Thursday, August 27, 2015

LIST: Top 40 Dance Videos (Part Four)

Here we are, at the top of the pyramid. The Top Ten. I hope you like all these as much as I do.

BUT! Before we move on to the business at hand, allow me to remind you up front that this is a list of the best dance videos, NOT the best video dance routines. If that were the case, then you would have seen a lot more from Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, and more. I had to draw the line somewhere, and I decided I couldn't classify something as a Dance Video if the dancing took up less than half the video. Believe me, it was HARD cutting "Beat It" from this list. It was in my top three until I actually went and watched the video again... and found that the dancing doesn't even start until almost two-thirds of the way through. And the more Michael videos I watched, the more I realized that even though what dancing there was is still stellar, there wasn't nearly as much dancing in them as I remembered. In fact, the one that had the most was the edited version of "Bad", which I... <runs for cover>... HATE (I just never bought that persona from Michael).


Rest assured, were this a list of greatest music videos of all time, or of the best dance routines, there would be a LOT more MJ (and Madonna) on this list. But as it is, this is how the list stands. At this point, most of the videos speak for themselves, but I will still try to articulate why I think they're the best of the best.

10. OK Go - Here It Goes Again
I wrestled with myself over whether this actually counted or not, and finally decided it did. This treadmill routine (choreographed by Trish Sie) is a gimmick, sure, but WHAT a gimmick. It's super clever, superbly executed (in ONE TAKE!), and still mind-blowing. I still watch it in a state of "What the... How did they... Oh. My. GOD! AWESOME!" every single time.

9. Kiesza - Hideaway
It takes balls to do a one-take dance video for your debut as an artist, but it takes even bigger ones to do it on a city street in New York. Aping all the best dance styles and trends of the 90s in much the same way the song does, "Hideaway" is a brilliant statement of purpose for Kiesza. It may not be innovative or mind-blowing, but it's tons of FUN, and amazing to watch. Brava, diva!

8. The Chemical Brothers - Let Forever Be
One of the weirdest, most hypnotic music videos ever made... so OF COURSE we have mad genius Michel Gondry to thank. But then, we also have to thank Stephanie Landwehr, the actress/dancer who pulls this crazy beast of a video together as the lead performer. If you haven't seen it, just press play. It uses dance in really clever ways, and it's like nothing else you've seen; a gonzo '90s version of Busby Berkeley on acid.

7. Fatboy Slim - Weapon of Choice
Exhibit A for how a truly amazing clip can make a song a hit (thank you, Spike Jonze). Bow down, peons. You will never be Christopher Walken.

6. Sia - Chandelier
Just when you thought dance videos were dead, along comes Maddie from TV's Dance Moms, dancing in a nude leotard around a dilapidated apartment. Thank you, Ryan Heffington for the inspired choreography, and thank you to co-directors Sia and Daniel Askill for creating something so seamless it feels like one take, even though it isn't (a one-take version was released, but while Maddie's performance is impressive the video itself actually isn't as good). And thank you to whoever cast the prodigiously talented Maddie, who at points in this seems downright possessed by some crazy spirit of dance. A total WOW.

5. Janet Jackson - Miss You Much
Stupid YouTube. This is all about the chair routine, possibly the greatest music video dance routine ever. But the stupid Vevo version of this DOESN'T INCLUDE IT. So I have to put it in its own separate (low-quality... grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...) video so you can get the full effect. Why this is, I don't know, because as great as the rest of the video is (look how the choreography includes some stuff that inerpolates the choreography for "Rhythm Nation" into a more casual setting), the ending chair routine is FLAWLESS. It is quite literally WITHOUT FLAW in all aspects: the choreography, the performance, the lighting, and the editing, which is just as precise as Anthony Thomas's choreography. Watch for yourself:
FUCKING. FLAWLESS. Janet's "Rhythm Nation 1814 Film", which includes this, Rhythm Nation, and The Knowledge, is a towering achievement, possibly the greatest long-form music video ever made.

4. Madonna - Human Nature
Far and away Madonna's most aggressive song and video, "Human Nature" contains so many different choreographic ideas that it shouldn't work. But as conceived by choreographer Jamie King and director Jean-Baptiste Mondino, it all fits together perfectly. Putting Madonna and her dancers in black leather/latex bondage gear, then tying them up in ropes or trapping them in tiny white boxes as Madonna fires shot after shot at her critics, it's the most daring dancing she's ever done, and possibly the most daring music video routine ever. Ridiculously intricate, well-shot, and perfectly edited to bring the choreography and the music together for maximum impact.

3. Michael Jackson - Thriller
Admit it. You're all doing the dance right now, aren't you. I actually wasn't going to include this one at first, because - great and iconic as it is - the dance is only a small part of one LONG video. BUT then I saw that Michael Jackson's official Vevo page had something called the "Short Version" of this video, which cuts out basically everything besides the dance, and I breathed a sigh of relief. That's good enough for me! Because really, any list of best music videos that doesn't include "Thriller" is not a list worth reading. It is a monumental achievement, and although it's tough to believe that nothing in the past thirty years has bettered it, it's pretty much true. Every single dance move in this video is iconic. It's also Michael's most committed performance - look at not just how much he throws himself into the dance, but the ways in which he does it. It's incredible. Okay, you can stop reading and go back to dancing along now.

2. Beyoncé - Single Ladies
The fiercest fucking dance video ever. And also one of the simplest: Sasha Fierce, two backup dancers, black leotards and heels, one scary-looking glove, and an empty space. All shot in Black & White, and with almost no cuts until the very end, when the song gets so crazy (as if it wasn't crazy enough already) that a whole bunch of really fast cuts are basically called for. Actually, you might remember this video as being one take - I sure did - but it's actually not. But as with "Chandelier", the camerawork is so flawless and the editing so smart (and the dancing so dynamic and engaging) that you don't really notice. And I mean, come on. Look at how tired Bey looks at the end. Can you blame her? She may have #wokeuplikethis, but making THAT Fosse-inspired dance look easy takes WORK.


Drumroll please...

1. Janet Jackson - Alright

(Look, I don't understand the internet or how it works. I don't know why some Vevo videos are on YouTube and some aren't, or why neither Vevo nor DailyMotion - the only two places where I can find this video - allow you to embed the video. Isn't the whole point of putting things on the internet so that people can see them?)

Here it is, folks, my Top Dance Video. It's not just that it's styled like a 40s musical, it's how Janet and choreographer Anthony Thomas (with a little staging help from legend Michael Kidd) so seamlessly put modern dance styles into that setting. Plus the cameos from Cab Calloway, Cyd Charisse (who vogues with Janet a few months before Madonna released "Vogue"), and the Nicholas Brothers. Plus the use of every prop you can think of... hats, newspapers, briefcases, chains, bagels... And the dancing, as per usual with Janet, is perfection. She and her dancers dance in perfect sync on benches, up and down stairs, in and around cars, while pouring coffee... while doing choreography that puts a little bit of every vernacular style from the past forty or so years of pop culture into a blender. And just look at the grin on Janet's face as she plays the world's funkiest game of hopscotch - you can tell she loves this, and that joy is infectious. This is still a relatively unheralded video despite being the closest Janet ever got to making a Michael Jackson video (outside of "Scream", of course), and I'm not sure why. This video goes back to the roots of the music video, and of pop music - to movie musicals - and updates it just enough to fit Janet's funky tune. With one foot in the past and the other inching slowly but surely forward (pop-and-locking looks amazing in zoot suits), "Alright" is pretty much the ultimate dance video. The seriousness and starkness of "Rhythm Nation" are gone, with Technicolor and giant smiles in their place. All dance videos should aspire to these heights.

ALRGHT, BITCHES, let's have it! What do you think I missed? What's your favorite? Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I had fun, and I hope you did too.


  1. I find Single Ladies so overrated...BUT...I guess I get it, so ok...

    Thriller, Rhythm Nation, OK GO!!!, Hideaway. YES, YES, YES!

    1. I actually do agree with you that Single Ladies is slightly overrated... but I cannot deny that it truly is pretty incredible.

      I find it really hard not to watch that OK Go video on repeat.

  2. Thanks again for putting this together. You did an outstanding job and introduced me to a number of videos I haven't seen before. Your top choice is inspired, and genius, to be honest. I completely agree that it's way underrated. Boo to the interwebby-thingy for not letting you embed.

    So glad you included the Fatboy Slim video. I remember stumbling across that late one night back when MTV still showed videos at least occasionally. Don't know that I'd call it great dancing, but I don't know that I've ever had as much fun watching a video.

    And now...MJ...sigh. Hope this doesn't ruin our blogging buddieship, but I have to call you a cheater, here. I was all in about how there's dancing in less than half of Beat It and most MJ vids and then, boom, Thriller. I had no idea that shorter clip existed. I'm glad it does, but let's be honest, that's a magnificent bending of the rules. lol. Curious, and without re-watching it, what are your thoughts on Billie Jean. Isn't most of it just him dancing down the street.

    Hate to sound like a shill for MJ, but yeah, can't help it. That said, I do agree with what you said in part 3. Janet is the better dancer.

    1. LOL I KNOW. Sigh. I really did feel like such a cheater for including the edited Thriller clip, but I didn't feel right NOT including Michael AT ALL. I had "Jam" lower on the list for a while, but the more I watched it the more I realized that the dancing is basically the same few clips again and again. And the only reason that I included Thriller really was because this version is on Michael's Vevo page, this making it (however tangentially) "Official".

      I watched every MJ video I could find for this. "Billie Jean" was the most surprising in its lack of dance. Everyone remembers him walking down the light-up sidewalk, but there's actually a storyline in the video of him being tailed by the paparazzi (well, one photographer, anyway) walking to a girl's apartment, and it takes up a LOT of the video. And most of him walking down the street is really just walking. I'm actually not a huge fan of the video - its reach exceeds its grasp (the lightup sidewalk is a great idea but it's not really executed as well as it could be).

      Thanks for your comments on these lists, Dell! And don't worry, our budding blogging buddieship is in no way ruined. :)

  3. Are you sure I can't be Christopher Walken? Not now obviously, but maybe later, when I grow up?

    And yesss, Janet Jackson, any time of day. Bagels - ha!

    1. Hehehe only if you're VERY lucky!

      I am on pins and needles waiting for Janet's comeback album, even if I don't quite LOVE the new single.