Madonna: “Hung Up”
The Queen of Pop has had dozens of iconic music videos but this clip from her album Confessions in a Dance Floor is the epitome of Madonna’s the fun, dancefloor friendly, and ahead of its time work that we’ve come to expect from her. It’s hard to pick a favorite from her catalog but, for me, this is it.
Lady Gaga: “Bad Romance”
Bad Romance is not just a perfect pop anthem, it’s also an excellent music video bursting with signature looks, a great story, and iconic choreography. Gaga’s videos can be a little overloaded with ideas (see Telephone or G.U.Y.) but this video strike the perfect balance.
Britney Spears: “Toxic”
Britney will always get you moving, but this idea was the peak of Britney’s beauty, relevancy, and pop music domination. Even without her signature group choreography, this video is an absolute treat for the eyes. It’s plot was equal parts Alias and comic book antihero. The video’s spiritual sequel “Womanizer” is arguably better in a lot of respects… but tell me one single frame of film from a music video release between 2000 and 2010 that is more iconic than Britney covered in nothing but diamonds. You can’t.
Kylie Monogue: “Can’t Get You Outta My Head”
This was the Kylie video so good that even the U.S. couldn’t deny it. The video’s visuals are the simplistic futurism we’ve come to know from tech gadgets from Apple and Samsung. Between this clip and “Toxic” it’s hard to pick a decide which summed up the pop music scene of the early 00’s better.
Michael Jackson: “Thriller”
You can’t beat Thriller. Not only did it launch and influence nearly every pop video that followed it, it also still looks good and holds together to a set of modern eyes. All of this from a time when music videos dealing with the occult required disclaimers that the artist wasn’t a witch.
Justin Bieber: “Somebody to Love (Remix)”
Justin gave us a welcome reprieve from his baby-boy-teen-dream image at the time with this fun, stylish take on the hit track he shared with Usher. I’m not usually a Bieber fan, but this video delivers exactly what he want from the tiny pop prince.
Beyoncé: “Single Ladies”
This video just does an astounding amount with almost nothing but a few unitards. Beyoncé may only really be good at one style of booty-shaking dance, but damn if this isn’t proof that she’s the best in the world at it. The video gets out of her way and lets her shine as a performer — something many artists today hair can’t compete with.
Rihanna: “We Found Love”
Even if this video’s cinematography and concept where stunning and exciting and heartbreakingly romantic… her performance combined with some masterful editing crafted a visual style that dozens of wannabes are still aping today. It makes you wanna take drugs and date somebody who would be a horrible influence on you.
Katy Perry: “Wide Awake”
Katy Perry has had a lot of attention grabbing videos in her time but I wouldn’t exactly call most of them “critically acclaimed.” While still maintaining her “what every little girl imagines she’ll do when she’s a grown up and can decide for hers” slash Lisa Frank aesthetic, this video delivers stunning visuals and (for Katy) a moving plot. Bravo, candy queen.
Christina Aguilera: “Beautiful”
The ultimate LGBT and anti-bully inspiration anthem of all time, coupled with stunning visuals, a progressive message and the peak of Christina’s voice and performance ability. This clip was the ultimate foil to the high-concept “bling bling” space-obsessed TRL trash of it’s time. A classic.
Bruno Mars: “Uptown Funk”
Bruno’s videos have never really been his forte, which is surprising given that he’s such a dynamic and exciting performer. Well, he finally delivered in spades with Uptown Funk. It’s cute, fresh, original and yet completely classic. I need to find a barber shop exactly like this in my neighborhood. Hot damn!
Miley Cyrus: “Wrecking Ball”
If I pitched you an idea for a music video that included the phrase “licks a hammer in an unflattering white diaper” you’d never, ever give me the go ahead to get that made. Thank god somebody is better at selling that concept than me. “Wrecking Ball” is surreal, emotional, and gorgeous.
Janet Jackson: “All For You”
Janet Jackson might possibly be the artist with the most completely jaw-dropping music videos in the history of the form. I’d argue that many of them surpass the trailblazing work of her brother, but I don’t have all day to explain why to you. “All For You” is technicolor dream Janet working choreography the likes of which we may never see again. She absolutely nails this entire video and looks good doing it. This is everything a pop video can and should aspire to.
Jennifer Lopez: “Waiting For Tonight”
While this video’s editing and tone were obviously heavily influenced by Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” it easily and quickly surpasses that video in sheer execution. I’m not completely sure that 90’s club culture was ever better documented than in this gorgeously shot and lush video. Jennifer’s had a lot of fun videos but this will always be here at her most thrilling. Also, “Slave 4 U” is a classic… but, choreography aside, it completely ripped this video off.
Mariah Carey: “We Belong Together”
Mariah came back to us in 2005 more cutting edge and talented than ever. This clip is not only utterly Mariah, but it also manages to do that without indulging her tendency towards tackiness. The song is completely flawless, she looked unbelievable, and she actually serves some perfectly serviceable acting chops. Bravo, Elusive Chanteuse.
Taylor Swift: “Blank Space”
Taylor’s recent pop reinvention is exciting for those of us who knew that, while she certainly seemed to have a flair for a country twang, she was always just another pop star. “Blank Space” skewers her tabloid image in a utterly luxurious and stunning looking setting. It’s edited within an inch of it’s life and Joseph Kahn takes the chance to prove his music video genius yet again by giving Taylor some of her very first iconic looks. I hope she continues to revive the art of the music video for the next generation.
Ariana Grande: “Break Free”
Sure, this is basically just a 2014 update to Britney’s classic Oops!…I Did it Again, but Ariana does it with such tongue-in-cheek flair that you almost don’t care. She’s the current teen dream and it’s exciting to just soak that up while it lasts. It’s been a minute since we’ve had an artist embrace a cartoonish and camp video theme without parodying something from the past. I love it.