Unnerving Music Videos

Last year, as part of the 365 Days Of Music, I did a week of Halloween tracks leading up to my favourite holiday.   This year, although I’d like to keep to the atmosphere of the day, I’m opting for something just a little different.  In no particular order (although I’ve saved some of the worst for the end), I will share with you music videos that either disturbed the general public, myself, or both, and commentary on why they have that *spine shiver* or *ewwwwww*  factor.

Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The premise:  morgue worker, enamoured with the now deceased ‘Mary Jane’, borrows her corpse from the morgue and takes her home for dinner and dancing.  One of Tom Petty’s best songs, and one of the better known as well, the video takes a distinct macabre twist on the lyrics, leaving the viewer unsettled, yet transfixed.  I’m honestly shocked they sailed this past the censors.

Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel

I absolutely love this song, but for reasons I have never been able to fully determine, this music video gives me nightmares.  I’ve noticed a sensitivity to strange ‘jerky’ cinematography, of which there is plenty in this crazy blend of claymation, stop motion and live action, all with odd visuals.  It’s just… Arrgh!  The ending in particular screws with some weird synapse in the cerebral cortex.

Leviticus: Faggot – Me’Shell Ndegeocello

Upon its 1996 release, this incredibly powerful video by Me’Shell Ndegeocello was decried, censored entirely, censored then in title (Muchmusic in Canada forced the removal of the word ‘faggot’ from the song title), and led to an hour-long special on the aforementioned network with a panel including Me’Shell, discussing homophobia.  The depiction of parental gay bashing and, ultimately, the suicide of the gay son is painful to watch, but also mesmerizing.  At that time, Me’Shell declared that she was reclaiming the word faggot, commandeering it back from the hatred of others.  In today’s climate, as one gay teen after another commits suicide due to bashing and hate, I felt it important to recognize this video and promote its message.

Sad, that so little has changed in 14 years.

California – Wax

The 90s were a bad time for fire on MTV.  Not only was this video banned from daytime airplay, but even poor Beavis (of Beavis and Butthead fame) was banned from being a pyro on the series, forcing Mike Judge to change writing direction.  The video seems fairly innocuous by today’s standards:  a guy on fire runs for the bus in slow motion, not in any apparent distress.  But that was, apparently, enough for censorship.  I suppose the lack of distress is rather disturbing in and of itself, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Another victim of the anti-fire brigade coming up…

Hey Jupiter – Tori Amos

Another mid-90s fiery video, this one actually deals with a disturbing notion, far more than our last video.  Tori’s character, broken-hearted and alone, sits in a burning apartment and refuses to save herself, dying in the flames.  The young blonde girl is to be inferred as an angel, coming to take Tori’s spirit to the next stage of life.  One of Tori’s best videos, and one of her best songs… The pyrotechnics were actually turned down for the video, at MTV behest.

Apparitions – Matthew Good Band

*Click To Watch In New Window*

Unfortunately, VEVO is retarded and censoring their own upload, which is just…. special.  In any case, this video almost didn’t make it through Canadian censors due to its ending.  I’ll leave it as a surprise for you, but the premise is a night in an office tower, as viewed by the janitor (played by Good) and the night security.  Having worked security in a corporate tower, this stuff happens, more than you’d expect.  Matthew, in the video commentary, notes that on paper, the censors were ready to veto, until a meeting wherein the video was played occurred… and thankfully, artistic meaning won over “oh my God, violence!”

Alert Status Red – Matthew Good

Matthew Good took a lot of public flack for this video and its use of about ten seconds of footage from the Columbine school shooting.  Although the song, part of a very anti-Bush/anti-war album entitled White Light Rock and Roll Review, was speaking more of war from the perspective of a solider, it takes on an equally sinister nature in the context of a school shooting.  “Man, I forget which came first:  the bad idea or me befallen by it?  Not giving a shit…”   What I also find interesting is that the brief scenes of ‘surveillance’ prior to the counted down disaster show girl on girl bullying through subtle gesture, as opposed to isolated males, the usual perpetrators of school violence.

Flashing Lights – Kanye West

I am, by no means, a Kanye West fan, but this short and… er, not sweet tale of obsessive love gone murderous made me wince, especially when we reached the trunk of the car at the end.

Drag You Down – Finger Eleven

Not so much disturbing, grotesque or creepy, but notable for spooking former Muchmusic VJ Rick ‘The Temp” Camparelli at the end.  I think the concept – band is playing while singer Scott seems to be… hearing things – works well:  no crazy effects, just atmosphere and a little camera fun.  That said, it may get you at the end…

Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden

Likely the inspiration behind the ‘hallucination sequence’ in Try Try Try, the overly happy faces of the twisted people of this town are then distorted into excess horror as Soundgarden manages to destroy their world via summoning the aforementioned black hole sun.  The old lady and ice cream girl just make me squick every single time.  Classic video.

Try Try Try – Smashing Pumpkins

Jonas Akerlund’s 2000 video for this single from the Machina album is disturbing on every turn.  A young couple, living on the streets and addicted, spend their day drinking, shooting up, prostituting and hallucinating, until the extremely pregnant young woman begins to miscarry…  A horrifying and ultimately accurate portrait of street life, framed by desperate and undying love in adversity.

Stinkfist – Tool

Tool videos are notoriously strange and unnerving, so any one would be a perfect addition to this entry.  That said, Stinkfist is very ‘Ring’ in places to me… and thus, it earns my endorsement.  There are no words for the plot here; it’s a series of troubling metaphors on stimulus and an unending desire for more.

Rubber Johnny – Aphex Twin

This belongs in a horror film.  The intro is long, but sets the premise of doctors attempting to help a being known as Rubber Johnny, who is… well, you’ll see….  Whoa.  All Aphew Twin videos are disturbing, but this one takes the cake.

Rock DJ – Robbie Williams

Welcome to Robbie’s Roller Rink, where women ignore his sexy smile and groovy Travolta dancing.  Growing ever more desperate for attention from the sexy seductress spinning tracks in the booth, Robbie begins to strip… and I’m not just talking about his clothes.  A statement on either how we demand unprecedented and sick access to celebrity lives, or the notion that appearances mean nothing, the track and video are highly memorable… and kinda icky.

The making of, however, is pretty amusing.

Spark – Tori Amos

Easily my favourite Tori Amos video, it’s the one that brought me in as a fan, sitting at home in 1998 as Muchmusic trumpeted that they wanted feedback on the next video, “as many found it disturbing.”  Fascinated by controversy, I didn’t change the channel, and thus began a musical obsession.

This version, the only one on YouTube thanks to the nazis at Atlantic Records, is the version with Tori’s commentary from the collection Fade To Red.  It is my favourite song of all time, so look it up sans commentary, but also watch as Tori explains the metaphor behind the twisted tale of a woman on the run from a kidnapper…

Happiness In Slavery – Nine Inch Nails


Gleeful in its sadistic tendencies, the video for Happiness In Slavery features Bob Flanagan stepping into a sadomasochistic torture chamber and strapping himself into a chair of mechanized horrors.  Contains full frontal nudity, gore and a twisted ending that feels like a ‘top that’ to Pink Floyd’s film The Wall (you’ll see what I mean).  Damn.  I am going to have nightmares for sure, having watched this.

And, for a more ‘on theme’ finale…

Thriller – Michael Jackson

Although most simply find this long, expensive video, with its Vincent Price voiceovers and infamous dance, amusing, it scared the shit out of me as a little girl.  My mother literally had to take down all of my posters of Michael Jackson for years, because I had nightmares that, “Michael Jackson is trying to eat me!”  *waits for you to make the same jokes she made during certain scandals*  Michael is just… gah, creepy!  I still don’t watch this at night, and I am a horror movie afficionado, glorifier of the grotesque.  It’s Pavlovian response.

Happy Halloween, Merry Samhain, and goodbye, October!


2 thoughts on “Unnerving Music Videos

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Unnerving Music Videos « Open 'Til Midnight: Musings of a Music-Obsessed Mind -- Topsy.com

  2. I love this list and agree with so many of these selections, and there are a few here that I’ve never seen/heard.

    Hey Jupiter always affected me so deeply, the song and the video both. That kind of heartbreak, hollowed-out giving up…so chilling and yet relatable, think we’ve been there before, or at least I know I have.

    Here are two add to the list…

    Sticks & Stones :: The Pierces

    Black Balloon :: The Kills



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