Monday, August 24, 2015

LIST: Top 40 Dance Videos (Part One)

Lists are, if you'll pardon my French, fucking DIFFICULT. I hate making them with a flaming passion. But I also LOVE them. They feel so representative, so orderly, so... SATISFYING. But compiling them? They're hard enough to order as it is outside of a few selections near the top usually, but then just when you think you're done you realize you completely forgot something and it screws up everything, or you realize that one thing dominates more than half the list, or you can't find a crucial piece of info or even proof of the existence of one of your entries, causing you to question your sanity... NIGHTMARE.

But sometimes, you just feel the need and come hell or high water or no sleep, you HAVE to make a list. And so here we are.

Because of that one episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot a few weeks back, music videos have been on my mind recently. Mainly in an "Are they still a thing?" way, but I felt a list coming on, so I decided not to fight it... only there were entirely too many videos to choose from when making a list of the greatest of them all. But then I went back to my roots and decided to do a list of the Best DANCE Videos, and everything fell into place. Kind of.

Granted, you could make a list that consisted entirely of Michael and Janet Jackson videos and it would arguably hold water, so dominant are they at creating dance-centric clips... but a list of dance videos without Madonna? Without Paula Abdul? Inconceivable!

But on the other hand, there are AT LEAST six Janet videos that could be considered definitive for her, compared to one for pretty much everybody else, and they all pretty much trounce the competition. Leave it to Janet to always bring the next level shit - the tilting dance floor in "Doesn't Really Matter", the mixture of Afro-Cuban dance, breakdance, and stepping in "Escapade" - and also to show the young-uns how it's done ("All For You" and "All Nite" are some of the most intricate, stylish dance videos of their respective eras). I mean, yes, "Rhythm Nation" is her best overall video, but can you really put it on a dance-centric list above the incredible solo in "Pleasure Principle" or the killer chair routine in "Miss You Much"?

Anyway, this has been on my brain for long enough. So I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and just publish the damn thing already.

I had only one criteria for this list: The dancing has to be the star. So any clips in which dance plays a supporting role ("Chasing Pavements") or in which the dance routine just doesn't get enough screen time ("Marry The Night" and pretty much anything else by Lady Gaga) had to go, unfortunately. Videos that were one-take wonders got extra consideration due to degree of difficulty. I decided to cap it at 40 because Top 40 is a big deal in music. If there's enough interest or if I feel like it, I'll post ten Honorable Mentions to bring it up to 50. I'll be posting 10 a day until it's done.

Let the countdown begin!

40. Madonna - Vogue
This is a perfect example of a video with a really short dance routine that feels like it's much more of a dance video than it actually is. The choreography takes up MAYBE half the length of the video, but because it's so memorable and unique, it becomes iconic. This video truly is as iconic as all those stars Madge namechecks in the spoken-word section, through sheer force of will. The cinematography (thank you, David Fincher!) is stunning, and Madonna has probably never looked better. But since there's so little dancing (comparatively speaking), it ranks low.

39. Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Murder On The Dancefloor
One is practically required to make a dance-centric music video when one's song has a title like this, but what to do if one is not a dancer? Ms. Ellis-Bextor shows just how in this cheeky clip: Put yourself in a dance marathon and make use of your world-class resting bitch face by crippling or killing every other couple so you're the only one left standing. Sure, the dancing may not be great, but you at least have a killer concept and the humor makes up for the fact that you can't REALLY dance. 

38. Pussycat Dolls - Buttons
Given their start as a burlesque dance troupe, you'd think that PCD would have more dancing in their videos, but sadly what little dancing there usually is is mostly booty shaking and crazy extensions. This one has a little more. For me, it's all about the shots inside the tunnel, with the Dolls slinking and writhing around Nicole just like the first half of their band name implies. And of course, the homage to Fosse's choreography for Hey Big Spender.... there couldn't be a more perfect idea for a PCD video. 

37. Bjork - It's Oh So Quiet 
It doesn't take the mind of mad genius Spike Jonze to figure out that a movie musical homage is called for in the clip for this song, but only he could have come up with one that so perfectly meshes with Bjork's singular personality - dancing with a USPS drop box anyone? - as well as one that so perfectly captures every low and high in this song. The purposefully fake effects don't even matter, but that would only be so in Jonze's hands.

36. Britney Spears - Stronger
The chair dance in this video is FIERCE, but unfortunately there's not enough of it for me to place this as high as I wanted to. This is Britney at her physical peak, though, and that bit where she spins the chair around the space then jumps on it and shimmys her way up to get her balance is AMAZING.

35. Feist - 1234
This one is a bit hokey and unchallenging for a list like this, but that moment when one of Feist's dancers picks her up so it looks like she's running along the inside of a maze made by the rest of the dancers? Brilliant. Plus, the entire routine is captured in one take, which is impressive under any circumstances, let alone for someone who isn't a dancer.

34. NSYNC - Bye Bye Bye
There's less dancing in this than I remembered, but what there is is freakin' iconic. Anyone who watched music videos around this time knows the "Bye Bye Bye" dance move. Anyone who says they don't is a dirty filthy liar and they KNOW IT. Also: JC is much hotter than I remembered. And Lance is even blander than I remembered.

33. Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend
Look. Okay, yes, this is probably how Robyn dances when she's alone in her house and thinks no one is looking, but the thing is we all wish we had her fearlessness (and stamina) when we dance alone in our bedrooms. Basically, that arm work during the breakdown is EVERYTHING and you and your friends could never. Plus, it's all in one take and stunningly lit. AND, she saves that fall in the middle like a freakin' PRO.

32. Missy Elliott - Lose Control
Missy always brings something unique to the music, and usually the dancing in her videos matches that. This is a perfect example of that. Yeah, some of Missy's dancing in the beginning and end sections looks like shoddy effects work, but... that line of dancers in hoodies and white gloves and shoes is striking as all hell. And props to Ciara for WERQ-ing it when pinned to a wall above the ground.

31. Fiona Apple - Paper Bag
Fiona Apple is pretty much the last person you would expect to ever dance in a music video - or, for that matter, smile. But she does both in this gorgeous clip directed by her then-boyfriend Paul Thomas Anderson. The chorus of dancing kids is probably just as inspired by the song's lyric "I thought he was a man but he was just a little boy" as by the film Bugsy Malone, but nothing in that film is nearly as good as this. Looking gorgeous in a ruby-red 40s-style gown and flanked by little boys in period costumes as patrons and staff at a swank hotel, Fiona does admirably well with the choreography, which is shot so well that you wish PTA would do a REAL musical at some point (Magnolia doesn't really count). You can hardly blame her for smiling.


  1. My first thought was I am excited that you're doing this. Can't wait to see what's in the top slot. My second thought was there just can't be 39 better dance videos than Vogue. But what good is a list if we can't argue over it.

    1. Hehe, you are exactly right!

      The list is not an exact science. Honestly the only reason Vogue is so low is because of how little dancing there is in it. When there are so many other videos that are wall-to-wall dancing, I found it difficult to rank something that includes dance in half the video or less really high. Basically, it's a video with a great dance routine, not a dance video. Same thing with (and this made me VERY SAD) Beat It.

    2. I actually had Vogue initially in my Top 5, but then I watched it again, and I kept asking "Where's all the dancing?!?" And as I watched more and more videos, it kept on falling down the ranks.