You might have heard that MTV is turning 40 this week.
The iconic and long-running music channel sprang to life in August 1981, elevating the importance of music videos like never before. With such a global platform on which to have their creativity showcased — and with the lure of increased album sales beckoning — artists rose to the challenge and promptly began producing video clips that could rival the latest blockbusters of the time.
In honour of MTV’s milestone birthday, Rolling Stone complied a list of the greatest music videos of all time to provide an example of “how pairing sound and vision created an entire artistic vocabulary, gave us a handful of miniature-movie masterpieces, and changed how we heard (and saw) music.”
The publication rated the first-ever video that played on MTV — The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star — at Number 100 (harsh) while the simplicity of The Verve’s legendary 1997 track Bittersweet Symphony, clocked in at 65, just being inched out by Queen’s rollicking rock/pop/synth/opera anthem Bohemian Rhapsody which came in at 64.
Taking out number 50 was Fatboy Slim’s adorably awkward offering for Praise You, which was directed by none other than Spike Jonze, while The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up took out number 40 — with a video almost as controversial as the song itself.
Unsurprisingly, Lady Gaga‘s, Bad Romance earned a spot on the list, but, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, only crept into the number 33 spot, just behind Drake‘s love letter to sweaters — Hotline Bling.
The White Stripes, Fell in Love With a Girl easily earned the number 15 spot (turning a band into Lego bricks and animating them in painstaking stop-motion will do that) and in at the top of the top ten, Rolling Stone chose Michael Jackson‘s Billie Jean. Interestingly, Thriller was nowhere to be found on the list.
Guns N’ Roses, November Rain took out number nine thanks to its feature film of a video, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer occupies number eight (a travesty — it should have been number one), D’Angelo takes out number seven with Untitled (How Does It Feel?) and in the sixth spot, the publication placed Beastie Boys with Sabotage, because who can say no to those porn moustaches?
The next four videos to make the list, in order, were New Order’s The Perfect Kiss, the triumph that is Childish Gambino’s This Is America, Madonna’s Vogue (obviously) and Johnny Cash with Hurt.
But the number one music video, as decided by Rolling Stone? It’s Queen Bey herself with her 2016 anthem, Formation.
Writes the publication, “If Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album established her as one of the greatest artists of all time, her surprise-released Formation video (and ensuing album Lemonade) marked her as one of the most important.”
Directed by Melina Matsoukas, the clip made a powerful statement about Black American history and was released to be timed with the start of Black History month that year.
“In under five minutes, Beyoncé moves from a plantation-style house where the Black denizens are the masters not the slaves to the top of a sinking police car,” Rolling Stone‘s Brittany Spanos writes, before recalling a quote Matsoukas gave to The New Yorker in 2017.
“I wanted to show — this is Black people. We triumph, we suffer, we’re drowning, we’re being beaten, we’re dancing, we’re eating, and we’re still here.”