Though the 90s didn’t have the honor of being the decade that housed the MTV revolution or music videos like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” that shook the world and announced the arrival of the art form, I’d still argue that that decade, and not the 1980s, stands out as the most important era in the history of music videos.
The 90s saw the continuing popularity of music television, the slight rollback of parental puritanism (because who could weather the deluge?), the ascension of hip hop into the mainstream, the brief grunge takeover of pop with its heavier messages, the explosion of powerful singer/songwriters, and a generation of filmmakers who brought a hunger and a sense of creative ingenuity to the medium. Filmmakers like F. Gary Gray, Michel Gondry, David Fincher, and Spike Jonze.
Of those filmmakers, only Jonze has continued to walk in both worlds on a somewhat regular basis, but while he has found immense success on the big screen with films like Being John Malkovich and Her, it’s still hard to think of him as a feature filmmaker first thanks to his long list of iconic music videos in almost all genres that elevated the form.
How long is the list? In truth, it’s probably about 40 deep, but here are 15 of the most iconic Spike Jonze music videos from 1992 to 2011.
Sonic Youth – “100%”
Jonze had Half Baked director Tamra Davis as a co-pilot on this video while he co-starred in the video with Jason Lee, who appears in black and white flashbacks of skater days gone by while playing a friend who gets murdered near the video’s conclusion. The video and song are a tribute to Joe Cole, who was friendly with the band before he was shot dead during a robbery. Though it’s a bit on the nose, Lee’s jump over the chain at the video’s conclusion is sort of beautiful when you think about it.
The Breeders – “Cannonball”
If you were alive and alert in the 90s, Josephine Wiggs’ “Cannonball” bass riff is grafted to your soul but this video is, depending on your view of it, either wonderfully manic or busy as hell, mixing shots of a literal rolling cannonball and Kim Deal’s underwater shout-singing with a bunch of weird transitions, wardrobe changes, and mirrors.