music / Columns

The 8 Ball 01.26.13: The Top 8 Most Controversial Music Videos

January 26, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas


Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

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Top 8 Controversial Music Videos
Music videos have been an integral part of the music industry for decades. While promotional clips to songs have been around for even longer, true “music videos” in the sense we are used to began in the mid-1970s before they exploded on a worldwide stage with the advent of MTV in 1981. Ever since there have been music videos, there have been controversial ones. From the unbelievably overt sexuality of Eric Pryde’s “Call on Me” to the graphic imagery of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” music videos have just provided a new medium for musical artists to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. This week I thought we could take a look at some of the music videos that inspired the most outrage and shocked reactions.

Caveat: It must be noted for anyone curious that these are the most controversial music videos. They aren’t necessarily my favorite controversial songs or videos, nor are they necessarily ones I agree with the message of; they are simply the ones that inspired the most outrage. In addition, some readers will note a distinct lack of certain groups like GWAR, Cannibal Corpse or Mayhem, not to mention a host of Neo-Nazi bands and so on. While these groups could certainly apply, I think that the level of controversy reached is strongly dependant on how much outrage they truly inspire from the mainstream. To be frank, mostly people have no idea who Necrophagia is and no matter how messed up “Blood Freak” is, the fact that it never inspired mainstream attention limits how controversial it really was. Essentially, this is “Most Controversial” not “Most Extreme.”

Just Missing The Cut
Garth Brooks – “The Thunder Rolls” (1991)
Nine Inch Nails – “Closer” (1994)
Cradle of Filth – “From Cradle To Enslave” (1999)

#8: Christina Aguilera (ft. Redman) “Dirrty” (2002)

Proving that sex is often more controversial than violence is our #8 video. At the turn of the millennium, bubblegum pop was being reigned over by two queens: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Comparisons between the two were impossible to deny considering their similarities, including their shared time on The Mickey Mouse Show, their simultaneous rise to fame, their pop sensibilities and so on. Aguilera was tired of playing second fiddle to Britney though, and she was also tired of being marketed as a squeaky clean teenager. Thus came Stripped in 2002, an album which went in an entirely new direction both musically and lyrically. Aguilera abandoned the good girl image and created a sexed-up musical powerhouse persona that she dubbed “Xtina.” The album got some attention for its content, but the music video for “Dirrty,” directed by David LaChapelle, took the controversy to a new level. With Aguilera getting down and dirty in what looks like an abandoned high school-turned-sex dungeon, critics and fans were shocked and many were appalled. People wanted the “Genie in a Bottle” Christina, not Xtina riding and grinding in the shower. The backlash was significant and threatened to derail the album in the US, though the single was a hit worldwide. It wasn’t until the second single, “Beautiful,” that fans began to calm down and pay attention to the singer’s voice again. Stripped became a huge hit for Aguilera and marked a new era in her career, though whether her new “Dirrty” image helped or hindered is still debated today.

#7: Marilyn Manson – “(S)aint” (2003)

How bad was the music video for Marilyn Manson’s “(S)aint,” the 2003 song from The Golden Age of Grotesque? Interscope didn’t bother to wait for a public outcry about it; they banned it from the United States themselves. “(S)aint” was never even a single from the album, but Manson decided that the song needed a video anyway so he hired actress Asia Argento, the daughter of giallo master Dario Argento, to direct this one. The uncut video was released in Australia and Europe while an edited one showed in Japan; despite the fact that it was never formally released here, it still caused an outcry in those more permissive countries overseas and even here thanks to the fact that fans could get it through a DVD on Manson’s website. How bad is the video, you ask? Let’s see, Manson snorts coke off a Bible through a bloody nose, has loads of bondage-laden sex, female genitalia, masturbation, oral sex, cutting, vomiting and more. It’s bad enough that content restrictions make me unable to embed it on 411mania; you can see it here if you want. In case you didn’t get the hint, be warned: IT IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

#6: Serge Gainsbourg – “Lemon Incest” (1984)

If sex is a taboo topic in media (and make no mistake; despite the amount of complaining that mainstream media and moral minority do regarding sex, it is a taboo topic), Serge Gainsbourg really zeroed in on that controversy sweet spot with “Lemon Incest.” The song is, as you might expect by the title, about the highly-inappropriate love between blood relatives. More specifically, the song is a duet by Serge and his daughter Charlotte, the latter of whom was twelve years old at the time of the song. Yeah, this is that kind of song. The lyrics are actually fairly vague on that front, but the insinuation is certainly there and the title makes it crystal clear what Serge and Charlotte are talking about here. As a song, it may have escaped most people’s notice because there could be a certain level of fiction placed on it. The music video, on the other hand, was deliberately provocative as it features Serge lying shirtlessly on a bed next to his pre-teen daughter, who herself is in a button-down shirt and her panties. Serge spent the last seven years of his life denying any inappropriate relationship with his daughter every now and then, and Charlotte herself has to discuss it on semi-regular intervals to this day.

#5: MIA – “Born Free” (2010)


M.I.A.’s third studio album // / Y / was a major disappointment for many when it was released in July of 2010. People accused the album of being overly aggrandizing, lacking focus and generally substandard, especially considering the singer’s past work. While there was considerable ink spent denigrating the LP, even more was spilled over the music video for “Born Free,” which preceded the album. The video was written by M.I.A. herself and directed by Romain Gavras; it is a social commentary piece about how ridiculous it is to target any one entire group of people as it depicts redheads (or gingers, if you prefer) being rounded up by solders and rather graphically get beaten and shot. The video became a lightning rod, to which the singer said, “It’s amazing to me that is the state we’re in today — people are more moved by something synthetic than something real.” But let’s be frank; she knew exactly what kind of reaction she would get and that was what she wanted. When people are shocked about something, they sometimes get shocked into thinking about what they’ve seen, and the social commentary in “Born Free” certainly merits discussion. It is unfortunate that the album wasn’t as thought-provoking as the video, but you take what you can get.

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

Thus music video from EDM group Prodigy was banned from television stations around the world. But let’s face it, we kind of knew this was coming at the time. The song was already a huge source of controversy due to its seemingly-misogynistic title; feminist groups were taking aim at the volatile group for what they claimed was the glorification of domestic abuse. In actuality the band said that the lyrics referred to “doing anything intensely,” but the damage was done. That damage was exacerbated by the video, which depicts a violent, drug-fueled romp throughout the city from a first person perspective. Our subject drinks and drives, gets in fights, snorts coke and does heroin, does a hit-and-run, commits acts of vandalism and takes a prostitute home with them for…well, exactly what you take a prostitute home for. It is only after all of this, at the end of the video, that we see the subject–and it’s a woman. Perhaps not shockingly, this didn’t make their critics any happier. The video was initially banned from MTV until they relented due to popular demand, though they would only play it after midnight with a strict warning for viewers. The video was nominated for four MTV Video Awards and won two, though it will always be more remembered for the controversy than it will the awards.

#3: Pearl Jam – “Jeremy” (1992)

Many of the videos on this list would be just as controversial if they were released today; some of them would be downright quaint. The music video for “Jeremy,” the third single off of Pearl Jam’s debut LP Ten, is the one that I firmly believe would be more controversial than when it was released in 1992. The song is inspired by Jeremy Wade Delle, a teenage boy who shot himself in English class in front of his classmates in 1991. Frontman Eddie Vedder said that the newspaper article he read about that gave him the need “to take that small article and make something of it—to give that action, to give it reaction, to give it more importance.” The end result was this song. For the music video the band teamed with director Mark Pellington to direct a direct dramatization of the song’s story. The video garnered a ton of controversy, not only due to the violent content but because MTV restrictions on violent imagery mandated that a shot of the young actor putting the barrel of the gun in his mouth; ironically, the lack of that shot combined with what looks like a defensive stance from the classmates led people to believe the story ends in a shooting rampage. The video helped propel the band to superstar status but also led to them not making another video for six years. The video became banned on MTV and VH-1 after the Columbine massacre and to this day is rarely if ever played on television.

#2: Nas – “Hate Me Now” (1999)

There is one thing guaranteed to piss people off in America. If you can’t anger then with sex and you can’t outrage them with violence, just throw a cross in there and you will push tempers through the roof. Admittedly, Nas’ concept for his “Hate Me Now” video wasn’t exactly the mildest way one could introduce religion into a music video. After all, he depicts himself wearing a crown of thorns on his head as he carries a cross along toward his inevitable crucifixion. The video has a statement in front of it that reads “Nas believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and this video is in no way a depiction or portrayal of his life or death.” Of course it does, but what he intends to say is that this depiction is a symbol, albeit a very unsubtle one. People were livid and the video was the subject of extreme controversy. To make matters worse, Puff Daddy (or Diddy if you prefer) appears on a cross in the original cut. However, he had second thoughts as a Catholic and asked for it to be omitted. When the wrong cut of the video made it to MTV and got played on the air, Diddy high-tailed it over to the office of Nas’ manager and bashed a champagne bottle over the guy’s head, forcing Nas to step in and mediate. To this day, few hip-hop videos have garnered as much controversy as this one.

#1: Madonna – “Like a Prayer” (1989)

Madonna’s title track from her 1989 album Like a Prayer seems rather uncontroversial to me in its pure form at this point. But like I said, nothing angers American audiences quite like religion, sex or violence. Combine all three and throw in a little commentary on America’s racial tensions in the 1980s to boot, and you have a recipe for an absolute lightning rod of outrage. The Material Girl has never been a stranger to controversy, either before or after this moment; however, this remains the single-most heated moment of her career. The video, which was directed by Mary Lambert, stars Madonna as a witness to a murder. When she takes refuge in a church for safety, she starts praying in front of a statue of a saint, who comes to life and walks out. Madonna then cuts herself with a knife, emulating stigmata, and then all of a sudden is dancing in front of burning crosses. Oh yes, and she has a dream in which she has sex with the saint. Gee, why would anyone be upset over this? I’m not saying that the music video isn’t brilliant, because it is. I think it’s a powerful video and blends the concepts of sexuality and religion very strongly while still having a fairly linear and accessible flow to it. That being said, no one involved in the making of this video should have been shocked at the backlash it garnered. Madonna lost out on a $5 million sponsorship deal with Pepsi due to the complaints and while the video lives on where the money would have been long gone, it was a hallmark moment in the history of music video controversy.


2012 saw its own video controversy, as No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” was pulled offline (mostly) after complaints were made about its disrespect toward Native Americans. The video is not nearly as controversial as any of the above (which are all still clearly online through multiple venues), even if the complaints are somewhat fair. Check it out below:

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.


article topics :

The 8 Ball (Music), Jeremy Thomas

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