Ever since their inception, music videos have been a way for bands to fully realize their ideas. Taking a song and constructing three-odd minutes of film to capture those ideas, however, is where a band can truly flourish or risk being forgotten to the wiles of times.
Indeed, there are already numerous lists of iconic videos, but what about those videos that pushed a boundary. Those that found the edge of reason and launched themselves straight over it? Music videos that truly broke the mold.
Subversive, ceiling breaking and all-round brave moves (literally and figuratively), we’ve compiled a list of videos from artists who saw an opportunity to do something different and broke the mold of what was expected in a music video.
The Replacements, “Bastards of Young”
In the ‘80s heyday of MTV, when music videos held more control over an artists career than the gravity-defying hairspray emanating from glam rock dressing rooms, The Replacements wanted no part of it. Having just signed to a major label, the Minneapolis slackers found themselves stumbling up the ladder of success and not liking what they saw.
When it came time to film their first music video proper, instead of the usual bank-breaking ideas, they settled on quite literally filming a speaker. In black and white. Truly, they were the sons of no one.
Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
A rambunctious jam that embodies the rebellious spirit of rock ’n’ roll, Twisted Sister took glam to the furthest extremes and wore it sensationally well. On “We’re Not Gonna Take It” they crafted a video that captured exactly what it meant to seek solace in rock music — albeit with a fair dose of slapstick comedy.
At some point in our lives we’ve all hoped to turn into an over-the-top rock band plastered in makeup to deal with authority, right?
Deciding to finally start their music video career four albums deep, Metallica knew they had to make it stand for something, and what a more fitting way than by giving their anti-war song, “One” the spotlight.
As poignant as it is, when coupled with footage from the anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun it reaches epic new heights. Layering dialogue from the film over the bands frantic rocking, in between cutting to the films dramatic scenes, it all makes for an incredibly powerful watch.
Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain”
Weddings? Funerals? Majestic guitar solos in the desert? “November Rain” has it all. Sure, there are simple moments that show Guns N’ Roses playing the song in a theater (with an orchestra, may we add), but the other cinematic scenes create a complex story that no one still knows the answer to.
Why did Stephanie Seymour look so sad when she and Axl Rose got in the car after the wedding ceremony? Why did that man jump over the table when it started raining? How in the hell did Seymour’s character die? It leaves viewers with so many questions, but it’s so visually compelling at the same time. And the fact that it was the first music video from the '90s to hit a billion views on YouTube sure confirms that as well.
Mastodon, “The Motherload”
Twerking isn’t a sight too common in the metal realms, but Mastodon, sick of the expectation of dreary druids and sepia-toned aggression decided to do something about it.
What begins as your stereotypical metal video soon becomes a blur of syncopating bodies and the band getting down to brass tacks with one of their most famed outings. While initially receiving backlash from corners of the opinion world, the video’s aura of fun and inclusivity put pay to any who said otherwise.
My Chemical Romance, “Ghost of You”
It’s cinematic, emotional and features My Chemical Romance in ‘40s army garb — this video really has it all, including a big-budget ($1,000,000). A powerful depiction of war and loss, not only did it push the limits of what a music video could be, but it also proved that this emo band from New Jersey was always going to be something special. While their previous videos aimed high, it was “Ghost of You” that propelled them to dizzying heights, ready for the big leagues.
Linkin Park, “In the End”
A graphic wonder in a day when CGI was still in its infancy, not only did the video for “In the End” feel like something wondrous, it also showcased the world Linkin Park inhabited. Having recently gotten the HD treatment for the band's debut’s 20th anniversary, it still holds up as seriously impressive and captures the epic lengths Linkin Park would embark upon throughout their career.
It’s impossible to forget first seeing the video for “Freak on a Leash,” especially back in the late ‘90s. At first animated, creepy children play hop-scotch where they shouldn’t when a bullet accidentally fired from a security guard’s gun soon takes center stage.
Apparently tearing through dimensions and entering the real world, it cuts through walls, balloons, lava lamps and cans of cream. In its most famed scene, the bullet floats about with Korn while their trademark breakdown maniacally babbles before heading back to the animated world. In reward for its dimension traveling, it earned itself (and Korn) a whole heap of awards.
Thirty Seconds To Mars, “From Yesterday”
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Jaret Leto and co. certainly know how to put together a music video. Shot on location in China’s Forbidden City — and featuring 400 extras as soldiers — it’s epic in all the right ways. From the samurai fight to its firework finale, no expense was spared on this frankly epic peek into a mythologically charged culture. It’s even, apparently, the first Western music video to be shot in its entirety in the People’s Republic of China. Nothing by halves, it would seem.
It takes guts to turn your video into a statement piece. For punk rapper Grandson, he chose to spotlight the wicked nature of humanity by turning himself into an experiment. Tied to a chair, participants could do whatever they wanted to him, either anonymously or brazen-faced, and, well, the results speak for themselves. “Oh No,” indeed.
Parkway Drive, “Vice Grip”
Taking a leaf out of the Mastodon “just have fun with it” book, Parkway Drive took things a step further, or, more precisely, one out of a plane. “One life, one shot, give it all you’ve got,” a perfect encapsulation of the video and Parkway’s willingness to take their band and their opportunities as far as they possibly can. Caution: Vertigo is real when watching.
Music videos have long been the bridge between bands and their fans — bringing those fabled figures to life via the concept of a song, or a performance — but on their ’04 single Slipknot took things a step further by setting up shop in a fans house due for renovation. Commandeering a room each while a bunch of rabid fans, quite literally, tear down the fourth (and fifth, and sixth) wall, it dramatically feeds off the palpable energy created between the band and their loyal maggots as they tear through the actual ceiling. Still uncontested so many years later.
Didn’t see that coming did you? With interracial romance, burning crosses, and religious iconography all over the place, the queen of pop is bringing out a death metal vibe on a track that’s undeniably a bop. Major sacrilegious imagery — down to Madonna’s stigmata — this is a video that broke numerous mold’s in a time when it was beyond brave to do so.
Who says you need a big budget to break the mold? Via a Wheel of Fortune style game, Fort Collins extreme metal band Allegaeon aims not only at metal's infinite sub-genres but also the tendency for bands to look at pivoting as a means of achieving attention. Watch as they rattle through death metal’s checkbox of darkness, all the way into crabcore's crabbiness.
Foo Fighters, “Learn to Fly”
At this point of their career, Foo Fighters were still a three-piece but the ideas were growing larger by the day. Deciding to crack out what is essentially a shot for shot remake of Airplane!, the goofy antics of Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and Nate Mendel as various passengers and pilots — and themselves — coupled with the help of Tenacious D makes for not only comedic watching but also strayed where few videos have since, keeping up with a timeless classic movie (and its sequels) in their own right, and in a fraction of the time.