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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.