Top 10 Madonna Music Videos of All Time

Madonna Justify My Love
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Madonna is one of the top female pop music artists of all time. Her star rose as music video began maturing as a visual art form. She has created some of the most memorable videos of all time. These are the ten best covering three decades of her career.

01
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"Vogue" (1990)

Madonna Vogue video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by David Fincher 

Hundreds of dancers auditioned for the parts in Madonna's "Vogue" music video. Many of the dancers also appeared with Madonna on her "Blond Ambition" concert tour. The clip was directed by David Fincher who would later become one of the most celebrated contemporary movie directors. Many of the scenes in the video are deliberate recreations of the classic black and white 1940s fashion photography work of Horst P. Horst. Close-up poses echoed images of Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Jean Harlow.

"Vogue" was filmed on an art deco themed set. Madonna generated controversy by wearing a lace blouse that seems to expose her breasts. MTV asked for it to be removed, but Madonna refused. What remained was a gorgeous and elegant tribute to the practice of voguing developed in the underground gay ballroom culture. The choreography was designed by Karole Armitage who earned a Tony Award nomination for the choreography of the 2009 revival of the Broadway musical "Hair."

The "Vogue" music video received nine MTV Video Music Award nominations winning three awards. "Rolling Stone" listed "Vogue" as the #2 music video of all time in 1999 second only to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

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02
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"Like a Prayer" (1989)

Madonna Like a Prayer video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Mary Lambert

Madonna aimed for the "Like a Prayer" music video to be the most challenging and provocative work yet of her career. At the core of the concepts in the video is a forbidden interracial love story. Actor Leon Robinson portrays a saint inspired by Martin de Porres, the patron saint of mixed-race people and those who seek interracial harmony. However, the music video also adds additional symbolism with burning crosses, the mistaken arrest of a black man, tears from a religious icon, and the religious ecstasy of a gospel choir.

Pepsi signed a promotional agreement with Madonna that resulted in her premiering a Pepsi commercial during the "Cosby Show" the day before the first airing of the controversial "Like a Prayer" video. Religious groups around the world protested the music video and called for boycotts of Pepsi and its subsidiaries including the fast food chains Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. The soft drink company caved and pulled the advertising campaign but allowed Madonna to keep her five million dollar advance. Pope John Paul II intervened on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church and encouraged Italian music fans to boycott Madonna. 

Ultimately the MTV Video Music Awards nominated "Like a Prayer" for Video of the Year. The music video is frequently listed as one of the top groundbreaking music videos of all time. Journalists and critics praised the provocative blend of sex, religion, and statements against racism. Madonna's reaction to the controversy was a statement saying, "Art should be controversial, and that's all there is to it."

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03
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"Ray Of Light" (1998)

Madonna Ray of Light
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Jonas Akerlund

Filmed as a fast-paced time-lapse exploration of everyday life in cities around the world, the Jonas Akerlund directed music video for "Ray Of Light" is one of Madonna's most celebrated. Among the cities featured in the clip are Los Angeles, New York, London, Las Vegas, and Stockholm. Akerlund was still early in his career as a music video director. However, Madonna was a fan of his work on the controversial "Smack My Bitch Up" video by the Prodigy.

The camera work for "Ray of Light" is reminiscent of the film "Koyaanisqatsi." It won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Video as well as five MTV Video Music Awards including Video of the Year. The song also received two Grammy Awards and was nominated for Song of the Year. Warner Brothers released a 40,000 copy limited edition VHS tape of the "Ray Of Light" music video that offered a more precise picture and better sound quality than could be obtained on a television broadcast.

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04
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"Justify My Love" (1990)

Madonna Justify My Love video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino

At the time of its release, Madonna's "Justify My Love" music video was one of the most controversial ever filmed by a major pop artist. The explicit sexual content with hints of sadomasochism and androgyny resulted in a ban from MTV. Angry at the ban, Madonna appeared on ABC's "Nightline" to defend her work. The show played the entire video and then interviewed Madonna about the content of the music video and her reaction to censorship.

A decision was made to release the music video as a video single, and it promptly became the best selling video single of all time. It was certified four times platinum for sales. The clip features Madonna's then boyfriend, actor, and model Tony Ward. Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who worked with Madonna on the music video for "Open Your Heart," directed it. He also received acclaim in 1985 for his music video for Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer." Today "Justify My Love" holds up both musically and visually while not seeming as shocking as when first released. Madonna has stated that it remains her personal favorite of her music videos.

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05
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"Bedtime Story" (1995)

Madonna Bedtime Story video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Mark Romanek

Madonna's "Bedtime Story" music video ranks as one of the five most expensive music videos ever made. It reportedly cost $5 million to create. The inspiration for the visual imagery came from the work of female surrealist painters Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Frida Kahlo.

Mark Romanek, one of the most acclaimed of music video directors, having worked on Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," k.d. lang's "Constant Craving," and En Vogue's "Free Your Mind," was hired to direct the clip. He set the pulsing electronic pop of "Bedtime Story" to a visual that shows Madonna subjected to some scientific test where she falls asleep and travels to a dream world filled with new age symbols and content. The Museum of Modern Art in New York added the music video to its permanent collection for its groundbreaking artistry. It was also shown in a cinematic release to movie theaters in Santa Monica, California, New York, New York, and Chicago, Illinois.

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06
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"American Life" (Uncensored Version) (2003)

Madonna American Life video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Jonas Akerlund

Madonna filmed the music video for "American Life" with Jonas Akerlund shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It includes powerful imagery about violence and war. The original version of the music video ends with Madonna tossing a hand grenade to U.S. President George W. Bush who uses it to light a cigar. Madonna initially claimed that she did not intend to make a political statement with the clip. Instead, she was merely honoring her country by exercising her freedom of expression. The original version of the music video received substantial critical acclaim. 

However, after the uncensored version of "American Life" was shown on some European and Latin American TV outlets, Madonna abruptly withdrew the video with the following statement, "I have decided not to release my new video. It was filmed before the war started and I do not believe it is appropriate to air it at this time. Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video." Madonna released a second version of the music video to replace the much more challenging original version. 

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07
of 10

"Like a Virgin" (1984)

Madonna Like a Virgin video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Mary Lambert

Directed by Mary Lambert, the music video for Madonna's "Like a Virgin" leaped forward in sophistication for her work and music video in general. It was filmed partially in New York and partially in Venice, Italy. Madonna appears as both a sexually aware woman and an ingenue in a virginal white wedding dress. Critics praised Madonna for confronting the Venetian legacy of brutally punishing sexual misconduct by bringing her sexually charged music and imagery to the screen surrounded by the city. "Like a Virgin" became Madonna's first #1 pop hit.

Inspired by the imagery in the music video, Madonna performed "Like a Virgin" live at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. She appeared atop a giant wedding cake wearing a wedding dress with her "Boy Toy" belt buckle.

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08
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"Secret" (1994)

Madonna Secret
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Melodie McDaniel 

Director Melodie McDaniel first gained acclaim as a photographer for album artwork. She filmed Madonna's "Secret" video at the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, New York. The clip is filmed in a lush photographic black and white. As the song progresses, we see images of people along the street and content representing the religious concepts of rebirth and damnation. 

Melodie McDaniel cast the music video from people on the street ranging from card hustlers to resident Harlem teenagers. Model Jason Olive appears in the clip as Madonna's love interest and father of her child.

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09
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"Hung Up" (2005)

Madonna Hung Up video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Johan Renck

Photographer David LaChapelle was hired to direct the music video for Madonna's "Hung Up."  However, disagreements over concept ended the collaboration. Instead, Swedish video director Johan Renck was chosen to put it together. He previously directed Madonna's "Nothing Really Matters" music video. Sets were constructed in London and Los Angeles to stand in for other cities including Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

The clip is a tribute to John Travolta's dancing in the movies "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" as well as dance in general. Due to a horseback riding accident just weeks before filming, Madonna had some difficulty performing her assigned dance moves. The music video also features Sebastian Foucan performing the French sport of parkour which involves uninterrupted motion around obstacles. It includes a scene featuring the computer game "Dance Dance Revolution." "Hung Up" received five MTV Video Music Awards nominations including for Video of the Year.

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10
of 10

"Borderline" (1984)

Madonna Borderline video
Courtesy Warner Bros.

Directed by Mary Lambert 

"Borderline" is arguably Madonna's first music video that expressed an interest in taking the fledgling art form in challenging new directions. The street environment of the clip brings to mind Madonna's own early career in dance clubs. In the music video, she is involved in a conflict between a relationship with a wealthy white man and one with a Latin man of the barrio. Madonna gained critical acclaim for addressing the issue of interracial relationships.

The "Borderline" music video is also seen as addressing power dynamics between men and women. Some also saw it as a shrewd effort to cross over to Latin and black audiences. The clothes worn by Madonna were later featured in designer collections during Paris Fashion Week. "Borderline" was the first of Madonna's videos directed by Mary Lambert who became a frequent collaborator. She also directed Janet Jackson's groundbreaking "Nasty" and "Control" videos. 

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