Music Videos in the Nineties

“I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” by Meat Loaf

Yeah, I’m pretty sure Meat Loaf is the human equivalent of a community theater production of Phantom of the Opera. The story of the video is vaguely ‘beauty and the beast,’ just with a lot more motorcycles and helicopters and power chords. Also, is he really that much uglier than he usually is? Wow, that was super bitchy, even for me. Anyway, power ballads were this whole thing in the late eighties/early nineties, and while my sister suggested I go with Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” this video came into my apartment, tore everything I owned in tiny little fluffy pieces, and stole all of my pants.

Why does history think everyone in the nineties switched to heroin? Do you think a junkie would have the energy for even five seconds of this? This was old school cocaine, baby, and potentially a little bit of meth.

“I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred

Just in case anyone heard this song on the radio and somehow thought this was a self-serious song about a guy who honestly thinks he’s just hot shit, here’s the video to show you how incredibly dense you are. Our hero is various degrees of shirtless and greased up from the top of his shaved head to the waistband of pleather pants, and within the first thirty seconds of the song some guy just casually walks by and rips off what remains of the shirt without anyone stopping to give a crap. Freeze the video on any given frame of his face, and you’ll find a man who has learned the subtle art of giving you the finger through his smile.

“Freedom! 90” by George Michael

This one takes the ‘pretty people dancing’ concept for music videos to its logical extreme: what if we hired the prettiest people? Literal fucking supermodels. And they won’t even have to dance with choreography. They can just kind of bop around and lip sync to the song in this terribly lit loft apartment they apparently all share?

Yeah, it sounds half-assed in concept, but it works, and almost entirely because it’s directed by David Fincher. You may recognize this name as the source of a handful of your nightmares, but he’s also got a long catalogue of music videos under his belt (over fifty!), and this one regularly comes up as one of his best.

“Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai

Another one that I think works despite being so fucking simple. It’s just…this dude…Jamiroquai? I assume that’s a name and not just a bad scrabble hand. He’s just dancing around this room while it all moves around him, and the best part is despite the song name, most of it isn’t computer special effects, it’s an actual room connected to the camera but entirely separate from the floor. A fact I distinctly remember learning on Pop Up Video.

Also, please note the fact that if not for that hat on his head this music video would be timeless. There is nothing to date this video, except perhaps the aspect ratio, but people only wore that hat un-ironically between 1995 and 1997 so archeologists will always know exactly when this video was made.

“1979” by Smashing Pumpkins

Everything about this song and this video just feels like the nineties to me. The first time I heard the song after the nineties were over, probably around 2008-2009, it…it was just the hardest I’d ever felt nostalgia in my entire life, and that’s probably still true. I was teleported to the summers of ’96 and ’97, and for the first time I felt that utterly human pain of realizing that time will not stop moving forward, and every day is only destined to turn into a hazy sense memory. You can never go back, because that place doesn’t exist anymore except inside you.

“Praise You,” by Fatboy Slim

Honestly just one of the greatest music vidoes ever made, and that’s not just me saying that. Director Spike Jonze (yes, that Spike Jonze, you should be realizing now that a lot of major directors also love doing music videos, if you didn’t already know) stars as Richard Koufey, leader of the dance group The Torrance Community Dance Group, just absolutely tearing shit up in front of an LA movie theater in what technically counts as one of the first flash mobs? I guess? None of these people standing in line were in on the joke, and that’s a real movie theater manager turning off the boom box and, I’m guessing, going to call the cops. Zero chill.

I guess I’m learning that the videos I liked best from the nineties were the simple ones. Simple videos in the eighties feel like they’re simple because the people involved just didn’t know what to do (see: “Gloria” by Laura Branigan). By the end of the nineties I feel like folks in the music industry (and movie industry, apparently) had a good idea of what they could do with these mini-movies, and if a music video was simple, it was because someone knew that was all the song needed.


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