Readers' Poll: The Best Madonna Videos of All Time - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The Best Madonna Videos of All Time

Your picks include ‘Vogue,’ ‘Borderline’ and ‘Papa Don’t Preach’

Mick Hutson/Redferns

It's impossible to imagine how Madonna's career would have come together if MTV had not been around in her early days. Her debut video, "Everybody," hit the airwaves in late 1982, just about the time MTV was spreading into living rooms all across America. For the next 20 years, she was a constant presence on the network, scoring mega-hit after mega-hit and finding new ways to shock audiences with increasingly bold and daring videos. MTV switched their focus to reality programming about a decade ago, right around the time Madonna began struggling to deliver hits. Coincidence? 

Since her MDNA tour hits America this week, we decided it was a good time to ask our readers to vote for their favorite Madonna video. Here are the results. 

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10. ‘Papa Don’t Preach’

Madonna debuted a rather unglamorous, tomboy look for her 1986 "Papa Don't Preach" video. It fit nicely with the song's serious subject matter: a pregnant young woman confronting her father. Many in the pro-life movement saw the song as a new anthem because Madonna repeatedly states her intention to keep her baby.

"There were so many opinions," she told Rolling Stone in 2009. "That's why I thought it was so great. Is she for 'schma-smortion,' as they say in Knocked Up? Is she against abortion?" Madonna never quite gave an answer, though she did explain why the song appealed to her. "It just fit right in with my own personal zeitgeist of standing up to male authorities," she said, "whether it's the pope or the Catholic Church or my father and his conservative, patriarchal ways."

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9. ‘Borderline’

Madonna's 1984 video for "Borderline" was the beginning of a long relationship with director Mary Lambert, who later directed the videos for "Like a Virgin," "Material Girl" and "Like a Prayer." It went into heavy rotation on MTV and played a huge role in making her an icon. Simply stated, it's about a girl torn between her streetwise Latino boyfriend and an upscale fashion photographer trying to make her into a star. It came just a few years after Madonna rose from the gritty streets of New York into an international sex symbol, and many saw the video as the story of her life. In the clip, Madonna opted for the original boyfriend but in real life, she certainly went for glitz and glamour. 

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8. ‘Like a Virgin’

Madonna was pretty famous before the "Like a Virgin" video hit MTV in the fall of 1984 but afterwards, her life was never the same. It turned her into one of the most famous people on the planet, a position she's held ever since. The Nile Rodgers-produced song was obviously provocative, but the Mary Lambert-directed video didn't try to push boundaries in the way that Madonna's later videos did. It showed her dancing on a gondola in Venice, Italy, and walking around town near a lion. At the end, she meets in a guy in a lion mask who seems ready to make her no longer like a virgin. 

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7. ‘Ray of Light’

Madonna's career hit a tiny speed bump in the mid-1990s, but things came roaring back with the release of Ray of Light in 1998. The video for the title track was directed by Jonas Åkerlund and shows time-lapse videos of cities across the world and Madonna dancing in a discothèque. She went on to work with Åkerlund on the videos for "Music," "American Life" and "Jump." 

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6. ‘Justify My Love’

There's only one thing better than a hit video: a banned video. Madonna learned this in 1990 when she released the sexually charged clip for "Justify My Love." MTV refused to air it, creating a huge firestorm of press – and making people all across the world desperate to see it. Much of the video seems relatively tame by today's standards, though the gay bondage scenes would likely ruffle a few feathers.

As the 1990s went on, Madonna tried to find more and more ways to shock people with her art. "Justify My Love" was only the beginning. 

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5. ‘Bedtime Story’

Madonna has a real gift when it comes to picking collaborators and getting amazing work out of them. That was definitely the case with 1995's Bedtime Story, which was co-written by Björk. The songs still sounds futuristic, and the $5 million video (directed by Mark Romanek) still looks extremely impressive. It was even presented at the Museum of Modern Art in 1996. 

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4. ‘Frozen’

Shot in the Mojave Desert, the video for "Frozen" presented Madonna as a witch-like creature that could turn into a dog and a flock of birds. It was the first single from Ray of Light. "That album is a cherished project for me," producer William Orbit told Rolling Stone in 1999. "I've never had somebody that focused whom I trusted that much musically. Madonna produces everybody she comes in contact with; she has this ability to get people rolling and cut straight to the nub of it. That's her edge."

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3. ‘Express Yourself’

Madonna doesn't just have a good eye when it comes to musical collaborators; she's also selected many future major film directors for her music videos. In 1989, she hired 27-year-old David Fincher to direct "Express Yourself." Inspired by the 1927 Fritz Lang movie Metropolis, the video was made for a then-shocking $5 million. Three years later, Fincher was hired to direct Alien 3, and he's gone on to direct everything from Fight Club to The Social Network to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

"Express Yourself" came back into the news last year when many people noticed it sounded quite a bit like Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." Madonna performs the two songs in a medley on her current tour, making it quite clear where she comes down on the matter. 

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2. ‘Like a Prayer’

You've gotta give Madonna credit: she really, really knows how to piss off lots of people. Her video for "Like a Prayer" still seems like it was designed to anger as many people as possible. Burning cross? Check. Madonna's hands bleeding like Jesus? Check. A sequence where she has sex with a saint? Check. Not everyone saw the artistic message in these scenes; they just saw blasphemy and called for a protest of Madonna and Pepsi, who had paid her $5 million to use the song in a commercial. They pulled the plug on the ad, but Madonna kept the money.

All the hubbub didn't exactly hurt the song on the charts, proving once again that there's no such thing as bad press. The fact that it's an incredible song didn't hurt matters, either.

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1. ‘Vogue’

Believe it or not, the idea for "Vogue" began with Warren Beatty. "I wrote it when I was making Dick Tracy," Madonna told Rolling Stone in 2009. "After we shot the movie, [then-boyfriend] Warren Beatty asked me if I could write a song that would fit my character's point of view, that she could have conjured up. She was obsessed with speakeasies and movie stars and things like that. The idea for the lyrics came through that request. Coincidentally, I was going to Sound Factory and checking out these dancers who were all doing this new style of dancing called vogueing." The black-and-white clip was directed by David Fincher and aired on MTV pretty much every hour through 1990. 

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