Since MTV hit our screens in 1981, music videos have become one of the defining mediums of our generation, launching the careers of pop stars and creatives, and making powerful, bitesized statements about the world around us.
This week we mark the 30th anniversary of a video close to our hearts, and one of the most iconic pop promos in history, George Michael’s ‘Freedom! ’90.’
Our co-founder John Pearson, who starred in George’s iconic video alongside fellow supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford, has spoken about his memories of the legendary ‘Freedom! ‘90’ shoot here. That video united the music and fashion worlds, cementing a relationship that has remained central to both industries ever since.
And it got us thinking about some of the other most era-defining videos, so here are five of the best, one for each decade, from the last 40 years.
I WANT TO BREAK FREE — QUEEN (1984)
In the UK, it was heralded as a brilliant parody of long-running soap opera ‘Coronation Street,’ with Freddy Mercury and his bandmates dressed up as women as the frontman cleans the typical British ‘two-up two-down’ house. But in the US, it was seen as highly controversial by some for promoting cross-dressing, so didn’t receive much screen time on MTV. But the song and the video, directed by David Mallet, has endured as a beacon of comedy, creativity — people often forget the wonderful middle segment with the Royal Ballet company — and Freddie’s legacy.
SABOTAGE — BEASTIE BOYS (1994)
Directed by Spike Jonze, this pastiche of 1970s cop shows was filmed on a low budget and without permits, and ended up being one of the most influential of all time. The spoof has been spoofed itself by shows including ‘Sesame Street,’ and Trainspotting director Danny Boyle has even said it influenced one of the most iconic opening scenes in movie history, where the cast run through the streets of Edinburgh to Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life.’ As actress Amy Poehler says: “There would be no Anchorman, no Wes Anderson, no Lonely Island, and no channel called Adult Swim if this video did not exist.”
SINGLE LADIES (PUT A RING ON IT) — BEYONCE (2008)
Kanye West may not have displayed the best manners, but he did speak sense when he crashed the MTV VMAs stage in 2010 to interrupt Taylor Swift’s Best Female Video speech and protest: “But Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!” Directed by Jake Nava, ‘Single Ladies’ was filmed immediately after the video shoot for ‘If I Were A Boy,’ which was supposed to be the centerpiece of her ‘I Am… Sasha Fierce’ album. But it was the second fiddle, lower budget production that instead inspired a generation and crowned Beyonce as pop royalty.
THIS IS AMERICA — CHILDISH GAMBINO (2018)
Donald Glover’s video, directed by his ‘Atlanta’ collaborator Hiro Murai and choreographed by Sherrie Silver, made a bold, striking statement about the normalization of racial violence in America. The video has received more than 720 million views and has become a rallying call for the Black Lives Matter movement. It reflects the priority of entertainment over justice in our culture, and is one of the most notable pieces of art so far this century.
WATERMELON SUGAR — HARRY STYLES (2020)
The decade is still in its infancy, and the year so far has not been conducive to making music videos. But among the most watched of the year so far, and solidifying his place as a bona fide solo pop superstar with his first Billboard Hot 100 No1, is Harry Styles’ ‘Watermelon Sugar.’ Filmed in Malibu just prior to Covid lockdowns, and directed by Bradley and Pablo, the opening credits proclaim, “This Video is Dedicated To Touching.” Remember touching? And until that time comes again, we will have to live vicariously through Harry and his frolicking, watermelon-chomping, beautifully diverse chums. Let’s see what rest of the decade brings…