For many artists, a music video is nothing more than a chance to dress up and sing their new song lyrics on camera. For others, it’s a chance to say something bold, which can often provoke a backlash from an unsuspecting audience.
Whether deemed profane, blasphemous or simply disturbing, these videos have become infamous moments in history causing a stir for the artist and intense debate in the public sphere.
1. “Like a prayer” – Madonna
Although it might seem tame now, the footage from Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” video touched a nerve in just about everyone back in 1989.
Burning crosses and sexual connotations with a figure resembling a black Christ have caused widespread controversy among religious organizations and advertisers. Pepsi (with whom Madonna had a contract at the time) and the Vatican led the charge in convicting the singer.
Director Mary Lambert still backs the video, saying, “I knew we were pushing big buttons, using burning crosses to reference racism and religion. Why not a black Jesus? Why can’t you imagine kissing her? I wanted to talk about ecstasy and show the relationship between sexual ecstasy and religious ecstasy. I think subconsciously a lot of people got it and were either fascinated or outraged by it.
2. “Famous” – Kanye West
“Famous” marked the final episode of Taylor Swift and Kayne West’s now-crushed beef. Playing the track’s equally controversial lyrics, I feel like Taylor and I might still have sex / Why? I made that female dog famousthe video features the rapper himself lying in bed with a handful of familiar faces as wax characters, including Swift herself.
Other big names include Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby. Many of the people pictured thought about suing the rapper for using their likeness, but ultimately West got away with the controversial video.
West said he was “not in favor or [against] or anti one of [the people in the video]but was simply making “a celebrity comment.”
3. “Heart-Shaped Box” – Nirvana
Nirvana has never let a moment go by without shaking up the status quo – and their video for “Heart-Shaped Box” was no exception.
The video is a masterclass in grunge-era nihilism. Featuring shots of an emaciated man on a crucifix wearing a Santa hat, as well as a woman plucking fetuses from a tree, the video certainly didn’t shy away from touching on controversial topics. Despite the controversy, the video was the most played music video on MTV in 1993.
4. “Stan” – Eminem
At around nine minutes in, “Stan” tells the story of an Eminem fan of the same name and his pregnant girlfriend who questions his undying love for Slim Shady. The man, played by true Eminem fan and actor Devon Sawa, then puts his girlfriend in the trunk of his car and drives them both off a bridge. Heavy stuff, but all in a day’s work for the King of Controversy himself.
Due to the content of the video, it was heavily censored upon release. Despite networks like MTV and Fuse trying to shield the darker parts of the story, the song and video went on to inspire a new name for the wild and obsessive fan, calling them “Stans.”
5. “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke
This Robin Thicke song caused a stir in 2013, for a multitude of reasons. Between the song’s lyrics accused of promoting rape culture, sued for similarities to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’, and the video featuring three stripped-down models dancing around three fully-dressed men – Thicke, Pharrell and TI – the video had no chance of leaving the social media discourse without a scratch.
To add to the awkward vibe of the entire visual, there’s even a floating balloon sign in the background saying, “Robin Thicke has a big d**k.”
What are some of your favorite controversial videos? Comments below.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS