His 10 Most Popular Music Videos (Based on YouTube Views)
David Fincher is known for his dark films and his color palette, but this is a pretty cursory reading of his style. It’s his precision, economy, tracking shots and rhythmic chopping that define Fincher’s style, and it all goes back to his music video work.
David Fincher is one of the best pop music video directors out there, and the work shows it. He may not get the respect others have in the industry, but that’s probably because he worked mostly with pop stars and worked to make music videos that sold the song, rather than the art shorts that many others have produced. The evolution of Fincher’s signature style is particularly visible in “Vogue” and “Freedom ’90”.
ten Nine Inch Nails: “Only” – 10 million views
David Fincher uses the innovative style with Nine Inch Nail’s “Only” from the 2005 album, with teeth. The decor is a typical office desk: Macbook, coffee cup and spoon, Newton’s Cradle and, in particular, a pin art box game.
Fincher takes the song’s angry isolation from Trent Reznor and uses the pinbox to illustrate the singer’s trapped feeling and Reznor’s frustration with the music industry itself. The sanitized sobriety of the office reinforces this feeling of isolation and the desire to get out of the corporate culture.
9 The Rolling Stones: “Love is strong” – 16 million views
The Rolling Stones’ “Love is Strong” was released in 1994. It’s probably one of the Stones’ strongest videos, and the melody is one of the best on their album. Voodoo parlor. The song itself achieved high scores around the world, but stalled in the lower parts of the US charts.
The visual of New York City being taken over by the giants of the Rolling Stones and various models, all walking around and frolicking, is incredibly well done. The images symbolize the vastness of the iconic band itself in pop culture and music history, and Fincher makes the Stones look better than they have in years.
8 Billy Idol: “Cradle Of Love” – 24 million views
“Cradle of Love” was taken from Billy Idol’s 1990 album A charming life and was used on the Andrew Dice Clay movie soundtrack, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. The song was Idol’s biggest US hit to date, and the video was in heavy rotation on MTV.
The video shows 18-year-old Betsy Lynn George dancing and damaging her neighbor’s apartment in a frenzy of musical seduction. Idol is seen in various paintings showing him from the waist up singing and cheering on the girl. The visuals are very clever, with Idol popping in and out footage in time, contrasting with the increasingly jittery neighbor.
7 Madonna: “Express Yourself” – 32 million views
At the time, it was the most expensive music video ever made, with a total cost of $5 million, according to Forbes. The song itself is taken from Madonna’s 1989 fourth studio album, like a prayer, and was one of Madonna’s biggest hits.
The video is inspired by the classic silent film by Fritz Lang Metropolis (1927), with the epigraph at the end of the video for this film. It’s Madonna in one of her best roles in the video, with heavily sexualized and expressive imagery, matching the song’s theme. The character is a woman freely expressing her sexuality and gender identity and not caring what other people think. It is one of the most innovative music videos of its time.
6 Paula Abdul: “Straight Up” – 35 million views
“Straight Up” is taken from Paula Abdul’s 1988 debut album, Forever your daughter, and was her third single and biggest international hit at the time.
With his time as american idol judge, it can be easy to forget what a talented dancer and choreographer Paula Abdul is. Fincher directs it here in black and white with his own choreography, using fast cuts that match the shifting beats. Most of the others are in the shadows except for Abdul, emphasizing that she is the center of attention here.
5 A perfect circle: “Judith” – 46 million views
“Judith” is taken from Perfect Circle’s debut album, Sea of names, released in 2000. Fincher here focuses on the band themselves as they play the song, using a distressed, jagged look for the visuals. It’s a simpler approach than many of his other videos, but it suits both the song’s anger and the band’s hard rock.
The song itself is about singer Maynard Keenan’s mother, who is in a wheelchair after a stroke. Fincher’s grainy video captures that anger and pain well, as well as the singer’s frustration with his mother’s situation.
4 Michael Jackson: “Who is it” – 79 million views
From 1992, “Who Is It” is taken from Michael Jackson’s eighth studio album, Dangerous. The video shows Jackson singing about his pain for a girlfriend who left him, holding a metal card labeled “Alex.” Then the video cuts to someone who is to be the woman, an escort who switches identities between clients, each new identity carrying a metal business card.
Much like David Fincher’s most successful films, it tells a dark story here, with the woman being remade for each new identity. She goes from client to client with her team of trained makeup artists and costume designers, ready to transform her again. The video is shot at night, with quick cuts and shadows obscuring people’s faces and actions. Fincher often uses black and white or limits color to enhance the mood, and he does it here to great effect.
3 George Michael: “Freedom ’90” – 105 million views
Heavy with symbolism, “Freedom ’90” was released as the lead single from George Michael’s 1990 album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. The song was a big hit for Michael, reaching number eight in the US, according to Billboard.
Michael didn’t want to appear in the video himself, but came up with the idea of using models Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford to sync his song instead. The song and video are about Michael declaring freedom from his past, and he has Fincher blast and burn symbols from his past career, such as his jacket, guitar, and the jukebox used on a previous album cover. There’s no narrative here, but Fincher makes it compelling with his image choices and editing. Viewers may notice, at one point, Fincher’s trademark motion of pulling the camera back through a chair.
2 Madonna: “Vogue” – 146 million views
One of Madonna’s most popular and critically acclaimed videos, “Vogue” was out of Madonna I’m out of breath album and released as a single in 1990.
The video is an homage to old Hollywood, shot in black and white and featuring dancers wearing 1930s and 1940s clothing in Art Deco settings. To emphasize the Hollywood connection, Fincher has Madonna posing as studio art photos of famous movie stars. Fincher likes strong female characters and gives Madonna a great seven-second rising hero shot – an eternity in a music video. He uses rhythm to make his edits and move his camera, ensuring that the viewer takes full advantage of the choreography.
1 Justin Timberlake: “Suit and tie” – 162 million views
Called by some Justin Timberlake “comeback”, the song “Suit and Tie” was released in 2013 and successfully restored Timberlake’s status as a pop star after a six-year hiatus. And after Timberlake turned to acting, directing one of his best films with The social networkJustin asked Fincher to direct the video.
Fincher is a master at not only filming the choreography, but also cutting out the vocals to enhance the song. Rather than a series of quick, random cuts, Fincher allows the viewer to see the artist and “hear: the song. He’s also great for giving the artist he’s working with an iconic look. Here, he goes for a Sinatra “Rat Pack” vibe, and he manages to make Justin Timberlake look like he just stepped out of Ocean’s Eleven (1960).
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