The Go-Go's, "Our Lips are Sealed" (1981, dir. Derek Burbidge)
The Go-Go's weren't a traditional girl group -- as writers and performers of all their own songs, they had a degree of musical autonomy not familiar to most such groups -- but they were still responsible for a good number of the best pop songs and videos to litter the early days of MTV. Best (and poppiest) was "Our Lips Are Sealed," which introduced the girls driving in convertibles and kicking around in water fountains in sunny California, intercut with footage of the Go-Go's performing in a club.
The group didn't even want to make the video, but you'd never know it from watching; they seem to be having a blast, their cheeriness and energy perfectly matching the song's driving beat and peppy melody. From the first shot of the band clumsily stepping in rhythm, they seemed like the coolest older sisters of the '80s, and the personality of the imminently likable video helped set them up as some of the biggest stars of MTV's first few years.
Bananarama, "Cruel Summer" (1983, dir. Brian Simmons)
Another new wave-bred girl group with a music video goofing around a major U.S. city. This time, it's British trio Bananarama, in their first-ever visit to the Big Apple. The girls wear painters' overalls and skip and clap in unison as they work at a gas station, make friends with a local truck driver and run afoul of the police. The opening shot isn't the only bump the girls did in this one -- according to singer Siobhan Fahey, the exhausted group tried cocaine for the first time midway through the shoot, resulting in a odd mix of low-energy and high-energy scenes throughout (which actually makes for a perfect representation of summer's mixture of manic excitement and life-sucking oppressiveness).
The song and video were both huge hits for Bananarama, bringing them stateside success that lasted for most of the '80s -- though today, the remaining image of the band is still probably the girls in those overalls, dancing in front of the Manhattan skyline.
Wilson Phillips, "Hold On" (1990, dir. Julien Temple)
Not many girl group videos start off with sweeping vistas of snowy mountain ranges, but the video for "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips -- the supergroup of daughters of famous rock stars of the '60s -- embraces the airy, expansive sound of the single by showcasing the group in various natural surroundings. The girls are seen laying around on rock formations, leaning against trees and drawing patterns in the sand, with the glory of Southern California as their co-star. The video's best-remembered image, however, is probably the trio dressed in all black at a crowded Venice Beach, walking aggressively down the boardwalk towards the camera, confronting the viewer with the song's message of endurance just as the final chorus kicks into high gear.
"Hold On" was the first of three straight chart-topping hits for Wilson Phillips, making them turn-of-the-decade mainstays on MTV and brief pop icons. The song and video have endured well into the next century, inspiring singalong scenes in hit comedies Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Bridesmaids, and you can probably still find groups of women in their 30s and 40s on the Venice Beach boardwalk today recreating the famous climactic shot.
En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" (1992, dir. Matthew Rolston)
En Vogue rarely made a video in the '90s that wasn't iconic in some way, whether it be the '60s throwback look of "Giving Him Something He Can Feel," the confrontational runway stomping of "Free Your Mind" or the high-drama performance of "Don't Let Go." But their MTV masterwork is unquestionably the "My Lovin'" video, featuring the group performing perfectly choreographed girl-group routines in show-stopping silver sequin dresses in one visual motif, and gyrating in equally stunning frilly flapper ensembles around a parallel bar in another, brilliantly lit and framed by director Matthew Rolston for maximum pop.
The looks were edgy but totally classic, and the En Vogue ladies -- "girls" almost feels insulting for them -- absolutely owned them. The video raised the bar for all En Vogue clips to come, became one of the most unforgettable clips of the early '90s, was nominated for a bunch of VMAs, and turned the group from hit-makers to outright superstars.
Salt n Pepa, "None of Your Business" (1993, dir. Matthew Rolston)
Salt n Pepa's status as one of the most popular and important female rap groups of all time has always been tied to their music videos, dating back to the days of wearing black spandex body suits, big jewelry and self-promotional jackets in 1987's "Push It" video, and through their set of smash-hit videos for the singles off their Very Necessary album in 1993. That LP's third single, "None of Your Business," wasn't as popular as the first two ('90s hip-hop staples "Shoop" and "Whatta Man"), but its video was arguably the most memorable -- the three SnP ladies wearing revealing outfits, watching a male striptease, and wrestling in the mud (and occasionally hosing each other down).
It was a pretty boundary-pushing video for early-'90s MTV, and what could have been exploitative instead comes off mostly as empowering thanks to the confidence of the women, the cross-gender evenness of the bodies on display, and the general "Let us be us with our personal lives" message of the song. It also helped cement Salt-n-Pepa's status as the baddest chicks on the music video block in 1993 -- though they didn't need much of an assist there at that point.
TLC, "Waterfalls" (1995, dir. F. Gary Gray)
Like En Vogue, TLC were a girl group custom-made for the music video medium, bursting onto TVs with a set of eye-popping and irrepressibly energetic videos in the early '90s like "Ain't 2 Proud to Beg," "What About Your Friends" and "Hat 2 da Back." The group did a lot of maturing before 1995's classic CrazySexyCool LP, though, and the videos for that album -- lower-key stunners like "Red Light Special" and "Creep" (both also directed by Matthew Rolston, the great lost MTV auteur of the period) showing off a sexier and classier TLC, though one definitely still as personality-driven as ever.
Everything came together with "Waterfalls," the group's most famous music video and one of the most popular clips of the mid-'90s. A Sign-of-the-Times-style cautionary tale about the perils of drug dealing and unsafe sex, the F. Gary Gray-helmed clip splits time between enactments of the lyrics' stories and shots of the trio singing and dancing while standing on water, materializing from and dematerializing into the blue to bookend the clip. The setup gave TLC an obvious sense of otherworldliness, like they were some pure benevolent force of R&B sent to preside over the decade, and the public was very willing to accept their new girl-group overlords. "Waterfalls" took Video of the Year, Group Video and Viewer's Choice at that year's VMAs.
Spice Girls, "Wannabe" (1996, dir. Jhoan Camitz)
They were basically unknown to U.S. audiences when the video for debut single "Wannabe" -- a riotous, one-shot stroll through the Girls gleefully messing up some posh U.K. soiree -- premiered, but by the end of the four-minute clip, we knew absolutely everything we needed to know about the Spice Girls. You get the individual personalities of all five members, the infectious togetherness of the group at large, and most importantly, the sense that they were coming to absolutely blast through American pop music and mess up everything we previously thought we knew.
Along with Hanson's "MmmBop" -- another bubbly clip built around a sense of unstoppable momentum and movement, released a couple months later -- the "Wannabe" video launched a youth movement on MTV and eventually on radio, inexorably leading to the supremacy of Total Request Live and the boy band / teen pop boom of the late-'90s. Watching "Wannabe" almost 20 years later, it's still easy to see why: the clip was so intoxicating and unrelenting with its energy, leaving you reeling when the time the girls speed off on the bus at the end, it was either going to make the group the world's biggest sensation or get ignored entirely.
Destiny's Child, "Bills, Bills, Bills" (1999, dir. Darren Grant)
Shot at a time when every hip-hop and R&B video had to look like it was being filmed in the year 2199, the video for Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills" contains its futurism to a supernaturally bright and clean-looking barbershop set, and some odd-looking (though undeniably eye-catching) stringy outfits for the then-quartet. Still, the video is, in essence, a simple one -- four friends at a beauty salon, gossiping disparagingly about the cheap no-goodniks they're dating, while also using their salon chairs for some Cabaret-like dance routines.
The "Bills" video proved the girls weren't one-hit wonders (after debut "No, No, No") and gave them their first ubiquitous smash hit, while also setting the precedent for most of their videos to follow -- fresh look, unique outfits, and plenty of anonymous scrub dudes to be righteously dismissed en masse.
t.A.T.u., "All the Things She Said" (2002, dir. Ivan Shapovalov)
Not strictly a girl group -- duos usually tend to get their own, separate classifications -- t.A.T.u.'s "All the Things She Said" video still deserves mention here for being the first notable video for a multi-female artist where the love interest for the girls was one another. "All the Things" caused an absolute uproar when it crashed MTV in the early '00s, a gloomy clip of societal oppression and doomed romance that was mostly notable for its steamy makeout scenes between its teenage co-stars, as well as some salacious shots of the duo in their rain-soaked school uniforms.
Some cried exploitation at the clip, claiming it leered at its underage stars and encouraged others to do likewise, while others saw it simply as a provocative statement of forbidden love and youthful rebellion, the essence of rock and roll. Both sides probably had a point, but regardless, the clip became one of the most famous of the early 21st century, briefly turning the Russian duo into international pop stars and leading to an equally memorable performance of the song (with follow-up single "Not Gonna Get Us") at the next year's MTV Movie Awards, this time with an entire army of girls donning the school-uniform look from the video.
Pussycat Dolls feat. Busta Rhymes, "Don't Cha" (2005, dir. Paul Hunter)
"Don't Cha" presented the Pussycat Dolls -- a prefab, burlesque-turned-pop outfit, which makes them perhaps the girl group-iest girl group ever -- as a virtually unstoppable army of seduction, with seemingly dozens of sexy, stone-cold members waiting in the wings to pop out at any given moment, jumping on a trampoline or drag racing in a Jeep. And of course, the attack was led by the impossibly alluring head Doll Nicole Scherzinger, wearing a hoodie with the lyrics to the song's coolly evil chorus emblazoned across the top.
It was inevitable that the song and video would become massive, and become massive they did, with the song heating up the Hot 100 chart and the video establishing the group as mainstays on MTV for many subsequent (though not quite as memorable) videos to come. Scherzinger would eventually leave the group, and the Dolls' original lineup would disband, but you can still buy her white hoodie from the video on eBay for $40.
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