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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Greatest Music Videos of the 1990s

Your picks include ‘Buddy Holly,’ ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and ‘No Rain’

Beastie Boys perform in New York City.

Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Music videos may have reached the masses in the 1980s, but the art form was truly perfected in the 1990s. It was a time when budgets went through the roof and ambitious young directors like Spike Jonze, Jonas Åkerlund and David Fincher made names for themselves with amazing work that doubled as short films. It was the last decade that MTV had videos in heavy rotation, and a good clip could break an artist practically overnight. We asked our readers to vote for their 10 favorite videos of the 1990s. Click through to see the results. 


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3. Pearl Jam – ‘Jeremy’

On January 8th, 1991, 15-year-old Jeremy Wade Delle shot himself in the head in front of his English class. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder read about the incident, and it reminded him of a troubled kid in his own school who fired off a gun in class. Both incidents inspired Vedder to write "Jeremy," and he hired photographer Chris Cuffaro to direct the video. Epic didn't like the results and (much to the chagrin of Vedder) brought in Mark Pellington to remake it.

The video presents Vedder as the narrator of the horrific story, and it culminates with a student coming into class, throwing an apple on his teacher's desk and shooting himself. MTV was uncomfortable with the shot of the kid putting the gun into his mouth, so they edited that out. The next shot was his classmates covered in blood, frozen still. This led many to wrongly conclude that Jeremy shot up his class. The video went into heavy rotation on MTV, helped break the band and won a ton of MTV Video Music Awards, but when it came time for their next album, the band instituted a strict "no videos" policy. They had little interest in going through all that hassle again, and MTV showed it so many times they felt extremely overexposed. 

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2. Beastie Boys – ‘Sabotage’

Spike Jonze made his 1994 video for the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" seem like the beginning of a 1970s cop show, i.e. Barretta or Starsky and Hutch. Beavis and Butt-Head weren't the only ones confused by the whole thing: "This is gonna be cool when this video finally comes out," Beavis says. Butt-Head, always a little smarter, tries to correct him: "This is the real video, dumb-ass." It didn't win a single MTV Video Music Award, losing out to Aerosmith's "Cryin'" and R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts." In 2009, the channel made up for the slight by giving it a new award: Best Video (That Should Have Won a Moonman).

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1. Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

In the summer of 1991, Nirvana spent a day on a soundstage in Culver City with first-time video director Samuel Bayer and a ton of extras dressed up like high-schoolers at a goth pep rally that devolves into a punk-rock riot. Nobody present that day could have possibly imagined they were making something that would forever change the music business and eventually become the most iconic piece of film of the entire decade. The whole thing cost less than $50,000. 

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