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The 30 Greatest Music Videos of the 1990s

September 26, 2011  |  10:01am

The 1990s was a golden age for music videos. After the experimental ’80s and before YouTube glut of the new century, music videos in the ’90s provided an outlet for groundbreaking directors to cultivate an image for an artist or song that could become as memorable as the song itself. Music videos were so great in the ’90s, MTV actually showed them, launching the careers of directors like Spike Jonze, Brett Ratner and David Fincher. In honor of these great music videos, here are the 30 greatest music videos of the 1990s.

30. Yo La Tengo – “Sugarcube”
The list starts off with a terrible music video by Yo La Tengo, leading their record company to demand they go to rock school to learn how to become true rock stars. The school ends up being taught by Mr. Show’s David Cross and Bob Odenkirk in KISS and glam-rock regalia. After weeks of class, the band learns what it is to rock, but remains strong in their convictions and stay the same.

29. Fiona Apple – “Criminal”
Director Mark Romanek’s video for “Criminal” was a breakout success for Apple that seemed to focus on the song’s opening lyric, “I’ve been a bad, bad girl”. The video shows the results of a party filled with debauchery, with Apple one of the remaining witnesses. Romanek’s video walks a fine line between seedy, sexy and voyeuristic, making Apple more of a harbinger of darkness than a sex icon.

28. Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Sometimes simplicity is best, as can be seen in O’Connor’s take on Prince’s song “Nothing Compares 2 U”. A majority of the video stays zoomed on O’Connor’s face, as her face is wracked with emotion. The video’s high point of action is when she cries two tears. Simple and elegant, O’Connor’s video focuses on emotion instead of flash and is better for it.

27. Weezer – “Undone (The Sweater Song)”
Weezer has had a great career of incredible music videos but their first was this simple Spike Jonze effort. The group performs a sped-up version of their song in one take, while dogs run wild on the set. There isn’t much to it, but the band’s performance speed and the tricky camera movement makes this still one of their most fun videos.

26. Beck – “Devil’s Haircut”
Most Beck videos from the 90s had directors trying to match Beck’s oddness, often trying to visualize everything spoken in his peculiar raps. The video for “Devil’s Haircut” takes a different approach. Taking influence from the songs opening guitar riff, the video plays pretty standard, until it culminates on Beck being followed, perfectly matching the ’70s countryfied mod feeling of the song and video’s direction.

25. Radiohead – “Karma Police”
Thom Yorke has stated that “Karma Police” is about the little man having to deal with bosses and the frustrations of this balance of power. This is symbolized beautifully in Jonathan Glazer’s video, which features a man running from a car without a driver and Yorke in the backseat mumbling the lyrics to the song. Framed by bugs in the windshield, the man finally gives up from running, hands up in retreat, before he drops a match into a gas leak that leads back to the car, catching it on fire, with Yorke now absent from the equation.

24. Semisonic – “Closing Time”
While Semisonic’s breakthrough video for “Closing Time” may seem like a lineup of clichés from ’90s pop-rock bands (live performance, split-screen, band with only one huge radio hit), there’s a simple brilliance in it. By shooting two single-take perspectives and some tricky misdirection, “Closing Time” is a excellent look at missed opportunities and being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

23. Korn – “Freak on a Leash”
We’re not expecting a lot of love for the band Korn, but their video “Freak on a Leash” is an original idea and a fun precursor to countless YouTube videos of people blowing stuff up. As a stray bullet goes through many obstacles and barely missing several bystanders, we get to watch water bottles, aerosol cans get shot through in pure slow-motion glory.

22. Daft Punk – “Around the World”
“Around the World” is a repetitive song in which the phrase “around the world” is said over and over. Doesn’t seem like much to build a video around. But Michel Gondry is always ripe with ideas. He gives each instrument a persona and has its movements intersect with the music by running up, down and around a set of stairs. The video is a great example of Gondry’s ability to look outside the box for inspiration.

21. Björk – “Bachelorette”
Another mind-bending Gondry project, Björk finds a book in the woods that starts writing itself with what the singer is currently doing. She sells the book, and it becomes a success, followed by a musical version of the book and the popularity of the story continues to grow. What makes the video so great is that after a while, all of the elements start happening at once on stage, creating smaller stages and smaller audiences. The video plays like a smaller precursor to Charlie Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York and works just as effectively.

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