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How Did Some of the Greatest Videos of All Time Fare at the VMAs?

Beyoncé, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"
Courtesy Photo

Beyoncé, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"

Some were showered with awards. Others, not so much.

What are "the best videos of all time"? We all know that one of them is Beyoncé's black-and-white clip for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." After all, Kanye West told us so in the most famous (or is that infamous?) outburst in the history of MTV's Video Music Awards.

And how did "Single Ladies" do at the VMAs? It won video of the year, best choreography (Frank Gatson and JaQuel Knight) and best editing (Jarrett Fijal). (West was upset because it lost best female video.)

That got us to wondering how other videos commonly considered among the best of all time fared at the VMAs. Here are 25 other such classic videos, together with their VMA fates.

Michael Jackson, "Thriller" (dir. John Landis, 1984 VMAs) 

This iconic clip lost video of the year to the Cars' "You Might Think." It also lost best male video to David Bowie's "China Girl" and best concept video to Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." MTV might have thought another Jackson sweep, on the heels of his sweeps earlier that year at the American Music Awards and the Grammys, would be too predictable. But "Thriller" did win three awards -- viewer's choice, best overall performance in a video and best choreography in a video (for Jackson and Michael Peters). Plus, in 2009, the "Thriller" video was inducted into the National Film Registry. Well, that's almost as good as a Moonman.

Dire Straits, "Money For Nothing" (Steve Barron, 1986) 

This video, which blends animation and performance footage, won video of the year and best group video. The song and video captured the channel's early marketing slogan, "I want my MTV." How could it lose? (Actually, it did lose viewer's choice, to a-ha's "Take On Me.")

a-ha, "Take On Me" (Steve Barron, 1986)

This imaginative clip lost video of the year and best group video to "Money For Nothing," but won six other awards -- viewer's choice, best new artist in a video, best concept video, most experimental video, best direction in a video and best special effects in a video (Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger).

Peter Gabriel, "Sledgehammer" (Stephen R. Johnson, 1987)

This video, a collaboration with Aardman Animations, won a record nine VMAs -- video of the year, best male video, best concept video, most experimental video, best overall performance in a video, best direction in a video, best special effects in a video (Peter Lord), best art direction in a video (Stephen Quay & Timothy Quay) and best editing in a video (Colin Green). Even with all that, it lost viewer's choice to U2's "With or Without You." Fans sometimes go their own way.

Run-D.M.C. featuring Aerosmith, "Walk This Way" (Jon Small, 1987)

This groundbreaking video, which represented rock and hip-hop coming together, literally and figuratively, was passed over for noms for video of the year, best group video and viewer's choice. It was nominated in two lower-profile categories, best stage performance in a video and best overall performance in a video.

Madonna, "Like a Prayer" (Mary Lambert, 1989)

This video, which deals with such perennial hot-button issues as race, justice and religion, was nominated for video of the year, but lost to Neil Young's "This Note's For You." (You read that right.) It won viewer's choice (beating Young's video; turnabout is fair play). Surprisingly, the video for Madonna's follow-up single, "Express Yourself," fared better, winning three awards.

R.E.M., "Losing My Religion" (Tarsem, 1991)

This classic clip proved that a music video could be a work of art in its own right, and not just a promotional tool. It won six VMAs—video of the year, best group video, breakthrough video, best direction in a video, best art direction in a video (José Montaño) and best editing in a video (Robert Duffy). It lost viewer's choice to Queensrÿche's "Silent Lucidity" and best alternative video to Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing."

Chris Isaak, "Wicked Game" (Herb Ritts, 1991)

This may be the sexiest video ever made. Isaak sings the sensuous ballad as he frolics on the beach with a beautiful woman (Helena Christensen). "Wicked Game" lost video of the year to "Losing My Religion" and viewer's choice to Queensrÿche's "Silent Lucidity," but took three other awards -- best male video, best video from a film (Wild at Heart) and best cinematography in a video (Rolf Kestermann).

George Michael, "Freedom '90" (David Fincher, 1991)

You know you're a big star when you don't have to appear in your own music video. Instead, five female models and five male models lip synced the lyrics. Michael's video was shut out at the '91 VMAs: It lost in three categories to "Losing My Religion" and in two to "Wicked Game." Surprisingly, it wasn't nominated for video of the year or viewer's choice.

Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Samuel Bayer, 1992)

This classic video, set in a gymnasium, lost video of the year to Van Halen's "Right Now" and viewer's choice to Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge." It wasn't nominated for best group video. But it did win best alternative video and best new artist in a video.

Guns N' Roses, "November Rain" (Andrew Morahan, 1992)

This budget-busting video, which portrayed Axl Rose marrying his then-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour, didn't do well at the VMAs. It wasn't nominated for video of the year, best group video, best metal/hard rock video or viewer's choice. It did win for best cinematography in a video (Mike Southon, Daniel Pearl).

Pearl Jam, "Jeremy" (Mark Pellington, 1993) 

This won four awards -- video of the year, best group video, best metal/hard rock video and best direction in a video. It lost viewer's choice to Aerosmith's "Livin' on the Edge." "Jeremy" explores the life of a troubled boy who is bullied at school. This color video was the second clip made for the song; the previous year, Chris Cuffaro directed a black-and-white video. 

Beastie Boys, "Sabotage" (Spike Jonze, 1994)

This lost in all five categories in which it was nominated. It lost video of the year, best group video and viewer's choice to Aerosmith's "Cryin';" breakthrough video and best direction in a video to R.E.M's "Everybody Hurts." But there's a happy ending to this story: Fifteen years later, it won best video (that should have won a Moonman), beating such other losers-at-the-time as David Lee Roth's "California Girls," U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" and the aforementioned "Freedom! '90."

Weezer, "Buddy Holly" (Spike Jonze, 1995)

The Happy Days-themed video lost video of the year to TLC's "Waterfalls." It wasn't even nominated for best group video or viewer's choice. But it won four awards -- best alternative video, breakthrough video, best direction in a video and best editing in a video (Eric Zumbrunnen).

Backstreet Boys, "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)"  (Joseph Kahn, 1998) 

The boy band's clip, set in a haunted house, was passed over for noms for video of the year and viewer's choice. In other categories, it won one (best group video) and lost one (best dance video, which went to The Prodigy's considerably less G-rated "Smack My Bitch Up").

Britney Spears, "…Baby One More Time" (Nigel Dick, 1999)

Spears' iconic clip, in which she plays a bored schoolgirl at a Catholic high school, was shut out. It wasn't nominated for video of the year or viewer's choice, and lost best female video to Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)," best pop video to Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" and best choreography in a video to Fatboy Slim's "Praise You."

D'Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel?)" (Paul Hunter & Dominique Trenier, 2000).

This video, featuring a shirtless (and unbelievably buff) D'Angelo, came away with nothing. It lost video of the year and best male video to Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady." It lost best R&B video to Destiny Child's "Say My Name." It wasn't nominated for viewer's choice.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Californication" (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2000) 

This video, in which each member of the alt-rock quartet goes on an adventure in the Golden State, lost video of the year to "The Real Slim Shady," and best group video to Blink-182's "All the Small Things." It wasn't nominated for best rock video or viewer's choice. But it won best direction in a video and best art direction in a video (Colin Strause).

Missy Elliott, "Work It" (Missy Elliott & Dave Meyers, 2003)

This video, which features cameos from Eve and Tweet, won two VMAs -- video of the year and best hip-hop video. That makes up for its loss for best female video, which went to Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" (featuring Jay-Z). "Work It" wasn't nominated for viewer's choice.

OutKast, "Hey Ya!" (Bryan Barber, 2004) 

This video, a takeoff on the Beatles' fabled 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, won four awards -- video of the year, best hip-hop video, best special effects in a video (Elad Offer, Chris Eckardt, Money Shots) and best art direction in a video (Eric Beauchamp). It wasn't nominated for viewer's choice.

Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance" (Francis Lawrence, 2010)

This wildly imaginative video won seven awards -- video of the year, best female video, best pop video, best dance music video, best direction, best choreography (Laurieann Gibson) and best editing (Jarrett Fijal).

Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, "We Found Love" (Melina Matsoukas, 2012)

This won video of the year, even though it lost best pop video to One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" and best female video to Nicki Minaj's "Starships."

Miley Cyrus, "Wrecking Ball" (Terry Richardson, 2014)

This racy clip won video of the year, even though it wasn't even nominated for best female video or best pop video. (Logic isn't always MTV's strong suit.) The clip somewhat literally took a wrecking ball to Cyrus' old Hannah Montana image.

Drake, "Hotline Bling" (Director X., 2016)

This lost video of the year to Beyoncé's "Formation." It even lost best male video to Calvin Harris' "This Is What You Came For" (featuring Rihanna). But "Hotline Bling" did get some awards bling -- it won best hip-hop video.

Childish Gambino, "This Is America" (Hiro Murai, 2018)

This must-see clip lost video of the year to Camila Cabello's "Havana" (featuring Young Thug), but it won three others -- video with a message, best direction and best choreography (Sherrie Silver).

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