The nineties were packed with meaningful and defining moments. Walls were torn down, dresses were stained, our economy was the healthiest it's ever been -- but most of all, the music industry thrived in ways it could never thrive again. Not to say music doesn't currently thrive, but the idea of coming home from school, chucking your backpack by the stairs, and zoning out to music videos on MTV isn't really an option for kids today.
Music videos have become completely reliant on mediums like YouTube or music news websites to gain exposure. It's now up to the viewer to seek out these visual expressions of sound, and good luck finding a video that's going to leave much of an impression.
That's where the nineties really succeeded: Prematurely exposing impressionable minds to graphic and otherwise questionable imagery that could never make it to the screen today. What follows is a list of the ten strangest videos of the nineties as we see it -- the ones that left us saying, "What the hell?" -- along with a sense of solidarity in realizing those vivid scenes freaked other people out, too.
10. Pearl Jam - "Jeremy"
The story is that Eddie Vedder read a story in the daily paper about a kid who got up in front of his high school English class and shot himself. The result is the song "Jeremy," which in itself simply falls in line with a lot of nineties-era alternative/grunge music as far as lyrics and sound go. But even without the clammy, half-dressed adolescent and his troubling doodles in the forest, the effect the video's lighting has on Vedder's cheekbones is enough to want to avert your eyes.
9. Master P - "Make Em Say Ugh"
Something about the nineties had even hip hop artists lusting after b-baller status, and Master P was no exception. In fact, this no limit soldier, who once had more street credit than David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have after the last Game of Thrones episode, seemed to be so drawn to the idea of court life that the entire video is set on a basketball court, with no apparent context to the song, and what seems like every single person Master P knows dancing around in custom-made jerseys.
Resale Concert Tickets
There's a tank in the middle of the court and then, of course, Mystikal, whose ass is strategically placed in a basketball hoop. There's something terrifying about the mixture of excess being exploited here, especially when combined with the absolute irrelevance these rappers have on our culture today.
8. Stone Temple Pilots - "Sour Girl"
It's possible that everyone in the music industry was on heroin in the nineties. If that's not true, then at least Scott Weiland was. Regardless of who produces these videos or where the ideas for some of these music videos come from, ultimately, the musicians involved agree to the aesthetic.
The video starts out just fine. "Hey, that's a cool effect they've got going on there with the sky..." and then suddenly, "Are those like...mascots? Stone Temple Pilot Mascots?" The bunny-like characters appear, dancing with just as much creepy gusto as Weiland, and the whole scene is reminiscent of a Mark Ryden painting, though with no apparent politics behind it.
Then there's Sarah Michelle Gellar. If ever there was a way to date yourself, we can understand how inserting the beloved incarnation of Buffy into a rock video could have been hip. The mixture of her cultural relevance mixed with the over affection for these cuddly creatures, topped with Weiland's dancing, is the stuff nightmares are made of.
7. Sound Garden - "Black Hole Sun"
As hard to watch as some music videos can be, it is ultimately the songs they represent that kept us tuned in. "Black Hole Sun" is definitely one of those songs. That whole vacant "Hindu cow" look on the strung out senior citizen types is just the beginning of the eerie imagery Sound Garden needs you to see to visually portray the song. They have that cool cloudy sky effect that Stone Temple Pilots employed (must have been a 90's thing), but take it a step further with that "all of this means nothing" theme: grilling Barbie dolls, excessive make up and other digs on vanity, plus a chunky ballerina in pink that could rival Blind Melon's bumble bee.
Nothing is what it seems. God forbid you were ten years old when this video was getting its heaviest play (something had to instill the fear in you). It's probably had a defining role in your adulthood and you don't even know realize it (you can thank that guy doing push ups).
6. Missy Elliott - "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"
Missy Elliott is weird. In a time when female rappers were tiny in the waist area, wearing little to nothing, and simply riding the coattails of whatever more respected male artist that latched on to them, Missy Elliott was none of this. This being her first video, on top of all of the other strikes against her where social acceptance might be concerned, she accentuates her larger-than-life persona by wearing some sort of inflatable garbage bag suit, creates a caricature of her style by wearing some awful head piece, and draws attention to her already defined lips by putting on some sort of effect that pulses to the beat. All while employing some twitchy rewind, stop motion thing.
5. Tool - "Prison Sex"
Surely, Tool never set out to make a normal video. This 1995 gem contains every unnerving detail of the mind's capacity for disturbance: Excrement, possessiveness, obsession, machines, masochism, molestation. If this video had even a snippet of live action in it, it could have never surfaced on the airwaves. But because of its animated nature, the portrayal of these themes earned some late night MTV action. Just in time to penetrate your bubble gum Brittany Spears enumerations.
4. Busta Rhymes - "Gimme Some More"
What is wrong with Busta Rhymes? It doesn't really matter. In fact, he might not be so loveable if he weren't so goddamn ridiculous. His first mainstream video, "Gimme Some More," begins with some dialogue about Flip Mode Squad (who never actually got any recognition outside of Busta's shout outs), and then he turns into a little blue monster and tears shit up.
There are no words for this video, but it wasn't easy choosing this one over any of his other videos ("Dangerous," for instance). Busta Rhymes should be responsible for directing every single music video ever made. He could have turned that Master P video from a cultural study into a legitimate nightmare, given the chance (and the same amount of money).
3. Nirvana - "Heart Shaped Box"
For a guy who wholly rejected the idea of being a pop icon, whose fear of recognition consistently battled his hunger for songwriting, and for a dude with barely an ounce of stage presence, Kurt Cobain could really ham it up in a music video. It's either that or he was the best puppet a director could ask for. Maybe both (again, heroin). After the charming little video for "In Bloom," "Heart Shaped Box" gave Nirvana back that dark and misunderstood operational mode.
An all too skinny old dude with a Santa Claus hat on hairy little head, strolling through a poppy field toward a crucifix adorned with crows, who eventually sing along to Cobain's lyrics -- if that weren't enough, Cobain is wearing a shiny silver shirt. If nothing else, Cobain's constant grimace in the face of his own mortality is why this video is still relevant and also what makes it so eerie.
2. Marilyn Manson - "The Beautiful People"
Okay. There was a Nine Inch Nails video on this list. The Nine Inch Nails video was "Closer," and then the decision was made to list "The Beautiful People" for a few reasons, the most important being that Trent Reznor had everything to do with it.
In the style of "Closer," this video shares the capacity for some subliminal oddities, but throws in this jerky stop-motion video editing and vibrating effects to lend even more terror to the images of Manson's peeled back, gum-baring face, worms, and face makeup. It's everything uncomfortable about "Closer," without the sense of selectivity about the images, allowing it to be a bit more gruesome than Reznor's attempt at his own video.
1. Aphex Twin - "Come to Daddy"
If frilly Catholic school socks paired with sneakers isn't frightening enough for you, then maybe the idea of a gang of same faced children wearing those socks chasing you down a dark alley is. Regardless of how gruesome a video can be, the creepy silence in the beginning, along with whatever soul snatching creature is let loose on that poor unassuming old lady, is enough to irk anyone, especially when confronted with your next alleyway, television, or gang of children wearing catholic school socks.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!