The 17 Most Controversial Music Videos Of All Time

Voting Rules
Vote up the videos that clearly wanted to rock the boat.

If you enjoy art that makes 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. 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.

  • 1
    2,697 VOTES

    'Lemon Incest' By Serge Gainsbourg

    'Lemon Incest' By Serge Gainsbourg
    Video: YouTube

    "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 while scantily clad.

    Viewers accused Gainsbourg of normalizing illicit and inappropriate relationships, charges he vehemently denied. 

    2,697 votes
  • 2
    1,899 VOTES

    '(s)Aint' By Marilyn Manson

    '(s)Aint' By Marilyn Manson
    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, "play[s] 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.

    1,899 votes
  • Most people understand Lady Gaga's videos can get a little weird, but this one gets downright sinister. The assault claims against both director Terry Richardson and singer R. Kelly put "Do What You Want" permanently on ice by Gaga, who wanted to shy away from their controversies. In the video footage, a minute of which was released by TMZ, Gaga plays a patient to R.Kelly's doctor who says "Sounds like that medicine's starting to kick in" while he touches her. She then passes out as the party continues around her.

    1,735 votes
  • 'Jeremy' By Pearl Jam
    Video: YouTube

    "Jeremy" was based on a real-life incident that occurred in 1991, when 15-year-old Jeremy Delle took his own life in front of his classmates. But when the video hit MTV, most people assumed, and still do, that the video's protagonist slays his fellow students instead.

    In the version you don't usually see, Jeremy enters the classroom, throws an apple to his teacher and puts a gun in his mouth, spraying his classmates with blood. But MTV wouldn't allow that imagery. Instead, "Jeremy" enters and looks at his classmates, all drenched in blood as if Jeremy shot them. The cut always frustrated Pearl Jam (who pretty much stopped making videos after this) and director Mark Pellington who said, “I think Pearl Jam was very, very upset that this piece about an alienated kid who [took his own life] was taken to be this glorified piece about a guy who shoots his classmates."

    1,775 votes
  • 5
    1,276 VOTES

    'Born Free' By M.I.A.

    'Born Free' By M.I.A.
    Video: YouTube

    Romain Gavras courted controversy again with the video for 'Born Free.' At nine minutes long, the extremely graphic video depicts a world in which redheads are rounded up and slain. It received both praise and criticism when it came out in 2010, and most websites and networks refused to air it.

    It was yanked from YouTube the day after its release, before being reinstated a couple of weeks later.

    1,276 votes
  • 'Closer' By Nine Inch Nails
    Video: YouTube

    Skin, animal mistreatment, 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." Despite its graphic imagery, the video's influence turns up in other videos like Rihanna's grainy and hectic "Disturbia."

    1,516 votes