It’s been nearly four decades since our best and brightest stars first made the jump from our stereos to our televisions, changing the course of popular music in the process. In the course of that time, music videos have come to define what we love and remember about our favorite artists as much as anything short of the music itself — creating icons, reinventing careers, sparking imaginations and inspiring untold millions of Halloween costumes worldwide.
On the verge of this Sunday’s (Aug. 30) MTV Video Music Awards — the one time a year where we’re still guaranteed to celebrate one of media’s most influential-but-under-recognized artforms — Billboard wanted to take a look back at the artists who have given the most to the music video, whether through heavy rotation on MTV, millions of views on YouTube, or other mediums that predate both. Here is our list of the 100 artists who have made the music video eternal, with a YouTube playlist of videos from all the artists available at the end.
100. THE BEATLES
Why They’re Video Icons: The Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night, predated MTV’s arrival by 17 years, but it pointed the way: The Fab Four received video vanguard awards at the first VMAs for “essentially inventing the music video.”
The MTV Classic: “Penny Lane,” one of the first clips that showed that videos could be imaginative works of art. When the boys “stop and say hello” early in the video, just try not to be moved.
Worth YouTubing: “Real Love,” the video to the Beatles’ most recent Hot 100 entry, with its memorable image of John Lennon’s white piano floating up to the sky. — PAUL GREIN
99. J BALVIN
Why He’s a Video Icon: J Balvin could team up with Medellin’s 36 Grados one day and work with California-based Colin Tilley the next, and all of his music videos will have a global appeal with that representation of Latino gang for la cultura.
The MTV Classic: “Mi Gente,” featuring Willy William and directed by JP Valencia, not only marks Balvin’s most-watched music video at over 2.5 billion views, but also spotlights diversity, good vibes, innovation, and the production quality that ultimately put him on the international map.
Worth YouTubing: Out of all of the Tilley-directed videos from Balvin’s Colores album, “Rojo” is one that the fans should never sleep on. The gory, heart-wrenching clip, where Balvin gets into a fatal car accident while on his way to the hospital to see his newborn, raises awareness about texting and driving. — JESSICA ROIZ
98. TIERRA WHACK
Why She’s a Video Icon: The Philadelphia-based hip-hop artist has developed a knack for the bizarre and engaging, with visuals that can make viewers squirm and still leave them craving more.
The MTV Classic: The 2018 visual and audio project, Whack World, seamlessly walks fans through a world of the artist’s own making — and does so between 15 songs in just 15 minutes.
Worth YouTubing: “Mumbo Jumbo,” a quirky visual with high shock-value that scored Whack her first ever Grammy nod for best music video. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
97. GARTH BROOKS
Why He’s a Video Icon: Brooks’ peerless power as a storyteller translates from his hit songs to his videos, cinematic clips that helped him redefine country music in the `90s on a stadium-packing scale.
The MTV Classic: Call it Nashville Noir: a seedy motel on a dark and stormy night, a faithless husband, a jealous lover, a betrayed wife, a violent fight and a gunshot, all set to tense guitar lines and Brooks’ aching vocals on “The Thunder Rolls.”
Worth YouTubing: All of Brooks’s clips are worth You Tubing — but the singer has not released his music to the platform, objecting to how it compensates song creators. Despite hinting to Billboard in 2018 that he might cut a new deal with YouTube, so far none of his official videos can be found on the site. — THOM DUFFY
96. PAULA ABDUL
Why She’s a Video Icon: Heavy on late-’80s and early-’90s visuals — big hair, big earrings, big jackets and tight pants — Paula Abdul straight up defined a generation of windswept videos with perfectly choreographed dance moves.
The MTV Classic: Playing opposite MC Skat Kat, Abdul lets her animated partner be a worthy opponent in “Opposites Attract.” The push and pull between the would-be couple has you rooting for it to all work out — even if one of them is a cartoon feline.
Worth YouTubing: The outdoor landscapes of “The Promise of a New Day” exist only in a Windows 95 world. But that’s what makes the video endure — the earnest hopefulness of Abdul lying in a field, singing of better times to come is something we all need a dose of right now. — DENISE WARNER
95. DAFT PUNK
Why They’re Video Icons: While the French electronic duo pioneered some of the most cutting-edge productions of the late ’90s and early ’00s, they weren’t so self-serious as to not also make a series of surreal and often deeply goofy videos to accompany them.
The MTV Classic: “Around the World,” which features a dance troupe including mummies, synchronized swimmers, astronauts and skeletons all directed by French auteur Michael Gondry.
Worth YouTubing: “Da Funk” — which follows a grown man in a dog mask and a leg cast as he maneuvers through an urban jungle — is just deliciously strange. — KATIE BAIN
94. CHILDISH GAMBINO
Why He’s a Video Icon: Donald Glover’s creative vision for music videos has matured in tandem with his music, evolving throughout the last decade from largely art-for-art’s-sake to layered clips with timely messaging.
The MTV Classic: “This Is America,” the Grammy-winning, social commentary-filled video that gave a chilling perspective on racial tensions and injustices throughout the nation and quickly became the conversation around dinner tables and political TV sets.
Worth YouTubing: “Telegraph Ave,” a beautifully scenic video filmed in Hawaii that co-stars R&B star Jhené Aiko — and one that takes an unexpected turn for the supernatural at its conclusion. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
93. THE ART OF NOISE
Why They’re Video Icons: The first clip that MTV played upon sign-on in 1981 was The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star.” Several of the most brilliantly weird clips that the cable channel played over the rest of the ’80s belonged to another Trevor Horn project, The Art of Noise.
The MTV Classic: Directed by Zbigniew Rybczynski, the 1984 clip for “Close (To the Edit),” stutter-cut to the beat of the song, depicts a young girl in punk regalia commanding members of the band, who are wearing suits and wielding power tools (“Huey Lewis & The News,” according to one interview) to destroy a series of classical instruments. No wonder Beavis and Butthead approved, which gave the video a second life in the ‘90s.
Worth YouTubing: “Kiss,” Art of Noise’s 1988 cover of the Prince classic, with ageless pop singer Tom Jones on vocals. With Jones’ cool-guy dance moves set against eye-popping visual backgrounds, the clip propelled its singer — whose last visit to the top 40 had come in 1977 — to No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100, and into the video age. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
92. CARDI B
Why She’s a Video Icon: Cardi B’s music videos get bigger and better with each release, and it’s clear her music video evolution is just getting started.
The MTV Classic: While “I Like It” was the unexpected hit to help J Balvin and Bad Bunny achieve crossover success and elevate all three artists’ star power, there’s no denying the surprise and delight elements of “WAP” that make it an instant classic.
Worth YouTubing: At this point, you’d be hard pressed to find a Cardi B music video that you haven’t seen before, but 2016’s “Cheap Ass Weave” was a preview of the theatrics that were to come. — BECKY KAMINSKY
Why He’s a Video Icon: Just like his music, Mr. 305’s videos offer an escapism from real life and into Pitbull’s fist-pumping world, where a good time is always guaranteed.
The MTV Classic: His 2011 VMA-nominated clip for “I Like It” with Enrique Iglesias opens the door to the ultimate party. The invigorating video will instantly transport you to the club, even during a pandemic shutdown.
Worth YouTubing: Set in one of L.A.’s hidden holes-in-the-wall, Pitbull takes his crew to the Cuban-themed speakeasy for a burlesque-style night of dancing in the black-and-white video for “Fireball.” — GRISELDA FLORES
90. THE CARS
Why They’re Video Icons: The new wave survivors embraced their image as unlikely left-field pop stars with some of the most imaginative, quirky and generally loveable video of MTV’s first decade.
The MTV Classic: “You Might Think,” the surreal, effects-laden slapstick clip that beat “Thriller” for video of the year at the first-ever VMAs in 1984 — still an obvious robbery, but one that’s hard to get too mad about.
Worth YouTubing: “Hello Again,” a winkingly sensationalistic video satire — directed by pop-art OG Andy Warhol, who even cameos as a bartender. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Why She’s a Video Icon: Even with YouTube affording people a direct line to their fans, the vast majority of artists — whether they’re chart-toppers or underground faves — tend to play it safe when it comes to music videos. Not SOPHIE, who continues to experiment with a bold, challenging visual language.
The MTV Classic: Both literally face-melting and face-shredding, the self-directed “Faceshopping” video is as unsettling as it is unforgettable.
Worth YouTubing: “It’s Okay to Cry,” where SOPHIE – against backdrops of rainbows, storms and stars — sings directly to camera and demonstrates the liberating, lovely power of tears. — JOE LYNCH
Why They’re Video Icons: With five VMAs and one best music video Grammy (“Pork and Beans”) under their belts, Weezer have long proved their status as champions in the field, proving their meme know-how, recruiting an ever-growing list of celebs, and working repeatedly with one of the 1990s’ most in-demand video directors, Spike Jonze.
The MTV Classic: That would be “Buddy Holly,” the Jonze-helmed, Happy Days-referencing clip that first made the band Alternative Nation-era stars.
Worth YouTubing: “Keep Fishin’,” which has the band rubbing elbows with The Muppets and showing off their comedic chops. — GAB GINSBERG
Why She’s a Video Icon: Whether she’s serving up a slow jam or unleashing choreography so intense your thighs will burn just from watching, every Ciara video is a body party.
Worth YouTubing: 2010’s Basic Instinct was a commercial disappointment at the time, but it produced the two most impressive dance videos of her career: the hypnotic “Ride” and the yard-stomping “Gimmie Dat.” — NOLAN FEENEY
86. GRACE JONES
Why She’s a Video Icon: A wildly original visual artist pushing avant-garde imagery to the masses in a shiny pop art package, Grace Jones’ videos touched on colorism, colonialism and commercialism. Plus, that car driving into her mouth looked pretty cool.
The MTV Classic: Although it’s technically a cobbled-together assortment of previously existing clips, “Slave to the Rhythm” still stands as one of the most impossible-to-ignore videos of the ’80s and earned Jones her sole VMA nom.
Worth YouTubing: A visual collage on par with anything you might see at the Whitney, the rapid-cut visuals for her cover of Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug” are as frenetic and thrilling as the remix version that accompanies the video. — J. Lynch
85. TROYE SIVAN
Why He’s a Video Icon: From the start of his career to today, Troye Sivan uses music videos as an opportunity to present stunning pieces of narrative storytelling, often centered around regularly-excluded LGBTQ themes, from the perspective of those they aim to represent.
The MTV Classic: With his “Blue Neighborhood Trilogy” (consisting of his videos for “Wild,” “Fools” and “Talk Me Down”), Sivan turned an entire album’s worth of music videos into a single, linear narrative following a queer love story in an unaccepting society. The singer’s incredible use of acting and visual storytelling made a thundering impact in 2015, the reverberations of which queer artists still feel today.
Worth YouTubing: On “Bloom,” the Australian star holds absolutely nothing back in his embrace of pure androgyny — the entire video serves as the queer fashion show of a lifetime, and it is an absolute delight to watch. — STEPHEN DAW
84. LIL WAYNE
Why He’s a Video Icon: An exemplary MC, Lil Wayne’s crossover appeal and whimsical personality made him as intriguing a presence on video as it did on radio.
The MTV Classic: “Fireman.” With sirens blaring at the start of the video, you had a gut feeling that Weezy’s incendiary bars were too hot for any fire hose to put out.
Worth YouTubing: “Mrs. Officer.” Wayne’s affinity for female cops is on display in the light-hearted clip, as he revels at the wonders of handcuffs during his bedroom escapades. — CARL LAMARRE
Why They’re Video Icons: A lot of their videos might just be stylish performance clips with an art school flourish or two, but what style. The marmoreal cool of Debbie Harry and the band’s razor-sharp duds plastered across TV screens helped define the nascent new wave genre, which would set the tone for many a mallrat’s wardrobe.
The MTV Classic: Whether “Rapture” passes muster as the first “rap video” on MTV depends on the elasticity of your definition, but there’s no denying the jaw-dropping cool of Debbie Harry in a leather tube top and “Man From Mars” William Barnes in a top hat strutting through the graffiti-covered East Village — with cameos from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab Five Freddy.
Worth YouTubing: “The Hardest Part,” which gives us the rare opportunity to see Debbie Harry as a long-haired brunette, finds her stomping around a set covered in words like “Calligraffiti” and “Art Soup” while the band rocks out in jumpsuits seemingly borrowed from the Devo Spring Runway Collection.– J. Lynch
82. OK GO
Why They’re Video Icons: In 2006, OK Go danced on treadmills, and the rest was history. After that early success, the band attempted to outdo themselves in further creative videos; examples include a Rube Goldberg machine, shooting elaborate choreography in one long take, and even filming in a zero gravity environment.
The MTV Classic: “Here It Goes Again,” the aforementioned treadmill video, went so viral that even your mom was forwarding it to her friends on chain emails. (It snagged a Grammy for best short form music video.)
Worth YouTubing: The first video for “This Too Shall Pass” is less complicated than the alternate Rube Goldberg one, but is nonetheless a charming, one-take clip that features an awesome marching band. — G.G.
81. TYLER, THE CREATOR
Why He’s a Video Icon: The Golf Wang brand-leader has been defined by his visual sensibilities almost as much as his unconventional music style, thanks to his commitment to self-directing every video since the beginning of his career.
The MTV Classic: “Yonkers,” the unflinching, roach-chomping single-shot that introduced the masses to Tyler’s entrancing menace in 2011, and earned him one of the unlikeliest best new artist wins at the VMAs.
Worth YouTubing: The dollhouse of horrors in “IFHY” makes a perfect setting for the song’s soap-opera melodrama. — BRYAN KRESS
80. SPICE GIRLS
Why They’re Video Icons: Girl groups today preach that their members’ differences make them stronger. Yet no group has so thoroughly embraced their individual charms as the Spice Girls, who interpreted their catalog in such wildly different ways that each video offers a choose-your-own adventure menu of moves and attitude.
The MTV Classic: “Wannabe,” a tornado of goofiness and rebellion that continued off screen as well: Record executives were reportedly so dissatisfied with the unpolished, free-wheeling feel of the video that they wanted to reshoot it, but the girls refused.
Worth YouTubing: “Viva Forever,” which does not feature the girls themselves. Instead, director Steve Box assembled some creepy-looking Spice Girls puppets for a surreal animated tale about leaving childhood behind — with Ginger Spice’s then-imminent departure from the group only making its message of lost innocence more potent. — N.F.
79. RICKY MARTIN
Why He’s a Video Icon: From the moment he sashayed up to the mic in “Livin La Vida Loca” all dressed in black, and gave us that look, the Menudo alum became the most memorable and watchable drop-dead handsome guy in pop music.
The MTV Classic: “Livin La Vida Loca,” Martin’s ode to the party-fueled, glitzy ’90s won best pop video and Best dance video at the 1999 VMA’s and continues to make us want to just go out and have a blast.
Worth YouTubing: Fast forward for another ode to the good life, this time in 2016 poolside in Miami Beach and alongside Maluma, baby, in “Vente Pa’Ca”; clichéd, guilty fun. — LEILA COBO
78. KATY PERRY
Why She’s a Video Icon: Perry’s brand has always been “fun.” She understands that she’s in show business—and seems to enjoy it to the hilt.
The MTV Classic: “California Gurls,” a diet-busting trip to “Candyfornia.” The best moment: Perry’s startled look when a red gummy bear gives her the finger.
Worth YouTubing: “Birthday,” in which Perry goes undercover as five different party entertainers, who were each perfectly awful at their jobs. — P.G.
77. JANELLE MÓNAE
Why She’s a Video Icon: Janelle Monáe is very clearly a visual thinker — as you watch through her extensive videography of “emotion pictures,” the triple threat is a natural when it comes to her impeccable detail and futuristic visual storytelling.
The MTV Classic: “Q.U.E.E.N.” won Monáe her first-ever VMA for a reason; the video’s use of the singer’s long-running black-and-white motif through an experimental art gallery of “legendary rebels from throughout history” (including iconic guest star Erykah Badu) makes for a compelling watch.
Worth YouTubing: If you’ve somehow managed to miss “Pynk,” you ought to fix that immediately. Monáe’s rebellious tribute to femininity and queer love in all its forms (including the now-iconic vagina pants seen throughout the clip) is truly a masterpiece. — S.D.
Why They’re Video Icons: The cartoon collective helmed by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett has transformed its alternative, genre-blurring brand into videos throughout the 21st century that leave the viewer asking what did I just watch? — but in the best way imaginable.
The MTV Classic: “Feel Good Inc.,” the clip that nabbed VMAs in 2005 for best visual effects and breakthrough video, thanks to a floating windmill island — an apparent nod to 1986 Japanese fantasy film Castle in the Sky — that encapsulates the band’s virtual members.
Worth YouTubing: “On Melancholy Hill,” a four-and-a-half minute journey that begins with virtual guitarist Noodle firing an automatic weapon at pirates, blurs dimensions later in the clip, and even features a momentary depiction of Snoop Dogg. What more could you want? — J.G.
75. CYNDI LAUPER
Why She’s a Video Icon: Lauper had everything it took to be a pop star in the mid-‘80s — great pipes, a quirky personality and a strong visual sense.
The MTV Classic: The effervescent “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which was a video of the year nominee at the first-ever VMAs. (Remarkably, Lauper was the only female artist to be nominated for video of the year in the VMAs’ first half-decade.)
Worth YouTubing: “What’s Going On,” in which Lauper fearlessly covers the Marvin Gaye classic. She’s shot in color — everything else is shot in black-and-white. — P.G.
Why They’re Video Icons: The best-selling K-pop act has produced visuals that make fans shriek with joy in a post-TRL world, often finding a balance between individual member showcases and impressive group choreography.
The MTV Classic: 2017’s “DNA,” a candy-colored burst of energy that became the first BTS video to cross 1 billion YouTube views and underscores why this fun-loving seven-piece crew was about to take over the world.
Worth YouTubing: “Not Today” — which mixes cinematic, slow-motion action sequences with elaborate dance breaks and strikingly handsome close-ups — remains one of the group’s more eye-popping visual experiences, even if the plot is a little hard to follow. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
73. MARIAH CAREY
Why She’s a Video Icon: Over three decades, MC has gone from breezy girl next door, flaunting a denim collection as wide as her vocal range, to secret agent, runaway bride and even her own stalker in a collection of music videos that play like mini-dramas.