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Iconic Music Videos Through (Recent) History

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a great music video can propel an artist, or a song, through the charts and into the imaginations of audiences. With that in mind, we’re asking you to get your Nuraphone ready for an immersive audio-visual experience. We enlisted the help of our creative and film teams to bring you this list of some of the most iconic and influential music videos in recent history.

When talking about music videos, it's impossible to omit the massive influence of MTV both on the genre and the generation of audiences and musicians who grew up watching it. 

Through the 80s, the idea of coupling video and music took a new turn as the dramatic nature of the video became as important as the music itself. The video influenced how a song performed in the charts, and to a lot of people, the MTV video charts were the only ones that mattered.

That leads us, of course, to one of THE MOST iconic music videos of all time, whose influence in pop culture is prevalent even in today’s meme culture: Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Directed by John Landis, the 13-minute film changed the music video forever, becoming less a promo clip than a cultural phenomenon. Thriller influenced a generation of directors including Spike Jonze, turned music promos into an industry, and established MTV as a cultural force. And we’re still talking about it over 30 years later! 

The format of the music video attracted a lot of film directors who took the short format as an opportunity to experiment with techniques and technology, which they then took to their feature-length productions. In the '90s MTV began crediting directors and production houses for music videos, which lured established and emerging directors to make videos for recording artists. This provided a platform for directors like Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham to create innovative and experimental visual styles, resulting in music videos such as...

The Pharcyde’s Drop, directed by Spike Jonze and released in 1995. The second single from their second album, Labcabincalifornia, ‘Drop’ contains samples and cameos from The Beastie Boys. The video features footage of the group performing the song backwards replayed backwards AND the group also worked with linguistic experts to recite the entire song backwards.

Both directed by Chris Cunningham, Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy and Bjork's all is full of love make our list of most iconic music videos of all time. And Daft Punk’s Around The World directed by Michael Gondry can’t be missed either. Together Cunningham, Gondry, Jonze and Jonathan Glazer shaped and influenced music videos for years to come.

The 80s and 90s also saw music videos blow feature film sized budgets. 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre can’t be missed here for the epic that is California Love or Missy Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On. 

As well as showcasing the advances in technologies, directors and producers were pushed to exploring the concept of a music video. Something to lure the viewers' imagination yet do justice to the song.

Who could forget Jamiroquai’s classic Virtual Insanity (which has its own making of here) or Michael Jackson’s Black Or White?

Revolutionary for it’s time Sinead O'Connor’s Nothing Compares took on a completely different approach, which remains iconic to this day. We have to add an honourable mention here for Radiohead’s No Surprises.

The 2000s brought us some genius music videos. As the world moved into the digital era of streaming and downloading (Limewire, anyone?) videos had to get more and more creative. Can you imagine OK Go’s Here It Goes Again in today’s TikTok world… viral. Or Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice (don’t try that one at home!)

People also leaned into the cinematic possibilities of how music could look. In this case, directors looked to the big feature-length productions for inspiration. Flight Facilities have a swag of videos under their belt that could fit here such as Down to Earth feat. Sam Rockwell. FKA Twigs' Cellophane and Kanye West’s epic 30-minute short film for Runaway illustrate the cinematic nature of music videos through this era.

The music video is a genre unto itself, used by artists and directors alike to express emotion but also revolution. Some of our favourite music videos have managed to transcend the genre itself into becoming established as powerful and visceral pieces of pop culture unto themselves. Taking on somewhat of a bigger role than the artist or music itself. Think about Childish Gambino’s This is America or Kendrick Lamar’s Alright. 

Honourable mentions go to:

Kylie Minogue — Come Into My World
Silverchair’s — Freak
Sia — Buttons 
Grimes — Oblivion
M.I.A. — Bad Girls
UNKLE — Rabbit In Your Headlights 
The Chemical Brothers — Star Guitar 
The Smashing Pumpkins — Tonight, Tonight 
Jamie XX — Gosh 
Massive Attack, Young Fathers — Voodoo in My Blood
Beastie Boys — Sabotage 
Prince — Purple Rain
Nirvana — Smells Like Teen Spirit 
Stormzy — Vossi Bop 

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