The 1980s brought some of the most iconic music videos ever created. With a thriving dance scene in full swing and new technologies developing all the time, the role of 80s music videos in shaping the music industry can't be ignored. When MTV was launched in 1981, video became an essential part of a song's success. Directors and artists alike worked to create cult classic visual accompaniments to their music that continue to shape the industry today.
Arguably the most iconic music video of all time, Thriller was released in 1983 and took the world by storm. Directed by John Landis, it was more of a short film than a video to accompany the song. The film features special effects, zombies, and iconic choreography that will never be forgotten. At the time, music videos were low-budget, but Michael Jackson's number pushed the boundaries, costing a whopping $500,000 to make. The hit helped boost Jackson's superstardom and created a new standard for music videos of the time. The Thriller dance is still essential for Halloween parties across every generation. Music films have become more commonplace in today's industry, with Taylor Swift's All Too Well short film winning multiple accolades in the recent awards season.
It's no surprise that Madonna's music video for Like a Virgin went down in history and continues to shape the industry. Released in 1984, the video focuses on Madonna dancing around in a wedding dress. The video was deemed controversial and "vulgar" at the time, but this only worked in Madonna's favor and generated more interest in the song. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Another 80s video from the King of Pop that shaped the music industry is Billie Jean. The song helped Michael Jackson cement his success as a solo artist, and the video is just as iconic. Jackson's videos were hugely dance-focused, and this one was no different. It starts with Michael walking down a light-up sidewalk and eventually diving into a full dance routine, including the world-renowned moonwalk. The video showed the world Jackson was more than just a singer; he was a true performer. Modern-day artists like Jason Derulo have been inspired by Jackson's dance moves and combined their own music with theatrical performances for their videos.
Directed by Steve Barron, the Take On Me music video combines live-action and animation and paved the way for a surge of quirky video styles that would shape the industry going forward. In the groundbreaking video, lead singer Morten Harket interacts with a woman in a comic book-style animated world. A-Ha's memorable flick won Video of the Year in 1986, along with five other VMAs.
In 1985, Tears for Fears made history by bringing politics to the forefront of their music video. Everybody Wants to Rule the World used striking imagery to criticize corruption in politics and the greed of those in power. It showed that music videos, not just song lyrics, could be a force for good, a way to encourage change, and a means to express political messages through a fun, easy-to-digest medium. Tears for Fears and their hit helped shape the industry and inspired a new wave of socially conscious artists.
Another classic by Madonna is the Material Girl music video. Released in 1985, the piece is an homage to Marilyn Monroe's performance in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Madonna reenacting Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. The video showed how powerful classic film scenes can be in creating music videos.
Released in 1983, the music video for Every Breath You Take was another piece that showed the power of simplicity. The black and white video features the band performing the song in a ballroom with a pianist and string section while a man cleans the floor-to-ceiling window in the background.
The music video for Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel was deemed groundbreaking for its creative, outside-the-box concept. Winning nine MTV VMA awards, the video was deemed groundbreaking for its combination of stop-motion animation and live-action. To this day, the Sledgehammer video is MTV's most-played music video of all time.
Whitney Houston was already a superstar when I Want To Dance With Somebody was released in 1987. The video showed how powerful vibrant colors and dance can be in making a song a big hit. The upbeat video featured Whitney Houston dancing around a nightclub and paved the way for a new wave of dance-pop in the 90s.
Girls Just Want To Have Fun is a Grammy Award-winning, lighthearted, and fun music video featuring Cyndi Lauper dancing and singing with friends. The video also features a re-enacted scene in homage to A Night At The Opera. Lauper's video showed that the industry could be all about positivity and turned her into a feminist icon that inspired new female artists to come forward. The video cost just $35,000 to produce ($95,000 today) and used a mostly volunteer cast.