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.
'Lemon Incest' By Serge Gainsbourg
A video with a certain "Je ne sais quoi," "Lemon Incest" courted controversy when released in 1984 but still managed to hit #2 in the charts. The video shows the elder Gainsbourg shirtless in bed next to his then 13-year-old daughter Charlotte while she cuddles with him in a just a shirt and panties. Viewers accused Gainsbourg of normalizing pedophilia and incest, charges he vehemently denied. (Gee, what would have given anyone that idea?)
Artist: Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Albums: Love on the Beat, Charlotte for Ever
Composer: Fryderyk Chopin, Serge Gainsbourg
Length (seconds): 5:13
'(s)Aint' By Marilyn Manson
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.
Featuring nudity, animal torture, possible Satanic undertones, the Nine Inch Nails video for "Closer" really does have it all. Supercut among these images is Trent Reznor, who turns up wearing steampunk goggles and growling about how he wants to "f*ck you like an animal." A real gentleman. Despite its graphic imagery and unsettling atmosphere, the video's influence turns up in other videos like Rihanna's grainy and hectic "Disturbia".
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Albums: The Downward Spiral
Producer: Trent Reznor, Mark Ellis
Composer: Trent Reznor
Length (seconds): 6:13
#12 on The Best 90s Music Videos
Jonas Åkerlund made his international music video directorial debut with "Smack My B*tch Up" in 1997, and what an entrance into the world it was! The video, shot from the POV of a person about to indulge in a night a wild night of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, ends to reveal the protagonist is a woman. When the video dropped, criticism stemmed from both sides of the pond - the BBC banned it, and MTV restricted it to late-night rotation. Nevertheless, it went on to win Best Dance Video and Best Breakthrough Video from the network later that year.
Artist: The Prodigy
Albums: The Fat of the Land
Composer: Kool Keith, Liam Howlett, Trevor Randolph, Cedric Miller, Maurice Smith
Length (seconds): 5:42
#30 on The Best 90s Music Videos