Music videos have been around for more than six decades, and throughout that time, they have been vehicles for both musicians and filmmakers to experiment with visual possibilities. In the late 1950s, jukebox-like machines called Scopitones paired popular songs with 16mm short films, some of which Susan Sontag later called “part of the canon of Camp.” In the 1960s, the Beatles began premiering their psychedelic films on television, and in 1975, Queen débuted an iconic video for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which some consider the first modern music video.
The ’80s saw the meteoric rise of MTV (which fittingly began with The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”), and the rest is history: record labels began pumping millions of dollars into music videos, a crucial tool for promoting music at the height of the television era. Along with all that money—the video for Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” allegedly cost $7 million—directors like Spike Jonze and Hype Williams were given great creative freedom. Though the Internet radically changed this distribution model, the tradition of trippy music videos lives on today, from high-budget pop productions to lo-fi viral hits like OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again.”
12 Trippiest Music Videos
With MTV’s curated music video shows a thing of the past, today we are left to scour the Internet’s millions of videos for those which provide a trippy visual experience. The best ones, of course, go viral, but there are many hidden gems, as well as historic masterpieces largely unknown to new generations. Luckily for you, DoubleBlind has taken the time to compile this list of the 12 trippiest music videos for your viewing pleasure.
“Cirrus” by Bonobo
We begin with an enormously psychedelic video; fractals on fractals on fractals. A dreamy 2013 instrumental by British electronica artist Bonobo accompanies vintage footage of suburban life in the 1950s that has been… well, how would you say “beyond chopped and screwed”? The greatest achievement of this video, created by the animator Cyriak, is that every time you think it can’t get any trippier, it hits you with something even more mind-blowing. Watch when you are ready to be floored—literally, you might have to lie down.
“L$D (LOVE x $EX x DREAMS)” by A$AP Rocky
When A$AP Rocky released “L$D” in 2015, the Internet joked that the rapper had taken the wrong drug: the song’s throbbing beat and sexed-up lyrics seemed more befitting of MDMA than acid. The video, however, dispels this rumor, as the cityscape of Tokyo is rendered kaleidoscopic and pulsing, each scene drenched in hyperreal colors flowing with smooth transitions. The video version of this track briefly veers into “Excuse Me,” a different song from the same album, much in the same way acid might rocket you into a different experience and back again all in the blink of an eye.
“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” by Missy Elliott
The 1997 video for “The Rain,” Missy Elliot’s breakout single, features cameos by Timbaland, Lil Kim, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, and more. But what’s made this video stand the test of time is how weird it is—moments of classic 90’s hip hop choreo are shot through a fish-eye lens, and Missy is featured in a blow-up suit that closely resembles a trash bag. We can thank music video legend Hype Williams for directing what surely helped launched the career of the legendary Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott.
“Do I Wanna Know?” by Arctic Monkeys
You’d be forgiven for mistaking this for a visualizer at first. Yet, as it goes on, that wavy line—somewhere between an audio wave and a guitar string, taken straight from the cover art for Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 psychedelic rock album AM—gets more and more animated, as if mirroring the mounting sexual tension of the song. We don’t want to spoil anything, but we promise it gets more colorful, as well as trippier and trippier.
“No Rain” by Blind Melon
The neo-psychedelic band Blind Melon was a one-hit wonder, known not just for their 1993 hit “No Rain” but for the sweet, bucolic video that accompanied it. A young girl with big glasses tap dances in a bee costume for an audience that mocks her off the stage, so she roams the streets of Los Angeles dancing for anyone who will watch. Meanwhile, the band strums and sings in a field so impossibly green it evokes the wallpaper from Windows XP. The video has a heartwarming conclusion, and the briefly famous “Bee Girl” even performed at the 1993 VMAs.
“Everybody’s Something” by Chance The Rapper
Another heartwarmer, this song appeared on Chance The Rapper’s breakout mixtape Acid Rap, released for free in 2013, bearing the message that “Everybody’s somebody’s everything / Nobody’s nothing.” The video features Chance’s unmistakable silhouette projected on a backdrop of galactic imagery and satellite photos of earth, which then give way to all kinds of trippy visuals, natural scenes, and stock footage from various eras of human history. It’s basically Google Earth on acid.
“Frontier Psychiatrist” by The Avalanches
A viral classic of the “trippy music video” genre, The Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist,” released in 2000, is a song cobbled from samples welded together by the band’s turntablist, Dexter Fabay. A melange of old-timey dialogue tells something of a story about a boy who apparently needs therapy, being treated by a frontier psychiatrist (as the song itself asks: “what does that mean?”). In the video—which looks vintage but isn’t—geriatric actors lip-synch the lyrics, pretend to play the orchestral samples, and perform odd feats. This one is funny and celebrated for its general absurdity.
“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga
Of course, big-budget pop videos can also get pretty damn trippy. For “Bad Romance,” the lead single from Lady Gaga’s 2009 The Fame Monster, the artist collaborated with Francis Lawrence (director of I Am Legend and The Hunger Games) on a video in which she is kidnapped, drugged, and sold to the Russian mafia for a million rubles—while somehow looking fabulous all the while. The tremendously creative costumes range from sexy to grotesque; the white bodysuits are iconic, while the dance moves spawned a million copycats by fans. Stay for the pyrotechnic bra.
“Wait” by M83
The video for M83’s “Wait,” released in 2012, is a stunning short fantasy film. While it works well on its own—particularly if you’re not in the state of mind to grasp its admittedly confusing storyline—it’s actually the finale of a video trilogy that also includes the band’s smash hit “Midnight City” and “Reunion,” all directed by Fleur & Manu. These videos tell the story of a group of children with psychic powers who break free of their captors and travel to post-apocalyptic earth. The looks are stunning, the colors mystical and muted, and the song itself is transcendent. Reach for the stars.
“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” by Busta Rhymes
Busta Rhymes really needs his own list since most of his videos are trippy and thought-provoking. For “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” (1997), he worked with Hype Williams (the same force behind that Missy video and dozens of hip-hop classics) to create something inspired by Eddie Murphy’s 1998 film Coming To America, which was playing in the studio while Busta worked on this record. He wanted the video to match what he called the song’s “African” sound and performs in it as a prince living large, running from an elephant, and dancing in glowing facepaint.
“After The Storm” by Kali Uchis ft. Tyler, The Creator & Bootsy Collins
Colombian-American singer-songwriter Kali Uchis has been kicking ass and taking names since she burst onto the pop and Latin music scenes five years ago. The video for “After the Storm,” off her 2018 début album, begins with featured artist Bootsy Collins performing from a cereal box, then segues into Uchis shopping at a retro supermarket (last on her grocery list: “lover”). She plants seeds that grow into a life-size Chia Pet version of Tyler, The Creator, who seems to fulfill her wish. The song itself is soft and encouraging, all about loving yourself and finding company in the hard times: “Everybody’s hurting / Everybody’s going through it / But you just can’t give up now”).
“Up&Up” by Coldplay
YouTube commenters describe Coldplay’s “Up&Up” (from 2015) as “one of the most visually stunning videos ever” and representing “the highest possibility of a new level for video editing.” Indeed, this striking take on issues in modern society was nominated for two VMAs and the Grammy for Best Music Video. Join Coldplay as they sing and strum against gorgeous backdrops from around the world, swirled with impossible imagery dreamed up by Ukraine-based visual effects company GloriaFX.