The music video’s origin dates much further back than the ‘80s, but it first rose to prominence when television channel MTV based its identity around the format upon launching in 1981. MTV rapidly gained popularity with its innovative content and music videos became a sensation around the world, with each recording artist putting one out to accompany a single’s release. While the public loves listening to music, they also crave the visual story that comes along with it – whether the video literally interprets a song’s lyrics or takes a completely different approach altogether. It’s an excuse for an artist to be seen and to put out even more content to heighten their popularity.
Since then, the world’s biggest musicians have quickly learned that an incredible video can lead to even more sales of a single or album. Artists have funneled an incredible amount of money into making short films to accompany their music and enrapture their fans. While most video budgets set somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range, many have gone above and beyond and hit the multi-million dollar mark. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the ten most expensive music videos ever made. Not ironically, these videos are also some of the most memorable of all time and have served as inspiration for the legions of artists who have come after their creators.
10. Janet Jackson – Doesn’t Really Matter: $2.5 million
Janet Jackson’s “Doesn’t Really Matter” was released in 2000 for the Nutty Professor II movie album. The music video was directed by Joseph Kahn and was the tenth most expensive one ever made, clocking in at just over $2.5 million. It had a Japanese theme, which hadn’t been done in mainstream American music video culture at the time and launched several spinoffs by Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Cassie and Jessica Simpson. The video also featured advanced technology for its day as well as morphing clothes and a dance sequence on a levitating platform.
9. Mariah Carey feat. Jay-Z – Heartbreaker: $2.5 million
“Heartbreaker” was released in 1999 and was one of Mariah Carey’s most popular singles ever, featuring verses by rapper Jay-Z. While there was much controversy around the songstress using a sampled beat, she funneled $2.5 million into making a music video for it – directed by Brett Ratner. In the video, Mariah’s love interest is played by Jerry O’Connell and she catches him out on a date with another woman in a movie theatre. Ratner drew inspiration from the movies Grease and Enter the Dragon, lending a bit of a vintage feel to the music video. Fun fact: Jay-Z couldn’t make it to the filming due to contractual agreements so he appeared as an animated cartoon.
8. MC Hammer – 2 Legit 2 Quit: $2.5 million
MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit” single was wildly popular upon its release in 1991, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The music video for it was directed by Rupert Wainwright and ran a whopping fifteen minutes in length, costing the MC over $2.5 million to make at the time – the equivalent of about $4.5 million today. While it received mixed critical reviews, its impressive roster of guest stars was a hit with audiences. Sports fans were especially into it, given that over fifteen pro athletes made cameos.
7. Puff Daddy – Victory: $3 million
Puff Daddy’s “Victory” was released at the height of the rapper’s popularity in 1997 and is characterized by featuring the last of The Notorious B.I.G’s guest verses before his death. The video was directed by Marcus Nispel, although he originally wanted to remain anonymous for unknown reasons. It cost $3 million to make and featured cameos by Danny DeVito, Dennis Hopper and Busta Rhymes. The video was set in 3002 A.D. and depicted Puff Daddy being chased by armed police forces. The Notorious B.I.G did not appear as he was deceased at the time of filming.
6. Guns N Roses – Estranged: $4 million
Guns N Roses’ single “Estranged” was the third in a chronology, following hits “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain”. It was released in 1993 along with a video by Del James that cost nearly $4 million to shoot. The video was nearly ten minutes long and touched greatly on the theme of separation, made all too poignant given the fact that Stephanie Seymour had just broken up with lead singer Axl Rose in real life. The dramatic music video features a dizzying mix of a SWAT team manhunt, suicide attempts and bottlenose dolphins.
5. Michael Jackson feat. LTB – Black or White: $4 million
Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” music video was first released in 1991 and prompted the highest broadcast ratings ever for MTV, BET, VH1 and Fox at the time. It was directed by John Landis (who also directed “Thriller”), cost $4 million to make and featured cameos by Macaulay Culkin, Tess Harper and George Wendt. The video was met by controversy due to scenes depicting Jackson sexually grabbing his crotch, zipping his pants up, smashing windows and destroying cars. The singer has explained that those scenes were his interpretation of the behavior of a black panther, although many networks opted to cut them out altogether to avoid public backlash.
4. Madonna – Bedtime Story: $5 million
Queen Madge holds the next three spots on our list, with the fourth, third and second most expensive music videos ever made. For her 1995 single “Bedtime Story”, she released a complex and visually breathtaking video directed by Mark Romanek. It cost over $5 million to make and was the most expensive music video ever released at the time, inspired by surrealist painters like Leonara Carrington and Remedios Varo. It features Madonna giving birth to a flock of doves, laying on a rotating sunflower and hanging out in a pool of skulls.
3. Madonna – Express Yourself: $5 million
“Express Yourself” is the third most expensive music video ever made and was released in 1989. It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of Madonna’s most popular singles ever. The video was directed by David Fincher and cost over $5 million to make. It was memorable due in part to its futuristic set design and for its exploitation of female sexuality. Madonna plays a masochist in it, leading critics to proclaim that her masculine image in the video was gender-bending at the time.
2. Madonna – Die Another Day: $6 million
Madonna’s “Die Another Day” was recorded for the James Bond movie of the same title in 2002. It’s been said that Madonna altered the original version after watching the film and deciding it wasn’t good enough – a show of modesty given how egocentric most artists usually are. The music video was directed by Traktor and portrays Madonna as a prisoner in a torture chamber, fighting between good and evil forces. Jewish symbols and religious texts were used in the video, which led to public controversy. It cost $6 million to make.
1. Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson – Scream: $7 million
Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” was released in 1995 as retaliation to the media’s allegations of child sexual abuse made against Michael. It was nominated for a Grammy award and is still the most expensive music video ever made, clocking in at $7 million. It spawned several knock-offs by TLC, The Dream and Nicki Minaj and was directed by Mark Romanek. First broadcast on MTV and BET, the video premiered to an audience of 64 million viewers who hailed it for its stylish design, amazing choreography and the tough characters that the Jacksons portrayed. It is largely considered one of the most influential videos of all time, besides being the priciest.