3. "Billie Jean" (1983)
"Billie Jean" was already a Number One single on a Number One album before it even aired on MTV, but when it did, its cultural impact went beyond mere chart success. The clip broke the network's racially segregated rock-centric playlist and made Jackson its dominant star. (CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff has said he threatened to pull his label's videos if the network didn't put "Billie Jean" in rotation.) British New Wave video director Steve Barron tweaked a King Midas theme he was going to use for a Joan Armatrading clip. A pre-"Thriller" budget meant Barron couldn't afford a sidewalk that lit up when Jackson stepped on a square (an electrician had to do it by hand), but the shoot itself was still charged with energy. "When he came forward through that chorus, literally my eyepiece steamed up, and I'm thinking, 'Fucking hell, this is amazing. He is incredible,' " said Barron. "We shot that first take, got to the end, and everyone – up in the gantries, eating their sandwiches, reading the paper, painters working on another set – just burst into applause. We all just knew we'd seen another era of superstar."