music The 17 Most Controversial Music Videos Of All Time  

Michelle Nati
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List Rules Vote up the videos that clearly wanted to rock the boat.

If you enjoy art that make you question its very right to exist, look no further than scandalous music videos, which litter the pop music landscape from MTV's humble beginning to modern Vevo blockbusters. Certain music videos caused a stir when they debuted, and many received restrictions or outright bans by broadcast networks and YouTube. Music videos that caused controversy did so through glorified violence, exploitive nudity, questionable moral acts, or all of the above. In many cases, the videos asked more questions than they answered, not always a bad thing when it comes to artistic expression. Sometimes controversy, by bringing unwanted attention to things, creates change where it's desperately needed. 

A number of the most controversial music videos managed to surpass the negative feedback and went on to become seminal moments in pop music. Many sexy videos lost their shock value as the years wore on, and various rock music videos set the standard for acts who followed. But all of them ignited a firestorm of controversy, some of which continue to rage to this very day.


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Video: YouTube

Clocking in at around nine minutes, "Stan" tells the story of an obsessed Eminem fan of the same name (played by real-life Eminem fan and actor Devon Sawa) and his very pregnant girlfriend played by Dido (whose track is sampled in the song.) When she questions his all-too-consuming love for Slim Shady, the uptight and abusive man puts her in the trunk of his car an drives them both off a bridge. The video was slammed for its violence and heavily censored for by both MTV and Fuse.

Artist: Eminem, Dido

Albums: The Marshall Mathers LP, No Angel

Producer: Eminem, The 45 King

Composer: Eminem, Dido, Paul Herman

Length (seconds): 6:43

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Video: YouTube

Though it feels tame now, the imagery in Madonna's "Like A Prayer" video pretty much touched a nerve with everybody in 1989. Burning crosses, stigmata, and sexual overtones with a Christ-like figure caused controversy among religious organizations and advertisers alike - both Pepsi (who Madonna had a contract with at the time) and the Vatican condemned it, but director Mary Lambert stands by the video to this day. 

“I knew that we were pushing some big buttons, but I sort of underestimated the influence and bigotry of fundamentalist religion and racism in this country and the world. . . Using burning crosses to reference racism to religion. Why not a Black Jesus? Why can't you imagine kissing him? I wanted to speak about ecstasy and to show the relationship between sexual and religious ecstasy. I think that subconsciously a lot of people understood this and were either enthralled or outraged by it.”

Artist: Madonna

Albums: Like a Prayer

Composer: Madonna, Patrick Leonard

Length (seconds): 5:41

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'(s)Aint' By Marilyn Manson


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Video: YouTube

Marilyn Manson plays a role in "(s)Aint," but that doesn't make it any less scandalous. In the 2003 video directed by Asia Argento, Manson, in his words, "plays a confused, drunken white-trash guy who mistakes his girlfriend's son for her because he's sexually confused and dresses up in her Victoria's Secret mail-order underwear, and it's a really disturbing scene." Heavy stuff for a music video, but honestly all in a day's work for Manson.


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Video: YouTube

Nobody ever accused grunge of being all that positive, but Nirvana's video for "Heart-Shaped Box" goes the extra mile towards absolute nihilism. Young girls in KKK outfits pick fetuses from trees while old men hang themselves from crosses, you know, all the usual music video tropes. Interspersed among the video's gruesome happenings is Kurt Cobain's wide-eyed gaze, which only serves to make the video all the more ominous and unsettling. 

Artist: Nirvana

Albums: In Utero

Composer: Kurt Cobain

Length (seconds): 4:41

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