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Top 10 Controversial Music Videos

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Though music videos have been produced for decades, it was only in the 1980s with the advent of MTV that they really became popular tools to market and promote an artist’s music and the sales of their recordings. Because these short films can take many different shapes and forms, they might not appeal to everyone. Sometimes, artists may want to grab people’s attention or get themselves talked about – and that’s when they might take risks or make artistic choices. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 controversial music videos. Special thanks to our user Nichelle Phoenix Perez for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest.

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These videos really got people talkin’. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 controversial music videos.

#10 – Nirvana: “Heart-Shaped Box” (1993)

Thanks to Nevermind’s incomparable success, Nirvana brought the Seattle sound to the masses. But that didn’t mean they’d be safe from controversy. In fact, the music video for the first single from their next album caused quite a stir with its weird imagery, which included influences from “The Wizard of Oz,” the image of an old man being crucified and a little girl in Ku Klux Klan-inspired attire.

#9 – George Michael: “I Want Your Sex” (1987)

Compared to today’s music videos and the others on this list, “I Want Your Sex” probably doesn’t shock you that much. But in the ‘80s, a video with blindfolds, lingerie, satin sheets and such blatantly sexual lyrics was a very big deal – and to top things off, Michael’s then-girlfriend was co-starring.

#8 – Pearl Jam: “Jeremy” (1992)

It was thanks to “Jeremy” that Pearl Jam really became mainstream rock stars. But its memorable hook and Vedder’s characteristic growl weren’t the only reasons: The song was also accompanied by a powerful music video that told the story of a student who shoots himself in front of his classmates. This reenactment of a real-life tale affected audiences so much the scene had to be edited out.

#7 – Garth Brooks: “The Thunder Rolls” (1991)

Though he might not be the first country star you’d associate with controversy, this video made it clear Brooks isn’t afraid to tackle issues he believes in. Unfortunately, its theme of domestic violence turned off multiple television networks. But they quickly changed their mind when women shelters backed it for promoting awareness. The clip later earned the CMA Video of the Year Award.

#6 – Eminem feat. Dido: “Stan” (2000)

Since he’s often blasted for violent, sexist or homophobic lyrics, it’s not that surprising to see Slim Shady here. And since this hip-hop track’s about a deranged fan whose love for Eminem causes him to kill himself and his pregnant girlfriend, the heavy censorship is almost a given. Several of “Stan”’s lyrics and the music video’s scenes didn’t make the cut for broadcast, including a shot of a bound and gagged Dido.

#5 – Marilyn Manson: “(s)AINT” (2003)

Though the reenactment of JFK’s assassination in “Coma White” was also controversial, it’s the dark, bloody, sex-and-drugs-filled images of “(s)AINT” that makes this list. Since Manson’s known for his graphic lyrics and performances, this video couldn’t be more fitting for an album titled The Golden Age of Grotesque. After the label refused its release, it could only be ordered online – though the uncensored version is now available on some sites.

#4 – M.I.A.: “Born Free” (2010)

In an attempt to make a statement against genocide, M.I.A. conceived of the short film for “Born Free.” Red-headed people are targeted for execution in such a brutal and unapologetic manner that the video barely lasted a day online. Though it can now be found on various sites, you’d have to be heartless not to be moved to watch a young ginger shot in cold blood.

#3 – Nine Inch Nails: “Closer” (1994)

The explicit mixture of pleasure, pain and torture depicted in “Happiness in Slavery” almost guaranteed it wouldn’t be seen on TV in its entirety. But it’s the sacrilegious and sexually-charged “Closer” that was censored on the radio andon TV. By fusing S&M, female nudity, animal cruelty and religious imagery all-in-one, the video offended many – but the song remains one of NIN’s most well-known.

#2 – Madonna: “Like a Prayer” (1989)

Whether it’s for the sex in “Justify My Love” and “Erotica,” or the violence in “What It Feels Like For a Girl,” Madonna’s videos are constantly being banned or relegated to certain air times. But it’s the melding of sex, race and religion in “Like a Prayer” that truly caused an uproar: The Vatican’s blasphemy charges were so intense, Pepsi backed out of its $5 million dollar deal with the Queen of Pop.

#1 – The Prodigy: “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997)

The Big Beat group was already treading on thin ice with feminists thanks to a title that appeared to promote female violence. But when they came out with the song’s vision of hooker sex, drug use, naked bodies and the aforementioned female violence, The Prodigy found themselves completely banned from television. But fans wouldn’t stop requesting it – so MTV eventually aired the video late at night.

Do you agree with our list? What do you think is the most controversial music video? Be sure to subscribe to for more entertaining top 10s.

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