10 of the Best Alternative 90s Music Videos

Many of us will remember spending Sunday mornings as a kid glued to the TV, eating cereal in our pyjamas while our parents tried to get in a well-deserved lie-in. Sunday mornings in 1990s Ireland could only mean one thing, Top 30 Hits! The title is pretty self-explanatory but for those of you who don’t know, the show counted down the top 30 songs in the Irish charts, giving us a glimpse at the odd music video along the way. I have vague memories of seeing musicians like Gwen Stefani bouncing around with No Doubt in the Just a Girl video… Unfortunately, I also remember the video for Viva Forever by Spice Girls being absolutely terrifying. (A new found fear of being trapped inside a Rubik’s Cube by a bunch of Spice fairies shook me to my very core). The 90s was a time when weirdness prevailed. Artists were given a vehicle through which they could visually express themselves as well as musically, which resulted in some pretty strange outcomes. Anyway, here are some of my favorite music videos from the 90s.

Ever Long – Foo Fighters (1997)

Just about every Foo’s fan knows the words to Everlong. ‘The Colour and the Shape’ is considered even by the band themselves to have been integral to their success. The Everlong video is dreamy and perplexing, appearing to be something pulled from Dave Grohl’s subconscious. The band recruited French director Michel Gondry who was behind this surreal piece. For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, he’s one of the writers responsible for the brilliant mind-fuck films ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘ and ‘The Science of Sleep‘. Gondry has directed tonnes of music videos, working with the likes of Bjork, Beck, Radiohead, The White Stripes and Kanye West. Here’s a link of Grohl discussing the making of the song and video for anyone who wants to check it out.

Karma Police – Radiohead (1997)

From the album OK Computer, Karma Police was directed by Jonathan Glazer who is known for working with musicians such as Massive Attack and Blur. He originally pitched the idea to Marilyn Manson who decided against using it. Glazer did a great job with this video. It’s a simple but perfectly creepy concept, complemented by Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals.

Heart Shaped Box – Nirvana (1993)

Although Come as you Are and Smells like Teen Spirit are probably considered more iconic, the video for Heart Shaped Box from Nirvana’s ‘In Utero‘ is to me, far more meaningful. I didn’t really get into Nirvana until around 2003. I remember coming in from school and recording music videos I liked from channels like MTV2 and Kerrang so that I could watch them on the TV in my bedroom, this was one of those videos. Heart Shaped Box creeped me out but that was part of its appeal. While Kurt Cobain wrote the concept for the video, it was directed by Anton Corbjin who also directed one of my favourite biopics, ‘Control‘ about the life of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis as well as Depeche Mode’s classic Enjoy the Silence.

Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden (1994)

In May of this year, we lost one of the most talented and dynamic rock vocalists of our time, Chris Cornell.  Black Hole Sun is one of the songs most heavily associated with Cornell.  The song itself is moody and atmospheric, as is the video. Set in an apocalyptic, surreal, version of the American suburban neighborhood, everyone’s joyful expressions are exaggerated making them appear sinister and twisted. For many, the bizarre nature of this video will forever be associated with this era of music.

Sunday – Sonic Youth (1998)

Sunday is from Sonic Youth’s album A Thousand Leaves. I always remember my Mam seeing this video and being (understandably) freaked out by Macaulay Culkin. It was probably the first time either of us had seen Culkin in anything since Home Alone. Although Macaulay Culkin’s pouting and lip licking makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, I still love this video.

Firestarter – The Prodigy (1997)

From their album, The Fat of the Land, the video for Firestarter was my first glimpse at Keith Flint’s unmistakable anti-mohawk and aggressive vocals. It was all a little bit scary but really exciting, I don’t think I had ever heard anything like that before.  Although Firestarter was definitely one of the more nostalgic videos of my childhood, the video for Out of Space definitely deserves a mention too.

Frozen – Madonna (1998)

Madonna’s Frozen isn’t exactly an alternative song but in a way, it was alternative considering her background. Even the video is far from anything else she had ever done (think Vogue and Like a Prayer). It was directed by Chris Cunningham who famously directed Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker and Come to Daddy videos. Cunningham has worked with artists like Portishead, Bjork and Squarepusher.  I loved this spooky video as a kid. I’m sure that even then, I was drawn to anything Gothic or slightly out of the ordinary.

Not if you Were the Last Junkie on Earth – The Dandy Warhols (1997)

The Dandy Warhol’s Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth was directed by one of my all time favourite artists, photographer, and videographer David LaChapelle. The song actually has a pretty crazy back story. It was dedicated (as a kind of diss-track) to the band Brian Jonestown Massacre who had a falling out with The Dandy Warhols. As you can probably tell by the title it was suggested that the bands front-man had a drug problem, shady, I know. There’s a great documentary called Dig! about the two bands and their beef with one another. The documentary was critically very well received and is an interesting watch even if you’re not a fan.

Blur – Coffee and TV (1999)

With excellent tracks like Tender and Bugman, 13 by Blur is one of my favourite albums. The multi-award winning video for Coffee and TV is a 90s CLASSIC.  Love them or hate them, we all had a place in our hearts for this adorable milk carton.

Da Funk – Daft Punk (1997)

As a kid, this video made me really sad, the concept kind of reminds me of the video for Roger Sanchez’s Another Chance, If anyone remembers that little gem. Both videos are about people feeling lost and isolated in the busy-ness of the modern world but with a surreal twist. The influential French electronic duo are known for their often strange but interesting music videos.  If you’re a fan of Daft Punk and you haven’t already checked out Interstellar 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, you really should.

And finally, here are some videos that didn’t make the cut but deserve an honorable mention: Sinéad O’Connor Nothing Compares 2U,  Smashing Pumpkins TodayThe Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony, The Pharcyde’s Drop, Beck’s Devils Haircut, Blur’s Park Life, Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy, Weezer’s Undone: The Sweater Song… because, well, dogs. If you feel like any of your favourite’s have been left out, let me know in the comments section!

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