#2. Elton John -- "I'm Still Standing" (1983)
No one can accuse Elton John of not transitioning nicely from the '70s to the '80s. Maybe he wasn't the handsomest guy or the best dancer, but he certainly knew how to get visuals across. And by the time the video for "I'm Still Standing" was shot on the French coast, Elton already had multiple videos under his shiny belt. He got it. He knew what the '80s were about. "I'm Still Standing" embraced the '80s in a beautiful mutual bear hug.
While everyone else on this list was flopping around trying to figure out what good videos looked like, Elton John and his director Russell Mulcahy were already winking at the decade by being as campy as possible. Here's Elton John tipping his bellhop with gold glitter.
And here's what it looks like when Elton John uses humans for dominoes.
Sometimes Elton gives a shout-out to the heterosexuals in the house, which is thoughtful.
But mostly he just stays out of the way while the professional painted naked dancers do their thing. It was a smart move.
The '80siest Moment:
At the two-minute mark, all the boy dancers pantomime having sex with the girl dancers. Unfortunately, some of the boy dancers were dressed like this:
But the girls don't mind that the boys borrowed their panties for the shoot! Girls loved that stuff back then. Like I said before, the '80s were a magical time.
#1. The Jacksons -- "Torture" (1984)
In 1984, Michael Jackson threw his brothers a bone by recording an album called Victory. Think of it as the last dying breaths of a once mighty dancing elephant. Not that the album and subsequent tour weren't successful -- they were. And the video for the Jermaine/Michael duet "Torture" featured a big budget; a high-concept fantasy story featuring a beginning, a middle, and an end; Paula Abdul's choreography; and a star-shaped guitar that lit up. This could have been the video of the year.
The video stars four Jacksons, three of whom conveniently look just like Michael, and one chubby one.
Each Jackson is then subjected to forms of "torture" that are more hilarious than they are scary. True, backing up into a wall made of eyeballs is probably not ideal.
Especially if your hand then turns into an eyeball hand.
Also torture-ish is dancing with people who are covered in Sno-Cone cups and the terrible lighting choices that leave one whole Jackson with a chasm where his face should be.
Making up for the fact that Michael couldn't be there meant casting 34,000 villains who fill no other role than sidetracking the viewer. Pipe organists are scary, right? Lady gimps? Faces that look like a Picasso painting?
What about when someone uses their eye powers to graft your skin over your eyes?
If it feels like I've lost my way explaining this nightmare of a video, I have. The lyrics are about a breakup, the video is about a group of middle-aged men who are seconds away from getting their first earring. Every '80s video convention is here: slow motion, dry ice, explosions, and costumes that were later commandeered by the Cirque du Soleil. We might laugh now, but good luck finding negative reviews at the time. "Torture" was an exercise in '80s excess, and they probably would have gotten all sorts of video awards if not for one missing link. No, it wasn't a frothing spider monster, because they totally had that.
The '80siest Moment:
At the 2:00 mark, we see a familiar face.
It's him! It's Michael Jackson! Correction: It's a wax figure of Michael Jackson.
The Jacksons were so caught up in the magic of their brother and the spectacle of big videos that when Michael couldn't show up for the shoot, they used a Madame Tussauds wax figure instead. Then they posed next to it, as if this were really Michael Jackson and they weren't tourists at a Madame Tussauds museum.
Again, because it was the 1980s and posing next to a fake Michael Jackson was a completely reasonable thing to do, no one minded that Michael's flesh and blood resorted to standing next to a life-sized doll. After all, the audience and four not-Michaels had been through so much together ... this was nothing.