Whilst I was writing a list of my favourite music videos of all time, I realised that there was a common trend among my favourites. Most of my favourite videos didn’t star the lead singer! After discovering this, I trawled through the web to find a list of these, but to no success. It seems like there isn’t a top 10 list for music videos where the singer isn’t the star. Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty to compose my own list of these music/movie gems.
Just so we’re on the same page, I’m excluding lyric videos, as well as videos which include either clips, lookalikes, or animated counterparts for the singer. I am, however, including videos which briefly feature the singer, so long as they’re not the stars of the show. It has to be someone or something else we all remember the videos for.
I’m judging these videos based on their creativity, innovation, craftsmanship, storytelling, and of course, how well they fit their songs.
No.10 – Rabbit in Your Headlights (1998) – UNKLE
Jonathan Glazer is probably one of the most underrated directors of our day, as he’s responsible for countless commercials and music videos we all love, despite not knowing his name. In this clip, we follow a man, played by the unmistakable Denis Lavant, as he strides through the tunnel, loses his mind and gets repeatedly run over by driers. After building up the tension, we reach a pseudo-biblical ending that is nothing short of epic.
No.9 – Imitation of Life (2001) – R.E.M.
This uses a rare editing technique called ‘Pan and Scan’ (at least, rare for stylistic purposes), where an imaginary camera zooms into pre-recorded footage and pans the scene from various close-up angles. The clip, if played from start to end without edits, only lasts 20 seconds. However, with the pan and scan, switches between playing forwards and backwards, and smartly choreographed lip-syncing, it makes this party truly unforgettable.
No.8 – B******* of Young (1985) – The Replacements
From one that’s filled with people, to one with barely anyone in it! In this black and white video, we dolly out from a booming speaker, watch someone’s hand hold a lit cigarette, and… that’s about it. Soooo, why is this spectacle of boredom featured on this list? Because this was, in fact, designed to be an anti-video, and be the complete opposite of videos from the likes of Eurythmics, Mick Jagger, and Madonna. Isn’t it ironic that it’s now on a list like this?
No.7 – One Day Like This (2008) – Elbow
To all intensive purposes, this video does everything completely wrong, by being poorly shot, aesthetically humdrum, and completely one-note. Yet, when you look deeper and watch our performer do his bit, we come to realise that the point of this video wasn’t to be entirely beautiful, but to show us how we could spot beauty in the most unexpected of places. It’s further complemented when you realise it’s song is equally beautiful in its simplicity.
No.6 – Born Free (2010) – M.I.A.
Practically a short film in it’s own right, this disturbingly uncompromising clip shows a terrifying portrayal of authorities breaking into peoples homes and taking kids to the middle of nowhere for genocide. It would have been terrifying enough with that theme alone, but when we learn the reason for these teens being victimised, it really pushes us to question our own ideas of conformity and popularity.
NOTE: Before anybody asks, no, I didn’t intend for the top 5 songs to alternate between 1997 and 1999. It just kind of turned out that way.
No.5 – Coffee & TV (1999) – Blur
I was debating whether to include this one, since the band does feature for more prolonged period of time in this video than others on this list. In the end, I decided to include it after all, because it really is little Milky who’s the star of the story. The chirpy animations and innovative plot make you want to watch it all the way to it’s more-than-worthwhile ending, which I recommend all of my watchers to get to. Just to say, this will bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘crying over spilt milk’.
No.4 – Smack My B**** Up (1997) – The Prodigy
Often labeled as the most controversial music video ever created, this is a P.O.V. movie of a night in the life of our lead geting high, drunk, and violent. Very, very violent (mostly towards women)! Some hated it for victimising it’s cast; others loved it for exposing how vicious all people of all genders could be. Either way, it’s nauseating look and twist ending are bound to leave this video embedded in your nightmares.
No.3 – Praise You (1999) – Fatboy Slim
Whilst another classic Fatboy Slim video, ‘Weapon of Choice’, was a contender for this list, I decided to instead choose ‘Praise You’, since Spike Jonse practically invented an art-form by making this video. Long before ’T-Mobile’ got their claws on the idea, this is essentially the first ever flash-mob dance put to film, complete with guerrilla-style filmmaking, and even a fictionalised dance company. And to think it only costed $800!
No.2 – Around the World (1997) – Daft Punk
With its devilishly simple idea to use a circular set to resemble a record player, and costumed dancers to resemble the songs different instruments, the video for this techno track made quite a spectacle for the MTV generation. It’s quirky choreography, and even quirkier look, make for an entertaining, memorable, and practically timeless impact. The lyrics play over and over again, and we can’t help but watch this over and over again!
(Southern) California (1991) – Wax
Frightening, yet utterly breathtaking, this video may not mean much metaphorically, but it gave this one-hit wonder the fame/infamy it was after.
Drugs (2010) – Ratatat
Freaky faces, a steamy background, and a warped model of a head match both the conflicting feels of ecstasy, and rocktronica noise that crawls under your skin.
You Need Me, I Don’t Need You (2011) – Ed Sheeran
Gorgeously shot and expertly cut, the video is further complemented by Matthew Morgan’s ‘we won’t back down’ stare as he sing-signs to this rap track.
Mad World (2003) – Michael Andrews ft. Gary Jules
This famously depressing song isn’t easy to be creative with, but Michael Gondrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2005)) and his crew found a way.
The Day I Died (2009) – Just Jack
Accompanying it’s equally underrated song, the foreshadowing that our lead (James Nesbitt) will eventually realise he’s died creates a creepy yet charming reflection of the songs lyrics.
Rockstar (2005) – Nickelback
It might be labelled as one of the worst songs in history, but I’d be damned if simply watching a few hundred people mime this song didn’t make you “wanna be a rockstar” too!
No.1 – Viðrar vel til Loftárása (1999) – Sigur Rós
A controversial video for its time which has become a masterpiece today, this Icelandic band made an impact which only gets better with time. It’s not the first music video to show gay affection, and it’s certainly not last. Nevertheless, with it’s engaging younger subjects, cinematic scope and soul-stirring music, it’s by far the most beautiful. It has a poignant message and heartbreaking finale, which are bound to leave even some of the most manly men teary-eyed.
So, what do you think of my list? Are there any videos you think I’ve missed? Feel free to comment below and tell me of any more great music videos where the singer is only heard!