It’s perplexing to think how we’re 20 years removed from 1994. While certain things have drastically changed, so much has stayed the same. The ’90s culture still seems much more prevalent than the ’80s did 20 years later — even if Nirvana’s now considered “classic rock”. For example, Pulp Fiction remains a shocking piece of cinema, critics and fans still obsess over Nas’ triumphant Illmatic, and the Clintons continue to make headlines.
The ease and accessibility of online media certainly helps, especially the finesse of Google and the wealth of content on YouTube. For music fanatics like us, we relish the opportunity in being able to search and destroy any piece of pop culture, and that includes oft-forgotten live performances/bootlegs and, naturally, classic music videos.
Now, music videos from the ’90s are very “of their time.” Today, they’re slick, clever, and meme-worthy to generate enough Internet buzz and radiate with clicks. However, back in 1994, music videos were something that came on unexpectedly. Watching them on MTV was like playing video roulette; you rarely knew what was going to come next.
With that in mind, all of the videos on this list were jarring experiences that made us laugh, cry, cheer, and cower in fear in spontaneously shocking ways. They were groundbreaking for their time, and seemingly served a larger purpose for the band or artist. They weren’t based around gimmicks, but instead, great ideas.
And man did we dig ’em.
10. Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Gin and Juice”
The “giant party in the hood” motif was pretty played out by 1994. Dr. Dre had done it, Wu-Tang had done it, and we hipped and we hopped, but the parties seemed to stay the same (hell, Kid and Play even got a franchise). That was until Snoop Dogg came in and changed the game with “Gin and Juice”. Snoop stars as a bratty version of himself, whose parents decide to leave town while sitting in the living room drinking 40s. He then throws the party of the year at their house, complete with dancing, the song’s signature drink, and a guest appearance by Dr. Dre (who comes through “with a gang of Tanqueray”). All these other rappers had parties for their music videos, but no party appeared more fun and upbeat than Snoop’s “Gin and Juice,” which is why that song will be played on the dance floor until we are six feet under. –Ted Maider
09. Mazzy Star – “Fade Into You”
Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” was distinct for the way it mixed twangy, sun-kissed folk with sultry dream pop. And in the song’s video, we get the visual representation of both these sounds juxtaposed with each other. In one frame, there’s the sprawling desert seen from the window of a traveling car, and in the next, there’s lead singer Hope Sandoval and her bandmates all bathed in a shade of Lynchian-blue light on an otherwise empty stage. “You go in shadows,” croons Sandoval, illuminated by the bright, ethereal shine. You want to stay and linger for awhile. But with a cut back to the desert, we’re reminded that the trip presses on. As Frank Booth says, “Let’s hit the fuckin’ road.” –Dean Essner
08. Beck – “Loser”
“Deliberately crude,” Beck told Option 20 years ago. Directed by friend Steve Hanft, who procured a $300 budget to shoot on film and not video, the lo-fi clip found Beck and his California vibes bummin’ around the Golden State in places like Rothrock’s Humbolt County studio and yard as well as the Santa Monica graveyard. Twenty years might seem like an impossibly long time ago for Beck to have burst on the scene, but consider how far a cry the “Loser” video (and even standalone song) is from, say, his recent rendition of “Wave” on Saturday Night Live. The transition from angsty ’90s “loser” to the widely adored Mr. Hansen we know today gifted us with more than a couple of classic albums, but it was “Loser” that started that journey and introduced us to a fresh and wholly of-the-moment musician back in 1994. –Amanda Koellner
07. Tom Petty – “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
One of my earliest memories of MTV is watching this music video. That speaks volumes to the clip’s shocking visuals, but it’s also a little fucked up if you think about it. A five-year-old watching some long-haired morgue-robber with a necrophilia fetish? Thanks mom. I don’t remember being particularly scared, but the image of a dead Kim Basinger definitely sticks with me to this day. Watching the “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” video now, it’s easy to see why it was so popular/praised back in ’94. It’s creepy, sure, but it’s also quite beautiful – particularly Tom Petty and Basinger’s candlelit slow dance, followed by a moon-soaked walk into the ocean. It’s a concept that could’ve gone horribly awry, and probably could only have worked during this music video golden age, but Petty wound up hitting a homerun with one of the most memorable videos of the decade. –Bryant Kitching
06. TLC – “Creep”
The lead single from TLC’s second album, CrazySexyCool, “Creep” marks the trifecta’s first No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 and is also undoubtedly one of the best R&B jams of 1994. Shot over the summer of that year, the video is a three-in-one deal, with several different scenes braided together. As T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chili sing about creepin’ well before the Zuckerberg-era, their costumes and activities transition while remaining wholly ’90s and incredibly chic. There’s the black and white casual hang–complete with hand stands and copious flannel. There are T-Boz’s sepia-soaked stage shots, as she flirts with a trumpet player wearing what can only be described as a corduroy jacket. And of course, we have the iconic silk PJs. The latter boasts three sets of killer abs, a touch of grey-blue lipstick, and simulated wind work that, I dare say, rivals that of Michael Jackson’s. The ladies creep around ’cause they need the attention, and this block of four minutes and 24 seconds demands that we give TLC all of ours. –Amanda Koellner
05. Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy”
Talk about the ultimate artist mission statement. The video for Biggie Smalls’ most famous track set the standard for the next two decades of hip-hop videos. It has everything that we’d now call ubiquitous: mansions, parties, hot women, champagne – this is the biggest name in rap in high gear, operating during the genre’s so-called “Golden Age.” But it’s the deeper message that makes this one of the most important rap videos of all time. Through flashbacks we see Biggie’s upbringing from the streets of Brooklyn, into gritty prisons, until finally we reach the gold-plated lifestyle he lived until his death. It’s big (no pun intended), flashy, overstated – but why shouldn’t it be? The concept of social advancement through financial empowerment would go on to define the entire genre right up to present day, and rarely had that sentiment been more explicitly laid out than right here. –Bryant Kitching
04. Green Day – “Longview”
Green Day’s Dookie may be juvenile to some, but it’s brilliant and mature in the way it prods at the fringes of bigger existential questions. Does adolescent angst become adult angst? Does suburbia get better? Does life get easier? The video for “Longview” captures this puzzled essence by giving us a day in the life of a teenager, played by lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong (who looks the part). As expected, things aren’t too exciting. When the song begins, we find Armstrong perched on his living room couch before a messy coffee table of remote controls, debris, and half-smoked cigarettes. There’s nothing on television. Even his pet monkey looks bored to death. “Bite my lip and close my eyes/ Take me away to paradise,” he sings on the chorus, as his band slashes away on their instruments in a tiny hamper closet. Idyllic suburban serenity? More like a long stay in the prison of white privelege. –Dean Essner
03. Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
“Black Hole Sun” is the kind of video that could only have existed in the mid-90s. At this time, imagery that meshed bright colors with macabre-style themes were a go-to scenario for music video directors. However, Soundgarden’s classic tune accompanies one of the finest music videos of its time. The four-and-a-half minute spectacle combines visuals of modern suburbia, the apocalypse, misfit children, and bizarre kink, all with a smile. Literally everyone in the video is smiling. And it’s creepy, not cheery. While the apocalypse rains upon a quiet neighborhood, humanity greets their demise with a shit-eating grin. To this day, the brace-faced girl jumping rope continues to haunt my dreams. And I will also never understand women who get in the bathtub with their dogs. –Ted Maider
02. Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”
The best quote ever about the “Sabotage” video comes from MTV’s own Beavis and Butthead, in which Beavis muttered, “I can’t wait until this video comes out.” “Sabotage” is already a song that will get you amped to drive fast, outrun villains, and just maybe slam somebody down onto a table. However, this video put the proper visuals to the song. Everybody knows the premise at this point; it’s the introduction to a fake cop TV show, but what Spike Jonze and the Beastie Boys put to film is straight up cinema magic. Sure, we never got to meet Bunny, or the Rookie, in a setting outside the intro credits, but we wanted to. Any good director should always leave the audience wanting more. Spike and the Beasties left us wanting an entire new TV show to accompany what is no doubt, one of the greatest and most innovative music videos of all time. –Ted Maider
01. Weezer – “Buddy Holly”
Pre-Make Believe Weezer had an impressive string of killer music videos, but none were quite as hilariously irreverent as the one for Blue Album tent pole “Buddy Holly”. Directed by Spike Jonze, the clip channels a squeaky-clean 50’s sock hop with the help of the show that did it best – Happy Days. It’s actually a perfect fit for the song’s starry-eyed, simple lyrics (“Don’t you ever fear, I’m always near, I know that you need help”), and a couple actual characters from the show make guest appearances.
My personal favorite moment comes when Rivers Cuomo makes eyes at Richie Cunningham’s poodle-skirt wearing girlfriend and causes Richie to run into the bathroom in frustration. Who would’ve guessed that the Weezer frontman had more game than a multimillionaire Hollywood producer-director? Oddly though, Cuomo chose to not wear the now-iconic thick-rimmed glasses that gave him the look that birthed this song in the first place.
Oh well, make sure you try the fish. –Bryant Kitching