The 10 Best Music Videos of the 1990s

Though the 1980s ushered in the era of the music video, the 1990s was the decade that brought the art form into its heyday. Rock artists teamed with up-and-coming directors (many of whom would go on to film careers) to push the limits of technology and the small screen to create memorable visual interpretations of their equally memorable songs. Here are the top 10 rock videos of the ’90s.

Oasis All Around the World

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Twenty-four computers. Six months of production. Two squabbling brothers. Sounds like a full-length animated feature, right? Wrong-- that's how much effort was rumored to have gone into the making of the Yellow Submarine-influenced Oasis video. Future Little Miss Sunshine directors Dayton and Faris employed an army of green screens to capture the Pepperland vibe of the video. (Wonder if it took special-effects magic to get the infamously hot-tempered Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, to behave for the entirety of the seven-minute run.) More »

Beastie Boys Sabotage
Grand Royal/EMI

Directed by Spike Jonze
Listen, all y'all: When pioneering rap group Beastie Boys released videos, people ate them up. Combining quick-witted rhymes and pop-culture savvy, their visual promo pieces were parties that everyone wanted to attend. For this rockier track off Ill Communication, Spike Jonze turned the hip-hop trio into 1970s mustachioed detectives. Their costumes look like a precursor to Ron Burgundy and his classy pals. More »

Weezer Buddy Holly
Geffen Records/UMG

Directed by Spike Jonze
Jonze again mined the 1970s for the premise behind Weezer’s groundbreaking video. The happy-go-lucky TV series Happy Days (from the ’70s but set in the ’50s) served as the backdrop for the Los Angeles band’s performance. Original cast member Al Molinaro made a cameo as Weezer played their power-pop hit to a digital audience of the Fonz, Richie Cunningham and the rest of the gang. It’s swell! So swell that the video won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1995. More »

Green Day Basket Case

Directed by Mark Kohr
Being in a band that blasts to international acclaim can drive one crazy. Bay Area pop-punks Green Day took that notion to heart when shooting a video at a real mental hospital for "Basket Case," a standout track on their breakout album, Dookie. No, your mind isn't playing tricks on you- the colors are extra vibrant in this Mark Kohr-directed vid because it was shot in black and white and later converted to its brilliant, mind-bending hues. More »

Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit

Directed by Samuel Bayer
Anyone who’s of a certain age remembers exactly when grunge and Generation X arrived: It was like that old janitor in this timeless Nirvana video had come to clean away the excess of the hair-metal 1980s and usher in a new era of pleasant unrest and raw honesty. Awash in sepia tones and cheered on by anarchist babes with pom-poms, the Seattle trio fronted by slacker king Kurt Cobain proved that less was more. And when your video gets parodied by “Weird Al” Yankovic, you know you’ve arrived. More »

Nine Inch Nails Closer
Interscope/Mark Romanek
Directed by Mark Romanek
Before he scored popular films such as The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor was a macabre auteur. The single “Closer” off his landmark album, The Downward Spiral, had some not-so-polite lyrics about the sadistic nature of love, and the video gruesomely represented this. Bondage, crucifixion and hordes of creepy old men not your thing? Proceed with caution, as this is one of the original NSFW works. This video earned its place in history for having tons of un-airable footage, which music channels would replace with old-timey “not found” placards. More »
Alanis Morissette Ironic

Directed by Stephane Sednaoui
Canadian alt songstress Alanis Morissette’s previous videos off her behemoth record, Jagged Little Pill, were pensive and angry. Director Stephane Sednaoui, known for his happy-go-lucky work with Smashing Pumpkins and Bjork, was the catalyst to revealing Morissette’s fun side... and her childish side... and her responsible side in “Ironic.” With just a little editing magic, it looked as though the singer and her three imaginary clones were on an icy road trip together. This cute trickery earned a slew of MTV Video Music Awards. More »

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R.E.M. - "Everybody Hurts" (1993)

R.E.M. Everybody Hurts
Warner Bros. Records

Directed by Jake Scott
To capture the universality of this R.E.M. ballad’s lyrics, the band found themselves amid a giant traffic jam in San Antonio. Guided by Jake Scott, son of Ridley Scott (Gladiator), the video checks in on lowly drivers and passengers, finding that all are “hurting” in this everyday occurrence. Once singer Michael Stipe assures them all “You are not alone,” everyone abandons his or her vehicle and disappears. We bet that drivers in metropolitan areas wish they could live out the “Everybody Hurts” mass exodus sometimes.

Soundgarden Black Hole Sun
A&M/Universal Music Group

Directed by Howard Greenhalgh
There’s something amiss in suburbia. In this neighborhood of old women who romance their champion poodles, and pigtailed girls who foam at the mouth, they’ve got a common enemy in a heavenly vortex. Somehow, Seattle grunge czars Soundgarden withstand the force of this “Black Hole Sun” as the miscreants around it get sucked up into oblivion. Howard Greenhalgh, best known for helming videos for Meat Loaf and OMD, directed this apocalyptic video hit that bent perspective and color scheme (and stretched the actors’ faces to unsettling proportions). More »

Smashing Pumpkins Tonight Tonight
Virgin Records

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Never a band to shy away from the grandiose, the Smashing Pumpkins turned the visual promo for their violin-laden extravaganza “Tonight, Tonight” into an all-out cinematic production. The Chicago quartet reteamed with the husband-wife duo of Dayton/Faris - who had directed whimsical videos for their “Rocket” and “1979” singles - in this love letter to French filmmaker George Mellies. The video, which utilized hand-cranked cameras and an appearance by the man who gives voice to SpongeBob SquarePants, dominated the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, winning six statues, including Video of the Year. A smashing success and our No. 1 Rock Video of the '90s. More »