When MTV was launched in 1981, it changed the entire game of the music industry. Suddenly, creating music videos became important, and it was a great way to display talent, skills, and ideas. At the time, the importance of image became even more powerful. Nothing would hit the industry as hard as Michael Jackson’s 1982’s ‘Thriller’ video.
Produced in collaboration with MTV, high expectations were surrounding a video that was visually advanced narrative combined with a massive budget and a Hollywood director. The 90’s decade was full of music and music videos that both delighted and challenged the viewers. Therefore, it is just right that we go back into history and see the best 90s had to offer.
As soon as you open the history books of the 90s, nothing really says anything like George Michael’s “Freedom” music video. Michael once stated that he would never step in front of the camera again. After that, he cast iconic models of the 90s such as Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, and Tatjana Patitiz in his music video. He was inspired by Peter Lindbergh’s 1990 British Vogue Cover. In his music video, Michael offered the iconic supermodels to take the front, instead of playing love interests. George Michael struggled with fame. The video’s title is derived from the same effort of getting rid of the torturous world that the public perceives as glittery and charming.
Nirvana-“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
No other video in the 90s was able to capture the essence of grunge-like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Apart from being one of the biggest hits of the era, this song was a defining moment for the music industry. It was like a meteor that had struck the industry, and nobody saw it coming. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was shot in a high school gym.
Nirvana fans had offered that they would help with filling the bleachers, but after being on set for around 12 hours, they became irritated and frustrated. As the shooting was about to end, Kurt suggested that they trash the set and display the iconic footage of raw teen angst that was captured. Although the song was not meant to be a huge hit but the audience was able to pick it up immediately and requested the song so much that it made Nirvana win the “Best New Artist” and the “Best Alternative Group” award.
The 90s music video cannot be thought of without Alicia Silverstone flipping the bird to her ex-boyfriend as she jumps off an overpass. If you watch the video, you shall observe that everything in it belongs to the 90s. The t-shirt dresses, plaid shirts, and belly-button piercings. The video was said to ignite the fire of navel piercing craze, and then it was Alicia Silverstone herself. At the time, Alicia Silverstone was young, beautiful, and just like a normal teenager. Therefore, the music video was bound to be a hit.
Fatboy Slim-“Praise You”
If you are not aware of the concept of the flash mob, you better watch Spike Jonze’s 1999 music video “Praise You.” Jonze had sent his solo dance video to Fatboy Slim for “The Rockafellar Skank.” After that, he landed control of the “Praise You” video. Assistant Director Roman Coppola shot and recorded Jonze on a camcorder in guerilla-style as “Richard Koufey.” Jonze could be seen leading the fictional Torrence Community Dance Group outside a California movie theater.
Sinead O’Connor-“Nothing Compares 2 U”
“Nothing Compares the Prince originally performed 2 U”. Sinead O’Connor came up with her version and became one of the most iconic videos of all time. It was an intimate video that went onto achieve multiple MTV Music Video Awards, including Video of the Year Award, making O’Connor the first-ever female recipient. Although the video is based on loneliness, it is something beyond that.
It is powerful, and its dark empty background with grim lighting and the footage of O’Connor walking alone through the cloud of Paris’s Parc de Saint is enough to make it unique. Later in the video, you get to see the extended shots of her face that highlight her floods of emotions. The fact that a real tear appears out of her eye and falls makes the music video captivating even after 27 years.
Foo Fighters-“Big Me”
The music video of Foo Fighter’s “Big Me” was iconic as it captured two important pop culture moments of the 90s. The Mentos commercials that were nothing less than being cringe worthy and the emergence of Foo Fighters. Grohl had written and recorded the entire debut album for Foo Fighters. However, he struggled with the death of Kurt Cobain.
Therefore, this was the latest that Nirvana fans got to hear from Grohl after Kurt’s sad demise. On the one hand, the album remains true to the grunge-rock scene, while on the other, “Big Me” is something that is completely different. At the time, it was thought that the music video would not work out, but it did pretty well.
Spike Jonze upped the level of Beastie Boyz’s “Sabotage” with a display of 70’s-style cop show action sequences. The explosiveness of the song is derived from a combination of Jonze’s car stunts, camera angles, and chase scenes that were the perfect visuals for a perfect music video. Not to mention the wigs, mustaches, and the retro costumes worn by The Beastie Boys. The attires and costumes worn by the Beastie Boys were meant to portray various fictional characters that also highlighted humor, making the video even more engaging to watch.
Although the music video was a big hit at the time, it failed to win any major awards in the same year. After that, in 1994, the video was nominated at the MTV Music Video Awards, where Nathaniel Hornblower interrupted Michael Stipe’s speech protesting that ‘Sabotage” had failed to win any awards. Fifteen years later, the video won the Best Video Award.
Michael Jackson-“Black Or White”
Michael Jackson’s video “Black Or White” was premiered simultaneously across 28 countries, and it was such a big hit that it amassed 500 million views. The “Black Or White” video is pure raw pop music with the likes of Tyra Banks, George Wendt, and Macaulay Culkin in a bedroom with posters of Bart Simpson and Wayne Gretzky. The video is based on racial harmony.
As one can see, Michael, dancing with people belonging to different cultures. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the video is that people from different cultures and actors from different races display their morphing techniques by singing the chorus together and seamlessly transforming into each other.
Madonna’s “Vogue” music video with director David Fincher brought voguing from New York’s underground gay clubs to the mainstream. The music video is also credited for bringing disco back from the dead and integrating house music into popular music. Furthermore, the video pays homage to the most famous photographs of Horst P. Horst in addition to listing legends from the golden era of Hollywood, such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, and Grace Kelly in the lyrics.
Eminem-“My Name Is”
Eminem’s debut single’s music video “My Name Is” threw light on one of the most controversial entertainers/rappers in the music industry. Hearing lyrics that were blunt and extremely straightforward, the world got a taste of Eminem’s unapologetic abrasiveness. The video was released in 1999 and featured references to Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Pamela Lee Anderson, Bill Clinton, and Usher. Later in the video, Eminem would portray and play different celebrities, and characters will spitting out his graphic lyrics. The music video was recorded in one take and earned Eminem his first Grammy award accompanied by the MTV Music Video Award for Best New Artist in a video.
Britney Spears-“Baby One More Time”
Britney Spears has released 44 music videos during her career, but “Baby One More Time” will remain the most iconic music video of her career. The pink puffs with school uniforms that were sexualized along with pigtail braids, the dancing sequences were probably the best performed by an artist at the time.
The song would help Britney establish her career and become a hit song at a very young age. Both the concept and idea of “Baby One More Time” were introduced by a 16-year old Britney Spears to director Nigel Dick after she did not approve the plan to create an animated video. Instead, the video was shot in Venice High School, where Britney could be seen dancing in front of her crush. The music video was a big hit, but it also opened the floodgates for other teen female pop stars as well as Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, and Mandy Moore.
Listening to and watching music videos of the 90s is always a pleasure. And when it comes to artists like Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, and groups like Nirvana and the Beastie Boys, things become even more interesting. The 90s may be full of ups and downs, but it outnumbers every other era in terms of icons and legacies.