Kanye West – Monster (2011)
Remember back when the most controversial thing Kanye did was upstage an apoplectic Taylor Swift at the VMAs? Yeah, even THEN people labeled him as an asshole, leading West to channel his frustration into making what many consider his masterwork, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Monster was featured as one of the most obvious singles, due to the sheer weight of the featured artists (no pun intended, Rick Ross), the self-indulgent lyrics and a tour de force debut verse by a then-unknown Nicki Minaj. The video has had a very Kanye-style journey, having been banned by MTV for the graphic violence and nudity, and was eventually even taken off of Kanye’s YouTube channel. Of course, anyone with Google is able to access pirated versions of the video, which, despite its possible misogynistic imagery and unfortunate inclusion of a verse from Jay-Z, is a visually stunning counterpart to one of the best tracks on a great album.
Black Hole Sun (1994)
Alt rock/grunge pioneers Soundgarden had an unlikely pop crossover hit in 1994 with this track about… well, really nothing. Songwriter and singer Chris Cornell admitted to writing it on a bit of a lark, just including the lyrics for the lyrics’ sake. The video, however, took the concept of a sun turning into a black hole quite literally, and delights in the destruction of a suburban town with its plastic population with freakishly elastic features. The effects are alternately gleefully disturbing and somewhat dated, but the total package is a visual depiction of a rock band at its peak powers, noodling with the idea of universal recompense for a life lived ordinary.
Nine Inch Nails – Closer (1994)
A rhythmically beating heart. A steampunk wet dream. BDSM, religious symbolism, and a whole bunch of animal carcasses are thrown into this Mark Romanek-directed masterpiece that helped define an era for MTV in the mid-‘90s. Trent Reznor’s dystopic music pairs perfectly with disturbing imagery, whether it makes narrative sense or not. And believe me, this makes very little narrative sense. Whatever, give me silhouetted microphone foreplay, bald, naked mannequins, and crucified monkeys all day, from a video that’s unexpectedly become my nostalgic happy place.
Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People (1996)
Manson could also have multiple entries on this list, but his most well-known song is a perfect fit. Fittingly produced by Trent Reznor, the relentless pounding of the central beat is unsettling enough, but the addition of Manson’s otherworldly inflected vocal track, particularly during the one-note chanting post-chorus, can literally give the listener chills of dread and pleasure. The video is similarly disturbing, with both the neo-gothic imaginings interlaced with the proto-fascist narrative. It’s hard to determine exactly WHAT Manson and director Floria Sigismondi were driving at, but it sure wasn’t anything pleasant. It remains, however, mesmerizing.
My Chemical Romance – Helena (2005)
Baby, you can’t get any more unabashedly, unironically goth than this shit right here. Gerard Way and company wear their emo hearts on their sleeves as the performers/directors of a funeral that was undoubtedly sponsored by Hot Topic. Unlike many videos with a story to be told, the guys jump right the hell into the video from the first second, ensuring they grab our attention by the scruff of the neck and hold it tight for the next three and a half minutes. Still, it’s hard not to get a certain amount of chills when Pastor Way entreats the audience to stand and wail the refrain of “What’s the worst that I can say/Things are better if I stay/So long and goodnight” along with him.