Top 20 Most Controversial Music Videos

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Top 20 Most Controversial Music Videos

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
These are the most shocking, the most controversial, the most talk-about music videos ever! For this list, we'll be looking at the most notable music videos that caused the greatest stir or generated the most heated conversations when they were released. Our countdown includes “Anaconda”, “Heart-Shaped Box”, “All the Things She Said”, "Stan", “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”, and more!
Transcript

Top 20 Most Controversial Music Videos


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Most Controversial Music Videos.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most notable music videos that caused the greatest stir or generated the most heated conversations when they were released.

Which of these shocks you the most? Let us know in the comments!

#20: “Anaconda” (2014)

Nicki Minaj
If you've seen this video, then you know that this song isn't about snakes. On "Anaconda," Nicki Minaj samples Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back," focusing on the song's butt-positive messaging. So the video isn't shy about centering matters of the derriere, with classic raunchy Minaj lines thrown in the mix. Both the song and its visual accompaniment are proudly explicit, which was something certain people took issue with. When speaking to GQ about the video, Minaj said she was being “cheeky”! She didn’t seem to be making a pun, but we honestly can’t think of a better word to describe this video.

#19: “I Want to Break Free” (1984)

Queen
One of the best things about Queen is how unafraid they are of expressing themselves. However, not everyone likes how they do that. This video finds the group spoofing the British soap “Coronation Street” in drag, complete with Freddie Mercury in a fabulous black wig and pink top. But if you were tuning into MTV in the ‘80s, you probably missed it. The network reportedly didn’t play the video due to its content, and Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor referred to them as being “narrow-minded.” Guitarist Brian May further hypothesized that the band’s reach in America was hurt by this censorship. No matter what network executives say, Queen remain absolute kings.

#18: “Window Seat” (2010)

Erykah Badu
Filming a music video in the nude is brave. Doing so in public without permission? Well, that’s Erykah Badu. The R&B star drew a lot of headlines for wearing nothing when the “Window Seat” video premiered. Shot around Dallas’ Dealey Plaza – where President John F. Kennedy was shot – the video finds Badu removing her layers until, well, you know. It also ends in a truly dramatic - and controversial - fashion. How did Badu get away with this? Well, she didn't. She was charged with a misdemeanor, with her penalty being a $500 fine and six months probation. We don’t recommend recreating this video, even if you can afford it!

#17: “Elastic Heart” (2015)

Sia
Everyone is largely clothed in this one, but you might think otherwise at first glance. The “Elastic Heart” video stars Shia LaBeouf and Maddie Ziegler fighting and dancing inside a cage. While LaBeouf is shirtless, the duo are indeed wearing nude-colored garments. But that doesn’t mean it was well-received. Ziegler was about 12 at the time, and some questioned her involvement in such a suggestive project, especially considering her co-star was an adult. Sia responded to the controversy on Twitter, apologizing for any offense and explaining her intentions. It wouldn’t be the last time the singer’s work caused a stir, but it remains one of the most notable.

#16: “Pussy” (2009)

Rammstein
When we say this clip is explicit, we don't mean the way most music videos are. German metal group Rammstein made a visual work that starts off suggestive and ends up being absolutely shocking. Let’s just say you're not going to be able to watch the uncensored version on YouTube. A man in Russia was even charged with and convicted of a crime after he shared the piece, which guitarist Richard Kruspe reportedly spoke out against. If you must watch the uncut edition of this video, we have one bit of advice: make sure you do it in private.

#15: “Hello Kitty” (2014)

Avril Lavigne
In recent years, artists seem to have become more cautious about making music videos centered around different cultures. However, Avril Lavigne hadn’t gotten the message in 2014. “Hello Kitty” and its video were both widely criticized, with many accusing the singer of “cultural appropriation.” The electronic song is inspired by J-Pop, and the video sees Lavigne performing with Japanese backing dancers and enjoying sushi, among other things. Some found its depiction of Japanese culture to be stereotypical, and the singer defended the video against accusations of racism. While it reportedly garnered little controversy in Japan, it did create some important - if divisive - conversations.

#14: “Heart-Shaped Box” (1993)

Nirvana
Kurt Cobain wasn’t the only person with a new complaint. The video for “Heart-Shaped Box” may shock, baffle, and offend you. It opens with the band in a hospital room, and then goes in a very strange direction. How strange? Well, there’s notably a man in a Santa hat on a crucifix, and the weirdness doesn't stop there. The group members were such visionaries that this video feels like it's about more than mere shock value. Still, it’s not exactly the Nirvana music video you want to show your pastor – or your grandma, for that matter.

#13: “Worlock” (1990)

Skinny Puppy
The video for this song by industrial group Skinny Puppy is full of clips from movies. However, it’s not exactly an ode to classic Hollywood pictures. Instead, the Canadian band takes footage from graphic and unsettling films like “Suspiria,” “Eraserhead,” and “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Even if you know the context of these clips, it doesn't take away from how shocking they are. And if you haven't seen them, well, this video doesn't exactly give you an easy introduction. This is one night at the movies you won’t be forgetting any time soon.

#12: “WAP” (2020)

Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion
The song - and video - that everyone was talking about in 2020 was “WAP.” The name’s not safe for work meaning will give you a good indication as to why. The sexually charged team-up of rap superstars Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion was praised for its unapologetically raunchy lyrics. But it was scorned for the same reason. The response to the video, where both Cardi and Megan show off their physical attributes and their rapping skills, followed suit. It also garnered additional controversy due to the Kylie Jenner cameo, and because of a spat between Cardi and Carole Baskin over the inclusion of big cats. "WAP" could also stand for “what a phenomenon.”

#11: “Closer” (1994)

Nine Inch Nails
Do you want to watch a music video that makes you feel like you’re experiencing a waking nightmare? Put this one on and see if you can make it to the end. While "Closer" was already an intense song, the video goes even further with images of animal violence, twisted religious imagery, and sexual paraphernalia. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor is there too, leather pants and all. While this video was played on MTV, it was in modified form. But even the “clean” version is still pretty shocking. That’s probably why it helped bring Nine Inch Nails closer to achieving “legend” status.

#10: “Famous” (2016)

Kanye West
Kanye West and drama go hand-in-hand. But this song and video caused major controversy, even for him. First, there’s the crass lyric about Taylor Swift, which spurred its own mess. Then there’s the video, which shows West in bed with an array of nude figures of famous people. These include then-wife Kim Kardashian, ex-Amber Rose, Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump, and Swift. But viewers just weren't all that enamored with it. The huge number of dislikes on YouTube said it all, though it still managed to score multiple award nominations. If there's one thing we can say about Kanye West, it's that he knows how to draw attention to himself.

#9: “All the Things She Said” (2002)

t.A.T.u.
You might see this video from Russian pop duo t.A.T.u as being a bold stand against heteronormativity in popular music. Or you might just see it as being a tacky video that relies on cheap gimmicks like straight girls kissing and Catholic school attire. Either way, there’s no doubt that this rain-soaked work is one that got everyone talking, making t.A.T.u international stars for a moment. Today, this video may not seem all that remarkable. But if you were around in the early 2000s, you likely remember just how much heated talk it generated.

#8: “Saint” (2004)

Marilyn Manson
Before disturbing allegations about his private life came to light, Marilyn Manson was known for shocking people through his music. And the video for this song is arguably the most extreme example of how he did so. It's so grim and unsettling that his label, Interscope, didn’t want any part of it. The video was subsequently made available on the band’s “Lest We Forget: The Best Of” DVD. No matter how disturbed you were by Manson previously, this video will undoubtedly manage to take those feelings and make them even stronger.

#7: “Blurred Lines” (2013)

Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell Williams
"Blurred Lines" garnered plenty of controversy for its lyrics, which were often said to minimize the importance of consent. And the problematic music video only made things worse. The unrated version features Thicke and male collaborators T.I. and Pharrell Williams dressed stylishly. But they’re surrounded by female models like Emily Ratajkowski who are wearing, well, not much at all. It was widely viewed as misogynistic and objectifying, and Ratajkowski later called it "the bane of [her] existence." In 2021, she revealed that Thicke groped her without her consent on set, which reignited the conversation. “Blurred Lines” was everywhere in 2013, but it was by no means universally beloved.

#6: “Stan” (2000)

Eminem feat. Dido
These days, the term “stan” is used rather liberally to describe an intense fandom. However, the song that originated the term is about an obsession so intense it becomes fatal. The video for “Stan” follows the track’s lyrics, as a die-hard Eminem fan’s fixation causes him to harm himself and his loved ones. Much of the visuals are too disturbing to even think about. In fact, some of the more harrowing lyrics and imagery in the song and video were censored. Yet even with the various edits, it’s still devastating to see the story play out. Whether you stan this video or not, you likely aren’t left indifferent by it.

#5: “Lemon Incest” (1984)

Serge & Charlotte Gainsbourg
Does this song’s title make you feel icky? How about lyrics sung by a young girl that aren’t age-appropriate, and a video that features her and her father in a rather scandalous arrangement? It’s safe to say the visuals are unsettling in more ways than one. It’s hard to give the benefit of the doubt to a video like this, especially with the song in question. Yet "Lemon Incest" still managed to become a big hit in the Gainsbourgs’ home country of France. It was already pretty clear that controversy sells. But this video makes that truth all the more uncomfortably apparent.

#4: “Born Free” (2010)

M.I.A.
As if redheads didn’t already have it hard enough, they became the targets in M.I.A.’s shocking video. A nine-minute short disguised as a music video, “Born Free'' depicts red-headed individuals being rounded up and knocked off. The violence is disturbing, but it’s meant to serve an important point, showing how such large-scale targeted killings can occur anywhere. The real-world parallels certainly weren’t lost on people. However, some found the video to be more over-the-top than insightful. And a bit less than a day after its premiere, YouTube pulled it. If there’s one thing the video’s fans and critics can agree on, it’s that it garnered plenty of controversy.

#3: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” (2021)

Lil Nas X
Did you think satanic panic ended in the ‘90s? Well, the “Call Me by Your Name” video proved otherwise. This super-viral visual work finds Lil Nas X trading in his cowboy hat for devil horns, and people noticed. The video courted plenty of discussion for its outspoken depiction of queer sexuality, as well as provocative moments like that Satan lap dance. Much of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. But many conservative figures were shocked by it — and by the artist’s selling of blood-tipped "Satan Shoes." And they essentially accused him of corrupting the youth. One thing’s for sure: Lil Nas X is blazing his own trail with such boundary-pushing works.

#2: “Smack My B**** Up” (1997)

The Prodigy
Many dance artists make music videos that are stylish and seductive. But this one, from U.K. big beat group The Prodigy, is grungy and disturbing. Featuring a unique use of perspective, the video lets us see through the eyes of the main character, who does some truly bad things. And we get a bit of a surprise ending, too. Like the song, the video was seen as hugely problematic, and was condemned by the National Organization for Women. As for MTV, they eventually went from limiting its airing to late-night showings to banning it completely. If any video deserves a “don’t try this at home” warning, it’s this one.

#1: “Like a Prayer” (1989)

Madonna
While Madonna’s extraordinary singing and dance abilities have been key to her success, we can’t forget the impact of her music videos. The one for “Like a Prayer” is the “Queen of Pop” at her most blasphemous. In it, Madonna hides in a church after seeing a Black man wrongfully arrested for murder, praying to a Christ-like statue that bears his likeness. Images of burning crosses and her romantic embrace with the holy figure notably sparked major outcry. The visual work was even called out by the Vatican. Not many music videos have generated controversy on this level, which is just one of the many reasons why Madonna will always be an icon.
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