The MTV Video Music Awards are happening in less than two weeks in Los Angeles, California (Heaven only know if they’ll ever return to Radio City Music Hall where I personally believe they belong). The biggest night on the MTV calendar is entering it’s 32nd year, and in that time, two main awards have remained consistent: Best New Artist and Video of the Year. I already tackled the former last week; now it’s time to give Video of the Year the spotlight. Honestly, this was the hardest Top 10 to date seeing as many great videos have won this award and it was hard to narrow it down to my ten favorites. In fact, I wish I was able to put some of the videos in the Honorable Mentions section on the list. I actually contemplating extending it like I did the Women in Country list. But in the end, I decided to stick to my guns and leave this list a ten. This year, either Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar, Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars), or Taylor Swift (featuring Kendrick Lamar) will take home the biggest prize of the show. Now it’s time to spotlight some of the best winners that came before them. Time for this week’s FearlessRiOT Top 10!
#10. Smashing Pumpkins “Tonight Tonight” (1996)
I have a soft spot for animated music videos (hey, Gorillaz is one of my favorite bands), and while the music video for “Tonight, Tonight” is not animated in the traditional hand-drawn or computer-animated sense, it still plays a large part in the video, largely resembling a blend of cartoons you would see in children’s picture books and silent films. Actually, there’s a reason for that latter one; the video was largely inspired by Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon, a 1902 silent film. The visuals of the clip were impressive enough for it to defeat “Big Me” by Foo Fighters, “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette, and one of my all-time favorite songs in “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony for the VOTY prize in 1996.
#9. Jamiroquai “Virtual Insanity” (1997)
Also known as the “moving floor” video from the band with the hard-to-spell name and the guy with the funny hat. 1997’s Video of the Year winner was a simplistic if not interesting visual for a song about modern day technology and their effect on society and the future. Even more poetic justice is served because a lot of technological trickery must’ve went into creating this video. Lead singer Jay Kay’s dance moves and flamboyant fashion along with the futuristic environment allowed this video to defeat “The New Pollution” by Beck, “The Perfect Drug” by Nine Inch Nails, “You Were Meant For Me” by Jewel, and “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt for VOTY in 1997.
#8. Missy Elliott “Work It” (2003)
Missy Elliott is without a doubt one of the best music video artists in hip-hop history. Her music videos were one of the things that made her visionary in the genre and one of her biggest hits, “Work It” was big enough to beat out “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, “Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake, “In Da Club” by 50 Cent, and “Hurt” by Johnny Cash for the VMA’s top prize in 2003. The video features tributes to late musicians Aaliyah and Left-Eye, a young Alyson Stoner dancing like nobody’s business, and Missy in a number of other scenarios, mainly ones referenced in the song. Videos like this are why we need artists like Missy Elliott in the hip-hop game.
#7. Aerosmith “Cryin’” (1994)
So in the 90s, Alicia Silverstone was a star actress and every guy’s dream-girl. The Clueless star contributed the appeal of both those reputations to a trilogy of Aerosmith music videos, including “Amazing”, “Crazy”, and this video which defeated “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys, “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana, and “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. for the 1994 VOTY. While the band performs in the Central Congregational Church, Alicia’s character is cheated on by a guy and responds by getting a tattoo, getting a piercing, laying the Smackdown on a guy who steals her purse, and bungee jumping a bridge while her ex-flame looks on. Lots of fun to watch.
#6. Pearl Jam “Jeremy” (1993)
“Jeremy” was touchy video, tackling a subject based on a tragic real life incident. The story of a kid with an active imagination who’s home and school life suck so bad that he decides to ultimately end it all by killing himself in front of his entire class. The video showed up on MTV’s Most Controversial Videos list in 2002 for depicting suicide, showing real life events, and being just plain creepy to some viewers. And while Pearl Jam were never big on making music videos, this kinda paid off for them; they beat Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge”, En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind”, Peter Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt”, and R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” for VOTY.
#5. TLC “Waterfalls” (1995)
Like Missy Elliott, TLC was one of those urban acts who were always as unique as they come with their music videos and “Waterfalls” may be their most memorable clip to date. Who could ever forget the imagery of the three ladies as water goddesses basically dancing over a body of water while telling us about the dangers of “chasing waterfalls”? A video that managed to defeat “Basket Case” by Green Day, “Scream” by Michael & Janet Jackson, and “Buddy Holly” by Weezer, it was a video that was as socially conscious as it was visually impressive and both the song and music video live on today as one of the greatest ever created in hip-hop and R&B history.
#4. Rihanna featuring Jay-Z “Umbrella” (2007)
Before “Umbrella”, Rihanna had hits with “Pon De Replay” and “SOS”. But it was with the song and video for “Umbrella” that Rihanna officially arrived as someone with superstar appeal. The music video is one of the sexiest in recent memory; the Barbadian beauty rocks her now iconic 2007 bob haircut while dancing with an umbrella, dancing in the rain, and looking like a work of art wearing covered in silver body paint. Still one of Rihanna’s best videos, it beat “Irreplaceable” by Beyonce, “D.A.N.C.E.” by Justice, “What Goes Around…Comes Around” by Justin Timberlake, “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse, and “Stronger” by Kanye West and is the first of two Rihanna videos to win VOTY.
#3. Eminem “Without Me” (2002)
Like Rihanna, Eminem has won Video of the Year twice; but I only wanted to include one of his videos so I could make room for other artists. In the end, I went with the one that beat out “In The End” by Linkin Park, “Gone” by *NSYNC, “One Mic” by Nas, “Alive” by P.O.D., and “Fell in Love With A Girl” by The White Stripes. While “The Real Slim Shady” is a more memorable song and both videos are a lot of fun to watch, I went with the video for “Without Me”, which had a superhero theme and the lampooned of everything from Elvis to Moby to CNN to The Real World. He plays a character named Rap-Boy on his way to prevent a kid from listening to a Parental Advisory album! That’s just comedic genius.
#2. Green Day “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (2005)
Green Day won almost every award at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards and that includes the Video of the Year prize, where they beat out “Drop it Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg, “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, “Speed of Sound” by Coldplay, and “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani. In a song about the feeling of isolation and loneliness, the visual matches by featuring the members of Green Day basically walking around either a deserted town or areas where they feel isolated. It looks gritty and cinematic and was one of the musical highpoints in popular music in 2005. For the record, this video won Best Group Video, Best Rock Video, Best Direction, Editing, and Cinematography as well.
#1. Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” (1987)
Remember earlier when I said that I have a soft spot for animated music videos? Well…the list is bookended by them. Peter Gabriel has the record for most VMA’s won in a single night, ten in a single night. Nine of those awards came courtesy of the video for “Sledgehammer”, including a Video of the Year win that saw him beat out Genesis’ “Land of Confusion”, Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble”, U2’s “With or Without You”, and Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”. It’s a very creative music video that utilized Claymation, stop-motion, and pixilated animation for one very highly influential music video that’s still held in high regard today. Nine Moonmen well earned, Mr. Gabriel.
The unofficial #11 on this list; Lauryn Hill contrasts block parties between the year 1967 and 1998 and it’s interesting how much things have and haven’t changed at the same time. [Videos it beat: Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way”, Korn “Freak on a Leash”, Will Smith “Wild Wild West”, Ricky Martin “Livin’ La Vida Loca”.]
Mainly here because I put “Without Me” on the list official list. [Videos it beat: Blink-182 “All The Small Things”, D’Angelo “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”, Red Hot Chili Peppers “Californication”, *NSYNC “Bye Bye Bye”.]
Here for the same reason “Without Me” is. [Videos it beat: Gotye featuring Kimbra “Somebody That I Used to Know”, Katy Perry “Wide Awake”, M.I.A. “Bad Girls”,Drake featuring Rihanna “Take Care”]
+ Beyoncé “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” (2009)
Kanye will probably call me out for not putting this video on the list; while I’m not as crazy about this video as most other people are, the impact it had on popular culture in 2009 cannot be denied. [Videos it beat: Britney Spears “Womanizer”, Lady GaGa “Poker Face”, Kanye West “Love Lockdown”,Eminem “We Made You”]
This music video was sexy then and it’s sexy now; even though it missed the cut, it’s still one of the most memotable 21st century collaborations. [Videos it beat: Missy Elliott “Get Ur Freak On”, Eminem featuring Dido “Stan”, Fatboy Slim “Weapon of Choice”, Janet Jackson “All For You”, U2 “Beautiful Day.]
It took Justin Timberlake a LONG time to take home the Video of the Year crown, but when he finally did, it was for an emotionally meaningful video for an equally amazing song. [Videos it beat: Taylor Swift “I Knew You Were Trouble.”, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Thrift Shop”, Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines”, Bruno Mars “Locked Out Of Heaven”]
Again, I love animated music videos and while the animation in this video is extremely dated, it’s as 80s as they come and works as a time capsule for the video. [Videos it beat: a-ha “Take On Me”, Godley & Creme “Cry”, Robert Palmer “Addicted To Love”, and Talking Heads “Road to Nowhere”.]
People love to crap on this music video and claim that it’s proof that Miley has lost her damn mind. I personally disagree and I don’t think it’s that bad from a symbolic standpoint. Much better than the no-sense-having “We Can’t Stop”. [Videos it beat: Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX “Fancy”, Sia “Chandelier”, Beyonce & Jay-Z “Drunk in Love”, Pharrell Williams “Happy”.]
I don’t 100% know what’s going on in this music video, but it’s kind of fun to watch the lead singer of R.E.M. show off those dance moves of his. [Videos it beat: C+C Music Factory “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”, Deee-Lite “Groove Is in the Heart”, Divinyls “I Touch Myself”, Chris Isaak “Wicked Game”, Queensrÿche “Silent Lucidity”]
I’d probably be breaking some kind of rule by not mentioning Lady GaGa. [Videos it beat: 30 Seconds to Mars “Kings & Queens”, B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams “Airplanes”, Eminem “Not Afraid”, Florence + The Machine “Dog Days Are Over”, Lady GaGa featuring Beyonce “Telephone”.]