Top 15 Most Controversial Music Videos

Posted on April 27th, 2012 by in Video Production

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Sometimes artistic expression is perceived as inappropriate. Controversy is commonplace within film and video production, and there is a fine line between necessary boundaries to push and a runaway ego. Here we share some of the most infamous music videos that have blurred that line over the past 30 years….

15. Eminem – Stan (2000)


Part of the disturbing nature of ‘Stan’ is that it is completely believable. Eminem at the height of his fame, spells out how an obsessive fan takes things way too far, from being engrossed in writing fan mail, to insanity and violence. The edited version shown on MTV cuts out footage of Stan’s wife bound and gagged in his car, plus other moments too dramatic for TV.

14. George Michael – I Want Your Sex (1987)


This video features Michael and his then girlfriend (make-up artist Kathy Jeung) in various nude scenes. At one point, he is shown using lipstick to write the words “explore” and “monogamy” on her back. Whilst possibly tame by some of today’s videos, it certainly shook a few trees back in 1987, and led the way for future similar videos.

13. 2 Live Crew – Me So Horny (1989)


A groundbreaking single accompanied by an equally polarising video. Being explicitly about sex, it required a heavily edited version to get on TV, in which the female dancers wear cycling shorts instead of G-string bikini bottoms.

12. Eric Prydz – Call On Me (2004)

This is where “artistic interpretation” is pretty much thrown out the window. Hot gyrating women = 27 million Youtube viewings. Directed by Huse Monfaradi, the video features an aerobics class of sexy women wearing 80s leotards and leg warmers. When interviewed by Chris Evans for UK Radio Aid, ex-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair infamously said: “The first time it came on, I nearly fell off my rowing machine.” There are two versions of the video; an edited one shown in daylight hours and a late night version which is uncut. The music video spurred a full-length exercise DVD, which featured…. well, much of the same.

11. Serge Gainsbourg – Lemon Incest (1984)


Being accused of glamorizing pedophilia and incest is all in a day’s work for Serge. Here, in 80s synth/Lolita mode, he caused a scandal when he featured in this music video with his 12-year old daughter, Charlotte. She sings ambiguous lyrics referring to a physical love between an adult and a child. Suspicions on the autobiographical nature of the work were heavily denied.

10. Nas – Hate Me Now (1999)


Twenty years after the Pythons did it, Nas decides that carrying a cross is fitting for his latest video, also donning a crown of thorns and receiving a full crucifixion. Puff Daddy was originally filmed doing the same, then he asked it to be taken out. MTV aired the wrong version, and Puffy got all gangsta with a champagne bottle and a manager’s head.

9. Marilyn Manson – (s)AINT (2003)


Of all of Manson’s work that could have been included here, I decided on ‘(s)AINT’ because even his label didn’t want anything to do with it. From the self-harming, bondage, drug use and all other degenerate-type conduct. The video was directed by Asia Argento, who guest stars in the video along with Eric Szmanda & former band member Gidget Gein.

8. Madonna – Like a Prayer (1989)

Madonna - Like a Prayer lee screenshot
Back in 1989, ‘Like a Prayer’ caused quite a ruckus. Scenes of burning crucifixes and stigmata apparently don’t go down to well with the Vatican; Madge’s biggest critic was the Pope, and she ended up being banned from setting foot in Italy. Following the video, Pepsi, whose product was featured in the video, canceled their sponsorship contract with Madonna. Security is still tight on this one, so much so that there is only one official version on Youtube, and embedding was diasabled, so you’ll have to check it out here.

7. Aphex Twin – Come To Daddy (1997)


As warped as some of Aphex Twin’s music is, this Chris Cunningham directed video takes the mind-bending to a whole new level. Screeching, disturbing images of the artist, in multiple John Malkovic-style herds, terrorize a UK council estate. The same one at which Stanley Kubrick shot many scenes in ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

6. M.I.A. – Born Free (2010)


Written by M.I.A. and directed by French director Romain Gavras, their joint social commentary piece hit the headlines last year, and proved how ill-balanced people’s views and beliefs can be. ‘Gingers’ (redheads) are hunted by soldiers, then beaten and shot. It was intended to speak out about the genocide and immigration issues in the U.S. and worldwide, and a response to the subsequent hysteria from M.I.A. concluded that “people are more moved by something synthetic than something real.” Gavras went on to direct the film Our Day Will Come, a continuation of the ginger-genocide theme of the video-short.

5. Erykah Badu – Window Seat (2010)


This ‘guerrilla-style’ crew-less, permit-less shoot serves as a controversy double team, with Badu publicly stripping through the streets of Dallas, and also reenacting a gunshot death at the site of the JFK assassination. She was later charged with disorderly conduct for public nudity, paid a $500 fine and agreed to serve six months’ probation.

4. Justice – Stress (2008)


Having had several TV stations boycott the video, Justice uploaded their Romain Gavras directed piece to Youtube, to instant criticism. The video shows a gang of youths vandalizing property and attacking anybody on their way. Much of the criticism was for the ‘unintended’ focus on racism; the short-film depicts stereotypes of African descent (both black and North African) from Paris’ socially deprived banlieues.

3. Pearl Jam – Jeremy (1992)


‘Jeremy’ is based on the true story of Jeremy Delle, who took his own life at a Richardson High School in Texas in 1991. Pearl Jam teamed up with Mark Pellington to direct a dramatization of this, climaxing with Jeremy putting a gun in his mouth and his terrified classmates, covered in blood. The video won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1993.

2. Nine Inch Nails – Closer (1994)


Another cult-status twisted video from the minds of Trent Reznor and director Mark Romanek. The scenes depict some kind of 19th Century mad scientist and his laboratory filled with a monkey tied to a cross, a pig’s head spinning on a machine, a diagram of a vulva, and Reznor wearing a ball gag. The Museum of Modern Art has added ‘Closer’ to their permanent collection.

1. Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up (1997)


Directed by Jonas Ã…kerlund, the extreme nature of the Prodigy’s 1997 video caused it to be banned at various stations around the world. The film shows a night out in the city, filmed from a first-person perspective, and includes drinking, fighting, snorting cocaine, vandalism, nudity and sex. The unedited version also includes a scene of heroin use and a hit and run incident. Of course, this cocktail of controversy was nominated for four MTV Video Music Awards, and ended up winning won Best Dance Video and Breakthrough Video.



by Lee Jarvis.


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One Response to “Top 15 Most Controversial Music Videos”

  1. Nahh Says:

    Dir en grey – Obscure?
    Cephalic Carnage – Ohrwurm?

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