Music  |  Lists

The 20 Greatest Music-Video Cameos of All Time

June 3, 2010  |  7:00am

Record labels may not be shelling out the same massive music-video budgets they once did. But just because they’ve migrated from TV screen to computer screen doesn’t mean we’ve lost the fine art of the Music-Video Cameo. Just this week, Christina Hendricks stars as space-traveling, appendage-hawking android in the video for Broken Bells’ “The Ghost Inside,” but the way had been paved for recognizable actors, athletes and other musicians to pop up delightfully in music videos way back when MTV actually played them.

Our culture is certainly guilty of overemphasizing—even worshiping at the alter of—celebrity, but the weight of recognition can add much to a music video. Seeing Christopher Walken dance to Fatboy Slim is much different than watching a random dancer in the same role. Seeing the faces of men and women whose stories are familiar instantly communicates heft in Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” With only three minutes to speak, a music video can benefit from the volumes that a celebrity’s presence can tell.

Since music videos are typically so short anyway, we’re playing fast and loose with the definition of “cameo” to mean any sort of unexpected appearance, even if it’s for the duration of the video. Here are our favorites, but tell us yours in the comment section.

And thanks, as always, to my Twitter followers for their suggestions.

20. Natalie Portman in Devendra Banhart’s “Carmenista”

I’m not sure what Bollywood B-movies are called or if Banhart’s ridiculous Hindi trip is unique, but it wouldn’t be the same without Portman’s Princess Carmensita Saplingita, who asks, via caption, “Where are you my ratty-assed compadre?” before reincarnating into an octopus.

19. Dave Foley in Hollerado’s “Americanarama”

Dave Foley is too sexy for this video from his fellow Canucks in Hollerado, as he parodies American Apparel founder/CEO Dov Charney.

18. The cast of Karate Kid in No More Kings’ “Sweep the Leg”

If you’re an unknown band with a song called “Sweep the Leg,” you better bring back almost the entire cast of Karate Kid, including William Zabka (Johnny), who wrote and directed the video; Martin Kove (the evil sensei Kreese) and, fantastically, Ralph Macchio. It’s more entertaining than the remake that’s about to come out could hope to be.

17. Johnny Depp in The Lemonheads’ “It’s a Shame About Ray”

Depp appears to be Ray, who is in a huge hurry to leave some nowhere town populated only with Nineties Alt rockers. Johnny, grab your flannel and trashed baggy jeans and don’t look back.—Sean Doyle

16. Jake Gyllenhall, Joe Jonas, Lil’ Jon and RZA in Vampire Weekend’s “Giving Up the Gun”

Jenny Murray (the girl from “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”) dominates tennis opponents Jake Gyllenhall, Joe Jonas and (allegedly) Daft Punk in motorcycle helmets with a little help from Lil’ Jon and RZA, despite choking up a crazy amount on the racquet.

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