Have you ever watched a music video and imagined how much more epic it would be if it was made into a short film, or a full length movie? I most definitely have. Over the years, I’ve seen quite a few music videos that were so stunning, and so incredibly impressive, that they inspired my growing love of film.
I combed through music videos from past to present that were quintessential to my appreciation for the art of film, and while we may not all agree on the music, or the genres, the cinematography in these music videos speaks for itself, almost improving upon the music. Here are the top ten most awesomely cinematic music vids ever.
10. Beck – “Where It’s At”
Beck’s 1996 music video for “Where It’s At” pretty much dominated my summer between freshman and sophomore year. Aside from the track being awesome with its mix of 1970s soul-funk and 80s , the video was incredible. Beck made many references to film, TV, and Americana in general in this funky music video. For example, he’s seen walking around in a long, fur-lined coat with a hook for a hand. If you don’t know where that’s from, then you haven’t seen Candyman (a travesty). What I really loved about Beck’s video, however, was his cool-ification (yes, I just made up a word) of average Joes and Janes, and his little ode to William Shatner.
9. Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”
Another one from the Nineties? You’re damned right. If you wanted to know the formula to remaking, or recreating a 1970s cop or blaxploitation film, but didn’t feel like actually watching any, the music video for the Beasties’ “Sabotage” would be a perfect substitution. It is a love letter to 1970s era films like Shaft, actors like Steve McQueen, and TV shows like Starsky & Hutch. Clearly the Beastie Boys appreciated the aforementioned, and set out to make a short version of their own. It’s still one of the greatest music videos of all time.
8. Beyonce – “Haunted”
I could certainly have made a top ten list with nothing but Beyonce videos, especially after 2013’s Visual Album, but that’s a post for another time. Of all of the music videos she released to go with the album, “Haunted” is perhaps my favorite because it’s part classic movie, part horror film, and part erotic foreign film. Why is she there, and who is she meeting? Who are all of these troubled and mysterious characters in this seemingly haunted hotel? The fact that I wanted more answers, and that I was a little creeped out made it easy for me to add the video, and I’m not even much of a Bey fan. It’s also a cute nod to Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video. Please don’t tell the Beygency though…
7. Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek “The Blast”
Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek’s “The Blast” is one of those music videos that is stunning in its simplicity. There was no need to fixate on champagne, bikini-clad women, misogyny, expensive cars that were most likely leased, or materialism in general. The video features a number of rapper cameos, and other characters, but fixates on two young black men whose vulnerability is highlighted by the fact that they are standing in this rain surrounded by a housing project. Yet, the song is inherently motivational, as they encourage adapting “to any circumstance”. We see the beauty of rain droplets, and puddles, and water over beautiful brown faces, and children still jumping for joy… We see people dancing in the rain as Vinia Mojica’s entrancing voice encourages them (and us) to “keep on dancing” despite the fact that they are being rained down upon. Ultimately, that’s the message. You’ve got to keep going, rain or shine.
6. Arash – “Arash”
I may not understand a word that Arash is singing (nor Helena Josefsson who sings the hook, for that matter), but it’s still an awesome song, and the music video is more complicated than you think if you pay attention, and aren’t distracted by the legions of supermodels everywhere. What initially looks like one hell of a party, quickly becomes a living hell for Arash, as it becomes increasingly difficult for him to speak to the mysterious woman he’s fallen in love with at first sight. He cannot find a moment–not even a second–to himself. The women are pawing all over him, and appear to desire him, but if you look closely, their expressions are calm, emotionless, and even cold. When he finally finds a second to talk to this mysterious woman–he chases after her after she walks in on him in a compromising position–he apologizes by telling her, “It didn’t mean anything,” to which she responds, “It never does”. He goes back into the house crawling with women, and we see that he finds himself right back at the opening scene of the video. Stephen King once wrote that hell is repetition. Let that marinate for a moment, then watch “Arash”.
5. Madonna – “Die Another Day”
Like Beyonce, Madonna could have her own list. Alas, that’s for another time.
Though “Die Another Day” is the theme song for the twentieth James Bond movie of the same name starring Halle Berry and Pierce Brosnan, the music video for it was a mini action movie in itself. Madonna is beaten, speared with an arrow, cut with a sword, thrown through glass cases, water tortured, and almost electrocuted in this controversial video. Not everyone liked the theme song, but the video is fascinating, especially considering that vapid music videos were popular. I’d love to see more actual films where the heroines can actually withstand that much and still manage to kick ass without having to be saved by a male costar.
4. Michael Jackson featuring Janet Jackson – “Scream”
1995 saw Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson join forces for the epic “Scream” music video, and it was truly a huge pop culture event. Utilizing top of the line graphics and special effects for the time, the megastar sibling duo made a statement about the downside of their celebrity, but in a sci-fi way. The video starts off with Michael and Janet breaking out of stasis on their state of the art spaceship, and then running hog-wild (and having a blast) all over the ship as they take advantage of all the high tech amendments at their disposal. Michael and Janet could also have their own top ten list, and could have had a ton more videos on this list, but then that would be a monopoly.
3. Lady Gaga – “Paparazzi”
Gaga borrowed heavily from Alfred Hitchcock film noir gems like Dial M For Murder, Vertigo, and Fritz Lang’s iconic 1927 film Metropolis for her decadent music video for “Paparazzi”. The video is replete with scandal, sexual overtones, statements about celebrity worship, materialism, and lots of death. Fabulously dressed supermodel bodies are littered all over Gaga’s mansion in the video, with Gaga getting vengeance on her philandering, ruthless boyfriend (played by True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard) by poisoning him without hesitation in the end.
2. Guns N’ Roses – “November Rain”
Coming in at just under ten minutes, “November Rain” is part music video, part short film chronicling the turbulent relationship between Axl Rose and his paramour. First they’re getting married, kicking it with their friends, and then she’s dead and being buried. The video is dark, morbid, and ultra dramatic, and it’s one of the best of all time. Oh, and Slash’s parts should be movies in themselves…
1. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”
Call me a wuss, but “Thriller” terrified me when I saw the video in the mid-Eighties, and it scares me now. You can’t make a top ten list featuring music videos worth their salt, and not include “Thriller” because it remains that significant, and that revolutionary. Featuring horror film king Vincent Price’s voice, amazing zombie makeup that stands the test of time, and an equally terrifying plot, the entire thing is nightmare fuel from beginning to end. That’s why, over twenty years later, it’s still one of the best videos ever made.