Music videos (including songs for kids) currently top the list of the most-watched category on YouTube. Canadian artist The Weeknd, for instance, recently released a music video for his song “Is There Someone Else” that racked up over 11 million views on YouTube in a matter of weeks.
Although the video sharing website is now the dominant music streaming platform – and a crucial marketing channel for musicians – music videos have been used as promotional tools since long before the ubiquity of the internet.
The genre far predates the invention of video, in fact. Musical short films have been around since the 1890s, and producers for rock bands including the Moody Blues and The Beatles were making promotional film clips as early as the mid 1960s. But it was the success of Queen’s iconic 1975 promotional video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” that is often credited with establishing the form as a pivotal tool for marketing new music and increasing sales. (This quintessential anthem by Queen also appears on our list of every song in history that is certified diamond.)
To assemble a list of the most iconic music videos, 24/7 Tempo viewed videos from sources such as YouTube, then used editorial discretion to choose those that had the most impact on the genre; were most notable for their social commentary, innovation, or interaction of different musical styles; have racked up the highest number of views online.
After “Bohemian Rhapsody,” music videos gained steam as a major promotional medium, but it wasn’t until the advent of MTV in 1981 that they became a driving cultural force. Aside from providing a venue for musicians to express their style and artistry, music videos quickly became a way to convey social and political commentary to a wide audience. (Here are 50 protest songs that made the Billboard Hot 100.)
Click here to read about 25 iconic music videos
Some videos, including Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” sparked controverslike a y and inspired boycotts. Others, like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” have been parodied countless times and still influence choreography decades later.
Although MTV’s heyday as a showcase for videos is over, the music video remains a pervasive medium in the digital age. Over 300 music videos, including K-pop star Psy’s “Gangnam Style” have accrued more than 1 billion views on YouTube.
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