The Most Creative Music Video

I recently stumbled across this music video by David Fain called "Choreography for Plastic Army Men". It's for an instrumental piece by the Portland band Pink Martini, and - you guessed it - it's got some creativity. Which led to an interesting question: what is the most creative music video of all time? 

I had a hunch that the internet might have an opinion on this, but it pays to be scientific. First off, let's define what we mean by creative. One useful definition comes from Amabile (1996), who defines creativity as "the production of novel or useful ideas" that are "valuable or expressive of meaning." That's great, because it doesn't mean we're necessarily looking for the best song or even the best video.

Next, I did some science of my own. I fired up a Google search for "The Most Creative Music Video of All Time" and looked at the top twenty hits for the sites that were discussing the most creative music videos. Then I started collecting the nominations. There's a lot of taste to this sort of thing, so my list below includes only the videos that were named on two or more sites. Drummmmmrolllll please! 

  1. A-Ha: Take on Me (1985)
  2. Weezer: Buddy Holly (1995)
  3. Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
  4. OK Go: Here it Goes Again (2006)
  5. White Stripes: Fell in Love with a Girl (2002)
  6. Alex Gopher: The Child (1999)
  7. Fujiya and Miyago: Ankle Injuries (2007)

Now, there are a couple things worth noting. First, I realize this isn't really scientific. At all. Second, OK Go got tripped up pretty badly, with all of their recent videos being cited at least once, but only Here it Goes Again making it past the threshold (they also won the 2006 Youtube "Most Creative Video" Award for this one). That's a shame, because all of their videos are pretty fantastic. Third, with the exception of Ankle Injuries and OK Go, all of these videos are at least a decade old! Plausible explanations include:

  1. Music video is a dying art.
  2. Only old people blog about their favorite videos.
  3. It pays to be a pathbreaker.

While we can't rule out the first two, it certainly does pay to come first. The first artists to roll out music videos had an unexplored world of effects and experiments; their work was simply novel by definition. At the same time, this doesn't mean they had an easier task than more recent artists; their explorations set the standard for what the new medium would look like. The degree to which "all videos today are the same" is a function of the early artists having pioneered that initial exploratory phase and finding a winning formula.

In fact, a very similar progression happens with most technologies. The initial innovators to tackle an opportunity have little direction and a lot of freedom. Each step forward reveals a new problem, resulting in a lot of novel solutions but not much actual progress.  As the constraining problems are gradually resolved, the technology enters a period of rapid improvement (think about how quickly smart phones have improved over the past five years). At some point, all of the basic kinks have been worked out; the opportunity for path-breaking and creative discovery is lower, and the real innovation is in tweaking and improving the basic formula - until something new comes along, in which case the process is started anew. It happened with the electric car, the artificial heart, and maybe now music video as well. The 2010 interactive video by Chris Milk for Arcade Fire's Wilderness Downtown is for example the most creative visualization of a song that I've ever seen, but it definitely wouldn't have worked on MTV. Seriously, check it out.

If you want to nerd it up, there are the classic pieces by Foster and Christensen. On the other hand, we could just enjoy some music. What's YOUR top pick for the most creative music video of all time?