10. Missy Elliott
“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
[dir: Hype Williams; 1997]
The best debut video of the 90s, Hype Williams’ off-kilter tapestry helped codify and introduce not just the Missy Elliott persona but the axis of creative talent who would blow up and rebuild hip-hop and R&B from scratch. (Pitchfork)
See the complete list HERE
They were still a young art form when the 1990s began, but by the end of the decade music videos and video directors were arguably at their commercial and artistic peak. In 1999, MTV’s “TRL” was launching teen pop stars and serving as a better barometer of what Generation Y was listening to than the Billboard charts. Meanwhile, Spike Jonze– who almost single-handedly codified a generation’s idealized music videos by artfully employing Gen X totems such as irony, 70s nostalgia, geek chic, intertextuality, and trash culture– was being nominated for a best director Oscar for Being John Malkovich.
Throughout the decade, MTV– with a huge assist from Clear Channel– glued together a pseudo-music monoculture in the U.S. like almost nothing before. Songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Dr. Dre’s “Nothing But a G Thang”, and Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” altered the landscape of pop culture so quickly in large part because they were delivered to all corners of the U.S. simultaneously by MTV. It wasn’t just inevitable hits whose influence was quickened by MTV either; oddities such as Folk Implosion’s “Natural One” or Danzig’s “Mother 93” (or, say, Green Jelly’s “Three Little Pigs”, to name just one of many execrable examples) became out-of-leftfield hits for almost no other reason than someone at MTV decided they should become Buzz Bin videos.
MTV’s ability to place a song and musician into the pop music conversation was unparalleled at the time, and by the end of the decade that meant absurd levels of both financial and creative commitment to music videos. Creatively, videos at the time were dominated by a handful of visionary directors– Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Chris Cunningham– and there’s no getting away from that in our list of our top 50 videos of the 90s. (NB: Whenever possible we’ve chosen official videos to limit the chances those videos will be removed at a future date; the tradeoff is that those clips are more likely to have pre-roll ads.)
As always with a list such as this, commentary is kept to a minimum; the fun and joy should be watching the clips, whether for the first time or the first time in years.
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