While the ’60s and ’70s tested the boundary with many controversial songs, it wasn’t until the ’80s and the debut of MTV that all of these types of songs came to life. Here’s a look at eight of the most controversial music videos from the ’80s:
(1) Madonna’s Music Video for ‘Just Like A Prayer’
Madonna released the song Like A Prayer on March 3, 1989, and the accompanying music video created a ton of controversy.
“The music video, directed by Mary Lambert, portrays Madonna witnessing a young white woman being killed by a group of white men. While a black man is arrested for the murder, Madonna hides in a church for safety, seeking strength to go forth as a witness. The clip depicts a church and Catholic symbols such as stigmata.
It also features Ku Klux Klan’s burning crosses and a dream about kissing a black saint. The Vatican condemned the video, while family and religious groups protested against its broadcast. They boycotted products by soft drink manufacturer Pepsi, who had used the song in their commercial. The company canceled their sponsorship contract with Madonna, but allowed her to retain the fee.”via Wikipedia
(2) Olivia Newton-John’s Music Video for ‘Physical’
Olivia Newton-John released Physical on September 28, 1981, and the song was a massive hit on the charts, spending 10 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
The music video for Physical was just as popular, but for other reasons besides just the song. The video depicts Newton-John in a tight leotard trying to help several large and out-of-shape men lose weight. Her efforts don’t help, and after men fail hilariously, she leaves the room to take a shower. After she leaves, the men transform into good-looking, muscular men, and they start working out together.
When she returns to the room, she is surprised and starts flirting with the men. However, two of the guys leave the room holding hands (implying they are gay), and two more leave with their arms around each other. She is surprised and left with one overweight man who is straight and she leaves with him to play tennis. Check out the video below:
(3) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Music Video for ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released Don’t Come Around Here No More on February 28, 1985, and the song was a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 charts, peaking at lucky number 13.
The music video below was set to the theme of Alice in Wonderland, with Petty dressed as The Mad Hatter. From large mushrooms to hookah water pipes, the video has a deliciously psychedelic, and the climax of the video is Petty and Alice’s friends eating Alice who had turned into a cake. At the end of the video, Petty pats his mouth dry and gives a small burp.
(4) Carly Simon’s Music Video for ‘You Know What To Do’
Carly Simon released You Know What To Do in 1983. It wasn’t one of her biggest hits, but the accompanying music video definitely created a buzz. At the time, Simon was one of the last artists who were still holding out on making music videos for MTV. But, her children persuaded her to make a video for her song You Know What To Do.
That is probably why this video is so shocking as it is one of the sexiest music videos of the early ’80s. The video depicts Simon seductively swimming in her pool while being spied upon by a peeping tom. She emerges from the pool and goes into her house. Later, she chases down the creep who was spying on her, only to make out with him since he was a good-looking creep.
(5) Laura Branigan’s Music Video for ‘Self Control’
Riding high off the success of Gloria, Laura Branigan’s top two hit single from her self-titled debut album, Branigan released Self Control as the lead single from the album of the same name in 1984. The song was a top five hit on the Hot 100 charts, peaking at number four. However, the music video was in a league of its own back then. MTV actually wouldn’t air the music video until several edits had been made to it.
To say it’s a little out there is an understatement. Considering Branigan wasn’t really known for making sexy songs or videos, it certainly created quite a buzz on MTV. The video depicts Branigan going from club to club only to end the video with her walking through a group of dancers who are touching her before she gets into bed with a masked man. The video might not be that controversial today, but in the ’80s, it was taking it about as far you could go!
(6) George Michael’s Music Video for ‘I Want Your Sex’
By today’s standards, George Michael’s 1987 music video for I Want Your Sex isn’t that racy. However, in 2002, the video ranked #3 on MTV’s Most Controversial Videos Ever to Air on MTV.
The music video, directed by Andy Morahan, featured Michael’s girlfriend Kathy Jeung to emphasize that he was in a monogamous relationship; at one point, he is shown using lipstick to write the words “explore” and “monogamy” on her back, which is photographed and retouched at the end of the video to reveal the phrase “explore monogamy”. A Spanish model was also used for naked scenes in a way that allowed the audience to assume they were the same woman; these shots are interspersed with intentionally blurred footage of George Michael dancing and singing the song.
In a 2004 interview with Adam Mattera for UK magazine Attitude, Michael reflected: “It was totally real. Kathy was in love with me but she knew that I was in love with a guy at that point in time. I was still saying I was bisexual…She was the only female that I ever brought into my professional life. I put her in a video. Of course she looked like a beard. It was all such a mess, really. My own confusion and then on top of that what I was prepared to let the public think.”via Wikipedia
(7) Michael Jackson’s Music Video for ‘Thriller’
Michael Jackson’s music video for Thriller is considered one of the most popular music videos of all time. The video debuted on MTV on December 2, 1983, and every time it aired, MTV would advertise when it would air again right after it played. With shows like the Walking Dead and other zombie movies of today, the video is pretty tame, but in the ’80s, this was not the norm on TV.
In fact, Jackson ordered his assistant John Branca to destroy all the negatives of the video for Thriller because the church leader’s of the Jehovah’s Witness church, whom Jackson was a devout follower, told him he would be excommunicated if he didn’t. Little did they know about the power of the internet and how the video is still one of the most popular music videos on YouTube.
(8) Madonna’s Music Video for ‘Open Your Heart’
Before Madonna released the aforementioned music video for Like A Prayer she had already created quite a lot of talk and controversy over her music video below for Open Your Heart, released in 1986. The video features Madonna as an exotic dancer who performs for a series of spectators, while an adolescent boy lingers outside the theater trying to get in and sneak a peek.