On December 2, 1983, the music video for “Thriller” was released, forever changing the landscape of the music video world. Before Michael Jackson dropped the nearly 14-minute, horror-themed, funkadelic vid, there wasn’t much storytelling in the medium.
Music videos seemed more like afterthoughts or accompaniments to the song. But “Thriller” flipped the script. When I talked to some of my older family members who got the album before seeing the music video, they mentioned that they never really thought much of the track.
But after MJ debuted his monster masterpiece, perceptions changed. Everyone and their mother learned the dance. Album skyrocketed. In fact, Thriller is still the number two selling record of all time, generating more than 33 million sales, just under The Eagles’ Greatest Hits.
It’s also worth mentioning that the music video is legitimately horrifying at times. Michael Jackson enlisted the help of American Werewolf in London artist Tom Hester to help transform into the vicious hellbeast capable of felling rooted trees with a single blow.
Heck, the Grammy’s created a “Best Music Film” category pretty much because of “Thriller.” Though the name of the category’s changed over the years, it’s still going strong, and all the winners in the category — including some of the artists below — have MJ to thank for that.
Although there’s a lot to be said about “Thriller” just as a music video, it’s difficult to understate how influential it was. Pretty much every “event” music video that’s been released since owes its existence to MJ’s original vision of a cinematic music experience.
Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize”
Although it doesn’t feature as long of an intro as “Thriller” does, Biggie’s “Hypnotize” took current action movie cues from Michael Bay (the video screams Bad Boys) just like MJ borrowed themes from popular horror movies at the time.
Hypnotize, like “Thriller”, carries that theme throughout the music video and transitions seamlessly into the song. They managed to mix in all the elements of a hip-hop music video: fly honeys, big baller lifestyles, and the staple of the ’90s: flowing white clothing.
Guns N’ Roses – “November Rain”
Axl Rose’s post-rehab ballad with Guns N’ Roses was one of the most played-out songs on the radio in the ’90s. In addition to extensive radio play, this long-form music video was just plastered all over MTV, VH1, and The Box back in the day.
The narrative elements and epic shots of the nearly 9-minute song probably wouldn’t have been done in such a cinematic way had it not been for the popularity of a track like “Thriller.” Think about it: you’re a studio exec and your band is asking for $1.5 million to produce a short film for your video — in a world where “Thriller” never existed. Are you greenlighting that? Probably not.
Meat Loaf – “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”
Meat Loaf’s no stranger to long, epic songs — or theatrics for that matter. I mean have you ever seen him perform “Paradise by the Dashboard Light?” But just like “Thriller,” our buddy Mr. Loaf incorporates a popular movie influence in his 1993 music video.
You know what else came out in 1993? Beauty and the Beast. You know who is made up to look like a beast in the video and lives in a gloomy castle? Meat Loaf. The video for the track tells a pretty convoluted story, but the epic, drawn-out nature, not to mention the horror elements from “Thriller” are at play here.
Aerosmith – “Cryin'”
Aerosmith made a full-blown short film with “Cryin’,” – starring Clueless actress Alicia Silverstone and Stephen Dorf of Blade fame. The video tells the tale of a renegade young girl living life on the edge. It’s a large-scale production that feels like it was pieced together from scenes of an actual, feature-length movie.
Britney Spears – “Oops!…I Did it Again”
Anyone who’s watched TRL will tell you: Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did it Again” ruled the countdown for the longest time and it’s easy to see why. Not only was the track an absolute banger when it was released, but it featured a wonderfully cheesy music video with a long intro that sets the “tone” for the song. And let’s not forget the cheesy breakdown when her hot astronaut hunk removes his helmet. Timeless.
A-ha – “Take on Me”
The Norwegian synth pop band’s music video is not only one of the most iconic songs of the ’80s, but it’s also one of the most memorable music videos of all time, and not because of Corky Romano, either.
You could pretty much add any long-form music video to this list that’s full of complicated dance numbers or is book-ended by a narrative story. If there’s a complex, large-scale music video that spins a yarn that came out in 1984 and after, chances are it was influenced by “Thriller,” including MJ’s subsequent videos that came out.