Michael Jackson “Thriller” LP

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (Photo by Ralf Liebhold on Shutterstock)

Did video kill the radio star? One thing is for certain, American television changed forever on Aug. 1, 1981. With the launch of MTV, came an explosion of music video artistry and some of the best music videos of all time.

Videos revolutionized the way we consume music. For instance, they became the driving force behind many fashion trends of the 1980s. The decade saw waves of music fans updating their hairstyles and clothing to mirror their favorite stars. In addition to their style, celebrities have a huge impact on how we live our lives. A recent poll of 2,000 U.S. adults over the age of 30 finds people have overcome a tough time personally (44%), taken on a challenge they didn’t think they could do (44%), and improved their physical health and nutrition (41%) thanks to a celebrity role model.

While you may not want to replicate everything you see in music videos, like the drug use depicted in many of them, music videos can be an interesting peak into a celebrity’s artistic design. Today, the way we see music videos is evolving. Now artists rely on social media and the internet to get eyeballs on their music videos. Moreover, with all the choices of music videos out there, which are the most memorable? 

StudyFinds compiled a list of the five best music videos of all-time from ten websites, according to music experts and fans. As always, we’d like to see your own recommendations in the comments below!

The List: Best Music Videos, According to Experts and Fans

1. “Thriller” Michael Jackson (1983)

This iconic music video featuring the King of Pop, cost a half a million dollars to make. A 14-minute version of the video by director John Landis made its MTV debut on Dec. 2, 1983.

“Around the world, it became an immediate sensation. Simply featuring Michael Jackson dancing a well-choreographed routine with zombies, in addition to good cinematography, is all they needed to be one of the most viewed music videos ever made,” according to Musician Wave.

You don’t even have to sing the song for people to recognize it; just do the left-and-right zombie dance with your arms,” adds Music Grotto

According to Time Out, “it’s currently the only music video preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry. Only a pop star with MJ’s vision could have pulled it off.”


2. “Sledgehammer” Peter Gabriel (1986)

This memorable music video featuring Peter Gabriel’s head won nine MTV Music Video Awards in 1987. Parade points out, the “stop-motion graphics (including trains, faces made of fruit and dancing headless chickens) are the stuff dreams, and sometimes nightmares, are made of.”

“Directed by Stephen R. Johnson and featuring the stop-motion and Claymation talents of Aardman Animations’ Nick Park (who went on to create the famous Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep shows), this playful vid required Gabriel to lie under a sheet of glass for 16 hours,” notes Time Out.

Musician Wave writes, “it has an amazing performance, direction, special effects, editing, and art direction.”

3. “Take On Me” A-Ha (1985)

With over one billion views on YouTube, this music video is quite literally a work of art.

What Hi-Fi? points out, approximately 3,000 pencil-traced and free-sketched frames were needed for the video, which took over 16 weeks to complete.” Insider adds the video, “tells a romantic story through a mix of live-action and pencil-sketch animation.” 


“One of the most gripping narrative videos of all time, Take on Me revolves around a teenage girl who’s literally drawn into a newspaper comic strip and falls head over heels for its protagonist. When a disgruntled diner waitress tosses the seemingly discarded paper in a bin, the pages get pressed together, barriers are broken, and characters from other stories come crashing into the couple’s idyllic black-and-white world,” notes Slant Magazine.

“It was something new and innovative, with amazing animation techniques never used before in music videos,” says Musician Wave.


4. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Nirvana (1991)

This music video captures the heralded angst of the grunge era.

“The tapping Converse All-Star hightop. The punk cheerleaders with anarchy symbols on their uniforms. Kurt Cobain’s striped tee, worn over a long-sleeve shirt. Those opening chords, the unruly teens, that build-up from quiet to deafening and unhinged,” according to Rolling Stone.

“Much like the song itself, the video became instantly iconic, with the band and extras’ fashion all becoming the new go-to in the newly rising grunge movement. Even the guitar Cobain played in the video hangs up at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Washington. No one expected Smells Like Teen Spirit to become a generation-defining hit, but in seeing the music video, it’s easy to see what set Nirvana apart from every other band that came before them,” adds Yardbarker.


“Kurt Cobain’s irrepressible artistry shines through too—unhappy with Bayer’s initial cut, he re-edited this music video to include the unforgettable final close-up of his shaky Joker-smile, and it was on his orders that filming ended with a full-on mosh pit,” adds Time Out.


5. “Like A Prayer” Madonna (1989)

Music videos didn’t come without controversy. Directed by Mary Lambert, Madonna’s video for “Like A Prayer” features religious imagery, including the pop icon dancing in front of burning crosses. 

“The Like A Prayer video largely takes place in a church, but there is a subplot where Madonna witnesses a murder and sees a black man arrested for the crime he did not commit. After falling asleep and dreaming that a saint statue turned into the man, she wakes up, goes to the prison, and tells them that the man is innocent,” according to Insider.

“The day after the music video was released, The Vatican issued a statement condemning it while religious groups boycotted Pepsi for using the song in one of their commercials,” points out The Daily Mail.


“The Vatican condemned it; foreign countries refused to play it on television; Pepsi dropped a $5 million contract with Madonna because of it. The video’s sins were mostly because of its intersection of race, religion, and sex,” writes Music Grotto.

Despite all of its controversy, “Like A Prayer” won the Viewer’s Choice Award at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.


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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links.

About Melissa Kraus

Melissa is a freelance writer, based out of New Jersey. She has over two-decades of writing, editing, and producing experience for Radio, TV, and Digital Media.

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