10 Most Controversial Music Videos of All Time

Source: Vimeo

Art can be controversial, and promote the good, promote the bad or it can be controversial to simply stir the pot in an attempt to drop jaws and be labeled controversial. This list has a little bit of everything, but nothing that you’d be embarrassed to read at work. That’s another list for another time, and likely another medium. Don’t fret, there’s plenty of controversy to peruse right here. Enjoy 10 of the most controversial music videos of all time.

10. Simian Mobile Disco – Hustler

There were a couple videos for Simian Mobile Disco’s dance track, “Hustler.” There is an official video, and there is also a fan video which has garnered some serious play. We’re gonna focus on the original, but offer mention to the fan video, because it is also oddly controversial. In “Hustler,” the video begins at a party featuring several young women/girls, and they seem quite bored. They’re so bored, one of the girls starts a game of Chinese Whispers, or what is known as telephone in the USofA. The game works around the circle of young ladies, then evolves, or devolves into a more physical game of Chinese Whispers. Lips are locked, body parts are touched and every (good) man watching, turns away in horror, imagining that this is what will happens to his little girl in college. The other 98 percent of men watch with great intrigue.

9. Nicki Minaj – Anaconda

It’s too fresh to score highly on this list, but it’s too out there to be left off. Nicki Minaj thought too highly of her video for “Anaconda,” because the song was marginally infectious at best. She relied heavily on the popularity of the next video on the list, and then put a bunch of twerking women into a mix of snakes. Yeah. We all get the double entendre. When trying to stir the pot for controversy and keep up with Miley Cyrus, it helps not to insult your audience. When Miley dropped a deuce and it hit the fan with Robin Thicke on the VMAs, it was shocking. Nicki Minaj grinding and twerking in a video is old hat. That said, it was the closest thing to soft core porn than has ever been released in the realm of pop music, and that certainly stirred some controversy. But it’s 2015. Nobody was shocked.

8. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back

How controversial was “Baby Got Back?” Sir Mix-A-Lot has always done his own thing. With “Baby Got Back,” he took over the planet for two minutes of the existential clock. The song was outrageous, slick, funny, suggestive, infectious… everyone knows it. Start rapping it in a crowd, and people will jump on it like bounce house at a six year old’s birthday party. When the song first came out, people had a chuckle. When the video was released… people drew hard lines. In the video, there are women dancing on huge butts. Yes. Cleverly… women with much back, dancing on butt sculptures. This set every feminist’s hair on fire. On one side of the controversy coin, Mix was rapping about women being natural, and not being ashamed of having a big booty. On the flip side, he was objectifying females. Ah, Mix.

7. Nine Inch Nails – Closer

You wanna what me like a what? Do you remember the first time you heard “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails? If you have never heard it, it’s NSFW; however, it might be worth an exploration if curiosity keeps you up at night. The video itself wasn’t too incredibly controversial, and could possibly be viewed as weird, or oddly artistic, but when you put the words with the music… eh. At that point, it begs a few questions: what is this song about? Those lyrics with imagery of strange naked people, a monkey bound to a cross and artistic renderings of female anatomy are guaranteed sew and reap a few WTFs. This was classic Trent Reznor. Singing about one thing, and putting his metaphors on full display for the video. Some would say the song is about self-loathing, while others might suggest Reznor’s disdain for the music industry. Either way… controversial.

6. Pearl Jam – Jeremy

Eddie Vedder may have been prophetic with “Jeremy.” The video, from 1991, still holds up, and is as haunting today as it was when released. Eddie wrote the song about a teenager who committed suicide in front of his classmates, and Pearl Jam puts it on full display for the video. Making videos was one thing the band wasn’t particularly fond of, but they pushed all-in for this one. The song and video highlighted a growing frustration in American youth — a desire to lash out, and act out as a desperate cry to be noticed, take revenge or scream for help. Who would have thought that less than 10 years later, the United States would become known as a place where kids were executed in schools by their fellow classmates. When the video was first released, it stirred emotions and frustrations, but seemed so far from reality.

5. Justice – Stress

Hopping into the 21st century, and French social commentary: the 2008 video for “Stress” by Justice. The French, electronic duo enjoyed incredible success with their debut release, D.A.N.C.E. in 2007, and followed it up with some serious controversy. The video for “Stress” featured young men/teenagers, who were bent on violence and chaos, tearing up the city of Paris, and committing acts of violence against citizens. It was filmed in a docudrama style, and the acts depicted were so realistic, it made many viewers — especially Parisians — quite uncomfortable. Digging down to the root, it seemed the duo was attempting to suggest that media and authorities would rather watch, record and report on the violence sweeping certain parts of the city during the time, than do something about it. If they wanted attention with the video, they certainly got it.

4. Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box

Kurt Cobain got to the point where he needed to do really strange stuff for music videos, or he wasn’t interested. “Heart Shaped Box” was the biggest hit from the band’s third studio album, In Utero, and the video serves as a prime example of the odd stuff coming out of the grunge movement. It became exceptionally controversial by featuring an old, withering man on a cross, and a small child, dressed in the garb of a Ku Klux Klansman, frolicking through a field, then attempting to pull fruit from a dead tree. The catch? The fruit was a bunch of babies. Or maybe fetuses? Eventually, the white Klan garb becomes dyed jet black, resembling the robes and hats worn by religious hierarchy in the Catholic Church. The suggestion of parallels wasn’t much appreciated by many folks. But for fans of Nirvana, it was serious progression from the offerings of Nevermind.

3. The Prodigy – Smack My B**** Up

The title alone is enough to suggest controversy, is it not? The Prodigy’s video for “Smack My B**** Up” was pretty groundbreaking in addition to being controversial. It was shot in first person, and featured a night out from prep to completion. There’s a serious twist in the course of the video which is revealed at the end, but no spoilers here. What’s controversial about it? Well… there is a lot of smacking people up. Not only individuals who might be referred to as the “b word,” rather anyone getting the path of the subject. It also included so much nudity, drug use — heroin — and sex, it was banned from being played on and and every music network. There was a censored version that made its way into the big picture, but it was relatively ineffective in delivering the twist. Of course, the uncensored version is now quite easy to find, but NSFW.

2. Die Antwoord – Evil Boy

There may not be a more intriguing musical act than Die Antwoord. Are they having the last laugh? It’s tough to say, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they used to be MaxNormal TV, and strutting in suits while lacing quite intellectual flow. That said, Ninja and Yolandi are now Die Antwoord, and their rhymes are misogynistic, sex-fueled anthems. They have several videos that could be deemed quite controversial, but “Evil Boy,” was one phallic-filled romp. It’s one thing to suggest a phallus as the answer to life’s problems, but it’s another thing to be forceful with the idea of it. That’s the direction they go in “Evil Boy.” This is why it leads one to believe the act is more performance art than anything else, because it’s absurdity at its essence.  Still, it’s not something that can be watched with great comfort.

1. Madonna – Like a Prayer

You mess with Jesus symbology, you’re gonna stir the pot. Madonna was the queen of controversy in the 1980s and early 1990s. Looking back at her overtly sexual stuff, it seems rather tame, and quite benign now. Then, there was “Like a Prayer.” A hit song that wasn’t about sex, but featured a really strange story line of a black man accused of a crime committed by white men against a white woman. When Madonna falls asleep on the front pew of a church — her cleavage pushed to her chin — she experiences revelation. There are religious symbols, burning crosses, Madonna getting it on with a black guy, a gospel choir… oh, the scandal! Then it is closed like a play/musical. Seriously. People take bows, and a curtain falls and everything. How it was so controversial, who knows… but it was. Now, it’s just a corny video for a decent song.


James Sheldon