Music videos were relatively unknown until August 1, 1981, when MTV launched. As the decade progressed, videos started evolving from outtakes and footage of artists performing songs to several minutes of artistic expression. Over the years, song videos have provided viewers with a glimpse into the meaning of the song. Artists like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus are a few of the envelope-pushers. Sometimes, the footage skews the entire song, and it never has quite the same purpose. Other times, a song leaves an impression too difficult to separate from the song. Over the years, many artists have also pushed the envelope, releasing songs remembered solely for shock value. Today, many people are more sensitive about what they watch, including music videos. These are 10 popular music videos that could never be made today.
10. Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus has had a lot of missteps in her career. Nonetheless, the video for this song was one of the biggest. Worse, without the video, “Wrecking Ball” might be remembered differently. After all, the lyrics and instrumentation are amazing. YEt, instead of placing the musical integrity, most people think about the video. Throughout it, Cyrus is swinging across a construction site on a wrecking ball almost naked. Other scenes include her performing fellatio on a sledgehammer. The video was bad enough, but the overall message that it’s ok for young women to be sexually explicit made everything about the song worse.
9. Famous – Kanye West
According to Us Magazine, this video featured ten nude celebrity wax figures lying around a naked Kayne West and Kim Kardashian. Some other celebrities included George W. Bush, Donald Trump, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, and Kaitlyn Jenner. Some people like Chris Brown tried to make light of the video by cracking jokes. Like George W. Bush, others received frantic calls to their office with administration assuring people he had nothing to do with the video. At one point, Kardashian tried to say Taylor Swift gave West permission to use her in the video.
8. Jeremy – Pearl Jam
In 1993, Mark Pellington was a popular choice to direct music videos, even winning for MTV Video Music Awards, including one for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.” The video featured a story about a disturbed teen who took his own life. Tragically, many young people didn’t take the song’s lesson to heart since there is a rise in teenage suicide.
7. Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke
Fame and infamy are closely linked, certainly the case with Robin Thicke. Before this video, no one knew much about him. However, after the “Blurred Lines” video, he was everywhere. In 2013, critics felt Thicke’s video was degrading to women and thinly veiled rape overtones. T.I and Pharrell Williams joined Thicke on the video surrounded by nearly nude models. Thicke tried to counterbalance the controversy saying the song was a celebration of his relationship with Paula Patton.
6. Like A Prayer – Madonna
Perhaps, without the video, this song may have fallen under the controversial radar. However, Madonna, never shy away from controversy, put together a group of images designed to set people off. The most provocative things you’ll see in the video are white supremacists, a black man arrested for killing a white child, and a burning cross. After the video release, Pepsi dropped the song from ads. Additionally, the Vatican chastised “Like A Prayer,” likening the video to blasphemy.
5. Heart-Shaped Box – Nirvana
Kurt Cobain worked on this video alongside, Anton Corbijn which played off a dream Cobain had. The song threads through scenes of a dying man who crucifies himself wearing a Santa hat. Additionally, a young girl is wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe dancing around the man on the cross while trying to grab fetuses from a tree.
4. Closer – Nine Inch Nails
Beastiality aside, Mark Romanek stylized a video with many controversial elements. This video was one of the singles from the group’s 1994 album The Downward Spiral. At the same time, the viewers see disturbing images, including monkies tied to a cross, a bloody beating heart. Additionally, a detailed diagram of a vagina on the wall while a pig head spins around it. The nude woman and lead singer, Trent Reznor, is more disturbing, decked out in bondage gear while cockroaches are everywhere.
3. Do What U Want – Lady Gaga (Featuring R. Kelly)
After this song’s released, Lady Gaga issued a public apology for working with R. Kelly. According to the Independent, she stated she also endured sexual trauma and thought R. Kelly’s actions were inexcusable. Madonna wanted it to mirror her feelings and things Lady Gaga hadn’t processed when creating the video. After the song’s controversy, she pledged support to everyone who was a victim of sexual assault.
2. Stan – Eminem (Featuring Dido)
Eminem is no stranger to controversy. Several of his songs mention killing his ex-wife Kim Mathers. However, this song’s video is a mini-movie detailing a guy who kills his girlfriend based on lyrics in a song. During the late 90s and early 00s, many people wanted to blame musical artists like Marilyn Manson for a large portion of violence happening. Even though this video shows the stark reality when this happens, the violence against women would never make it past the cutting room floor.
1. Smack My B*tch Up – Prodigy
Prodigy released this video in 1997. Even then, critics hailed it as one of the most controversial videos; some countries even banned it. The video’s central premise is a drug-fueled night in London with a bird’s eye view. Two versions were released; the longer showed, the worse parts of human behavior detailed in vivid technicolor. Their excessive drug use, taking cocaine, and extreme violent actions during the video, including shootings and attacking bystanders. One of the most controversial scenes is an uncensored strip tease followed by sex with the song’s narrator, also the cameraman, to the entire piece.