It’s been nearly four decades since our best and brightest stars first made the jump from our stereos to our televisions, changing the course of popular music in the process. In the course of that time, music videos have come to define what we love and remember about our favorite artists as much as anything short of the music itself — creating icons, reinventing careers, sparking imaginations and inspiring untold millions of Halloween costumes worldwide.
On the verge of this Sunday’s (Aug. 30) MTV Video Music Awards — the one time a year where we’re still guaranteed to celebrate one of media’s most influential-but-under-recognized artforms — Billboard wanted to take a look back at the artists who have given the most to the music video, whether through heavy rotation on MTV, millions of views on YouTube, or other mediums that predate both. Here is our list of the 100 artists who have made the music video eternal, with a YouTube playlist of videos from all the artists available at the end.
100. THE BEATLES
Why They’re Video Icons: The Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night, predated MTV’s arrival by 17 years, but it pointed the way: The Fab Four received video vanguard awards at the first VMAs for “essentially inventing the music video.”
The MTV Classic: “Penny Lane,” one of the first clips that showed that videos could be imaginative works of art. When the boys “stop and say hello” early in the video, just try not to be moved.
Worth YouTubing: “Real Love,” the video to the Beatles’ most recent Hot 100 entry, with its memorable image of John Lennon’s white piano floating up to the sky. — PAUL GREIN
99. J BALVIN
Why He’s a Video Icon: J Balvin could team up with Medellin’s 36 Grados one day and work with California-based Colin Tilley the next, and all of his music videos will have a global appeal with that representation of Latino gang for la cultura.
The MTV Classic: “Mi Gente,” featuring Willy William and directed by JP Valencia, not only marks Balvin’s most-watched music video at over 2.5 billion views, but also spotlights diversity, good vibes, innovation, and the production quality that ultimately put him on the international map.
Worth YouTubing: Out of all of the Tilley-directed videos from Balvin’s Colores album, “Rojo” is one that the fans should never sleep on. The gory, heart-wrenching clip, where Balvin gets into a fatal car accident while on his way to the hospital to see his newborn, raises awareness about texting and driving. — JESSICA ROIZ
98. TIERRA WHACK
Why She’s a Video Icon: The Philadelphia-based hip-hop artist has developed a knack for the bizarre and engaging, with visuals that can make viewers squirm and still leave them craving more.
The MTV Classic: The 2018 visual and audio project, Whack World, seamlessly walks fans through a world of the artist’s own making — and does so between 15 songs in just 15 minutes.
Worth YouTubing: “Mumbo Jumbo,” a quirky visual with high shock-value that scored Whack her first ever Grammy nod for best music video. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
97. GARTH BROOKS
Why He’s a Video Icon: Brooks’ peerless power as a storyteller translates from his hit songs to his videos, cinematic clips that helped him redefine country music in the `90s on a stadium-packing scale.
The MTV Classic: Call it Nashville Noir: a seedy motel on a dark and stormy night, a faithless husband, a jealous lover, a betrayed wife, a violent fight and a gunshot, all set to tense guitar lines and Brooks’ aching vocals on “The Thunder Rolls.”
Worth YouTubing: All of Brooks’s clips are worth You Tubing — but the singer has not released his music to the platform, objecting to how it compensates song creators. Despite hinting to Billboard in 2018 that he might cut a new deal with YouTube, so far none of his official videos can be found on the site. — THOM DUFFY
96. PAULA ABDUL
Why She’s a Video Icon: Heavy on late-’80s and early-’90s visuals — big hair, big earrings, big jackets and tight pants — Paula Abdul straight up defined a generation of windswept videos with perfectly choreographed dance moves.
The MTV Classic: Playing opposite MC Skat Kat, Abdul lets her animated partner be a worthy opponent in “Opposites Attract.” The push and pull between the would-be couple has you rooting for it to all work out — even if one of them is a cartoon feline.
Worth YouTubing: The outdoor landscapes of “The Promise of a New Day” exist only in a Windows 95 world. But that’s what makes the video endure — the earnest hopefulness of Abdul lying in a field, singing of better times to come is something we all need a dose of right now. — DENISE WARNER
95. DAFT PUNK
Why They’re Video Icons: While the French electronic duo pioneered some of the most cutting-edge productions of the late ’90s and early ’00s, they weren’t so self-serious as to not also make a series of surreal and often deeply goofy videos to accompany them.
The MTV Classic: “Around the World,” which features a dance troupe including mummies, synchronized swimmers, astronauts and skeletons all directed by French auteur Michael Gondry.
Worth YouTubing: “Da Funk” — which follows a grown man in a dog mask and a leg cast as he maneuvers through an urban jungle — is just deliciously strange. — KATIE BAIN
94. CHILDISH GAMBINO
Why He’s a Video Icon: Donald Glover’s creative vision for music videos has matured in tandem with his music, evolving throughout the last decade from largely art-for-art’s-sake to layered clips with timely messaging.
The MTV Classic: “This Is America,” the Grammy-winning, social commentary-filled video that gave a chilling perspective on racial tensions and injustices throughout the nation and quickly became the conversation around dinner tables and political TV sets.
Worth YouTubing: “Telegraph Ave,” a beautifully scenic video filmed in Hawaii that co-stars R&B star Jhené Aiko — and one that takes an unexpected turn for the supernatural at its conclusion. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
93. THE ART OF NOISE
Why They’re Video Icons: The first clip that MTV played upon sign-on in 1981 was The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star.” Several of the most brilliantly weird clips that the cable channel played over the rest of the ’80s belonged to another Trevor Horn project, The Art of Noise.
The MTV Classic: Directed by Zbigniew Rybczynski, the 1984 clip for “Close (To the Edit),” stutter-cut to the beat of the song, depicts a young girl in punk regalia commanding members of the band, who are wearing suits and wielding power tools (“Huey Lewis & The News,” according to one interview) to destroy a series of classical instruments. No wonder Beavis and Butthead approved, which gave the video a second life in the ‘90s.
Worth YouTubing: “Kiss,” Art of Noise’s 1988 cover of the Prince classic, with ageless pop singer Tom Jones on vocals With Jones’ cool-guy dance moves set against eye-popping visual backgrounds, the clip propelled its singer — whose last visit to the top 40 had come in 1977 — to No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100, and into the video age. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
92. CARDI B
Why She’s a Video Icon: Cardi B’s music videos get bigger and better with each release, and it’s clear her music video evolution is just getting started.
The MTV Classic: While “I Like It” was the unexpected hit to help J Balvin and Bad Bunny achieve crossover success and elevate all three artists’ star power, there’s no denying the surprise and delight elements of “WAP” that make it an instant classic.
Worth YouTubing: At this point, you’d be hard pressed to find a Cardi B music video that you haven’t seen before, but 2016’s “Cheap Ass Weave” was a preview of the theatrics that were to come. — BECKY KAMINSKY
Why He’s a Video Icon: Just like his music, Mr. 305’s videos offer an escapism from real life and into Pitbull’s fist-pumping world, where a good time is always guaranteed.
The MTV Classic: His 2011 VMA-nominated clip for “I Like It” with Enrique Iglesias opens the door to the ultimate party. The invigorating video will instantly transport you to the club, even during a pandemic shutdown.
Worth YouTubing: Set in one of L.A.’s hidden holes-in-the-wall, Pitbull takes his crew to the Cuban-themed speakeasy for a burlesque-style night of dancing in the black-and-white video for “Fireball.” — GRISELDA FLORES
90. THE CARS
Why They’re Video Icons: The new wave survivors embraced their image as unlikely left-field pop stars with some of the most imaginative, quirky and generally loveable video of MTV’s first decade.
The MTV Classic: “You Might Think,” the surreal, effects-laden slapstick clip that beat “Thriller” for video of the year at the first-ever VMAs in 1984 — still an obvious robbery, but one that’s hard to get too mad about.
Worth YouTubing: “Hello Again,” a winkingly sensationalistic video satire — directed by pop-art OG Andy Warhol, who even cameos as a bartender. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Why She’s a Video Icon: Even with YouTube affording people a direct line to their fans, the vast majority of artists — whether they’re chart-toppers or underground faves — tend to play it safe when it comes to music videos. Not SOPHIE, who continues to experiment with a bold, challenging visual language.
The MTV Classic: Both literally face-melting and face-shredding, the self-directed “Faceshopping” video is as unsettling as it is unforgettable.
Worth YouTubing: “It’s Okay to Cry,” where SOPHIE – against backdrops of rainbows, storms and stars — sings directly to camera and demonstrates the liberating, lovely power of tears. — JOE LYNCH
Why They’re Video Icons: With five VMAs and one best music video Grammy (“Pork and Beans”) under their belts, Weezer have long proved their status as champions in the field, proving their meme know-how, recruiting an ever-growing list of celebs, and working repeatedly with one of the 1990s’ most in-demand video directors, Spike Jonze.
The MTV Classic: That would be “Buddy Holly,” the Jonze-helmed, Happy Days-referencing clip that first made the band Alternative Nation-era stars.
Worth YouTubing: “Keep Fishin’,” which has the band rubbing elbows with The Muppets and showing off their comedic chops. — GAB GINSBERG
Why She’s a Video Icon: Whether she’s serving up a slow jam or unleashing choreography so intense your thighs will burn just from watching, every Ciara video is a body party.
Worth YouTubing: 2010’s Basic Instinct was a commercial disappointment at the time, but it produced the two most impressive dance videos of her career: the hypnotic “Ride” and the yard-stomping “Gimmie Dat.” — NOLAN FEENEY
86. GRACE JONES
Why She’s a Video Icon: A wildly original visual artist pushing avant-garde imagery to the masses in a shiny pop art package, Grace Jones’ videos touched on colorism, colonialism and commercialism. Plus, that car driving into her mouth looked pretty cool.
The MTV Classic: Although it’s technically a cobbled-together assortment of previously existing clips, “Slave to the Rhythm” still stands as one of the most impossible-to-ignore videos of the ’80s and earned Jones her sole VMA nom.
Worth YouTubing: A visual collage on par with anything you might see at the Whitney, the rapid-cut visuals for her cover of Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug” are as frenetic and thrilling as the remix version that accompanies the video. — J. Lynch
85. TROYE SIVAN
Why He’s a Video Icon: From the start of his career to today, Troye Sivan uses music videos as an opportunity to present stunning pieces of narrative storytelling, often centered around regularly-excluded LGBTQ themes, from the perspective of those they aim to represent.
The MTV Classic: With his “Blue Neighborhood Trilogy” (consisting of his videos for “Wild,” “Fools” and “Talk Me Down”), Sivan turned an entire album’s worth of music videos into a single, linear narrative following a queer love story in an unaccepting society. The singer’s incredible use of acting and visual storytelling made a thundering impact in 2015, the reverberations of which queer artists still feel today.
Worth YouTubing: On “Bloom,” the Australian star holds absolutely nothing back in his embrace of pure androgyny — the entire video serves as the queer fashion show of a lifetime, and it is an absolute delight to watch. — STEPHEN DAW
84. LIL WAYNE
Why He’s a Video Icon: An exemplary MC, Lil Wayne’s crossover appeal and whimsical personality made him as intriguing a presence on video as it did on radio.
The MTV Classic: “Fireman.” With sirens blaring at the start of the video, you had a gut feeling that Weezy’s incendiary bars were too hot for any fire hose to put out.
Worth YouTubing: “Mrs. Officer.” Wayne’s affinity for female cops is on display in the light-hearted clip, as he revels at the wonders of handcuffs during his bedroom escapades. — CARL LAMARRE
Why They’re Video Icons: A lot of their videos might just be stylish performance clips with an art school flourish or two, but what style. The marmoreal cool of Debbie Harry and the band’s razor-sharp duds plastered across TV screens helped define the nascent new wave genre, which would set the tone for many a mallrat’s wardrobe.
The MTV Classic: Whether “Rapture” passes muster as the first “rap video” on MTV depends on the elasticity of your definition, but there’s no denying the jaw-dropping cool of Debbie Harry in a leather tube top and “Man From Mars” William Barnes in a top hat strutting through the graffiti-covered East Village — with cameos from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab Five Freddy.
Worth YouTubing: “The Hardest Part,” which gives us the rare opportunity to see Debbie Harry as a long-haired brunette, finds her stomping around a set covered in words like “Calligraffiti” and “Art Soup” while the band rocks out in jumpsuits seemingly borrowed from the Devo Spring Runway Collection.– J. Lynch
82. OK GO
Why They’re Video Icons: In 2006, OK Go danced on treadmills, and the rest was history. After that early success, the band attempted to outdo themselves in further creative videos; examples include a Rube Goldberg machine, shooting elaborate choreography in one long take, and even filming in a zero gravity environment.
The MTV Classic: “Here It Goes Again,” the aforementioned treadmill video, went so viral that even your mom was forwarding it to her friends on chain emails. (It snagged a Grammy for best short form music video.)
Worth YouTubing: The first video for “This Too Shall Pass” is less complicated than the alternate Rube Goldberg one, but is nonetheless a charming, one-take clip that features an awesome marching band. — G.G.
81. TYLER, THE CREATOR
Why He’s a Video Icon: The Golf Wang brand-leader has been defined by his visual sensibilities almost as much as his unconventional music style, thanks to his commitment to self-directing every video since the beginning of his career.
The MTV Classic: “Yonkers,” the unflinching, roach-chomping single-shot that introduced the masses to Tyler’s entrancing menace in 2011, and earned him one of the unlikeliest best new artist wins at the VMAs.
Worth YouTubing: The dollhouse of horrors in “IFHY” makes a perfect setting for the song’s soap-opera melodrama. — BRYAN KRESS
80. SPICE GIRLS
Why They’re Video Icons: Girl groups today preach that their members’ differences make them stronger. Yet no group has so thoroughly embraced their individual charms as the Spice Girls, who interpreted their catalog in such wildly different ways that each video offers a choose-your-own adventure menu of moves and attitude.
The MTV Classic: “Wannabe,” a tornado of goofiness and rebellion that continued off screen as well: Record executives were reportedly so dissatisfied with the unpolished, free-wheeling feel of the video that they wanted to reshoot it, but the girls refused.
Worth YouTubing: “Viva Forever,” which does not feature the girls themselves. Instead, director Steve Box assembled some creepy-looking Spice Girls puppets for a surreal animated tale about leaving childhood behind — with Ginger Spice’s then-imminent departure from the group only making its message of lost innocence more potent. — N.F.
79. RICKY MARTIN
Why He’s a Video Icon: From the moment he sashayed up to the mic in “Livin La Vida Loca” all dressed in black, and gave us that look, the Menudo alum became the most memorable and watchable drop-dead handsome guy in pop music.
The MTV Classic: “Livin La Vida Loca,” Martin’s ode to the party-fueled, glitzy ’90s won best pop video and Best dance video at the 1999 VMA’s and continues to make us want to just go out and have a blast.
Worth YouTubing: Fast forward for another ode to the good life, this time in 2016 poolside in Miami Beach and alongside Maluma, baby, in “Vente Pa’Ca”; clichéd, guilty fun. — LEILA COBO
78. KATY PERRY
Why She’s a Video Icon: Perry’s brand has always been “fun.” She understands that she’s in show business—and seems to enjoy it to the hilt.
The MTV Classic: “California Gurls,” a diet-busting trip to “Candyfornia.” The best moment: Perry’s startled look when a red gummy bear gives her the finger.
Worth YouTubing: “Birthday,” in which Perry goes undercover as five different party entertainers, who were each perfectly awful at their jobs. — P.G.
77. JANELLE MÓNAE
Why She’s a Video Icon: Janelle Monáe is very clearly a visual thinker — as you watch through her extensive videography of “emotion pictures,” the triple threat is a natural when it comes to her impeccable detail and futuristic visual storytelling.
The MTV Classic: “Q.U.E.E.N.” won Monáe her first-ever VMA for a reason; the video’s use of the singer’s long-running black-and-white motif through an experimental art gallery of “legendary rebels from throughout history” (including iconic guest star Erykah Badu) makes for a compelling watch.
Worth YouTubing: If you’ve somehow managed to miss “Pynk,” you ought to fix that immediately. Monáe’s rebellious tribute to femininity and queer love in all its forms (including the now-iconic vagina pants seen throughout the clip) is truly a masterpiece. — S.D.
Why They’re Video Icons: The cartoon collective helmed by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett has transformed its alternative, genre-blurring brand into videos throughout the 21st century that leave the viewer asking what did I just watch? — but in the best way imaginable.
The MTV Classic: “Feel Good Inc.,” the clip that nabbed VMAs in 2005 for best visual effects and breakthrough video, thanks to a floating windmill island — an apparent nod to 1986 Japanese fantasy film Castle in the Sky — that encapsulates the band’s virtual members.
Worth YouTubing: “On Melancholy Hill,” a four-and-a-half minute journey that begins with virtual guitarist Noodle firing an automatic weapon at pirates, blurs dimensions later in the clip, and even features a momentary depiction of Snoop Dogg. What more could you want? — J.G.
75. CYNDI LAUPER
Why She’s a Video Icon: Lauper had everything it took to be a pop star in the mid-‘80s — great pipes, a quirky personality and a strong visual sense.
The MTV Classic: The effervescent “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which was a video of the year nominee at the first-ever VMAs. (Remarkably, Lauper was the only female artist to be nominated for video of the year in the VMAs’ first half-decade.)
Worth YouTubing: “What’s Going On,” in which Lauper fearlessly covers the Marvin Gaye classic. She’s shot in color — everything else is shot in black-and-white. — P.G.
Why They’re Video Icons: The best-selling K-pop act has produced visuals that make fans shriek with joy in a post-TRL world, often finding a balance between individual member showcases and impressive group choreography.
The MTV Classic: 2017’s “DNA,” a candy-colored burst of energy that became the first BTS video to cross 1 billion YouTube views and underscores why this fun-loving seven-piece crew was about to take over the world.
Worth YouTubing: “Not Today” — which mixes cinematic, slow-motion action sequences with elaborate dance breaks and strikingly handsome close-ups — remains one of the group’s more eye-popping visual experiences, even if the plot is a little hard to follow. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
73. MARIAH CAREY
Why She’s a Video Icon: Over three decades, MC has gone from breezy girl next door, flaunting a denim collection as wide as her vocal range, to secret agent, runaway bride and even her own stalker in a collection of music videos that play like mini-dramas.
The MTV Classic: The Carey-directed “Fantasy,” a whimsical celebration of all things summer, from cutoffs and roller blades to roller coasters and dance breaks, shot at the Playland Amusement Park in New York August 1995.
Worth YouTubing: The sublimely melancholy “Breakdown,” set in a casino and starring a doleful Carey as a glitzy showgirl hanging with her backup rapper-singers, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
72. THE REPLACEMENTS
Why They’re Video Icons: The ‘Mats give-no-f–ks regard for the music business led to them making some of the most low-concept, non-glamorized, action-less clips of the ’80s — essentially, anti-music videos. While it didn’t help win many new fans, the ones they already had saw it as an awesome rock’n’roll statement, and a necessary riposte to early MTV excess.
The MTV Classic: “Bastards of Young,” from the album Tim, in which the only visual connection to the band is Paul Westerberg’s pack of cigarettes. Played on MTV only a handful of times, the video’s sole human is never fully depicted, while the camera is more interested in the vigorously pulsating stereo speaker getting a workout from the accompanying song.
Worth YouTubing: “The Ledge,” the first clip in which the band agreed to appear — but refused to lip synch. Instead they are shown sitting, standing, eating, smoking and looking both bored and terrified. For their trouble, MTV still refused to play the video because the song was about teen suicide. — F.D.
71. THE LONELY ISLAND
Why They’re Video Icons: Given a platform on Saturday Night Live, the comedy-rapping trio used a network TV budget to time and again replicate the atmosphere and star power associated with a major music video, but combine it with a hilarious, often NSFW skit concept.
The MTV Classic: “D–k in a Box,” the Creative Arts Emmy-winning, did they really get Justin Timberlake to do this? instructional gift-giving guide that parodies ’90s R&B videos, and features Andy Samberg and Timberlake with unforgettable suits, sunglasses and facial hair.
Worth YouTubing: “Go Kindergarten,” a true testament to the idea that The Lonely Island can take any random idea — or collection of them — sprinkle in a catchy hook from a proven guest (Robyn), a few cameos (Paul Rudd, Sean Combs, Sarah Chalke) and a well-produced music video, and make it work seamlessly. — J.G.
Why She’s a Video Icon: It takes no more than 10 seconds to know you’re watching a Sia video – an impressive feat considering she rarely, if ever, appears herself. Teenage wunderkind Maddie Ziegler serves as Sia’s avatar, perfectly encapsulating the sadness, humor, and overall profundity of her music.
The MTV Classic: “Chandelier” features Ziegler introducing the three key elements of all Sia videos to follow: endlessly elastic and athletic dancing set to would-be-improvised contemporary choreography, expressively surreal face-acting from a child set to pop music about depression, alcoholism, and looming death, and of course, the wig — an anonymous blond bob that iconized Sia and Ziegler at once.
Worth YouTubing: From the BZ (Before Ziegler) era, stripped of all choreography and titanic belting, “Breathe Me” features Sia in the flesh through a sped-up series of polaroid snapshots. But in classic Sia fashion, the song and video mix sadness and playfulness in an ultimately optimistic light. — ERIC FRANKENBERG
69. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
Why He’s a Video Icon: Whether in a barroom, a barn in New Jersey, or a globe-circling set of stadiums, Springsteen’s finest videos have celebrated his community of fans, and the potent mix of rock’n’roll and the warmth of the crowd.
The MTV Classic: After not showing his face in his first clip, the stark, black & white “Atlantic City,” Springsteen’s breakthrough video (which introduced him to a massive pop audience) saw him reaching into a concert crowd to invite a then-unknown Courtney Cox to twirl onstage to the closing strains of “Dancing in the Dark.”
Worth YouTubing: For the sweat-dripping “I’m on Fire,” director John Sayles crafted a mini play starring Springsteen as a grease-stained auto mechanic tempted by a Thunderbird-driving, high-heeled — and married — woman who lives, she says seductively, “way out in the [Hollywood] Hills.” — T.D.
68. THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
Why They’re Video Icons: The British EDM duo rode the wave of anonymous 1990s DJ stardom with massive beats, irresistible hooks and high-energy, mind-expanding videos that felt like the kind of mini-movies that might play on the inside of your eyeballs as you come down from a wild night at the club.
The MTV Classic: “Setting Sun,” the breakthrough clip from the group’s second album — with vocals from Oasis’ Noel Gallagher — follows a blonde club kid (Lexi Strauss) as she wakes in a field and searches for her nightmare doppelgänger at the coolest rave you’ve never been to. Plus: cops breakdancing.
Worth YouTubing: “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”: What better way to soundtrack this manic beat assault than to let a group of school kids loose in the city before the action inexplicably ages them up into a club party where everyone — including the couple shagging in the bathroom — are transformed into dancing skeletons? — GIL KAUFMAN
67. KATE BUSH
Why She’s a Video Icon: As much a performance artist as a singer while on stage, Kate Bush created mesmerizing video work before MTV existed and pushed the format beyond its promotional functionality during the ’80s, with her intricate choreography and thoughtful narratives.
The MTV Classic: The influential pre-MTV clips for her 1978 surprise hit “Wuthering Heights” are brilliantly bizarre and ghostly, featuring a white-clad Bush gyrating in the mist for the European version and decked out in bright red dress while dancing through the woods for the U.S. iteration.
Worth YouTubing: Want to see Kate Bush pretend to be Donald Sutherland’s son before the authorities come and take him away for designing a rain-making machine? Yes, you do, as the “Cloudbusting” mini-movie is a strangely compelling little classic. — J. Lynch
Why They’re Video Icons: MTV was famously inhospitable to Black artists in their early years, and rappers in particular — until this trio from Hollis, Queens showed that hip-hop was too big to be denied by the channel.
The MTV Classic: The symbolism was lost on few when Run-DMC and Aerosmith literally broke down the walls between rock and rap in the clip for “Walk This Way,” a historic moment they’ve recreated at seemingly one out of every five Video Music Awards since.
Worth YouTubing: While not as high-concept as some of their other ’80s favorites, the “Run’s House” video from 1988 carries a distinctly New York energy that makes it a blast to revisit 30-plus years later. — A.U.
65. NINE INCH NAILS
Why They’re Video Icons: With a penchant for misplaced body parts, creepy kids and flashing lights that required seizure warnings, the band’s videos, much like its songs, were beautifully designed for both delight and discomfort.
The MTV Classic: “Closer,” a grainy reel of unsettling imagery, from a monkey tied to a cross to a pulsating heart with a steam valve, that was deemed too racy for prime time.
Worth YouTubing: “Into the Void,” for those who want an up-close-and-personal view of Trent Reznor and his hair follicles. — C.W.
Why They’re Video Icons: One of the few classic rock bands to make a near-seamless transition to the video age, the only shame with Queen was that MTV missed them at their mid-’70s peak.
The MTV Classic: While the drag-performed “I Want to Break Free” was their best MTV-era moment, their true gift to the form was the original 1975 clip for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a special effects-laden performance video that rightly made the quartet seem larger than life, setting the standard for the channel’s early years.
Worth YouTubing: “Hammer to Fall,” a close-shot, punchy on-stage clip from 1984 that beats Van Halen at their own game, and feels like a dry run for the song’s performance at Live Aid a year later. — A.U.
63. ARIANA GRANDE
Why She’s a Video Icon: Though she has by now transformed from Nickelodeon tween to pop queen, Ari never fully let go of her showbiz background — which has resulted in endlessly fun, colorful and surprising releases that often feel like full-fledged events.
The MTV Classic: “Thank U Next,” the rom-com supercut for Grande’s ex-referencing surprise single which pays homage to Mean Girls, Legally Blonde and other classics; features cameos from the likes of Jennifer Coolidge and Kris Jenner; and solidified Grande and her favored director, Hannah Lux Davis, as a match made in pop heaven.
Worth YouTubing: “Into You,” the dreamy video in which Ari (in a rare no-ponytail moment) runs away to the desert with a bandana-clad boyfriend, where they play cards in a motel, ride a motorcycle into the sunset, and engage in some other less-wholesome activities. — TATIANA CIRISANO
62. BRAD PAISLEY
Why He’s a Video Icon: Brad Paisley is the perfect everyman — whether he’s making fun of himself, learning life lessons, or tackling darker subjects, Paisley’s ability to adapt personas, coupled with his boyish charm, make his videography worthy of attention.
The MTV Classic: “Alcohol” hits like a countrified Salvador Dali painting, mixed with Oklahoma‘s dream ballet sequence. Paisley is almost serving the drinks he’s singing about, leaving the viewer in a hazy stupor.
Worth YouTubing: “Who Needs Pictures?” captures the soulful longing of a relationship undone. While Paisley’s mournful face croons behind his guitar, the memories of his ex play like a highlight reel of good times past. — D.W.
61. TINA TURNER
Why She’s a Video Icon: MTV wasn’t exactly renown for going out of its way to support Black artists in the ’80s, but when Tina Turner reinvented her solo career with Private Dancer (and catapulted it into the stratosphere), she carved a space for herself thanks to her smoldering on-camera intensity.
The MTV Classic: Strutting through the streets of NYC in a leather miniskirt with her hair teased to the heavens, Tina Turner pauses for a series of brief, contactless dances with a rotating cast of man-candy, before pushing them all away in the video for anti-romance anthem “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
Worth YouTubing: The video for “Private Dancer” not only boasts an A+ performance from Turner — watch her deftly switch from working-stiff weltschmerz on the verses to dominatrix confidence for the chorus — but features everything from cobwebs to kick lines to ballerinas to a Minotaur. — J. Lynch
60. THE WHITE STRIPES
Why They’re Video Icons: Jack and Meg White separated themselves from the early-’00s garage-rock revival wave thanks in part to their head-spinning visual flair, often aided by acclaimed directors like Michel Gondry and Sofia Coppola.
The MTV Classic: “Fell in Love with a Girl,” in which a two-minute guitar-rock blast is represented by constantly shapeshifting Lego animation, is one of Gondry’s most acclaimed short-form achievements, and was nominated for video of the year at the MTV VMAs.
Worth YouTubing: “The Hardest Button to Button” is a lesser-known Gondry video, but one of his most effective: the Elephant single’s unyielding stomp is depicted through multiplying instruments, and Beck even shows up for a quick cameo. — J. Lipshutz
59. ZZ TOP
Why They’re Video Icons: One of the least-expected success stories of the O.G. video age was the transformation of this grizzled Texas blues boogie trio into MTV superstars, thanks to their embrace of ’80s-appropriate synthesizers, and a series of high-gloss videos that served up a signature mix of cars, guitars (often spinning) and sexy video vixens.
The MTV Classic: “Gimme All Your Lovin’” checks all the boxes, with three scantily clad women packed into a souped-up red custom car and a robust-enough storyline centered on a young mechanic’s fever dream of rolling like a rock star with said women.
Worth YouTubing: With choreography from none other than fellow ’80s pop comet Paula Abdul, “Velcro Fly” manages to incorporate the trio’s lovably stiff dance moves with plenty of bikini dancers in an homage to the decade’s convenient zipper-replacement of choice. — G.K.
58. NICKI MINAJ
Why She’s a Video Icon: Elaborate sets or not, Nicki Minaj’s facial expressions and early-character personalities elevate her videos from good to great.
Worth YouTubing: “Pills N Potions” offered a rare look at a stripped-down version of Minaj, proving that she didn’t need gimmicks (we’ll let the product placement slide) to deliver a solid music video. — B. Kaminsky
57. THE CURE
Why They’re Video Icons: Few rock bands can claim to have brought an entire aesthetic to the mainstream, as The Cure did with their somewhat paradoxical video brand of brightly gloomy goth-pop.
The MTV Classic: “Just Like Heaven,” featuring the black-clad band performing on a clifftop at dusk, alone, alone, alone above the raging sea — as unexpectedly gorgeous and swoon-inducing as the song itself.
Worth YouTubing: “The 13th,” a surreal mid-’90s Cure clip that plays like a fever dream from singer Robert Smith’s bedroom, seemingly predicting future scenes in both Requiem For a Dream and Joker. — A.U.
Why She’s a Video Icon: Over her all-too-short career, the late R&B icon coined the smooth choreography and tomboyish style that would inspire the genre’s future generations for years to come.
The MTV Classic: “Are You That Somebody,” the glossy, futuristic clip in which Aaliyah, clad in her typical baggy pants and a belly chain, handles an actual hawk and cooly nails a lengthy choreography routine that — admit it — we all tried our best to learn.
Worth YouTubing: The block party visual for “Hot Like Fire,” the lesser-known single off Aaliyah’s One in a Million, is exactly what it sounds like — ample pyrotechnics, fire trucks and everything in red — and features cameos from the song’s collaborators, Missy Elliott and Timbaland, along with Lil’ Kim. — T.C.
55. SMASHING PUMPKINS
Why They’re Video Icons: As many of the great bands of ’90s alternative struggled with the meaning of video stardom, Smashing Pumpkins rocketed past them with unapologetic ambition, executing highly inventive clips with some of the era’s best directors.
The MTV Classic: The Jonathan Dayton- and Valerie Faris-helmed “1979,” third behind only Clueless and Dazed and Confused as the best teen movie of the ’90s.
Worth YouTubing: Co-directed by frontman Billy Corgan and then-girlfriend Yelena Yemchuk, “Thirty-Three” was the least-accessible of the band’s five hit videos from blockbuster double LP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but also perhaps the loveliest — an elliptical visual photo album of real, borrowed and imagined memories. — A.U.
54. DUA LIPA
Why She’s a Video Icon: Dua Lipa’s vibrant and cheeky femme-focused visuals often feature catchy choreography and outfit inspo galore.
The MTV Classic: The commanding yet comforting girls-night-in (a hotel) clip for “New Rules” helped push the track into the Billboard Hot 100’s top 40, where it eventually peaked at No. 6.
Worth YouTubing: “Break My Heart,” for its stunning eye-trickery and easily mimicked, bite-sized choreography that’s tailor-made for the TikTok era (and, of course, for the outfits!). — L.H.
53. FATBOY SLIM
Why He’s a Video Icon: The U.K. producer blew up in the States thanks not only to the popularity of his big beat hits, but corresponding videos that demonstrated a subversive humor and star power in the likes of Christopher Walken and director Spike Jonze.
The MTV Classic: “Weapon of Choice” found Walken shimmying, shaking and occasionally sashaying through an empty hotel in an impeccable display of swagger and choreography that scored the Moonperson for best choreography at the 2001 VMAs, where the video also won five other awards.
Worth YouTubing: “Praise You,” which features vastly more DIY-style flash mob choreography and was directed by Jonze (who also stars as the fictional Torrance Community Dance Group leader) and produced by Roman Coppola. — K.B.
52. RED VELVET
Why They’re Video Icons: Red Velvet are of the most consistently imaginative music video acts in contemporary pop, with inspired and brilliantly executed concepts that prove quickly unforgettable.
The MTV Classic: “Red Flavor,” a typically eye-popping clip with such loving reverence (and almost interpersonal respect) for fruit that it might even make you feel guilty the next time you add a couple strawberries or banana slices to your morning cereal.
Worth YouTubing: “Wish Tree,” a contest-winning, SM Entertainment-approved video submission for the group’s soulful 2015 ballad, in which two young women enjoy an intense friendship that at least one seems to hope will become something more — with a fairly tearjerking ending. — A.U.
51. GWEN STEFANI / NO DOUBT
Why They’re Video Icons: Gwen Stefani’s flair for theatricals and eye-catching costumes — which she leaned into even more as a solo act — helped bring the drama of No Doubt’s music to life on screen.
Worth YouTubing: The very 2000s clip for No Doubt’s hit “Hey Baby” blends graffiti with green screens, and features moves that could double as deleted scenes from Dirty Dancing. — L.H.
Why They’re Video Icons: The college-rockers helped set the stage for (and then heavily participated in) MTV’s ’90s alt takeover, with some of the most challenging videos to still be unmissable in the channel’s first decade-plus.
The MTV Classic: The Tarsem-directed, VMAs-sweeping “Losing My Religion,” as close as a music video has ever felt to a still artwork coming to life, easily justifying frontman Michael Stipe’s decision to lip sync for the first time.
Worth YouTubing: “Fall on Me,” essentially the invention of the modern lyric video. — A.U.
49. BAD BUNNY
Why He’s a Video Icon: Bad Bunny’s visuals — whether inviting celebrities such as Stone Cold Steve Austin to make cameos, rocking his manicure, or dressing up in drag — all make a statement on his own terms, because Bunny does whatever he wants.
The MTV Classic: Vouching for the LGBTQ community and women’s rights, Bunny took matters into his own hands in “Yo Perreo Sola,” not only dressing in a red latex miniskirt and knee-high boots but co-directing the video with Stillz. The phrase “Ni Una Menos” appears in the empowering video, in support of the feminist movement that campaigns against gender-based violence.
Worth YouTubing: Bad Bunny self-directed the mental health-themed homemade video for “Estamos Bien,” where he’s seen taking bathroom selfies with an old video camera, painting his nails purple, packing his swimwear, picking up some friends, road tripping in La Isla del Encanto, and hanging out with locals and tourists at the beach. — J.R.
Why They’re Video Icons: Whether they were butt-naked or in suits, Blink-182’s IDGAF attitude was the blend of punk rock and pop that the TRL era needed.
The MTV Classic: “All the Small Things” dumped all the music video clichés of the late ‘90s into one hilarious, new format to put Blink-182 at the level of those biggest pop artists as a music video group.
Worth YouTubing: “The Rock Show.” Give Blink-182 a check to create the music video they want, watch them do what they do best. — B. Kaminsky
47. TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS
Why They’re Video Icons: Tom Petty left behind more than four decades of songs that were beautifully wide open in their music, lyrics and emotions — but as a video artist he reveled in a less straightforward touch, creating clips packed with playful vignettes, animation, wacky perspectives and even a corpse or two.
The MTV Classic: “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” co-written by Petty and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, is a drum-machine driven, sitar-spiced bit of psychedelic pop and its video (featuring actress Wish Foley as Alice in Wonderland and Petty as the Mad Hatter) is a trippy delight, replete with massive mushrooms and oversized tea cups.
Worth YouTubing: There’s a southern accent where Petty comes from, his hometown in north-central Florida, and the home footage-assembled video for “Gainesville” — posthumously released on the compilation An American Treasure — is both joyous and bittersweet, as Petty sings from “long ago and far away, another time, another day.” — T.D.
46. BILLIE EILISH
Why She’s a Video Icon: Eilish flawlessly interprets her dark imagination and lyrics into cinematographic fantasies, creating an enigmatic, twisted world of her own.
The MTV Classic: “When the Party’s Over,” a mind-boggling, literally eye-watering clip in which the singer gulps down a thick, inky liquid before it begins streaming from her eyes.
Worth YouTubing: “Ocean Eyes (Dance Performance Video),” a tribute to her childhood as a dancer, features an icy blonde Eilish fluidly moving her body in a rare, emotional choreography sequence. — R.A.
45. THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
Why He’s a Video Icon: Biggie’s slick delivery and imaginative mind was amplified by his opulent, larger-than-life video persona.
The MTV Classic: “One More Chance (Remix),” director Hype Williams’ star-studded, red-carpet Brooklyn soirée, included a host of ’90s A-listers, including Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Heavy D and many more.
Worth YouTubing: “Sky’s The Limit,” a Spike Jonze-helmed visual filmed after Biggie’s 1997 murder, was a brilliant re-imagination of his rags-to-riches come-up, starring kid actors playing the grown-up, living-large versions of Biggie, Puffy, Faith and countless other associates. — C.L.
44. FOO FIGHTERS
Why They’re Video Icons: Though they’re considered one of the few earnest rock groups left, Dave Grohl and the Foos have often leaned on their visuals to undercut any notions of self-importance, making each new release an unpredictable yet consistently fun experience.
The MTV Classic: The dreamy gloom of “Everlong” captures the song’s bracing, bittersweet nostalgia with a time-jumping quest that ushers in the post-grunge world.
Worth YouTubing: “White Limo,” the seedy, home-movie romp that finds Grohl giving a master class of facial reactions as the band embarks on a daytime tear chauffeured by none other than the late Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead. — B. Kress
Why She’s a Video Icon: Rosalía offers a look into her colorful, emotional, flamenco-dancing way of life through her over-the-top music videos, which capture you from beginning to end.
The MTV Classic: Winner of the best Latin video at the 2019 VMAs, “Con Altura” took fans to new heights where you can sit back, drink some bubbly or play one-on-one video games with J Balvin.
Worth YouTubing: “Juro Qué” is a Wes Anderson-inspired, drama-filled music video that features a passionate and dramatic Rosalía ready to go to prison for the man she loves. — G.F.
42. SHANIA TWAIN
Why She’s a Video Icon: Shania Twain floats effortlessly between the cowboy hat-wearing country realm (“Any Man of Mine” and “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”) and a pop-rock goddess setting fit for Madonna (“Man, I Feel Like a Woman!”). She’s the leader of the ’90s country-pop crossover stars for a reason.
The MTV Classic: A proto Mad Max: Fury Road landscape. A full-length leopard print hooded cape. “That Don’t Impress Me Much” might not bowl Shania over, but it certainly made an impression on us.
Worth YouTubing: From front-porch jamming with a cello player, to playing through a giant storm, nothing fazes Shania in “No One Needs to Know.” Sure, it’s technically a movie tie-in for Twister, but it avoids the traps that often befall those types of videos — it can stand (or be knocked down) on its own. — D.W.
41. GEORGE MICHAEL / WHAM!
Why They’re Video Icons: Michael was just a beat behind MJ and Madonna as the top music and video star of the ‘80s. He received the video vanguard award in 1989 (from Madonna, no less).
The MTV Classic: “Freedom 90,” a George Michael video starring five supermodels in which Michael doesn’t appear – and in which the props from his iconic “Faith” video — the black leather jacket, a jukebox and a guitar — are burned or blown to smithereens, displaying his growing ambivalence about his pop superstardom.
Worth YouTubing: “Outside,” in which Michael hilariously spoofs the incident that led to his arrest in a Beverly Hills men’s room in 1998. — P.G.
The MTV Classic: Winning VMAs for best cinematography and best direction, “Bad Girls” brought viewers to the dusty open roads of Morocco — where women rock flashy, streetwear-inspired hijabs and cars drift by precariously on two wheels, living up to the song’s “live fast, die young” motto.
39. PUBLIC ENEMY
Why They’re Video Icons: Few acts inside or outside of hip-hop used MTV as a platform to spread a larger message the way Public Enemy did, with unignorable clips that satirized and lambasted societal ills and positioned the group as true prophets of rage.
The MTV Classic: “Fight the Power,” a staged protest rally to accompany the release of Spike Lee’s incendiary race-relations drama Do the Right Thing that felt like history in the making — and needless to say, feels even more vital than ever in 2020.
Worth YouTubing: “Night of the Living Baseheads,” a combined media parody and protest clip with fake PETV news broadcasts, fake “beeper tie” commercials, and very real concerns about the crack epidemic’s impact on the Black community. — A.U.
38. TALKING HEADS
Why They’re Video Icons: The Heads set the standard for innovative, visually stunning videos even before MTV launched, and their continual raising of that bar insured the afrobeat-loving art rockers an unlikely spot in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
The MTV Classic: “Burning Down the House” is the video that, through endless MTV airplay, fueled the single’s No. 9 Hot 100 peak in 1983, but David Byrne’s unforgettable herky-jerky performance in “Once In A Lifetime” — released the February before MTV debuted — is the clip that set the table, and inspired a lot of white dudes to karate chop their forearms at dance clubs across America.
Worth YouTubing: “Road to Nowhere,” a visual smorgasbord that seems to wink at “Once in a Lifetime” and then forge ahead with the stop-motion animation that Stephen R. Johnson — who co-directed the video with David Byrne — would, with the work of the Quay Brothers, employ to greater effect in Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” video the following year. — F.D.
37. GIRLS’ GENERATION
Why They’re Video Icons: Before Blackpink and Red Velvet, there was Girls’ Generation, who set the standard for impressively-choreographed Korean girl group videos (as well as the importance of eye-catching outfits and props).
Worth YouTubing: The video for the group’s Japanese-language song “Paparazzi,” which features a nod to Singin’ in the Rain. — G.G.
36. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE
Why They’re Video Icons: A band with grandiose musical aspirations also shot for the stars as visual artists, with some of the alt-rock band’s most fiercely adored music videos putting unforgettable bombast front and center.
The MTV Classic: Although the funeral-set “Helena” video was the one that pushed MCR over into the mainstream in 2005, its predecessor, the 2004 clip for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” brilliantly spoofed early-00s indie film tropes through a high school-set mock movie trailer; Marc Webb directed both, and would later take over the Spider-Man film franchise.
Worth YouTubing: If you want to watch the My Chemical Romance boys put on goofy costumes, shoot some bad guys and participate in a thoroughly nonsensical high-speed car chase, look no further than the video for “Na Na Na,” from the group’s underrated 2010 swan song Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. — J. Lipshutz
35. KANYE WEST
Why He’s a Video Icon: West’s charisma and daredevil mentality always serves as the main ingredients for his thrilling, unpredictable videos.
The MTV Classic: With “Gold Digger,” West and director Hype Williams deftly executed a letterboxed, fun-filled visual, with Jamie Foxx reimagining Ray Charles’ 1954 soul gem “I Got a Woman.”
Worth YouTubing: On “Touch the Sky,” not only does West channel his inner Evel Knievel for his aerial tactics, but enlists a bodacious supporting lineup headlined by Tracee Ellis Ross, Pamela Anderson and Nia Long for the ride. — C.L.
34. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE / *NSYNC
Why They’re Video Icons: *NSYNC’s matching outfits and synchronized dance moves gave way to the more stylized offerings of Justin Timberlake’s solo career in the early ’00s. But his entire catalogue will make you want to rock your body.
The MTV Classic: With “Bye Bye Bye,” *NSYNC and Timberlake gave us the best and most memorable of the boy band videos — the puppets! the dancing! the hair! — without it being silly. And the brush off in “Bye Bye Bye” paved the way for JT’s more vengeful side on “Cry Me a River”: Hell hath no fury like a solo boy bander scorned.
Worth YouTubing: The best song on FutureSex/LoveSounds also turned out to be its best video. The pulsing beat of “Love Stoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude)” lends itself perfectly to the electro-fied Tron-esque visuals Timberlake incorporates. — D.W.
33. MILEY CYRUS
Why She’s a Video Icon: Miley has managed to make headlines with nearly every music video she drops — especially when one ushers in a new look — simultaneously inspiring spoofs and Halloween outfits for years to come.
The MTV Classic: The shocking, Terry Richardson-directed “Wrecking Ball” stands as the quite possibly only hammer-licking music video around — and proved that, if you’re Miley, you can still do the most while wearing the least.
Worth YouTubing: The video for the foreshadowing track “Can’t Be Tamed,” in which the pop star literally breaks free from her cage, serves as air-tight proof that (as Miley claims a decade later on her latest single) she was born to run. — L.H.
32. ANNIE LENNOX / EURYTHMICS
Why They’re Video Icons: One of the first artists to create a thematic through-line in her videography, Annie Lennox — from her time with Dave Stewart in the Eurythmics to her stunning solo career — played with visual androgyny, period garb and Sirkian melodramatic kitsch over a series of clips that helped define MTV’s first decade.
The MTV Classic: The corporate satire of “Sweet Dreams” might be a bit heavy-handed at points (Dave Stewart punching away at a computer next to a herd of cows is embarrassingly obvious), but Lennox in her Wall Street suit, shooting piercing stares from beneath that blazing orange buzzcut, is one of the most memorable images of the era.
Worth YouTubing: The beautifully baroque “Walking on Broken Glass” boasts both John Malkovich and Hugh Laurie, but “Little Bird” deserves special mention for finding Lennox rounding up her past personas in one clip a full 24 years before Taylor did it in “Look What You Made Me Do.” — J. Lynch
Why He’s a Video Icon: Few stars of the 2010s have realized the power of the event video as well as Drake, dropping an expertly crafted, headline-grabbing visual not just whenever he needs to promote a new single, but whenever he wants to change an inconvenient conversation.
The MTV Classic: As inspired and expansive as recent clips have been, it’s still hard to beat Drake’s neon-backdropped dance moves in the “Hotline Bling” clip, the only music video of the last decade to inspire an actually funny ugly Christmas sweater.
Worth YouTubing: Forever a fan favorite, the Director X-shot clip for “Worst Behavior” brought a backwards-hatted (!!) Drake to the streets of Memphis — with local music greats like Juicy J, MJG, and Drake’s own father, Dennis Graham, as his travel guides. — A.U.
Why She’s a Video Icon: Shakira dances alone and her hips don’t lie, from her wild and free swiveling in “Whenever, Wherever” to her celebratory moves in “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” — all of which redefined the role of dancing in videos, with moves that remain singularly her own.
The MTV Classic: “Hips Don’t Lie,” which won the VMA for best choreography in 2006 (and mind you, she choreographs herself), had Shakira showing off abs and hips and introduced much of the world to the sensuality of Colombia and Barranquilla’s Carnival.
Worth YouTubing: The sexy, sensual “She Wolf,” where Shak twerks and jerks in a nude bodysuit inside a cage, was nearly as talked about as “WAP” back in its day; boy have times changed. — L.C.
29. TAYLOR SWIFT
Why She’s a Video Icon: A Taylor Swift music video is a lot like ice cream — there’s “White Horse” vanilla to “…Ready For It” rocky road. Depending on what flavor you fancy, what feelings you want to revisit, there’s a Taylor video waiting to be rewatched.
The MTV Classic: “You Belong With Me” wasn’t fancy, just a girl-likes-boy visual with a happy ending. But for high schoolers watching the video on loop, it played out the magical moment of finding out your crush likes you back. It’s that moment unspoiled by dating in your 20s, and that’s why it won best female video at the 2009 VMAs — somewhat controversially, as you may recall.
Worth YouTubing: The intimate “Delicate” feels like a peek into Tay’s secret life when she’s anonymous, off the clock, and free to dance in the rain. — MIA NAZARENO
28. DR. DRE / N.W.A
Why They’re Video Icons: Dre’s visuals have helped define multiple generations of hip-hop videos, from the confrontational energy of N.W.A in the late ’80s to the G-Funk cookout chill of The Chronic in the mid-’90s to the widescreen turn-of-the-century menace of 2001.
The MTV Classic: Dre and Snoop’s “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,” a vivid and summery-but-not-sentimental chronicle of a day in the life in the LBC that’s certainly on any short list of the greatest rap music videos of all time.
Worth YouTubing: Gotta love N.W.A’s “Express Yourself,” a video that goes from the cotton fields to the prisons to the streets to the White House (err, the Black House), with Dre & Co. exploring the possibilities of liberation through self-expression like their predecessors probably were never even allowed to dream. — A.U.
Why She’s a Video Icon: Expect the unexpected! Black & white, color, human, cyborg, special effects, dancing, all the earthly elements. It all fits into the Björkian universe, with each of her many music videos displaying a unique sense of storytelling, literal or (more likely) otherwise.
The MTV Classic: Capping off a decade of incredible visuals, 1999’s “All is Full of Love” is an arresting sequence of two newly created robots locking eyes and getting it on. Cinematic but simple, the Homogenic video is oddly moving and empathetic as both androids have a sense of fluidity that blurs the line between human and artificial.
Worth YouTubing: “Triumph of a Heart,” in which Bjork breaks from her buttoned-up husband for a drunken night out with girlfriends and strangers, only to be rescued and subsequently fall back in love with her husband, awakening his sense of play and whimsy along the way. But her husband is a cat. — E.F.
Whey He’s a Video Icon: While Ludacris has spent the better part of the past decade focusing on film appearances and hosting gigs, he first showcased that on-camera charisma in the music videos for his smash hits — he’s funny, tough, inventive and endlessly charming.
The MTV Classic: “Stand Up” is the purest distillation of Ludacris’ goofball appeal, with tons of sight gags — an actual little person hanging from his necklace! A gigantic sneaker that keeps the beat! — that culminates with the Atlanta star turning into a dancing, rapping baby.
Worth YouTubing: The clip for “Number One Spot” is a time machine back to an era when an entire rap single and music video could be an Austin Powers riff; rest in peace, Verne Troyer, who shows up with an afro wig. — J. Lipshutz
Why They’re Video Icons: After reviving their career in the late ’80s, Aerosmith became MTV fixtures with their cheeky, funny and extremely horny videos — and if you grew up in the ’90s, you either wanted to be or to be with Alicia Silverstone, the video vixen that starred in a run of classic clips during the Boston rockers’ Mk. II renaissance.
The MTV Classic: “Crazy,” in which the aforementioned Silverstone (along with co-star Liv Tyler, frontman Steven Tyler’s daughter) escape private school in a Mustang drop top, and get into a lot of good trouble at various strip clubs and convenience stores.
Worth YouTubing: “Amazing,” a then-stunning exploration of early cyberspace starring a young Jason London (of Dazed and Confused fame, who also had a cameo in “Crazy”) along with the return of Silverstone. — K.B.
24. RESIDENTE / CALLE 13
Why They’re Video Icons: Residente and Visitante, best known as the Grammy-winning duo Calle 13, are storytellers at heart and their music videos have become an important outlet for stories that no one dares to tell.
The MTV Classic: The duo’s cheeky and provocative lyrics from their reggaetón hit “Atrevete Te Te” translated to a fun, quirky music video that transports you to the streets of Puerto Rico, where Residente takes on the role of a laid-back newspaper delivery boy who meets near-robotic girls on his daily bike ride.
Worth YouTubing: Perhaps one of the best songs and music videos of 2020, Residente’s intimate seven-minute video “René” is set in a baseball field where the Puerto Rican rapper recounts his most personal struggle — and, toward the end, meets face-to-face with his son, whose sweet smile represents a beacon of hope. — G.F.
Why They’re Video Icons: The ATLiens casually blended their seemingly incongruous styles together within the music, while their visuals took those differences to an unparalleled creative peak where “pimp it down” and “space-futuristic” meet.
The MTV Classic: Sticking to the dual solo-album concept of 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Andre 3000 performs “Hey Ya!” as every member of The Love Below octet, to a rabid Ed Sullivan Show-spoofing audience — hosted by Ryan Phillippe — that would soon reflect the same raving crowds that watched the visual nearly sweep at the 2004 VMAs, including video of the year.
Worth YouTubing: The lesser-known Speakerboxxx single “GhettoMusick,” which features Big Boi as a FedUP (see: FedEx) courier on a route full of non-stop visual gags and cameos — including Andre and Lil Jon, a lunch with Patti LaBelle, and a critical plunger delivery to a fresh-faced Killer Mike. — B. Kress
Why He’s a Video Icon: At his peak during the late ‘90s and at the turn of the century, Eminem packed a special kind of attention-grabbing commercial prowess into his music releases and video accompaniments that few artists have been able to replicate.
The MTV Classic: “Without Me,” the Grammy- and VMA-winning comic book-themed clip that portrayed Em as the anything-goes kind of superhero he’d become to teens worldwide over the prior few years in tandem with other videos like “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady.”
Worth YouTubing: “Mosh,” a political protest single with a visual that ridiculed George W. Bush — 13 years before Marshall would go viral with a BET Hip-Hop Awards cypher lambasting Donald Trump — and encouraged Americans to vote for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. — J.G.
21. GUNS N’ ROSES
Why They’re Video Icons: Size. Certainly no rock videos were as grimy as theirs when they broke out in the late ’80s, but then none were even close to as grandiose — or left such indelible images — as the band’s grandly cinematic clips for their biggest ’90s hits.
The MTV Classic: “November Rain,” the saga of love and loss that found Stephanie Seymour in a casket and Slash ripping one of the most enduring guitar solos in music history in front of a remote desert chapel.
Worth YouTubing: “Estranged,” the final chapter in GnR’s Del James-inspired Use Your Illusion video trilogy, which runs for nearly 10 minutes, cost $4 million to make and is commonly described as “bats–t” — hard to know how else to describe imagery that includes a pod of digitally rendered dolphins swimming down the Sunset Strip. — K.B.
20. PETER GABRIEL
Why He’s a Video Icon: The former Genesis frontman set new visual boundaries as a solo artist by making some of the wackiest, most innovative videos that came to define 1980s MTV, and still look impressive decades later.
The MTV Classic: “Sledgehammer,” the surrealist video whose painstakingly shot stop-motion scenes had painted clouds creeping across Gabriel’s face and fish jumping around his head — and even found time for a dance sequence between two raw chickens — rightly swept the 1987 VMAs.
Worth YouTubing: “Kiss That Frog,” a psychedelic, CGI journey where Gabriel spends most of the trippy clip singing as as the titular amphibian. — C.W.
19. BEASTIE BOYS
Why They’re Video Icons: The rap-rock trio came of age under MTV’s watchful eye, growing from frat-rap provocateurs to enlightened pranksters and lo-fi retro fetishists without losing their singular spark or having to leave heavy rotation.
The MTV Classic: “Sabotage,” of course, the overwhelmingly convincing fake ’70s cop show trailer that probably would’ve gotten its own Netflix series by now if it had come out 20 years later.
Worth YouTubing: “Body Movin,” a 1998 quasi-reinvention of ’60s Italian B-movie Danger: Diabolik where the real comedy is in its winkingly obvious revealing mistakes and continuity errors, an IMDB Goofs page in music video form. — A.U.
Why He’s a Video Icon: Whether mugging for the camera with icy aplomb or executing effortless splits while butterflying about the set, Prince’s beguiling persona – from the confident androgyny to the ever-morphing fashion – oozed through every frame of his videos in regular rotation on MTV in the ’80s and ’90s.
The MTV Classic: Opening with a long tracking shot of a naked Prince in a bathtub, the “When Doves Cry” video melds melodramatic scenes from the visually arresting Purple Rain film with kaleidoscopic performance footage of the Revolution for an indelible slice of ’80s visual splendor.
Worth YouTubing: Villainous Two-Face Prince in “Batdance” is a moment for the ages, but the Purple One’s no-nonsense cool as he marches through Grand Central before sliding into the cage-laden, hyper sensual “Cream” mise en scène makes that clip rise to the top. — J. Lynch
Why They’re Video Icons: TLC’s videos coupled direct messaging with sleek visuals and just enough choreography to keep it interesting, and paved the way for girl groups who had a little more to both show and tell.
The MTV Classic: The cinematic storytelling of “Waterfalls” told powerful and timely stories of young lives lost to drug violence and unsafe sex — while the CGI effects of the three singers as giant water droplets was both unexpected and ahead of its time. The industry took notice; “Waterfalls” won four VMAs in 1995, including video of the year.
Worth YouTubing: TLC doubled down on thoughtful narrative videos with their “Unpretty” clip, which spotlighted the harsh reality of body image issues in young women. — B. Kaminsky
Why They’re Video Icons: Radiohead set the standard for pre-millennial art-rock videos, with every clip from ’90s classics The Bends and OK Computer worthy of its own showcase at Sundance.
Worth YouTubing: “Lotus Flower,” from Radiohead’s third decade of stellar video making, which simply features lead singer Thom Yorke cutting a rug in shadowy black and white — and is every bit as captivating as their more thematically ambitious early clips. — A.U.
15. “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC
Why He’s a Video Icon: The world’s best musical comedian didn’t make a name for himself with his songs alone — his accompanying video parodies are a vital part of the recipe, and of MTV culture in general, and have helped earned him five Grammys over the years.
The MTV Classic: “Eat It,” a frame-for-frame parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” (with a “Thriller” kicker to boot) turned Al into an international star almost overnight.
Worth YouTubing: Picking the best Weird Al deep cut is like trying to pick a favorite child, but check out the animated stop-motion video for “Weasel Stomping Day,” which was created by the Robot Chicken masterminds. — G.G.
14. BUSTA RHYMES
Why He’s a Video Icon: In the second half of the 1990s, no other (male) hip-hop artist was as breathlessly unhinged on the small screen as Busta Rhymes, the former Leaders of the New School member who went solo and teamed up with director Hype Williams to draw out his dark humor and cartoon energy.
The MTV Classic: Williams’ clip for “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” was rightly hailed as a groundbreaking achievement upon release, a riff on the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming To America that features Rhymes presiding over an African mini-kingdom in America, donning tribal paint, running away from an elephant and mugging for the fish-eye lens.
Worth YouTubing: “Break Ya Neck” features a ton of hip-hop cameos — including the track’s co-producer, Dr. Dre — as well as a sequence in which the music cuts out so that Rhymes can butt heads with a ram. — J. Lipshutz
13. DAVID BOWIE
Why He’s a Video Icon: Rock’s ultimate shapeshifter understood the power of merging sound and vision since at least the original 1969 video for “Space Oddity,” and his multimedia approach to art — he was an early adopter of the web as well — kept him relevant, even when his music alone was not otherwise up to the task.
The MTV Classic: “Let’s Dance,” the 1983 video that helped Bowie (looking his GQ best) top the Hot 100 for the first time since 1975, and carried a subtly subversive message about racism. The video depicted white Australians’ cruel treatment of the continent’s Aboriginals — in the same year that Michael Jackson became the first Black artist to receive heavy rotation on MTV.
Worth YouTubing: Bowie’s last two videos, “Blackstar,” and “Lazarus,” are his best: a dying artist’s insistence on constructing the last chapter of his legacy. Via two mesmerizing (and connected) performances, he drops a lot of tantalizing clues to his past personas, ensuring that we won’t forget him for a long time. — F.D.
12. KENDRICK LAMAR
Why He’s a Video Icon: Lamar’s moving, cinematic videos have never been mere counterparts to his songs, but rather are inextricably linked to his artistic vision — not to mention displaying acting chops that go far beyond typical music video fare.
The MTV Classic: “Alright,” the poignant, black-and-white rumination on the civil rights movement in America which helped turn the song’s chorus into a poignant Black Lives Matter chant, from its explosive dance scenes to its iconic final shot, in which Lamar smiles at the camera after being “shot” by a police officer.
Worth YouTubing: “God Is Gangsta” is an equal parts disturbing and captivating visual, which features an Oscar-worthy acting performance by Kendrick as an alcoholic madman toiling in the back room of a club. — T.C.
Why She’s a Video Icon: From baby-faced teen to perennial pop powerhouse, Rihanna rarely shields her emotions, as she’s always willing to unmask every side to her in her videos — the good, bad and ugly.
The MTV Classic: From tearing up skateparks and supermarkets to raving together in the mud, “WFL” is an exhilarating crash course on how fast love can go from 0-100 — and then sometimes back down to zero again nearly as quickly.
Worth YouTubing: “Work,” a two-for-one special where the Bajan bombshell partners up with Drake for a pair of videos flexing her Caribbean roots. — C.L.
Whey They’re Video Icons: Never has a band that seemed so ambivalent about making videos (and fame in general) managed to make some of the most gripping, creative clips of the video generation’s second era. Singer Kurt Cobain was impossible to look away from, and in just a handful of clips his dark vision came to screaming life.
The MTV Classic: Stocked with actual young people and shot on the cheap in what looked like a high school gym, the barely contained anarchy in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” told you everything you needed to know about the band that was about to turn into global megastars: Their music was relentless, Cobain was a lung-busting matinee punk superstar and, like the kids in the bleachers, we were all about to lose our minds.
Worth YouTubing: Though he protested perhaps too much about not wanting fame, Cobain got it, and the jokey black-and-white Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan homage of “In Bloom” showed that he also was in on the joke — and that the trio were, in fact, here to thoroughly entertain you. — G.K.
Why He’s a Video Icon: A healthy mixture of grit, swagger, and Black excellence emboldened the Brooklyn MC to show mainstream America his truths even when they weren’t ready for it — which he’s been doing for about a quarter-century now.
The MTV Classic: “Big Pimpin’.” Shot during Trinidad’s carnival season alongside Bun B and the late Pimp C, Jay-Z is the ultimate party boy, popping bottles and flexing with models on a yacht so massive even Hype Williams’ widescreen vision can barely fit it.
Worth YouTubing: Watching Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Kanye West reigning together in the post-apocalyptic landscape of “Run This Town” while still in the primes of their careers, it makes you wonder what what could have been if this three-headed behemoth had crafted a full-length project. — C.L.
8. BRITNEY SPEARS
Why She’s a Video Icon: The storylines, the dancing, the outfits. Right from the start, the pop princess established the lengths of her creativity with some of the most memorable videos of the last three decades.
The MTV Classic: “…Baby One More Time” brought some much-needed fun to academic hallways, and made a lovestruck schoolkid suddenly the coolest, most coveted girl in town.
Worth YouTubing: The news segment in the “Overprotected (Darkchild Remix)” clip marked the beginning stages of Britney rebelling against media scrutiny, complete with the midriff-baring tops and alluring choreography that had the public frazzled in the first place. — R.A.
7. DURAN DURAN
Why They’re Video Icons: With their heart-throb looks and panoramic, globe-trotting videos, this quintet was probably the most heavily played artist on MTV in the channel’s first two years. They received the video vanguard award (presented as a lifetime achievement award) in 2003.
The MTV Classic: “Rio,” with the gents wearing sharp-looking suits (!) while standing in a sailboat as it cuts through the waves. Not the most practical attire, but it sure looked cool.
Worth YouTubing: “Planet Earth,” a 1981 video in the then-ultra-cool (now faintly ridiculous) New Romantic style, with frontman Simon LeBon dancing like he’s Belinda Carlisle in a Go-Go’s video. — P.G.
6. LADY GAGA
Why She’s a Video Icon: At this point, the name “Lady Gaga” will forever be synonymous with culture-shifting music videos. From the moment she burst onto the scene in the late 2000s, Gaga made every single video she released an event worth tuning in for, with each part from the styling to the choreography making clear her painstaking mission to unleash her artistic vision on the world.
The MTV Classic: The world practically stopped when Gaga unleashed “Bad Romance.” It’s no wonder why the clip racked up a staggering seven wins at the 2010 VMAs; every visual touchpoint — from her crown-bearing fetish wear to her bedazzled alien catsuit — blended body horror with runway glamour, ultimately defining her as the Mother Monster that her Little Monsters worshipped.
Worth YouTubing: “Judas” is a classic example of Gaga’s love for plot twists — of all the things fans could’ve expected from the pop icon after her shocking music videos became the norm, a reimagining of the story of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene as members of a motorcycle gang still landed as an astonishing addition to her video pantheon. — S.D.
5. MISSY ELLIOTT
Why She’s a Video Icon: Missy Elliott doesn’t rap, sing, or look like anyone else. Each new Misdemeanor video is an explosion of wholly individual fashion, choreography, production design, and special effects that doesn’t just surpass expectations, it transcends them.
The MTV Classic: You could select one of a handful of Missy Elliott videos as the one and not be wrong, but her grand entrance in 1997’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” remains one of the most iconic music video debuts in the history of the form. It’s most memorable for the trash bag suit (and helmet) that Missy dons throughout the clip, but would still be a classic just for the green-jacket-on-the-hill look, plus a flood of celebrity cameos.
Worth YouTubing: Many of Missy’s music videos border on sensory overload, for all their eye-popping and face-bending visuals. “She’s a B—h” kinda lives there too but thanks to its dim black & white scheme, Missy and legendary music video director Hype Williams create an entirely different mood. The mid-video rise from the stormy seas alone makes this one of the most underrated videos of the ’90s. — E.F.
4. JANET JACKSON
Why She’s a Video Icon: Though an admittedly timid live performer when she began her career, Ms. Jackson used her videos to establish herself as anything but, with her bold political concepts and sharp, in-your-face dance moves.
The MTV Classic: The same year she took home the video vanguard award (at just 24 years old, the youngest-ever recipient), the black-and-white, militaristic dance romp of “Rhythm Nation” nabbed her a win for best choreography, while also pushing forward Jackson’s message of breaking down color lines and creating one united force to fight social injustice.
Worth YouTubing: “Go Deep,” which explores the universal fantasy of Jackson crashing your house and throwing a party. — C.W.
3. BEYONCÉ / DESTINY’S CHILD
Why They’re Video Icons: The pop queens of Destiny’s Child were perpetually empowered and slickly stylish with their matchy-matchy outfits, impeccable choreography and no nonsense attitudes — and of course, Beyoncè evolved the form into high art after she went solo.
The MTV Classic: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” became instantly iconic with nothing more than three leotards, three pairs of pumps and a lot of hips and attitude. The clip also inspired one of the most memorable moments in pop culture history when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s 2009 VMA acceptance speech for best female video to announce that the also nominated “Single Ladies” clip was “one of the best videos of all time!” He had a point.
Worth YouTubing: The 2006 video for “Upgrade U” finds Bey playing both herself and her boo Jay Z — and doing a convincing job of both. — K.B.
2. MICHAEL JACKSON
Why He’s a Video Icon: You’d need a 10-part, Last Dance-style documentary to properly illustrate just how critical the other MJ of the ’80s and ’90s was to the music video form. We may never watch his videos the same way again after recent allegations, but simply put, we probably wouldn’t still be talking about music videos in this way at all four decades later without him.
The MTV Classic: You know that gif you see on Twitter a lot of Michael Jackson eating popcorn? If you haven’t seen the 14-minute video it comes from originally, you should maybe check the rest of that out sometime.
Worth YouTubing: The stop-motion-animated funhouse paranoia of “Leave Me Alone,” the first of countless videos made by pop megastars to tell the paparazzi, the media, and their haters in general to just step off already. — A.U.
Why She’s a Video Icon: Ascending to era-defining supremacy shortly after MTV itself, Madonna’s high-concept videos – which channeled old Hollywood while paving a provocative visual path into the future — were an integral part of her ever-changing image and the meticulous control she exercised around it.
The MTV Classic: The satirical “Material Girl” and controversial “Like a Prayer” are equally impactful, but the David Fincher-directed “Vogue” – with its life-affirming alchemy of old-school glamour, ball culture choreography and sumptuous cinematography – stands as her finest visual moment.
Worth YouTubing: “Open Your Heart,” with its playful subversion of the male gaze via an art deco peep show, is an early and effective distillation of her endlessly analyzed, celebrated, vilified and imitated take on sexuality and ownership. — J. Lynch
VIDEO PLAYLIST WITH ALL OF BILLBOARD’S 100 GREATEST VIDEO ARTISTS: