The 27 year history of the VMAs has saluted some of the proudest moments in pop history. On the flipside, it’s also spotlighted some of our more regrettable fascinations. But popular taste is fickle, and the VMAs reflect that transience a little too well, not remaining loyal to any particular act or fad for more than a ceremony or two. In theory, that fleeting streak through the spotlight is enough to keep commercially-driven acts on their toes, visually repurposing and upgrading with every new opportunity to shoot a video. As the music video became ever more ambitious in the 80s and 90s, artists’ style became more elaborate, expressive, and carefully considered.
We’ve chosen 25 VMA-nominated videos, spanning from 1984 through now, that possess distinct, epoch-defining style qualities. Some of our contenders, like Madonna and Gwen Stefani, are regularly name-checked on any itemized fashion feature; others, like Björk and Siouxsie and The Banshees, are listed for reasons beyond their (obviously cool) personal appearances. After all, clothing is only one crucial component of a video’s overall aesthetic impact — these selections go a step beyond the obvious, injecting style with a dose of substance.
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