When MTV launched on August 1, 1981, the first music video it played was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. What an awful video. In those days, all a music video needed was jiggly girls in bikinis, big hair, fast cars, and if you were lucky, jiggly girls with big hair driving fast cars. No huge costs, just a little something to complement the listening experience.
Then came along Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in 1983. "Thriller" wasn't a music video, it was a full-fledged crotch-grabbing experience. At 14 minutes long, "Thriller" suddenly opened the doors of creativity, proving that a music video could be more about the video and less about the music. Today, companies will spend millions of dollars to make a 3-minute video (most of it spent on computer animation and huge sets). We are proud to present a list of opulent indulgence: the 10 most expensive music videos of all time.
To be fair, though, we've instituted some ground rules:
A group/artist can only appear once on the list. Known as the Michael Jackson Amendment, this rule makes the list a whole lot more interesting. But artists doing a one-time collaboration with others are fair game (allowing Janet Jackson to pop up 3 times).
If the video is for a song from a movie, then it doesn't count. Otherwise, Celine Dion's warbling of "My Heart Will Go On" would win hands down (because it included expensive scenes from Titanic). To qualify, the images in the video must have been created solely for that video.
Studios lie about how much they spend. They don't want to seem too wasteful, so our figures are probably a little off. But it's an interesting list anyway, so deal with it.
Artist: Blackstreet (featuring Janet Jackson)
This video is completely computer animated, taking place inside a pinball machine. The basic "plot" is that Blackstreet and Janet Jackson feel like pinballs, bouncing uncontrollably through their lives, when it's all really just a game. What made it so expensive? Well, computer animation ain't cheap, and neither is Janet Jackson (the same cannot be said about sibling Latoya . . .)
Janet's wardrobe: $10,000
Blackstreet's wardrobe: $25,000
Janet's travel costs: $50,000
Blackstreet's travel costs: $200,000
3-D animation costs: $600,000
9. "November Rain"
Artist: Guns N' Roses
An 11-minute video extravaganza, this video tells the supposed tale of singer Axl Rose and model Stephanie Seymour getting married, having a party, and living out their lives together until death. And all it took was 11 minutes? . . . A classy video that combines storytelling with live concert performances, Guns N' Roses actually paid for the video themselves, to insure that it looked as they envisioned.
Renting a symphony orchestra: $25,000
Specially constructed chapel: $150,000
Wedding dress: $8,000
Specially constructed coffin: $8,000
While their video "Waterfalls" was technologically more groundbreaking, "Unpretty" ended up costing more because the group argued over every little detail (almost doubling the projected cost). The story of the video starts out with women in a plastic surgeon's office contemplating breast implants, but they somehow get involved in a gang fight in a back alley. All the while, TLC sits on these weirdo floating pods while doing yoga chants. Nobody said these videos have to make sense . . .
Floating yoga pods: $60,000
Field of purple flowers: $50,000
Laptop computer animating breast enhancements: $63,000
Flying robot camera: $35,000
7. "She's a Bitch"
Artist: Missy Elliot
For some videos, you have no idea where the money went. What made it cost so much? Greedy accountant skim off the top? Tons of footage never used? Missy Elliot's "She's a Bitch" is a perfect example of such confusion. A rap song that essentially features Miss Missy mugging for the camera in a rubber body suit (or dancing on an M-shaped stage with her Missy-ettes), how this video ended up costing $2 mil is a mystery.
Missy Elliot's rubber wardrobe: $10,500
Glow-in-the-dark cape: $3,500
M-shaped stage: $30,000
Silver suits for the extras: $12,000
Total set: $850,000
Special effects for a stormy sky: $20,000
Artist: Will Smith
Will Smith is notorious for spending googobs on his music videos, especially because they often serve the dual purpose of promoting his movies. The video to "Wild Wild West" cost $3 million alone, and the video to "Men In Black" is also up there. Of course, such videos aren't allowed placement on our list, but they go to show that Will Smith is no stranger to spending money on his videos. For "Miami," Smith chose to follow the ever-popular path of using computer morphing techniques, sending the budget sky-rocketing. The entire video consists of the Fresh Prince morphing from location to location (we counted at least 40 morphs), and each morph costs about $14,000. The sad thing is, the song ain't that great.
Private jet rental: $15,000
Each morph transition: $14,000 (and there were least 40 of these)
Floating Miami set: $500,000
5. "Larger Than Life"
Artist: Backstreet Boys
Fine, fine, they're all hotties. No use denying it. But unlike their competitor über-boybands *NSync and 98°, the Backstreet Boys are actually pretty good (they were even nominated for a Grammy for their second smash album, "Millennium," proving that they have industry respect). The Backstreet Boys made more money in 1999 than any other entertainer, $66 million, so dropping $2 mil on a video is chump change. In "Larger Than Life," the story is that the B-Boys are space-fighting robots in some bizarro Star Wars meets Voltron cyberworld. Replete with computer animation and special effects, it doesn't make much sense but it looks pretty cool.
Cryogenic chamber model: $20,000
Flying surfboard scene at beginning: $90,000
3-D animated models: $45,000
Robot costumes for the B-Boys: $56,000
Exterior shot of the space station: $70,000
Dance stage: $80,000
The cost to fly the crew to the set: $150,000
Director's fee: $150,000 (for just 4 days of shooting)
Total special effects: $600,000
4. "What's It Gonna Be"
Artist: Busta Rhymes (featuring Janet Jackson)
A tremendously cool video involving tons of special effects that Busta Rhymes co-directed. The story involves Busta (as some kind of morphy glass creature) hookin' up with Janet (also a morphy glass creature). They sing, they morph, they sing, and they morph a little more, and at the end of the video, they both explode into little glass shards. Gross. But in a good way.
The visuals are reminiscent of movies like The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day in which a humanoid creature is able to change its appearance, yet still appear completely believable. In "What's It Gonna Be," Janet and Busta are constantly mushing around each other, sometimes transparent (like glass), sometimes reflective (like mirrors). Believe us, you can see where the $2.4 million went.
Virtual set: $100,000
Each morph: $30,000 (boy, did these add up . . .)
Busta's glass costume: $40,000
Janet and Busta's explosion: $20,000
Artist: Mariah Carey
Here's a video that makes almost no sense. Mariah starts out on a movie date with B-level star Jerry O'Connell, when some hoodlums start throwing popcorn at them. To escape the trauma, Mariah runs to the bathroom, where she encounters her evil twin (portrayed by Mariah in a black wig). Good Mariah and Evil Mariah start getting all Jackie Chan on each other, when they turn into cartoons. Then the video ends.
Much like Missy Elliot's "She's a Bitch," we have no idea why this video turned out to be so expensive. We can only suspect that the first version stunk, so they probably did some re-shooting. We would've hated to see the first version, though.
Movie theater rental: $100,000
Mansion rental (in the movie): $40,000
Dog and its trainer: $6,000
Fight coordinator: $7,000
Jerry O'Connell's cameo fee: $10,000
Artist: Puff Daddy (featuring Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes)
"Victory," like 5 others of the videos on this list, is a rap video, and what a rap video "Victory" is. It has everything, including exploding airplanes, suicidal leaps from buildings, helicopters, and shootouts. Like much of Puff Daddy's repertoire, this video is about a man's escape from the police who are wrongly accusing him of a crime. As P.D. runs across the city's rooftops, a bunch of snobs in a party look out the window at the ensuing action, obviously wishing that they had such excitement in their lives. And playing through the background of the entire video is an opera aria that lends the entire video a dramatic flair. While it may not have much computer animation, this video definitely has a "movie feel" to it; this level of detail is what makes the video cost so much, and seem so cool.
Building an airplane and blowing it up: $55,000
Pyrotechnic special effects: $100,000
Artificial rain: $10,000
Helicopter rental: $21,000
Stuntman fee: $5,000 per jump from building to building
Security on the set: $10,000
Artist: Michael Jackson (featuring Janet Jackson)
Michael Jackson's videos have always been ridiculously expensive. In 1983, he spent $800,000 on "Thriller," which would be about $1.4 million today. But remember that before "Thriller," no one even came close to spending that kind of money, and he had to do it with limited technological capabilities. As technology improved, Jacko's videos became more expensive, spending over $1.2 million on "Black or White" in 1992, and even more on "Remember The Time." But if he can keep an oxygen chamber, a petting zoo, the Elephant Man's bones, and an entire plastic surgery team in his mansion, it's certainly no biggie to drop another $7 mil on a video with his sister.
"Scream's" $7,000,000 price tag is more than twice as much as the next most expensive music video (Puff Daddy's "Victory" at $2.7 million), and it's easy to see why: he spent $5 million alone on 11 sets. Yet while watching the video, it all seems incredibly wasteful, not coming close to the film quality of "Thriller", "November Rain," or "Victory."
Computer-generated spaceship: $65,000
Breaking guitars: $53,000
Morphing artworks: $50,000
Michael's makeup: $3,000
Janet's makeup: $8,000 a day
Giant video screen: $80,000
Cost per day: $636,000 (about 11 days)
Total cost of 11 sets: $5,000,000