The Evolution Of Music Videos – 1990s

As our series continues, we discuss the role visual effects have played in the evolution of music videos in the 1990s. Be sure to check out our previous post on visual effects in ’80s music videos, and be on the look out for our ’00s post next week.


Peter Gabriel – “Kiss That Frog”

The early ‘90s saw an increase in crude computer generated imagery blended with live action, which allowed artists to play with scale and create intense dreamlike/nightmarish scenes.

Billy Idol – “Shock To The System”

There was still some reliance on stop-motion techniques to create shots, although editors were becoming more aware of the obvious nature of these shots and cut the stop motion in a more choppy and hectic manner. See Billy Idol’s “Shock To The System” and Bjork’s “Human Behaviour”.

Videos produced from the 1990s onward were often listed with director credits, as the popular medium gave budding prodigies an entry point to the lucrative film world. Notable directors making music videos during this decade include David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Floria Sigismondi, Michel Gondry, and Hype Williams.

Paula Abdul – “Opposites Attract”

Paula Abdul exploded onto the music scene in the early ‘90s with “Opposites Attract” featuring MC Skat Kat: a sassy animated feline who gyrated with a live-action Paula. The video fed off the film success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, released in 1988, but the Jerry Mouse dancing scene in Gene Kelly’s 1945 movie “Anchors Aweigh” originally inspired it.

MC Hammer – “Here Comes The Hammer”

MC Hammer (yes, the same one who made parachute pants popular) released an important special effects music video in 1991 to accompany his track “Here Comes The Hammer”. The video is notable for its early and successful use of particles, which helped transition the teleporting Hammer & Co. from scene to outrageous scene.

U2 – “Even Better Than The Real Thing”

Post-punk Irish rockers U2 and director Kevin Godley gained notice for the opening fist fractal at the beginning of “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, but what made an even bigger splash were the vertiginous 360° shots of the band using a unique rollover camera rig.

Let’s Get Rocked’” by Def Leppard saw the return of creative genius Steve Barron, who directed “Money For Nothing” and “Take On Me” (see them in our The Evolution of Music Videos – 1980s post). Steve’s profound sense of style and desire to push the technological boundaries served him well as he crafted a singular work of high commercial art. The video embraced 3D wireframes, animated avatars, highly stylized color-treated live-action, and CG environments.

Rolling Stones – “Love Is Strong”

While the Rolling Stones had achieved major music success, they hadn’t produced a video to equal their record sales triumph. That all changed when they teamed up with famed feature film director David Fincher in 1995 — the same year he directed “Seven” — and made the exaggerated scale-disparity video for “Love Is Strong”. Oversized band members and others rise up from the streets of NYC, and strut through the Big Apple in a video that is ripe with amazing cinematography and thick with stellar compositing.

Michael Jackson – “Scream”

1995 saw struggling star Michael Jackson team up with sister Janet for a track that rallied against Michael’s rampant detractors and accusers. “Scream” was a pure minimalist, sci-fi invention that utilized intense lens distortions, gravity-defying performances and employed extensive CG environments. Directed by Mark Romanek, the video even sported a customized font to add some typographical flair. Both siblings embraced a darker self-image and performed powerfully on screen. “Scream” is widely regarded to be one of the best music videos of recent decades. Period.

The Smashing Pumpkins came out strong in ‘96 with their video for “Tonight Tonight,” directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who went on to direct feature film “Little Miss Sunshine”). Dialing into a popular steampunk aesthetic while taking inspiration from Georges Méliès’s silent film A Trip to the Moon, the video showed Corgan and band members clad in turn of the century garb, aboard a space-bound zeppelin. Moon landings, space jumping and alien bashing ensued. The video and song were spectacularly popular. Two videos stood out as being fascinatingly surreal in 1998. The first was Aerosmith’s highly polished catwalk fantasy for their track “Pink”. The video was created by music video veteran Doug Nichol and showed the band members’ heads atop bodies that are certainly not their own. The minimalist aesthetic of the white environment allowed viewers to focus their concentration on the live-action, upping the ante on the compositors, which they handled beautifully. The second example from 1998’s surreal reel was Garbage’s “Push It”. This video was very different both in the look and feel of their production and also in the techniques used. “Push It” was definitely a piece that wasn’t afraid to embrace the technological issues that were present in the collective psyche as the clock counted down to Y2K. The myriad of scenes styles, the film stock used, the make-up worn, the post-production techniques all contributed to a rare, if not coherent, dystopian piece of work.

Busta Rhymes – “What’s It Gonna Be?”

Janet Jackson enjoyed another successful video collaboration in ‘99 when she teamed up with rapping sensation Busta Rhymes for “What’s It Gonna Be?”. CG liquid effects were featured heavily throughout the piece, showing a significant advancement in fluid techniques on this scale. Bear in mind 1991’s Terminator 2 featured a liquid metal T-1000 model that had only 5 minutes of VFX screen time, which took 25 people 10 months to complete. Too many numbers? Agreed. Let’s move on.

Fast forward to the 2000s! Or, check out part 1 – 1980s!

Posted by: dceditors