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12 Albums Made Popular by Music Videos

Video did, indeed, kill the radio star. Iconic music videos by R.E.M., Janet Jackson, and more helped these 12 albums become best-sellers.

Music videos began their rise to prominence during the 1980s when the new American cable network MTV based its programming around the medium. MTV launched on August 1, 1981 with a 24-hour lineup dedicated to the latest rock, new wave, and pop music videos.

Shortly after its launch, the channel introduced several viewer request shows, as well as hosts known as video jockeys (or VJs) to announce music videos, interview artists, and report music news. In 1984, MTV held the first Video Music Awards to highlight the year’s best music videos — the first Video Vanguard Awards were presented to David Bowie, The Beatles, and American film director Richard Lester.

MTV became the driving force behind the popularity of music videos. Artists and labels began to recognize, and wield, the marketing power of videos, allowing fans to interact with them as companion pieces to their favorite music. Celebrate the music video — and the anniversary of MTV’s launch — with this list of 12 albums popularized by music videos.

Duran Duran (1981)
by Duran Duran

Rock, Pop
Duran Duran
Duran Duran
New Wave, Synth-pop
Vinyl, Album, Limited Edition, Reissue, White

English new wave band Duran Duran released their self-titled debut album in June 1981, just before the launch of MTV. Each of the album’s singles was promoted with a music video, but the clip for “Girls On Film” was decidedly controversial. The video, which featured partially nude women performing suggestive acts, was banned by the BBC but became a boon for MTV. Although a heavily edited version of it was aired on American television, the music video helped generate hype for the fledgling network and for the band itself as they became one of the leading artists in the Second British Invasion.

Watch the “Girls On Film” music video.

Thriller (1982)
by Michael Jackson

Funk / Soul, Pop
Michael Jackson
Disco, Funk, Soft Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue

In 1982, Michael Jackson set out to drop an album with a tracklist full of hits and enlisted the help of producer Quincy Jones to make Thriller. Jones pushed Jackson’s sound into a new direction, blending pop, rock, R&B, and funk styles to give the record an edge in the post-disco era. Their collaboration was successful — seven of Thriller’s nine tracks were released as singles and all of them reached the top 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Jackson’s use of music videos as a promotional tool also contributed to the record’s popularity. In December 1983, the video for the title track was released, which featured Jackson dancing through the streets as he turned into a zombie accompanied by a backup troupe of the undead. MTV placed the video into heavy rotation and in 2009, it became the first music video inducted into the US National Film Registry.

Watch the “Thriller” music video.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983)
by Eurythmics

Electronic, Pop
Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
Electronic, Pop, Synth-Pop
Vinyl, Reissue, 180g

The Eurythmics second studio album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), proved to be the duo’s mainstream breakthrough when it was released in 1983. The album’s energetic synth-pop production is at its best on songs like the title track — whose music video set the Eurythmics apart from other artists at the time. Singer Annie Lennox’s androgynous fashion and orange pixie cut, along with the song’s driving bass line, helped “Sweet Dreams” become one of the pair’s most recognizable songs.

Watch the “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) music video.

Like A Prayer (1989)
by Madonna

Like A Prayer
Electronic, Synth-pop
Vinyl, Album

Madonna described her fourth studio album, Like A Prayer, as a confessional record with lyrical content that centered around her early life and family. The album — written and produced with musicians Stephen Bray, Patrick Leonard, and Prince — incorporated rock, R&B, funk, and gospel styles into Madonna’s typical pop production. Throughout the ’80s, Madonna’s music video output helped cement her status as a bonafide pop star. When the video for Like A Prayer’s title track was released, it was immediately deemed controversial for its use of religious imagery and depictions of cross burning. “Like A Prayer” became the subject of protests, boycotts, and even lost the singer a Pepsi sponsorship. Regardless of the public outrage, it marked a turning point in Madonna’s career where critics began to consider her a serious artist.

Watch the “Like A Prayer” music video.

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
by Janet Jackson

Contemporary R&B, Pop
Rhythm Nation 1814
Janet Jackson
New Jack Swing, Dance-pop, Contemporary R&B
Vinyl, Album, Reissue

Despite pleas from her label to release music similar to 1986’s Control, Janet Jackson insisted that her fourth studio album be a conceptual record that addressed issues such as poverty, racism, and substance abuse in modern society. She reconnected with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to create the genre-busting Rhythm Nation, an album now regarded by critics as her magnum opus. The record’s second single and title track was promoted with a black-and-white music video featuring the singer and a crew of dancers moving with military-like precision to Jackson’s own choreography. The song peaked at No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and its video went on to win two VMAs — one for Best Choreography and one for Best Dance Video.

Watch the “Rhythm Nation” music video.

Whitney Houston (1985)
by Whitney Houston

Funk / Soul, Contemporary R&B
Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston
Contemporary R&B, Soul, Funk
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, Special Edition

“How Will I Know” was the third single from Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album. The upbeat song, which told the story of a young woman who wondered if her crush liked her back, was a departure from the rest of the album’s ballads. Likewise, the music video was unlike any Houston had released before and featured her dancing through a colorful set of vibrant video screens and funhouse mirrors. MTV placed the video in heavy rotation which contributed to the album’s success throughout 1985 and beyond.

Watch the “How Will I Know” music video.

Out Of Time (1991)
by R.E.M.

Alternative Rock
Out Of Time
Alternative Rock
Vinyl, Album

American alt-rock band R.E.M. scored their first No. 1 album with 1991’s Out Of Time. The band’s previously cult following quickly expanded into an international audience after the release of the album’s lead single, “Losing My Religion.” To promote the record, frontman Michael Stipe uncharacteristically agreed to lip sync the song’s lyrics in the music video. That, coupled with director Tarsem Signh’s use of magical realism, catapulted R.E.M. to the top of the charts.

Watch the “Losing My Religion” music video.

Nevermind (1991)
by Nirvana

Alternative Rock, Grunge
Alternative Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, 180 gram

Nirvana became known for their sound that relied on the dynamic contrast between their songs’ quiet verses and louder, heavy choruses. No song exemplifies this more than their breakout hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The track, which became an unexpected mainstream success, is the opening song on the band’s second studio album Nevermind. The music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” features Nirvana performing at a high school pep rally that ends in a student-led riot. The video’s popularity amongst young fans increased the band’s profile and solidified their position as the artists that spoke for Generation X.

Watch the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video.

CrazySexyCool (1994)
by TLC

Funk / Soul, Contemporary R&B
Funk / Soul, Contemporary R&B
Vinyl, Album, Reissue

“Waterfalls” was the third single from girl group TLC’s second studio album CrazySexyCool. The R&B and hip-hop song addressed some of the ’90s biggest societal problems — the illegal drug trade and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The music video for “Waterfalls” reflected the track’s socially conscious lyrics by depicting a teen who ignores his mother’s pleas to stop selling drugs, as well as a young couple who forgo protection during sex. The scenes are interspersed with clips of a liquified TLC dancing on top of an ocean and in front of a waterfall. The track, considered the trio’s signature song, became an international hit and went on to win the award for Video of the Year at the 1995 VMAs.

Watch the “Waterfalls” music video.

Miss E…So Addictive (2001)
by Missy Elliott

Hip-Hop, Contemporary R&B
Miss E …So Addictive
Missy Elliott
Hip Hop, Funk / Soul, Contemporary R&B
Vinyl, Album

Missy Elliott’s third studio album Miss E… spawned several singles, but it’s best known for containing the hit “Get Ur Freak On.” The track features Elliott’s eccentric flow over a Timbaland-produced bhangra inspired beat. The music video, led by prolific director Dave Meyers, is shot in the rapper’s unique, oddball style and features choreography performed against the backdrop of an underground sewer system turned nightclub amongst cameos from rappers including Ludacris, Eva, Busta Rhymes, Nate Dogg, and more.

Watch the “Get Ur Freak On” music video.

In The Zone (2003)
by Britney Spears

In The Zone
Britney Spears
Synth-pop, Dance-pop, Contemporary R&B
Vinyl, Album, Limited Edition, Reissue, Blue and White Swirl

Britney Spears experimented with different producers during the production of her fourth studio album, In The Zone, which contributed to its eclectic tracklist that features pop, urban, techno, and world music styles. “Toxic,” the album’s second single, became Spears’ first top 10 hit since “Oops…I Did It Again” in 2000 and earned the singer her first Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. The track’s synth and string heavy instrumentals and infectious hook — coupled with Spears’ portrayal of a sexy secret agent in the music video — made “Toxic” a signature song in the singer’s catalog.

Watch the “Toxic” music video.

The Fame Monster (2009)
by Lady Gaga

Pop, Dance, Electronic
The Fame Monster
Lady Gaga
Electro, Synth-pop, Euro House
CD, Album

The deluxe version of Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster is a reissue of her debut studio album, The Fame, alongside eight new tracks. The new songs were intended to juxtapose the happier tone of The Fame with darker lyrical content paired with disco, rock, and synth-pop production. To promote the project, the singer released “Bad Romance” alongside a music video that featured a kidnapped Gaga struggling to escape a surrealist bathhouse. The song and video were commercial and critical successes. “Bad Romance” peaked at No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 while its video won the VMA for Video of the Year and Grammy Award for Best Music Video.

Watch the “Bad Romance” music video.

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