Controversy sells, which is why many artists aren’t afraid to make shocking, attention-seeking music videos. Even if they get slated, criticised or even banned, in the long run people will remember them more than the videos that didn’t cause as much of a fuss. Here are 9 music videos that, for one reason or another, are often deemed among the most controversial ever.
‘Like a Prayer’ by Madonna, 1989
Madonna’s video for ‘Like a Prayer’, arguably her most career-defining song, caused a lot of controversy amongst various religious groups and continue to do so today. Not only does she appear dancing in a field of burning crosses, she also witnesses the murder of a girl by white supremacists and kisses an African-American Jesus. The fallout from the video’s release saw Madonna lose a lucrative deal with Pepsi, though the success of the song and video probably made up for it.
‘Lemon Incest’ by Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg, 1984
While the song ‘Lemon Incest’ garnered controversy due to its lyrics which seemingly glamourised both incest and paedophilia, the video took things a step further: it shows Serge and his then 13-year-old daughter Charlotte lying on a bed, him topless and in jeans, her in a shirt and knickers.
‘Kids’ by MGMT, 2009
The video for MGMT’s ‘Kids’ depicts a toddler being menaced by monsters before being carried by his mum past a series of freakishly morbid zombies. What made this video controversial was that some thought the child actor was actually genuinely distressed while shooting the video, though MGMT insist that wasn’t the case.
‘Heart-Shaped Box’ by Nirvana, 1993
The video for Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ garnered a lot of attention on release, though not all of it was positive. The video sees an old man climbing a cross covered with crows, a young girl (whose white robe resembles robes worn by the KKK) reaching up into a tree for human foetuses and an overweight woman wearing a suit depicting various human organs with angle wings coming out of her back.
‘Do What U Want’ Lady Gaga ft. R. Kelly, 2013
Lady Gaga was going to release a video for ‘Do What U Want’, a single from her album Artpop. It was filmed and featured the song’s featured artist, R. Kelly, with Terry Richardson directing it. Its release was delayed several times before being scrapped altogether. The reason the full video never saw the light of day (snippets have leaked) was because both R. Kelly and Terry Richardson were linked with various scandals – Kelly with child pornography and Richardson with sexual harassment. It was decided that due to the video’s sexually suggestive nature and given the scandals associated with its co-star and director, that it was best to scrap it.
‘Born Free’ by M.I.A., 2010
Though M.I.A.’s ‘Born Free’ video received much critical acclaim on its release, it nonetheless caused quite a stir. It depicts a genocide against redheads and was temporarily banned on Youtube in both the US and the UK due to its depiction of military violence and brutality, as well as its nudity – it even shows a young redhead barely in his teens getting shot in the head.
‘All The Things She Said’ by t.A.T.u, 2002
Originally released in 2002, the video for t.A.T.u’s first English language single ‘All The Things She Said’ caused controversy because it featured the two girls dressed in rather skimpy school uniform kissing passionately in the rain.
‘Looking Hot’ by No Doubt, 2012
No Doubt shot a video for their single ‘Looking Hot’ back in 2012, though they ended up pulling it. The reason because it featured the band members donning pieces of Native American clothing, including headdresses, which some criticised since they thought it was cultural appropriation. The video isn’t even on YouTube, so unless it comes back, we’ll have to make do with the far less controversial lyric video instead.
‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. and Pharrell, 2013
‘Blurred Lines’ initially received praise and went on to sell over 14 million copies worldwide, it later gained criticism due to its lyrics, which some interpreted as misogynistic and objectifying towards women. Then there’s the video. In fact, the one linked above is the clean version – the more x-rated version features the same three female models, though this time they appear in the nude.