At one point, the music industry had so much money that it wasn’t sure what to do with it. A measured proportion was delivered straight into the noses and buttholes of record label executives. Another healthy slab was expensed on penthouse hotel suites, month-long "scouting" trips, and food that’s so expensive it calmly slides out of one’s buttocks without leaving a trace.
Obviously, some of the money went to the artists, too. How else do you think Led Zeppelin chartered a private plane for three years? At the height of music industry excess, the artists had such a healthy credit rating that they splashed out on theme parks, imported safari animals, and dubiously expensive holistic therapies alongside the usual vacuous shit mega-rich people do, like owning eight houses and seventeen vintage cars. Plus a three-storied palatial yacht. Then some land, for the boat to float alongside.
Yet beyond the private planes and the petrol stations (which is one of the many things Akon has built in his house), perhaps the biggest sign that the record business once had an astounding amount of money comes in the form of the music video. Sure, there are music videos from this era that have sizeable budgets, with the biggest artists employing big name directors and actors for Hollywood blockbusters in under four minutes. But back then, the budget for a music video was astronomical. As in, if Oasis wanted to hire Chinooks to fly around in the background of their videos, then why the fuck not? Better yet, let’s get an army of them to buzz around behind Noel Gallagher’s weirdly symmetrical haircut. Wait, is that how he got his fringe so on point? By standing close to the rotating blades of nearby Chinook helicopters? Sure makes you think.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that nearly all of the most expensive music videos ever all arrived during the same period: the early 1990s. At that time, more CDs were being sold than ever before, yet the cost of manufacturing was less than one pound for each disc. So as the music industry celebrated its highest ever profit margin, it splashed out and spent. The thing is, were they even worth the money? Do good things inherently have to cost more to make? What, exactly, does a seven and a half million pound music video look like? Let me guide you, as we walk through the ten most expensive music videos of all time...
BACKSTREET BOYS – "LARGER THAN LIFE" (1999)
Cost: £1.4 million (£2 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens:
If there’s one music video that truly encapsulates the 90s’ dizzying obsession with anything remotely futuristic, robotic and gravity-less, it’s Backstreet Boys’ “Larger than Life”. Coming from the same birthing pool as N Sync’s “I Want You Back”, which featured a noodle-haired Justin Timberlake mooching around a space-station like a slightly heartbroken and questionably dressed astronaut, “Larger Than Life” crawled above the mucus of other 90s boy-band videos to become the 90s boy-band video. Robot suits? Fuck-off huge spaceships? Hoverboards? Break dancing droids? Shirtless men? Babes? Explosions? Man, this video had everything. One Direction can suck out. Their most famous video is literally the equivalent to five vloggers ditching school to film an advertorial for River Island. But this shit? This is interplanetary boyband fun on an unrivalled level. I could, of course, try and explain it some more but you should probably just press play on the video above.
Was it worth it?
For a music video that cost more than three reasonably sized houses, it’s quite disturbing they couldn’t build a digital clock that can spell January correctly. But obviously, yes – it was absolutely worth it. This video still makes little beads of sweat gather on my forehead as I imagine, just for a second, what it would be like to wake up to find myself inside a sleep pod on a spaceship, before starting my new life as a space fighter with the Backstreet Boys.
CELINE DION – "IT'S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW" (1996)
Cost: £1.5million (£2.3 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens: This one is a bit dramatic, isn’t it? To be honest, I’m not sure what couldn’t have been achieved here with just a few shots of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, a four-poster bed from Ikea, and fifteen little children simultaneously pressing the flash button on a disposable camera.
Was it worth it? It depends what you’re looking for, really. If you like to curl into a ball and watch sentimental music videos, punching the air while closing your eyes and running through a detailed and scented history of previous lovers, then this is the Palme d’Or of music videos. If not, it’s a stinking pile of anemic cat-sick that’s been dried into the carpet for the last two decades. The video is even worse when you realise it’s a total rip off of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, except at least that one was made in 1983 when it was still acceptable to run around clutching your hair like you’re burnt it off making toast.
BRITNEY SPEARS – "TOXIC" (2003)
Cost: £690k (£830k today)
The most decadent shit that happens: Obviously it’s the diamonds, all of the fucking diamonds – which have been dusted over a half-naked Britney until she resembles a Swarovski display screen cavorting in what looks to be an expensively mirrored box. Then, there’s badass bitch red-haired Britney, who rides on the back of a motorbike that’s been chartered by a shirtless man, as she’s ferried around on a mission to poison her cheating boyfriend. At one point, she scales a building. After that, she power-whips a man to the ground.
Was it worth it? A music video costs money, but an iconic one? Priceless.
GUNS N' ROSES – "ESTRANGED" (1993)
Cost: £2.7 million (£4.1 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens:
If you travelled back to 1993 and managed to insert your eyes through the large head of an extremely coked up Axl Rose and into his brain, this is exactly what you’d see: a nine and a half minute video of double-necked guitars, limousines, mansions, ships, helicopters, and an intense guitar solo outside Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Strip. At one point, a dolphin flies out of the back of an airplane, because why the fuck not?
Was it worth it? This is a classic example of spending so much money on something that it gets weird. Why is the first half just live footage? What is the purpose of the huge mansion in the middle? What have all these dolphins got to do with anything? Why is Slash made to look like he’s standing on water, but instead looks like an intern got hold of a cracked copy of iMovie? What’s up with the bit where Axl walks along an oil ship, like a little lost man at sea? And most importantly, why does it have to be a gruelling ten minutes long?
MISSY ELLIOTT – "SHE'S A BITCH" (1999)
Cost: £1.3 million (£3.1 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens: There is no image more startling, more iconic, than seeing Missy Elliott’s bald head slowly rising out of the jet-black ocean, glistening and covered in spikes, like if the Loch Ness monster was cool and joined Hells Angels.
Was it worth it? This is Missy Elliott for Christ sake – she can do what she wants. Listen, all I'm saying is if some benevolent person with several exposable bank accounts wants to start a Missy Elliott channel where they play her videos on repeat over and over again, beaming them into outer-space for the aliens that first make contact with the Earth, then future generations would be better people.
MARIAH CAREY – "HEARTBREAKER (FT JAY Z)" (1999)
Cost: £1.7 million (£2.4 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens: Considering that this is Mariah Carey – as in, the same woman who hires a private limo to take her dogs to events – I’m surprised that this video wasn’t just her rolling around on a pile of fur coats for five minutes. Instead, she just dances around a cinema for a bit in some light denim cut-off jeans and a poor excuse for a bralette before getting into a fight with herself.
Was it worth it? I get this importance of this video – it’s all kinds of nostalgic. The track isn't bad, either. But I’m not sure it’s worth the same price as a small island off Hawaii, especially when Jay-Z didn’t even bother to stop laughing in the mirror at his own reflection and turn up.
THE ROLLING STONES – "LOVE IS STRONG" (1994)
Cost: £690k (£1 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens: The Rolling Stones strut around a miniature New York. It’s kind of like King Kong, but with aging rock royalty instead of a huge, raging gorilla intent on picking up tiny ladies with its big fat hands. Which is scarier? Please cast your vote in the comments section.
Was it worth it? Sometimes, parents lend their children money to pick them up something from the shops. When the child returns, they pretend the cashier didn’t give them a receipt and pocket the change for themselves, spending it on Chomps or firecrackers. This is kind of like that, in that the Rolling Stones say they spent a million dollars on this video, but it’s quality suggests they absolutely did not. Why else would it be so bad? Why does it look like it was shot on a singular VHR flip camera with really small buildings made out of cardboard? Why does Mick Jagger repeatedly rubbing his chest while singing “you make me hard” make me feel like I need to projectile vomit all over my computer screen just to make it stop.
THE SISTERS OF MERCY – "DOMINION"
Cost: £690k (£1.3 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens: There are a lot of camels, I guess?
Was it worth it? Does Mariah Carey poop in the woods?
MICHAEL AND JANET JACKSON – "SCREAM" (1995)
Cost: £4.8 million (£7.5 million today)
The most decadent shit that happens: I know we spoke about the Backstreet Boys already, but honestly? Fuck them and their sentient robot friends. That was earlier, and this is now, where it’s clear that the 90s sci-fi music video trend started with Michael and Janet Jackson thrusting their limbs around in zero gravity. Some vases are also consensually destroyed, which is the ultimate sign of decadence. Poor people do not intentionally break vases.
Was it worth it? Look at the matching silver outfits, feel the firm thwack of the beat, and see Janet Jackson pretending to pee standing up, and ask yourself: are you not entertained? This video includes the slickest, most impressive dance routine this side of “Thriller” and it takes place in an eye-wateringly white spaceship that’s moving at hyperspeed.
KANYE WEST - "STRONGER" (2007)
Cost: £830k (£900k today)
The most decadent shit that happens: I have no idea what is happening to Kanye West in this video. Is he having the entire political history of Japan slowly downloaded onto his brain by a ginormous CG1 machine controlled by Daft Punk? Is he being cloned? Did anyone work out what the shutter-shades were for?
Was it worth it? My mum once told me that the most intensely pleasing thing she’d ever witnessed was a car being put together at a FIAT factory. I thought she was having a vaguely psychotic episode at the time, but after watching those matte, robotic arms slowly assemble around Kanye West in the “Stronger” video, I know exactly what she means. It feels more satisfying than the time I found out tennis balls fit perfectly into Pringles tubes.
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