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The Most Expensive Music Videos Ever Made

Since the widespread adoption of music streaming services that enable us to listen to newly-released music on the same day, the glory days of the music video are well behind us.

But that doesn’t lessen the value of all those outstanding, ultra-high production value videos put out by artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson. If anything, it just gives people a deeper appreciation for them. And for that reason, the following list is an homage to some of the most amazing and costly music videos ever made.

When putting together the music video for their hit song “Larger Than Life,” the Backstreet Boys had some pretty big ideas involving a futuristic space setting. And with the help of director Joseph Kahn and over $2 million, they realized that vision in a big way.

That one shot of Brian Littrell doing a flip on a hoverboard cost $90,000. Who knows how expensive those Nick Carter’s breakdancing robots were.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Michael Jackson established himself as the King of Pop with his fantastically grandiose music videos. For “Bad,” Michael Jackson used a significant portion of the $2.2 million budget to assemble an absolutely incredible production team that included, among others, famed director Martin Scorsese.

The video, which was shot more in the style of a short movie rather than a music video, took the team six weeks to shoot. The music video also features some impeccably choreographed street dancing with a gang of Brooklyn tough guys performing tricky ballet moves.

Though she may not be all that well-known in North America, in her native Japan, she’s a megastar who some have dubbed the “Empress of J-Pop.” In 2005, she released a music video for her eight-minute female-empowering anthem, “My Name’s Women.” 

The video looks as extravagant as a scene from The Great Gatsby. You can instantly tell that a good portion of its $2.4 million budget went towards dazzling set designs and outfitting extras in lavish costumes.

Since many ’90s rap music videos followed a similar format, people were surprised by the number of special effects that made the Busta Rhymes’ music video for “What’s It Gonna Be?!” The most expensive part of the video is when a glass of liquid falls to the ground, shatters, and then the pool of liquid transforms into Busta Rhymes covered in shiny metallic armor.

The video still holds the Guinness World Record for the most expensive special effects used in a music video, bringing the total production cost up to $2.4 million. 

The music video for Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker” features the singer tailing her cheating boyfriend. They both go into a movie theater, where she gets into a cat fight with the other woman, who is also played by Carey.

The video was directed by Brett Ratner, now famous for directing the X-Men and Rush Hour movies, and cost $2.5 million. However, most of that money went towards paying for the theater rental and creating the animated sequence in the video.

In Puff Daddy’s music video for “Victory,” directed by Marcus Nispel, he pays tribute to the Schwarzenegger action flick The Running Man. He appears as a contestant being chased through dark streets by armed forces. The video also incorporates a lot of imagery from Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance.” It features acting appearances by Danny DeVito and Dennis Hopper.

Thanks to the extensive use of helicopters, airplanes, and pyrotechnics in the video, the total cost of production was close to $3 million.

MC Hammer’s video for “Too Legit To Quit” is definitive proof that pouring a bunch of money into a video won’t necessarily ensure it will be of the highest quality or even any good. At almost $3 million, this video features cameo appearances from Danny Glover, Tony Danza, and Jose Canseco.

At best, the final product is a mediocre music video that features a lot of intense pyrotechnics and all the dance moves you would expect to see in an MC Hammer performance.

Most people probably only remember Danish-Norwegian pop group Aqua for that annoying song “Barbie Girl.” Still, the fame they got from that actually led to them getting a much bigger budget for their “Cartoon Heroes” music video.

Costing roughly $4 million, the video features the band as a humorous group of steampunk astronauts who must save the planet from the threat of an oversized octopus. You don’t see this much originality in today’s videos. 

In the ’90s, Guns N’ Roses were well-known for spending huge sums of money to realize their vision. This is probably why the video for “Estranged” cost more than $4 million to produce. 

Some of the significant production costs for the video included using a U.S. Coast Guard chopper and rescue squad, a massive oil tanker, an Antonov An-124 Ruslan aircraft, and, of course, those wonderfully trained dolphins. The video is also nearly 10 minutes long, which raised the costs even more.

“Black or White” was the first single of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album, so the production team knew they had to knock it out of the park with the music video. So director John Landis went for maximum appeal. He brought in famed child actor Macaulay Culkin to play the disobedient kid who refuses to turn down his music in the video’s opening.

Combine that star power with Tyra Banks and some impressive changing visual effects and what you’ve got is this $4 million 11-minute video that was seen by 500 million people when it premiered on MTV, B.E.T., VH1, and Fox on November 14, 1991. 

Madonna is the reigning queen of expensive music videos, with a few of them being worth millions. All of her videos are hugely ambitious projects featuring cinematic camera work and top-notch directors like David Fincher and Mark Romanek.

When all was said and done, the video cost $5 million, and, much to its credit, it still looks gorgeous more than 20 years after it was made.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the music video for Madonna’s “Express Yourself” was directed by David Fincher. He is the same director who brought us the excellent movies Se7ven, Fight Club, and The Social Network.

The video emulates the classic film Metropolis and features a masculine-clad Madonna overseeing a horde of factory workers and singing about the fact that you shouldn’t be content to settle with second best. When it was released in 1989, it was the most expensive music video ever created, costing $5 million to make.

In 2000, Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst directed a high-budget video for “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle),” which was partially filmed on top of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It featured cameos from Ben Stiller and Stephen Dorff, who were starring in “Zoolander” that year.

The video cost a whopping $3 million at the time, which is quite a lot even by today’s standards. 

Mark Romanek is clearly a guy who knows what to do with a big production budget. When he directed the video for the Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson collaboration “Scream,” he went with a polished, high-contrast black and white look that helped to emphasize some of the contrasting emotions on display in the video. 

The video has a lot of fun playing with zero gravity effects. This likely took up a good portion of the budget, estimated to be about $7 million despite the minimalist look.


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