Best Music Videos: 2010s, 2000s, 1990s, 1980s

Since MTV’s original debut in 1981, the television network has been the first to bring the most powerful and artistic music videos to life.

Now well into its fourth decade on the air, MTV continues to set new trends in the music industry.
Each of the four decades, with its own unique flavor (everything from the “second generation of classic rock” to modern pop music), has a music montage that set the standard for the rest.
Here’s a collection of the most influential music videos of the past 40 years:

4) 2010s: Lady Gaga ft. BeyoncĂ© – Telephone

Austin Powers (left) 
She is better known for her eccentric wardrobe than her musical capabilities, but Lady Gaga’s one-of-a-kind eye for style is exactly the force that made this video what it is. Set in an avant-garde fantasy version of a women’s prison, Gaga trades an anything-but-typical striped jumpsuit for rhinestone-encrusted lingerie complete with a pair of fishnets – until BeyoncĂ© comes to her rescue. Together the duo continues on “mass homicide” (the fatal poisoning of her boyfriend in the music video Paparazzi led Gaga to prison in the first place) through out the Wild West that channels a glamorous, ultra-modern Bonnie and Clyde. On the surface, Telephone is just another overplayed pop song with superficial lyrics and a suggestive dance routine. But ultimately, the artists behind Gaga’s hit video were immaculate in fusing vintage world with modern world, as well as prison scenes with outlaw scenes, in a way that was visually articulate and flat-out hypnotizing. 

3) 2000s: Johnny Cash – Hurt

johnny cash hurt

Serving as a hero to every rockstar since his time, Johnny Cash is one of the few artists who lives on in spite of death. Cash’s final music video portrays the singer/songwriter in a dark, lonely house that mirrors the somber lyrics; June Carter Cash (his wife) is the only other person that appears in this setting. However, the many flashback clips of Cash’s early career and personal life contrast the gloominess with sunnier, happier times. Although full of sorrow and lament, the music video itself is also full of symbolism. In the final scene, Cash closes the cover on the piano he was playing, foreshadowing his death (and the end of his career) just seven months later.

2) 1990s: Notorious B. I. G. – Sky’s the Limit

biggie sky's the limit

During a time when hip-hop was thriving, few rappers set the standard for rags to riches stories. Withstanding the test of time, Notorious B. I. G. proves he was one of the most dominant on the scene. Sky’s the Limit, in turn, proves to be the personification of B. I. G.’s power.  Set in an ethereal, dreamlike estate, the lavish mansion embodies tangible fantasies, while the white stonework and Greco-Roman architecture create the video’s “heaven on earth” spirit and atmosphere. This music video is clearly a catalyst for new-age hip-hop videos that count the tales of making it in the industry.

1) 1980s: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Don’t Come Around Here No More

don't come around here no more tom petty
your dad got laid to this
No matter your personal taste in music, you can appreciate a good Alice in Wonderland reference. With front man Tom Petty himself cast as the Mad Hatter, the Heartbreakers tell the story of a young girl who finds herself trapped in a spacey rabbit’s warren (or consumes one too many hallucinogens, you decide) set to equally enchanting, Arabian-inspired music. The black and white checkered patterns, costume jewelry, big hair, and rebellious attitudes that can only be described as “so 1980s” ensure this video reflects Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers true persona.  Not to mention, the final scene in this music video, where Alice morphs into a cake and the band serves her at the tea party, enraged feminists everywhere during its time.