The ’90s was truly a golden age for music videos. While these days you’ll find MTV is more reality TV than music videos, the ubiquity of YouTube, Vimeo and the like means the music video is far from dead. Even so, the ’00s can’t quite measure up to the sheer creativity, opulence and… fish-eye lens that the best music videos of the ’90s brought us.
We’re narrowing down the best of the 90s once again to ’97. Because if you can’t celebrate a 20 year anniversary then what can you celebrate?! There were plenty of standout music videos in ’97, proving themselves to be works of art in their own right.
This list of the best music videos of ’97 is according to acclaimed music writers from Pitchfork, THUMP, DJ Mag, Dazed & Confused and plenty more. Among their picks you’ll find <5 min-masterpieces from well-known directors like Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham and Jonas Akerlund, a good dose of surrealism, and did I mention fish-eye lens?
Reacquaint yourself with the best music videos of ’97:
Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up (From the album, Fat Of The Land)
Embodying everything about a very British brand of hedonistic debauchery, one that feels as though it reached fever pitch in late 1997. Jonas Åkerlund‘s video for Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up positions you as a violent, drunk, drug-taking, sex-obsessed club-goer – what more could you possibly want? – Joseph Delaney, Nowness
Daft Punk – Around The World (From the album, Homework)
The genius of Daft Punk’s music often lies in its simplicity: an ear-worm vocal, succulent disco loop, and a few drum taps thrown in for good measure. It’s curious then that Michel Gondry‘s iconic 1997 video for the French duo’s world-dominating single couldn’t have more going on if it tried. You’ve got mummified characters symbolically representing a spinning vinyl disc, synchronized skeletons doing whatever synchronized skeletons do, and of course, robots. Like the lion’s share of both the visionary director and cyborg-loving duo’s work, the video lies somewhere between an innocent youthful fantasy and forward-thinking portal into their whatever future they woke up dreaming about. By the time you get through the video’s swift 3:54 second runtime, you’re left wondering what end of that wonky creative supergroup’s thought-process you’ve landed on. The best part? There’s probably no right or wrong answer—just like they like it. – David Garber, THUMP
Jebediah – Leaving Home (From the album, Slightly Odway)
With the band playing on suburban lawn, and the everyday superhero battling it out with a non-existent evil, the video for Jebediah’s Leaving Home has an air of escapism that suits the track perfectly. This was the coming-of-age anthem of 1997, and for a song so relatable for agonized ’90s kids, Jebediah went the other way for the video. Looking back, that’s probably a good thing – Nick Stillman, Happy Mag
Mariah Carey – Honey (From the album, Butterfly)
I used to watch this music video on repeat. Mariah Carey’s collabs with Jermaine Dupri in the ’90s was her ultimate era. The excessive drama of the plotline is delicious, even if it was potentially a rip-off of that scene in Bad Boys where Max is killed, only this is without the killing. Of course, Mariah can flirt her way out of her captor’s clutches. Mariah is charming, sassy, beautiful… and then there are the outfits. Music videos don’t often get more divine than this. A close second, though, would be ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’ by Puffy and Biggie. It pained me to choose between them.” – Ashleigh Kane, Dazed & Confused
Yo La Tengo – Sugarcube (From the album, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One)
This scholastic-themed gem is the head of the Class of ’97. Music video students and historians, please take note: “Sugarcube” comprises the funniest four minutes and four seconds to ever air on 120 Minutes, and it’s quite possibly the funniest video of all time. When you slap King Diamond facepaint and pink Goblin King wigs on Bob Odenkirk and David Cross from HBO’s Mr. Show, then throw in a class poetry reading of Rush lyrics, the all-important “Foghat Principle,” and lessons in Hotel Room-Trashing and Guitar-Bowing 101, you can expect nothing less than pure genius. Required viewing. – Lyndsey Parker, Yahoo! Music
Aphex Twin – Come To Daddy (From the album, Richard D. James Album)
Without a doubt the scariest music video to date, amazingly orchestrated by Chris Cunningham and Richard James‘ twisted brainstem. Concrete post-war apartment block paranoia, flicker-edits, insane special FX, and manifestations of industrial Britain’s gloom encapsulated by demon-spewing TV/media connotations. People like Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker were clearly paying attention to what was going on with Aphex well before this, but the claustrophobic music mixed with Cunningham’s aesthetic definitely made its way into the DNA of UK leftfield TV series Jam/Brasseye/Black Mirror in the years to come (and settled in for the long run in other media/music videos to boot). – Brian Turner, WFMU
In the late ‘90s, electronic music fulcrum Aphex Twin—known to his parents and law enforcement as Richard D. James—routinely created tracks that eclipsed the purported “power” of what was then passing as rock music. If critics and fans thought “Come To Daddy” was a hard listen, director Chris Cunningham created a black-humored clip that convinced viewers that demons did exist and they were holding court in high-rise council flats in the UK. The clip feels like a thinly veiled homage to auteur Stanley Kubrick, with pre-teen girl apparitions of James looking like the creepy elevator twins in The Shining raising hell like the droogs in A Clockwork Orange. Twenty years on and James’ drill ’n’ bass classic remains a double-pronged audio-visual assault on the senses.
— Jason Pettigrew, ALTERNATIVE PRESS
Janet Jackson – Together Again (From the album, The Velvet Rope)
A classic Janet banger with a safari-inspired twist, the video for global hit ‘Together Again’ sees Miss Jackson lounging in the Sahara surrounded by monkeys, elephants and (some rather sedate-looking) big cats. Written and produced by Janet, alongside super producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — who were also responsible for Janet’s breakout ‘86 album ‘Control’ — ‘Together Again’ not only benefits from super slick production, but also offers up a subtle nod to the deeper 4/4 house sounds that had been bubbling Stateside earlier that decade. Classy AF. – Charlotte Cijffer, DJ Magazine
Lil’ Kim – Crush On You (From the album, Hard Core)
Because matching your wig to the decor and scoring an Aaliyah cameo in your video are the best possible flexes. As far as I’m concerned, Lil’ Kim is as much a style icon as she is a genius rapper, and this video was the kick-off to years and years of incredible outfits. – Alex Frank, Contributing Writer for Vogue, ELLE, The Village Voice, and Pitchfork
Björk – Bachelorette (From the album, Homogenic)
While some of the directors for Björk’s other Homogenic videos attempted to match her music’s futuristic connotations with computer-animated landscapes, artificial intelligence, and technological enhancements, Michel Gondry went the opposite route with “Bachelorette”. The video was a recursive tailspin typical of Gondry, featuring a surreal love story in which Björk as “Bachelorette” discovers a book in a garden that writes itself in real-time, eventually becoming so popular that — brace yourself — it gets turned into a meta-musical that itself includes the story of the book’s popularity and subsequent musical, generating miniature versions nested within each mini-musical. It was exhausting, mind-bending, and absolutely indelible, right down to its inexplicable ending in which the book unwrites itself, and we’re back in the garden from which it all grew. – Marvin Lin, Tiny Mix Tapes
Puff Daddy & The Family – It’s All About The Benjamins (From the album, No Way Out)
There were a lot of great videos in 1997—from Wu-Tang’s “Triumph” to Busta Rhymes “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”—but for me, nothing represented ’90s excess and Clinton era economic growth quite like Puff Daddy and Bad Boy’s entire aesthetic. No one knows how to spend a budget like Puffy and the videos for songs like “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” “Been Around The World” and “Victory” are big budget masterpieces of going way over the top, but making sure it’s totally worth it. That said, the grittiest of all the Bad Boy videos of the year remains my favorite—”All About The Benjamins”. For one, it features the fish eyes lenses that’s oh-so-typical of the ’90s. But while Puffy’s other videos captured the over the top excess that hip-hop aspires to, the “Benjamins” video felt chaotic rather than overly polished. The other videos were something to marvel at, but “Benjamins” was something to emulate. I remember playing Man Hunt in Long Island with my cousins at the time—they actually had MTV, so we watched the video like five times in a day—and running in their backyard felt like running through the woods like Puff, and the LOX did. It sounds ridiculous now, but for a young kid from the Bronx, I was pretty sure I was never going to dance with J. Lo or actually win the Masters, but I sure could run in the woods. – Insanul Ahmed, Genius