Special Report

25 of the Most Iconic Music Videos Ever Made

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Opposites Attract
> Released in: 1989
> Artist: Paula Abdul

Inspired by the Gene Kelly film “Anchors Away,” in which Kelly dances with an animated mouse, this video follows Abdul as she dances in an alley with an animated partner, dubbed MC Skat Kat – brought to life by members of Disney’s animation team. The video was directed by Candace Reckinger and Michael Patterson, the duo behind the animation for a-ha’s “Take on Me.”

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Like a Prayer
> Released in: 1989
> Artist: Madonna

After signing a $5 million endorsement deal with Pepsi, who used “Like a Prayer” in a TV commercial, Madonna released this controversial video by director Mary Lambert, which depicted the wrongful incarceration of a Black man, as well as the singer dancing in front of burning crosses and being kissed by a Black saint inside a church. Religious groups condemned the video and called for a boycott of Pepsi, which promptly canceled Madonna’s contract.

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Rhythm Nation
> Released in: 1989
> Artist: Janet Jackson

Using powerful imagery including dancers wearing black unisex military-style outfits in an industrial warehouse setting, “Rhythm Nation,” directed by Dominic Sena, conveyed a socio-cultural message of unity while championing the beauty of Black aesthetics. The iconic choreography has since become a mainstay in talent shows and dance classes, and has been cited as an influence by numerous modern performers.

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> Released in: 1990
> Artist: Madonna

Inspired by the House of Xtravaganza, an underground queer Black- and Latino-led drag queen ballroom scene from 1980s Harlem, Madonna’s “Vogue” exposed to the mainstream a style of performance that had largely been subcultural until that point. The black-and-white video was directed by David Fincher, later known for such high-profile films as “Fight Club” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and won three awards out of nine nominations at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards.

Source: Photo by Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Smells Like Teen Spirit
> Released in: 1991
> Artist: Nirvana

Portraying a high school pep rally that goes from apathetic to an all-out mosh pit and riot, this video helmed by first-time director Samuel Bayer used real Nirvana fans as the student extras, and cast local strippers as the cheerleaders. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” helped catapult grunge, and Nirvana, into the mainstream.

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