THE TOP TEN MOST STYLISH MUSIC VIDEOS OF ALL TIME
by Jeremy Danté
in honor of the MTV video music awards, i’ve brewed this idea for the 10 most stylish videos of all time. whether during the late 80’s or the golden era of hip-hop, style has evolved greatly even though we no longer live in the era of million dollar videos. completely biased and extremely personal in selection, the following videos were selected not only for their extended levels of style, but also for their cultural impact on visual arts, cinematography and the art known as the music video. a combined power force of musical prowess and visual domination; music videos and the aspect of fantasy that they allowed my generation to experience is the most significant influence of my life, as an artist. in writing, visual preferences and in the ways i have been able to respond to visual works of fashion- art, for me, started with the music video. i’ve witnessed evolution since the day’s of the first music videos i seen and this list is comprised of the best visuals seen in the urban market of R&B and rap. i assure you, these videos are far more developed than the paint splattered backdrops of whitney houston. these videos cataloged my past and influenced my leve of taste.
10. “SLAVE 4 U” BY BRITNEY SPEARS, DIRECTED BY FRANCIS LAWRENCE to this very day, despite the fact that the song and video will be 14 years old this september, when the DJ spin’s ‘slave 4 u’ at a gay club, the dance floor is flooded with the music video choreography. while this countdown was inspired by the video music awards, the song ‘slave 4 u’ was debuted at the 2001 video music awards show, where britney strolled the stage and even danced with a snake on her shoulders. nominated for best female video, best dance video and best choreography; the video oddly lost in all categories and spawned murmurs among britney fans. historically, though britney spears is a staple for the MTV generation and it’s awards show, she has been held in a category where she has gone unrecognized for her efforts in the music video era, only until recent years. all i know is, when ‘slave 4 u’ debuted, it marked a new era for britney and she was fully embraced by the urban market. thanks to the production of the neptunes and this sweaty, metropolis of a music video, britney grew up. one of the best choreographed videos in the history of urban dance music.
9. “HOW MANY LICKS” BY LIL KIM FT. SISQO, DIRECTED BY FRANCIS LAWRENCE before that bitch nicki minaj hit the scene spazzing with gimmicks, she was sitting in her living room taking notes while watching music videos like this. in the video, kim plays up her style versatility by showcasing herself as a life size doll in three different variations. ‘candy kim’ opens the video strutting the catwalk with pink leggings and a denim, multicolor corset- life! next is ‘pin-up kim’, who asks for male fans to get their vaseline ready, whilst kim appears in her signature pasties- which she debuted at the VMA’s the year that diana ross jiggled her tittie. ‘night rider kim’ appears in a painted on latex body suit with blue eyes. this approach to style was unheard of by any female rapper in the game. kim shut down all competitition with this video and transcended into a greater space of urban rap iconicism. her gyrating in chanel earrings further paved the way for other female rappers like eve, nicki minaj and any other bitch to follow in the future. high fashion merged with rap music in the world of music videos? you owe a huge thank you to the efforts of ms. kimberly jones.
8. “ALL IN MY GRILL” BY MISSY ELLIOTT, DIRECTED BY HYPE WILLIAMS missy elliott should’ve been awarded the video vanguard award by MTV years ago. she burst onto the scene as a singer-songwriter, then released her own album and completely reinvigorated the game of rap & R&B as a quadruple threat- singer, songwriter, rapper and visual artist. performance is exactly what each of her music videos has created as a feast for the eyes. i had struggled with the idea of giving, “the rain (supa dupa fly)” a slot on my countdown, considering the visual revolution that followed that video- i mean, the fish eye lens and inflattable patent leather body suit? it doesn’t get more iconic in the world of missy elliott than that. hype directed, “all in my grill” was released as a single from her second studio LP, ‘da real world’, one of my favorites by her. shot in a city setting, this video is probably one of her more tame visuals, but in the sense of style as it realtes to my taste level, this is without a doubt the dopest traffic jam one has ever seen. missy appears with a mean side bang, while nicole wray appears in and out of scenes with beautiful dark cosmetics and missy even dances with a shirtless model, revealing a perfect set of manicured nails. style in the 90’s was completely influenced by missy elliott, her entire catalog could’ve easily filled every spot on this list, hell- i could’ve made this a list of missy elliott’s 10 most stylish videos. music videos haven’t been the same since her long time hiatus, but until that return, we can sit and relive moments with her archive.
7. “WE NEED A RESOLUTION” BY AALIYAH, DIRECTED BY PAUL HUNTER the catalog of videos that aaliyah left behind were a true insight to her sense of style, presence as an artist and vision as an untouched innovator of music that is still considered timeless, yet futuristic all in the same lane. directed by paul hunter, the styling for this video seen aaliyah pushing the limits of futurism even further, while intending to act as an enhanced version of her second album’s lead single ‘one in a million’. directed by the same director, ‘we need a resolution’ played up all of aaliyah’s loved elements of music including fly style and a dance break. with the release of this music video, as well as album, there was a true sense of maturity that was birthed. aaliyah appeared stunning as ever, coming into her own as a woman but never once losing her cool and self awareness as a taste making, forward thinker as well as leader in the urban market for females. while the musical game hasn’t been the same since her passing the same year as this video was released in 2001, her videos are a true testament to what could have been. in a strange way, they still are as modern, and progressively uncomparable to many other females who’ve risen to fame in her absence. let’s be absolutely certain- there would be no beyoncé, ashanti, tweet, ciara, or countless females in the game, if aaliyah were alive today- she paved the way for modern R&B, falsetto singing females with street sensibility and a knack for high fashion. she will never be replaced and though only one slot on this countdown is revealed today, i assure you, there is only one true leader for females in modern R&B, and that is and will always be aaliyah. every stuttering beat, light weight vocal and ill dance break in a music video post-2000 and has been influenced by aaliyah in some way or another. the highest most exalted one, without a doubt.
6. “BAD ROMANCE” BY LADY GAGA, DIRECTED BY FRANCIS LAWRENCE the moment that gaga raised the bar for herself and the competition in music. nominated for 10 video music awards, ‘bad romance’ was awarded 7 of the 10 nominations they recieved. the music video took home best female video, best pop video, best dance video, best choreography, best direction, best editing and took home the biggest award of the night, video of the year in 2010. gaga is probably the last rockstar alive in the modern age of music, having redefined the meaning of ‘recording artist’. her videos continue to thrill as her album sales are among the most untouchable in music. i won’t take time to divulge as much about this video because it’s influence is still, practically, fresh off’a billboard- but gaga raised the bar for herself during the release of this video. the role of ‘monsters’ became much more visible in the video as her love for sexually influenced outerwear also made it’s own cameo. razor blade sunglasses in the first few seconds of a music video- you knew something had to be up. the song made it’s debut on the runway of alexander mcqueen’s last, complete runway show, titled ‘plato’s atlantis’. appropriately, gaga is seen in the video wearing pieces from the collection including the videos finale moment, where she is shot wearing an all-metallic number and those chic as fuck armadillo heels that were never sold in stores. arguably one of her best, the pure white back drop and fantastical elements that make up this video were all important for the performance art image of lady gaga.
5. “DOO WOP (THAT THING)” BY LAURYN HILL, DIRECTED BY BIG TV shot in washington heights, in new york city, the split screen of the 60’s and modern day concept was completely innovative, as well as genius. directed by big TV, the music video acted as a full circle moment for us in the urban community and further marked lauryn hill’s place as a true artist whom could have easily fit into any genre of music, during any era due to her timeless talent. though one of few music videos which seemed to scratch the surface of lauryn’s true creative potential, the miseducation era for lauryn and black entertainers was yet another moment on this countdown that raised the bar and gestured to other artists on the scene to step their game up. a flawlessly styled music video, with lauryn appearing even more flawless in the roles of classic doo-wop chick and eternally cool street performer, the block party to the corner store- this video stands alone as a true mark of visual genius. an outstanding moment of contrast from past to present.
4. “RUNAWAY” BY KANYE WEST, DIRECTED BY KANYE WEST released as a short film, kanye west’s “my beautiful dark twisted fantasy” raised the bar for visual artistry in the realm of rap as an album, and this video was evidence of that. it showcased a range of visuals that were inspiring, while the long form version of the video that stretches for more than 30 minutes, showcases 10 tracks from the album. starring west, himself and past victoria’s secret model, selita ebanks; characters were revealed here. a living ‘bird’, many had suspected that the character ebanks played was a direct jab at west’s ex-girlfriend, now baby mother of rapper wiz khalifa, amber rose. the video is compelling visually and borrows inspiration from stanley kubrick, as ballerinas, elongated dining tables and sports cars appear in the rap short film. one of many videos that have raised the bar for west, ‘runaway’ stands alone as one of his greatest bodies of work as a director.
3. “IF” BY JANET JACKSON, DIRECTED BY DOMINIC SENA one of the earliest memories i remember of a wind machine being used. but when the sheer red panels were flying out of the doors to present janet. to the world, damn was that era of her career a definitive moment. the rolling stone cover where she appeared with her breast covered, mysteriously, by her then husband renee angelil. the album in which ‘if’ came from soundtracked that era. choreographed by the iconic tina landon, the music video for ‘if’ was awarded best female video at the 1994 MTV video music awards, a well deserved nod of recognition for sure. as an ode to the 90’s dance music era, an alternate all-dance version of the music video was released and can be found on the internet. the video has been used to tribute the iconic musical and performance work of janet jackson. set in a futuristic asian night club, voyeurism is referenced ever so slightly as janet slipped seductively into her role as a powerhouse sex icon, a role that she continues to uphold many, many years following this mesmerizing music video. an absolute, all-time favorite music video of mine. janet is a complete icon and her abilities were aptly demonstrated in this video. stylistically, the ivory choker and that curly hair was absolutely everything. during this era, musical image was reaching critical mass and ms. jackson was at the forefront of that era, being the highest paid female in pop music at the time.
2. “VOGUE” BY MADONNA, DIRECTED BY DAVID FINCHER unmasked by ostrich feathers which revealed executive realness dipped in greyscaled perfection, madonna’s vogue rides right up against the number one spot of my list of most stylish videos of all time. if only for it’s cultural significance to the world of gay culture, madonna stepped up her game with true sophistication with the music video for vogue. introduced to, by her dancers, madonna showcased a glimpse of the underground world of the harlem “house ball” community of new york city. the world of vogueing was showcased in the songs use of deep house, which attacked the musical scene in the 90’s during an unstoppable era of dance music. in my fascination with glamour the video introduced high fashion elements to a mainstream audience, most noteably madonna’s iconic ‘cone bra’, designed by mastermind designer, jean paul gaultier. the spoken word moments of the song which interject at the breakdown describe the sense of identification, as it relates to ball culture perfectly, as madonna is heard on the track saying, ‘beauty’s where you find it.’ madonna became solidified in my mind as a master transformer and came alive, as a musical mainstay for me through the vivid direction of david fincher. shot in burbank, california, the video was intended to recreate the golden age of hollywood, along with madonna’s mention of such icons like marilyn monroe, greta garbo, marlene dietrich and jean harlow. the music video was a juggernaut of succcess at the MTV video music awards, being nominated for 9 moonmen the year of it’s release. the video took home best direction, best editing and best cinematography. a dope performance of the song was done at the 1990 VMA’s which showcased a marie antoinette theme. love, love, love this music video as a single entity by the iconic madonna. of the age of music videos, there is definitely a trinity of unarguable talents, madonna being one and the other two sitting pretty right below at the number one spot.
1. “SCREAM” BY MICHAEL & JANET JACKSON, DIRECTED BY MARK ROMANEK holding tight to the top spot of my countdown, a joining of two such powerful musical entities still, to this day, has yet to be topped. again, showcasing my love of greyscaled visuals, i remember sitting watching the premiere of this music video on MTV, with my cousin april in her living room, on her panoramic big screen TV. at a cost of a reported $7 million, the music video and duet between the two musical siblings is among the most expensive in music video history. a team of four choreographers was brought in to assist with dance moves for the video, considering the reputation both michael and janet hold in the genre of dance. travis payne, lavelle smith jr., tina landon and sean cheesman worked as a team to create a set of moves where the two famous siblings would engage both singularly and as a joint act. directed by mark romanek, the video spawned a fleet of imitators, creating a new aesthetic for music videos, all shot on silver or white backdrops. this video completely reinvented music video visuals, and will always remain as my #1 music video of all time. janet jackson revealed a smokey eye for the first time ever, which threw the beauty industry for a loop- the video was raw, well styled and thoughtfully executed. described as ‘epic minimalism’ this is an absolutely deserving #1 being that it still holds true to it’s intent to create a sense of timeless futurism. a true insight to what inspires my own level of taste in every sense of the word, style.
my generation grew up watching music videos, and this set of influences have lead us to embark on a visual journey as the true tastemakers. we’ve witnessed a priceless level of evolution, as music has found a way to resonate with us in emotional ways that challenge the ways that we view ourselves and the world through impacting visuals. with the emergence of the internet and groundbreaking introduction of social media, and many other developments on the technological front; the videos that were selected, i feel, have had the greatest cultural impact on the most significant aspects of music and/or film, as well as image and style as translated by the international recording industry. far beyond the confines of american culture, all artists on this list are american, and for intended purposes. the ground work that MTV has laid for the industry of music, as an american entity, cannot go without recognition. as american’s we developed a pattern of success that is measured through our relentless efforts to raise the bar. as we sit and watch another awards ceremony, i urge you to take mental note of the changes that have allowed us to evolve to our present space in music, thus creating a pathway for our evolved selves as a people and urban culture. if it’s one thing i know, it’s both style and music. let this set the tone for a new set of content to follow.