The 6 Most Elaborate Music Videos

  • July 11, 2010
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  • Pop Culture
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Thriller (Michael Jackson)

Yeah. It’s Thriller. We all knew it was going to be here. And if you don’t know why, you must have been born long after Wacko Jacko started ticking the “Caucasian” box on his census form.

It was basically the epitome of the nineteen eighties, Jackson’s career and probably music videos as a whole. Rarely in the history of hyped up media events has there ever been something that has actually delivered quite like Thriller. It starred Mikey himself alongside Ola Ray, a pretty young thing who’s Playboy centerfold filled past is only a casual internet search away (go ahead, we’ll wait). It also featured Vincent Freakin’ Price and more monstrous backup dancers crammed into it than a Lady GaGa video.


He’s got you beat in scale and spooky, Dutchess GooGoo.

So it’s basically a friggin’ movie. It begins with Michael and his girl having their date ruined by a lack of foresight, and after a touching moment of stunningly chaste love, he goes all American Werewolf in London on the poor girl. But hey! It’s only a movie within a video! Until Michael and his real date walk home... where unprompted singing and disembodied music lead to stunningly synchronized zombie dancing. Oh, and the Price Man does his voiceover-rap. It runs almost 14 minutes, all told, and required the work of hundreds of people.

The video cost about half a million dollars to make, and sold (yes, people bought a music video) over nine million “units”. This had never been done, and nothing would even come close to touching it. It even had credits! Kids stayed home from school to watch it on television, possibly staging elaborate ruses of their own, ala Ferris Bueller (it was the 80’s after all). It’s almost impossible to overstate the scale or significance of the video.


How many things that you’ve created have been re-enacted by Philippine prisoners?

And yet it’s still fairly straight forward compared to this next one.


This Too Shall Pass (Ok Go)

If you maintain a finger on the pulse of the internet, you probably could have guessed this entry too. From the band that made dancing on treadmills cool we have a video that would give Rube Goldberg some serious priapism.

In case you were wondering: yes that required one solid take, just like their first hit video, Here It Goes Again. However, this time, the band decided that choreography would be a heck of a lot easier if they just got a company to build a huge freaking machine to do all the intricate bits for them. In time with the song, we witness an insanely complex system of household objects interact with pretty amazing results.

In fact, the video actually led to a TED talk by the man in charge of the company that designed the contraption. He notes the hundreds of objects used in the building, the stringent demands by the band about what they wanted and painfully high number of takes required to get the thing right (and the resulting destruction caused by the failed attempts, as evidenced by the numerous smashed objects seen in the background). The video is not just striking for the complexity of the design, which was a veritable nightmare for the company contracted to build it, but also for the requirements in filming and syncing an often haphazard sequence to a precisely timed song.


Did anyone suggest dancing with a couple Bowflex machines instead?

We’d even go so far as to wager most of the 13 million people who watched the video on YouTube were so stunned by the visuals, they’d be hard pressed to tell you what the song itself is actually about.


Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel)

This song would be Peter Gabriel’s biggest hit in the United States and, even if you’re a diehard Phil Collins supporter, you gotta respect the credentials. According to MTV, Sledgehammer ranks in the top 5 videos ever made, is the most played video in their history, and is the top animated video of all time. Ooh and it has a catchy beat.

Good lord. While some of the previous efforts seen on this list were clearly spawned by innovative minds (and maybe massive egos), Gabriel’s hit features the rare combination of an awesome, unique concept and an artist that was somehow able to put up with its ridiculous implementation.

Gabriel spends the entire video singing and interacting with produce, toys and sexual innuendos. Everything he says comes to life through meticulous stop motion animation, pixilation and claymation. For just the first animated section, Gabriel had to lie still under a sheet of glass for sixteen god@*m hours so they could shoot each individual frame. I don’t imagine the King of Pop ever had to put up with that kind of crap. They even got the guy from Wallace and Gromit to do the dancing turkeys.


The part where the turkeys drink tea and become a forgettable franchise is in the extended cut.

The frame-by-frame style is pretty much the polar opposite of the one-shot Ok Go video. There was no chance of getting it in one take: it was destined to be a horrible gruelling experience from conception. And the artist himself had to actively participate. Instead of having someone fabricate everything and then just showing up for the filming, he became just another prop. So mad respect for Petey for not going insane somewhere around the 20th shot of the fish dancing with his head (which were reportedly rotten and smelled to high heaven).

Still, the crippling back pain and endless assurances of “just a few more frames!” must have been worth it when the song hit #1... and pushed Genesis’ first and only #1 right off the top spot after only one week. Now that’s an elaborate ‘screw you’.

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Image sources:

  • - Take On Me (a-ha):
  • - Estranged (Guns N’ Roses):
  • - Pork and Beans (Weezer):
  • - Thriller (Michael Jackson):
  • - This Too Shall Pass (Ok Go):
  • - Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel):