A Brief Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Music Videos


When “Video Killed the Radio Star”, it was only the beginning of a the great crime of change; revolutionizing the way that we listen to and quite literally view music. When the MTV channel first aired in 1981, it also it premiered the first music video on television, at least the kind that we most familiarly recognize today.

Music videos, in their most basic form, are short films meant to accompany a song. Simple as that. And the Buggles did just that.

Buggles- Video Killed the Radio Star 1979 

There were also videos that didn’t include the artist in them, known as … which were much less common at this time known as non-representative or abstract form. A popular example of this is Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”.

QUEEN & DAVID BOWIE: Under Pressure 

With Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, a new bar had been set; the video cost $800,000 US Dollars, was almost 14-minutes long, and was a dance/short-film extravaganza.

Thriller- Michael Jackson 

Our past-favorite pop stars and boy bands were able to get twice as much attention for their music with their music videos, putting on dance routines and creating 3-minute movies to drag you in.

Of course, there’s NSYNC with “Bye Bye Bye”

'N SYNC- Bye Bye Bye 

Leave it to R. Kelly to start the trend of music video series with his rap opera “Trapped in the Closet”.  With a whopping 32 chapters in three parts, he created what probably could be considered a feature-length soap opera with the whole web of lies and love triangles and all that follows that.

R. Kelly - Trapped in the Closet Chapter 1 

However, other artists were finding more relatable concepts for their music videos (more or less, that is). One of my personal favorites is OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again”. The music video features the group performing a highly choreographed dance on four treadmills and it’s pretty awesome. Scratch that, it’s AMAZING. I’m tempted to rearrange the treadmills in the gym and try this out with three of my friends… Check it out here.

OK Go- Here It Goes Again 

As technology progressed, so did the special effects that became available to use in music videos. Fro example, take Britney Spear’s “Toxic”. No offense Brit, but I’m not sure if you would have made it out alive in that video. (Never mind defy the laws of physics) without the help of computers. (But hey, she makes it look good, eh?)

Britney Spears- Toxic 

Now we’re at the point where music videos are so much more than a form of visual entertainment; music videos can be a form of activism and make a statement. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” is a stellar example of this, depicting a story of coming-of-age, adversity, and pride and hope while foremost aiding in the fight for LGBTQ rights.


A new trend in music videos, recently, harks back to R. Kelly’s concept with short film-esque video series from artists all across the board including Fall Out Boy and Lana Del Rey.

Fall Out Boy’s new album Save Rock and Rock is being released in a series of music videos with its own distinct plot. It’s up to part 9 of 12 so there’s still time to catch up! While not having anything to do with the songs really, it still makes for an awesome series to watch. Check out the first video of the series, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up), below.

Fall Out Boy- My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light 'Em Up) 

Tropico is short-film featuring three singles from Lana Del Rey’s EP Paradise, “Body Electric”, “Gods and Monsters”, and “Bel Air”. The plot is a take on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the ensuing events after Eve (Lana) eats the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Del Rey takes an artistic approach to these three singles, which I think is underappreciated. While, yes, she could have use three new singles for the film, her new album Ultraviolence is set to be released in May 2014 and she was able get three new music videos out of her EP. It’s an innovative approach to reinventing an album through this medium.

Lana Del Rey- Tropico (Short Film) (Explicit) 

So, you can see that the music video has come a long way over the past couple decades. From your typical music videos to gems from OK Go to music videos with a statement like “Same Love”, I think it’s safe to say that the music video will keep evolving into new forms and we’’ find new and creative ways to pair film and music in the future.