Today we ring in the 30th anniversary of music television, a full three decades since MTV first blasted off. And in the years that have since passed, though much about the music video medium has changed, certain tropes of the format remain. Video vixens, celebrity cameos, fish-eye lenses (people still use those, right?)—long as people are still cranking out music videos, they'll still be around. But one of our favorite video clichés—and one that's been around since the very first video ever played on MTV—is the gratuitous explosion. From George Michael to Puff Daddy to Justin Timberlake, nothing has said music video excitement over the course of MTV's lifetim like blowing the crap out of stuff. Here's a chronological look back at some of the best kabooms from the last 30 years of music video.
THE BUGGLES, "VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR" (1981)
The leadoff clip from MTV's maiden voyage, "Video Killed the Radio Star" set the bar early for explosions in music videos with its exploding radios, artfully symbolizing the titular sentiment. Video explosions would get a lot flashier over the years, but few were as impactful.
BILLY IDOL, "WHITE WEDDING" (1982)
For a brief period in the early-'80s, exploding kitchens were all the rage in music video. A couple years after David Bowie saw his kitchen spontaneously combust all around him in "Ashes to Ashes," Billy Idol's domicile was similarly beset by kitchen-localized explosions in his video for "White Wedding." Odd trend, but maybe only the sixth strangest thing to happen in the "White Wedding" video.
DURAN DURAN, "A VIEW TO A KILL" (1985)
Duran Duran's video for Bond theme "A View to a Kill" was filled with as much suspense and intrigue as the Roger Moore flick itself, but the band may have skimped some in the special effects department. After lead Durannie Simon LeBon accidentally triggers a bomb on the Eiffel Tower—or possibly just one on a postcard of the Tower sold at a concession stand below, it's hard to tell—an explosion goes off that packs the force of a firecracker. (Hey, no video from a soundtrack was ever perfect.)
GENESIS, "LAND OF CONFUSION" (1986)
One of many Cold-War-anxiety videos to rise to prominence in the mid-'80s, Genesis' enormously popular video for "Land of Confusion" featured puppet renderings of any number of important cultural figures of the time, most notably none-too-flattering caricatures of then-president Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy. At the end of the video, puppet Ronnie attempts to page a nurse, but accidentally hits the button for "Nuke," triggering a mushroom cloud explosion. ("That's one heck of a nurse!" comments Reagan.)
MEGADETH, "PEACE SELLS" (1989)
"Peace Sells" will always own a special place in the hearts of MTV fans due to its bass line being lifted to soundtrack the channel's trademark "MTV News...You Hear It...First!" slogan, but the song's video was also an early metal classic. General badass imagery abounds, but perhaps most memorable is the early sight of an exploding skull, about as metal an image as you were likely to find on MTV in the late-'80s. (Actually, second most memorable: "I wanna watch the news!" "This is the news!" takes top honors every time.)
For the finest in '90s music video explosions, including Michael Jackson and Green Day, click NEXT.
GEORGE MICHAEL, "FREEDOM '90" (1990)
One of the most beloved videos in the history of MTV, the David Fincher-directed clip for George Michael's "Freedom '90" is best-remembered today for its incredible cast of lip-syncing supermodels. (Linda! Naomi! Cindy!) Nearly as memorable, though, was the series of exploding jukeboxes punctuating the song's chorus, symbolizing Michael's personal escape from the Faith era. Not sure why doing so was such a big deal for GM—"Faith" was pretty awesome in its own right—but it sure looked pretty cool.
MICHAEL JACKSON, "BLACK OR WHITE" (1992)
Though it was usually cut out of the version played on MTV because it was kinda batshit insane, the original edit of Michael Jackson's "Black or White" ended with a three-minute segment of MJ dancing provocatively, beating the crap out of a car, and triggering the needless explosion of a building marked as the Royal Arms Inn. Jackson then transforms into a black panther and slinks away, ever the smooth criminal.
GREEN DAY, "WALKING CONTRADICTION" (1996)
Possibly trying to set the Guinness record for senseless music video destruction, Green Day cause piano crashes, auto pileups and eventually an entire building's collapse with their generally disruptive presence in their clip for "Walking Contradiction." (OK, technically this one is an implosion, not an explosion—you got us, wisenheimers. Still, must be included for sheer scale.)
FATBOY SLIM, "GANGSTER TRIPPING" (1998)
Never the recipient of much airplay stateside, Fatboy Slim's Roman Coppola-helmed clip for "Gangster Tripping" nonetheless holds the all-time MTV record for highest ratio of items featured to items blown the fuck up. Over the course of the video, a toilet, bookcase, refrigerator, closet set, armchair, computer, bathroom mirror and bed all make appearance, and all get explodeded to the nth degree. Simple enough, but undeniably effective.
THE OFFSPRING, "WHY DON'T YOU GET A JOB?" (1999)
Quite possibly the dumbest music video ever to be played on MTV in the channel's 30-year history, The Offspring's "Why Don't You Get a Job?" clip features singer Dexter Holland leading a weird-ass crusade of citizens fed up with their unemployed significant others, empowered by the song's titular battle cry. At the end, Holland presses a button in the middle of the street that causes an explosion a ways behind him, which makes about as much sense as anything else in the video.
For the 21st century in music video blow-ups, including Beyoncé and Chris Brown, click NEXT.
LIMP BIZKIT - "BOILER" (2001)
Back when Limp Bizkit was popular enough for their music videos to be mini-events, they attempted a convoluted high-concept storyline clip for the highly awful "Boiler," which thankfully was just about the only Bizkit video of the time not to become a megahit. A good example of its ostentatiousness comes early on, when head Bizkid Fred Durst jumps out of a hotel room to escape from his girlfriend and the exploding metal orb that she just spit at him. Unfazed, Dirst walks over to a food cart to order a hamburger. Yeah.
BEYONCE F/ JAY-Z, "CRAZY IN LOVE" (2003)
The video for Beyoncé and Jay-Z's "Crazy in Love" was so hot that you just knew something had to explode in it. Still, we don't really get why Jay tries to explode the car that Beyoncé appears to be inside of, or how she manages to escape (with a fur coat, no less) and why she seems unperturbed by her man's evident attempt on her life. Just get back to the horn riff!
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, "SEXY BACK" (2007)
Justin Timberlake's deliciously incoherent video for "Sexy Back" features a whole lot of nonsense, but perhaps no shot more ridiculous than the one of JT jumping from one hotel balcony to another to escape some an explosion in the room he just had sex with some random chick in. (Why all these bitches gotta keep trying to blow our pop stars up for no reason?) He sticks the landing, natch, and he's back to making out with mysterious femme fatales in no time.
THE LONELY ISLAND, "COOL GUYS DON'T LOOK AT EXPLOSIONS" (2009)
Premiering at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, "Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions," The Lonely Island's ode to the classic cinematic art of not looking at the big-ass explosion popping off behind you as you walk away, features iconic explosions-while-people-walk-away-unimpressed from action movies like Desperado and Iron Man. The fact that it took our nation's sketch artists until 2009 to come up with such a clip mocking this film cliché is somewhat unforgivable, but better late than never.
CHRIS BROWN F/ JUSTIN BIEBER, "NEXT TO YOU" (2011)
Taking us up to present day, Chris Brown and Justin Bieber brave the apocalypse to save their loved ones in "Next to You," which begins with a car exploding outside Brown's apartment to show you just how real shit is getting. Is it necessary? Not really. Is it awesome? Almost definitely. Here's hoping for another thirty years of needless blowups in music videos, contributing the punctuation to some of our finest, most gloriously excessive marriages of sound and vision.