewinding to memorize.

9. "Every Breath You Take"
The Police
(1983)

With its eerie black and white and Sting's earnest/creepy ode to obsessive love, this video captured the Police's glory days.

8. "Walk This Way"
RUN-D.M.C. and Aerosmith
(1986)

They weren't just the kings of '80s hip-hop, they were the original kings of great mashups. RUN-D.M.C. spun Aerosmith's familiar rock tune into rap gold, playing loud neighbors with a Spandexed Steven Tyler, who came bursting through their unlaced-Adidas lair.

7. "Hungry Like the Wolf"
Duran Duran
(1983)

The fashionable Brit rockers were at their most cinematic in this 1983 clip, directed by Russell Mulachy, which found them raiding through the jungles of Sri Lanka like five would-be Indiana Jones.

6. "Sledgehammer"
Peter Gabriel (1986)

The California Raisins ain't got nothing on Peter Gabriel! He used stop-motion animation and claymation to great effect in making "Slegehammer" a smash hit (and winner of the 1987 MTV VMA for Video of the Year), complete with dancing raw chickens!

5. "When Doves Cry"
Prince
(1984)

Dig, if you will, this picture, of Prince famously immersed in a bathtub and slithering on his hands and knees as the visual backdrop to his 1984 classic. But that wasn't all: check out the purple one (and The Revolution) doing synchronized dance moves in lace and silk at the end. Hot!

4. "Take on Me"
a-ha (1985)

The Norwegian trio is arguably more famous for this comics-inspired, rotoscoped video, directed by Steve Barron, than for the 1985 hit itself. The clip earned it a nomination for MTV's Video of the Year in 1986.

3. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"
Cyndi Lauper
(1983)

Cyndi herself wasn't the only colorful thing in her 1983 video. The clip is an '80s gem for its sitcom-y vibe, with wrestler Captain Lou Albano in a white wife-beater undershirt playing Cyndi's dad.

2. "Like a Prayer"
Madonna
(1989)

The religious imagery in the 1989 hit quickly got Madge into hot water with Pepsi, whom she was doing commercials with at the time. But nevermind the fact that the Vatican condemned it, the scenes of crosses and Madonna getting cozy with a saintly character in a church have remained memorable for 20+ years.

1. "Thriller"
Michael Jackson
(1983)

If the Video Music Awards had existed in 1983, MTV would have had to practically create a category just for the culture-dominating ingeniousness of "Thriller." It's little wonder that the video was up for several VMAs even a year later when the awards show kicked off. And almost 30 years after the MJ's epic horror-movie-style ghouls and zombies grooved and paraded into the hearts of music lovers, it's still tops with Billboard.com's voters, capturing a whopping 65% of the vote in our poll. He's not just the King of Pop, he's the king of music videos, too.

10. "Virtual Insanity"
Jamiroquai
(1997)

Properties of motion ain't no thing for Jay Kay, the leader of U.K. funk-pop band Jamiroquai. In the group's breakthrough, one-shot video for "Virtual Insanity," Kay takes his place in a small grey and white room, effortlessly dancing about as the floor and furniture moves below and around him. But as director Jonathan Glazer explained, the room's walls are actually moving in the video, which was nominated for ten VMA nominations and won Video of the Year in 1997.

9. "November Rain"
Guns N Roses
(1992)

Strings, weddings, funerals and nightmares, oh my! It takes a powerhouse rock band to pull off an epic, nine-minute long video complete with a cryptic, dramatic storyline involving the lead singer at his wedding/funeral -- or is he dreaming? Axl Rose pounds the piano after emoting his way through the clip as Slash shreds and an orchestra vamps and you know you've just seen Guns 'N Roses doing its bombastic best.

8. "Waterfalls"
TLC
(1995)

Crazy, sexy and cool, the ladies of TLC were ankle-deep in a seemless pool of serene blue water, dropping knowledge about the pitfalls (er, waterfalls) of modern life as the clip cuts to sad scenes in sepia tones.

7. "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"
Missy Elliott
(1997)

Hype Williams' fisheye lens trained on a black-lipsticked Missy in a partially inflated trashbag rapping eerily? Yes, please!

6. "My Name Is"
Eminem (1999)

Not only did Eminem make a huge splash with the lippy lyrics on his debut single "My Name Is," but also with the track's imitation-filled video. Shady as a mental patient (and Dre as his doctor) shocked many, but it was far from the most memorable imagery in the "My Name Is" video. Em as Bill Clinton, Marilyn Manson, and in the "Brady Bunch" takes the cake.

5. "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Nirvana
(1991)

In his striped green sweater, Kurt Cobain led Nirvana through the high school pep rally from hell, complete with Anarchy cheerleaders, that no one will soon forget.

4. "Freak on a Leash"
Korn
(1999)

In a violent video that had everyone and their mother (especially their mother) talking, a speeding bullet makes it way through the world, bringing visually shocking destruction in its path. The Todd McFarlane-directed clip, which won a Grammy in 2000, switches between animated imagery and live action shots, both of the band performing and of suburban life.

3. "Vogue"
Madonna (1990)

Madonna, like Jacksons Janet and Michael, knows that one way to make your video a must-watch is for it to couple a great song (check) with an irresistible dance routine (check). Add a black-and-white look that's straight out of 1940s Hollywood's glamorous silver screen era, and you've got "Vogue," which continues to remind all just how well Madonna knows how to strike a pose.

2. "Scream"
Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson
(1995)

Black and white. Set in outer space. Directed by Mark Romanek on a budget of millions. Featuring not one but TWO superstar Jacksons: Michael and Janet. What's not to love?

1. "...Baby One More Time"
Britney Spears
(1998)

Kicking off a fruitful career, the teenaged Britney won the fervent love of millions of fans with this instant pop classic set inside a high school and prominently featuring Ms. Spears dancing in her mini-skirted take on the school uniform. You loved it too: "Baby One More Time" took 40% of the vote for 1990s videos.


10. "Get Ur Freak On"
Missy Elliott
(2001)

Missy Elliott goes for the majorly surreal in her Dave Meyers-directed clip for 2001's "Get Ur Freak On." Missy dances amidst an exaggerated kung-fu world, at one point freezing everything to spit into the mouth of a dancer in this VMA-nominated clip.

9. "Californication"
Red Hot Chili Peppers
(2000)

In 2000's Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris-directed "Californication" video, the Red Hot Chili Peppers proved that to truly "make it" is to be immortalized as video game characters. With visual winks to the "Grand Theft Auto" and "Tony Hawk Pro Skater" series, the Peppers, still in 3D form, meet at the center of the earth to regain entry to reality.

8. "Firework"
Katy Perry
(2010)

Katy Perry took a break from her usual candy-coated visuals on the Dave Meyers-directed video for "Firework," opting instead for a full-on feel-good approach. Perry and her fans find their confidence - a fact that shows through in the fireworks blazing from their chests - before frolicking through Budapest.

7. "The Real Slim Shady"
Eminem
(2000)

Eminem was all over the map in his rapid-fire 2000 clip for "The Real Slim Shady," dishing out celeb disses and incriminating himself as a patient in a insane asylum. From his Britney Spears school-girl costume to his evil fast-food worker, Mr. Marshall Mathers and co. (Phillip Atwell and Dr. Dre served as directors) created characters and brightly-colored imagery that remained with fans through the decade and beyond.

6. "Disturbia"
Rihanna
(2008)

Torture chambers, chains and tarantulas aren't exactly abundant in pop music videos, but for sexy Rihanna, they're toys for the taking. Ri-Ri co-directed the sadistic 2008 clip alongside Anthony Mandler, creating a memorable and edgy image akin more to Marilyn Manson than her Top 40 colleagues.

5. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"
Beyoncé
(2008)

The power of the Jake Nava-directed "Single Ladies" video lies in its simplicity: Three identical dancers, clad in leotards and heels, effortlessly present some of the best choreography of the decade. The 2008 black and white clip has inspired parodies from Justin Timberlake and Joe Jonas, and elicited an infamously intense reaction from Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs, where "Single Ladies" won Video of the Year.

4. "You Rock My World"
Michael Jackson
(2001)

Drinking, smoking, gambling, fighting and women: the King of Pop covers all the vices in his 2001, Paul Hunter-directed short film for "You Rock My World." But we all know Jackson is a dancer, not a fighter. In a clip that was his last big video moment before his untimely death, Chris Tucker assists as MJ's sidekick while Marlon Brando plays the boss of the bad guys.

3. "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"
Panic! At The Disco
(2006)

A wedding, a circus, and a shit-ton of glitter and facepaint: It was a bold first look for Panic! At the Disco. Carnie infidelity led the Shane Drake-directed clip to win Video of the Year at the 2006 VMAs. Five years and personnel (and punctuation) changes later, Panic! At the Disco still have a flair for the super dramatic in their videos.

2. "Toxic"
Britney Spears
(2004)

In 2004's Joseph Kahn-directed "Toxic" video, Britney Spears proved that she comes in every flavor: futuristic stewardess, fiery "Alias"-esque agent, and brunette super-heroine. But the one role that stays constant through the dance-heavy clip: Sultry man-eater.

1. "Bad Romance"
Lady Gaga
(2009)

Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" video, as elaborate a plotline as it had, was just the appetizer to her cinematic climax of 2009's "Bad Romance," which won Video of the Year at the 2010 VMAs. As an android queen with an evil streak in the Francis Lawrence-directed clip, Gaga struts around a Balkan bathhouse in Alexander McQueen couture, asserting her "free bitch"-ness in the end.


With the launch of MTV thirty years ago, video took on a new role in the music world -- and as the first song played on the cable network (The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star") declared, video did, indeed, kill the radio star.

At the time of its launch, the cable channel's reach was minimal, initially airing a small collection of music videos in selected New Jersey markets. Within a few years, however, music videos became standard practice for artists both big and small. Technology and aesthetics have progressed through the years, but classic music videos -- like "Thriller" or Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" -- were in no short supply even during the medium's infancy. But the continuing craft of artists like Beyoncé ("Single Ladies"), Britney Spears ("Toxic") and Lady Gaga ("Bad Romance") proves the music video is still alive.

"Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll" may have been the first words famously uttered during MTV's launch, but as the results of our readers' poll reflects, the medium has done truly incredible things for the pop music world, with Madonna, MJ and Britney Spears among the polls' overall victors.

Billboard.com
Tags: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, beyoncé, britney spears, eminem, janet jackson, katy perry, lady gaga, list, madonna, michael jackson / jackson family, music / musician (alternative and indie), music / musician (electronic), music / musician (pop), music / musician (r&b and soul), music / musician (rap and hip-hop), music / musician (rock), music video, panic! at the disco, prince, rihanna
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