Animated music videos, including cartoon, motion graphics, 3D, lo-fi and hand-drawn animation, have become a big hit throughout the MTV Generation. The animated style has become a go-to for artists on tour who don’t have time to appear for shoots, who don’t want to appear in their own clips, who have a tighter budget, or even artists who simply choose animation for stylistic purposes.
By putting together a playlist of some of our favourite animated videos, including promos by Queen, Bjork, Gorillaz and Daft Punk, we honour the talented designers and illustrators behind some of the craftiest and most colourful music videos in our digital modern age.
The videos are featured in date-release order, following the evolution of digital animation.
Dire Straits – Money For Nothing (1985)
‘Money for Nothing’ was Dire Straits’ most successful single, peaking at Nº1 for three weeks in the US. Taken from their hugely successful 5th studio album ‘Brothers in Arms’, the song won a Grammy for the Best Rock performance. The album proved to be the band’s crowning glory selling more than 25 million copies worldwide. It was also the first album to sell a million copies in the new CD format.
The music video featured early computer animation illustrating the lyrics and was one of the first uses of computer-animated human characters – it was considered ground-breaking at the time of its release. When MTV Europe launched in 1987 this was the first video they played which contained the appropriate line ‘I Want My MTV’! The video was awarded «Video of the Year» (among many other nominations) at the third annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1986.
Leave Me Alone – Michael Jackson (1987)
The music video for ‘Leave Me Alone’, directed and produced by Jim Blashfield and Paul Diener, combines stop motion animation and weird imagery, including shrines to actress Elizabeth Taylor, tabloid videos of MJ’s personal and public life, a nose being chased by a surgical scalpel in reference to Jackson’s plastic surgery, all of which compliment the song’s paranoid feel towards the paparazzi and the media. The video won Best Short Film Music Video at the Grammy Awards in 1990 and Best Special Effects at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. It also received 6 nominations for Video of The Year, Viewer’s Choice, Breakthrough Video, Best Editing and Best Art Direction. After MJ’s death, Rolling Stone referred to the track as «Jackson’s most monumental song».
Innuendo – Queen (1991)
‘Innuendo’ immediately shot to Nº1 in the UK Singles Charts in 1991. It is the lengthiest of Queen’s songs ever to be released as a single. The music video, directed by Jerry Hibbert and Rudi Dolezal, inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, has been described as one of the band’s darkest and most moving works. The use of live action with stop motion animation, eerie plasticine figurines, montage and illustrations, accommodates Queen’s prog-rock, heavy metal, flamenco and rock opera sound of the early 90s. While Freddie Mercury is drawn in the style of Leonardo da Vinci, Brian May is drawn in the style of Victorian print, Taylor in the style of Jackson Pollock, and Deacon in the style of Pablo Picasso.
Hold me thrill me kiss me kill me – U2 (1995)
Written for the ‘Batman Forever’ soundtrack, the American top 20s smash was nominated for a Golden Globe. Inspired by the world of comic books, it was only fitting that the band members of U2 would appear as cartoon superheroes and villains performing in Gotham City in the animated video clip. Directed by Dave King, the video also uses clips from the third installment of Tim Burton’s Batman film series.
Paranoid Android – Radiohead (1997)
The animated music video for ‘Paranoid Android’, created by Magnus Carlsson, is drawn in a simplistic style, using bold colours and clear, graphic lines. It features Robin, the character from the Swedish animated series ‘Robin’, and his friend Benjamin setting out into the world, running into EU representatives, bullying pub patrons, and featuring a prostitute, two men kissing, a drug addict, deranged businessmen, mermaids and an angel who plays table tennis with Robin. The video is indeed bizarre and hard to figure out!
Freak On A Leash – Korn (1999)
The animated music video for the late 90s funk-metal sounding track, ‘Freak On A Leash’, directed by Todd McFarlane, contains a mixture of animation and live performance footage. The video combines “special effects and clever camera moves in the live action portion of the video”, while it follows the journey of an accidentally-fired bullet travelling out of the animated cartoon realm and into the real world, damaging property and flying around the members of Korn, before it makes its way back into the animated world. The video received awards for Best Editing and Best Rock Video at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards and also won a Grammy Award for Best Short Music Video in 2000.
One More Time – Daft Punk (2000)
The music video animation in Daft Punk’s dance-pop classic track ‘One More Time’ later appeared in the 2003 Japanese animated film ‘Interstella 5555: The 5tory of 5ecret 5tar System’. The video, directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi under the visual supervision of Leiki Matsumoto, illustrates a pop-band made up of blue-skinned aliens performing a song on their home planet, while a bizarre force approaches it.
Californication – Red Hot Chilli Peppers (2000)
‘Californication’ is still one of the band’s most popular songs. The animated music video, directed and produced by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, has over 110 million views on YouTube. The video takes the form of a video game, which intercuts with live-action footage of the band performing. The game is filmed from a third-person point of view of each of the band members, all of whom are on different adventures within the game. Eventually, the band members end up turning back from 3D computer-generated avatars into their real selves, as the message on the screen reads ‘Game Over’.
Feel Good Inc. – Gorillaz ft. De La Soul (2005)
The alternative rock song, ‘Feel Good Inc.’, by the British virtual band Gorillaz, won Best Pop Collaboration at the 2006 Grammy Awards, Best Breakthrough Video and Best Special Effects in a video at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards. Directed by Jamie Hewlett and Pete Candeland, the music video mixes CGI with two-dimensional animation to create a textured and layered effect, with Japanese-inspired colours, textures and tones. The animated video’s main themes approach the issues of intellectual freedom and the media-induced dumbing down of mass culture.
Wanderlust – Björk (2008)
Björk has said that ‘Wanderlust’ is about “being in the state of something and almost knowing you’re never going to find it”. The strange and uncanny animated music video, directed by Ecyclopedia Pictura, presents us with a kaleidoscopic vision, by using a mixture of animation, large-scale puppets, live action acrobatics, miniature clay figurines and CGI. The video also uses pillarboxing – an effect that occurs on widescreen displays when black bars are places on the sides of the image, shrinking the original image and placing it in the centre of the widescreen frame. The video won Best Art Direction, Best Alternative/Indie Video and Video of The Year at the 2008 UK Video Music Awards. It was also nominated for Best Special Effects.
Heartless – Kanye West (2008)
Kanye West teams up with director Hype Williams, for a vibrant tribute to Ralph Bakshi’s 1981 film ‘American Pop’. It features rotoscope animation (a technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, for use in live-action and animated films) and references several scenes and background from the film. The video was William’s first animated clip. ‘Heatless’ is one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling 5.5 million digital copies in 2009, alone.
Strawberry Swing – Coldplay (2009)
Coldplay’s sweet melody, with afro-pop influences and alternative rock vibes, became a top 5 hit in several European charts. The music video for ‘Strawberry Swing’, directed by Shynola, features stop motion animation, with frontman turned superhero Chris Martin lying on the ground against animated chalk drawings, as he rescues a damsel in distress. The video was nominated for Best Animation at the MTV Video Music Awards 2009 and for Breakthrough Video at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.
Get Busy Living – Goldfish (2010)
Goldfish are know for their stylistic and comedic animated music videos, most of which have connecting stories, use recurring characters and which usually feature pop culture references. The music video for ‘Get Busy Living’, directed and animated by Mike Scott, was the official video for Goldfish’s first single from their self-titled album.
The Shrine – Fleet Foxes (2011)
Sean Pecknold, brother of Fleet Foxes frontman Robin, directed the haunting animated music video for ‘The Shrine’. It’s an eight-minute long video about a carnivorous antelope “travelling across a hostile, fantastical landscape”.
Miss Atomic Bomb – The Killers (2012)
Director Warren Fu fuses the two mediums of animation and live-action shots to bring to life a heartbreaking love story in the animated music video for ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’. The video has been characterized as “the epic companion to Mr. Brightside”, as it continues the love triangle depicted in the latter video, released in 2004. Actress Izabella Miko and actor Eric Roberts re-adopt and re-enact their roles from the ‘Mr. Brightside’ video and approach the story from a different point of view.
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