20 Of The Most Controversial Music Videos Ever

Music videos are one of the best forms of artistic expression. We get to see the artists tell their stories through the most creative visuals and, more importantly, we get to see how they tackle relevant issues like gender inequality, racism, and violence. However, sometimes the imagery turns out to be explicit, disturbing, or just downright offensive. With the inclusion of things like religion, full nudity, and graphic sex scenes, many videos struck a nerve and received constant criticism. Some even went as far as getting banned from certain networks. But this is no surprise, considering that so many artists are boldly breaking boundaries when it comes to making a statement through their music videos.

See the most controversial music videos that ever got released (and we should warn you, some of these are NSFW AF).

20. “Like a Prayer” by Madonna

This one pretty much lost its shock value as time went on, but when it first premiered, religious organizations were not happy. From the burning cross to Madonna’s erotic scenes with a religious figure, the video was labeled as disrespectful and blasphemous.

The Vatican protested the video and called for a national boycott of Pepsi (who’d been working with the singer for a commercial at the time). Although Pepsi attempted to explain that their ad was in no way connected to the content of the video, they eventually gave in and canceled the entire campaign. Pope John Paul II also spoke up and encouraged people in Italy to boycott the singer, but both Madonna and the video’s director, Mary Lambert, were unfazed. The singer said: “Art should be controversial, and that’s all there is to it.”

Watch it here.

19. “Stan” by Eminem

The music video centers around an obsessed Eminem fan named Stan, who constantly writes to his idol in hopes of getting a response. He keeps hundreds of pictures of the singer and even dyes his hair to look like him. But when his pregnant girlfriend (played by Dido, whose song “Stan” samples), asks about his obsession, he becomes abusive toward her. By the time Eminem finally manages to write back to Stan, though, he has driven himself off a bridge, killing both himself and his girlfriend.

The video received some negative feedback due to the graphic scenes (including when Dido’s character got gagged) and it was very heavily censored by MTV. Even so, the song did really well on the charts.

Watch it here.

18. “Born Free” by M.I.A.

This extremely graphic video shows a group of redheads who are rounded up, tortured, and then killed. It was actually inspired by the killing of Tamil males by the Sri Lankan Army, which was filmed on cellphones and then broadcast on the news worldwide. The video received a lot of praise for its portrayal of military brutality, but it was also met with tons of controversy because of its explicit nature. It even got banned from YouTube at one point, before it was put back up.

Watch it here.

17. “(s)AINT” by Marilyn Manson

This is pretty insane, but the music video turned out to be so graphic that the band’s own label, Interscope, didn’t want anything to do with it. It was independently produced and directed by Asia Argento, but the video includes nudity, masturbation, self-mutilation, drug use, and violence. Just the description is making us cringe right now.

Watch it here.

16. “Lemon Incest” by Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg

This song was sung by French artist Serge Gainsbourg and his then 13-year-old daughter, Charlotte. As you can probably tell from the title, the lyrics describe a romantic and physical attraction between an adult and his own child. And in the music video, the two are shown laying in bed half naked while cuddling. This led to outrage because people believed that Serge was trying to glamorize pedophilia and incest. Plus, this led to a huge scandal because fans suspected that the pair’s relationship in the music video reflected their real-life relationship. However, Serge denied those claims, and despite the controversy, the song actually did really well (which is kind of disturbing if you ask us).

Watch it here.

15. “Judas” by Lady Gaga

Shortly before Gaga’s “Judas” video got released, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, criticized Gaga for portraying Mary Magdalene and mentioned that she intentionally chose to premiere her offensive video close to Holy Week and Easter. He said: “Lady Gaga tries to continue to shock Catholics and Christians in general: she dresses as a nun, she gets raped, she swallows the rosary. She has now morphed into a caricature of herself. She is falling short. She wants to shock, does she actually believe her own BS?”

But Gaga only brushed it off and claimed that she had no intention of offending anyone. She said: “The only controversial thing about this video is that I’m wearing Christian Lacroix and Chanel in the same frame. This video is not meant to be an attack on religion. I respect and love everyone’s beliefs. I’m a religious and spiritual person who’s obsessed with religious art. I’m obsessed with it.”

Watch it here.

14. “Do What U Want” by Lady Gaga & R. Kelly

Lady Gaga never holds back on her creativity when it comes to her videos, but this one is just weird AF, even for her. First off, she worked with R. Kelly and director Terry Richardson despite the fact that both have been accused of sexual assault on several occasions. Second, in the video, there are sexually suggestive scenes (like the fact that R. Kelly, who plays a doctor, takes advantage of a drugged Lady Gaga while she’s undressed). And third, Terry is seen photographing Gaga as she rolls around nude in newspapers. Gaga, what’re you doin’?!

The video was never “officially” released, but TMZ reported that it was most likely canceled due to fear of backlash over R.Kelly and Terry. The full video can still be seen on YouTube.

Watch it here.

13. “Famous” by Kanye West

Well, nothing says “shocking” quite like a giant celebrity orgy, right? The music video, which was inspired by Vincent Desiderio’s painting “Sleep,” shows Kanye laying in the nude and in bed, right alongside a group of faces who he shared popular headlines with in the past. These were naked wax figures of celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Ray J, Taylor Swift, and even his ex, Amber Rose.

The video received both praise and criticism, but the most disturbing part is that not everyone who got included gave him their consent. Luckily for him, he didn’t face a single lawsuit. But as for Kanye’s original intent, he explained that he wasn’t trying to support (or insult) anyone. He only wanted to give a “comment on fame.”

Watch it here.

12. “S&M;” by Rihanna

In general, the video received a lot of positive feedback and it did really well on the charts. However, because of the sexual content (like Rihanna simulating sex with a blow-up doll), it got banned in 11 countries. In response, Melina Matsoukas, who directed the music video, said: “When I go out to make something, I kind of go out with the intention to get it banned – not to get it banned … but to make something provocative … it’s making an effect and people are having a dialogue about it, so, to me, that’s successful.”

Watch it here.

11. “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke

Aside from facing backlash for its offensive lyrics (critics have mentioned that it promotes rape culture, i.e. “I know you want it”), the song’s music video also led to controversy because of its explicit and sexist content. In the uncut version, we see Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell fully clothed while three models strut around them in nothing but thongs. And to make matters worse, we see a balloon that reads, “Robin Thicke has a big d*ck.” …Like, seriously???

Watch it here.

10. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam

This video was actually inspired by a real kid named Jeremy. In 1991, the 16-year-old committed suicide by shooting himself right in front of his classmates because he was constantly getting bullied. That’s pretty much what happened in the original version of the video, but because the ending was so graphic, it got censored. When it finally aired, viewers automatically assumed that the teen killed his classmates, rather than himself. And sadly, that misleading ending had the worst possible effect. It actually allegedly inspired another school shooting in 1996. Prosecutors claimed that 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis was influenced by the edited version of this video when he killed his algebra teacher and two students at Frontier Junior High School in Washington.

Pearl Jam was so upset about this edit that they basically quit making music videos. The director, Mark Pellington, explained: “I think Pearl Jam was very, very upset that this piece about an alienated kid who killed himself was taken to be this glorified piece about a guy who shoots his classmates.”

Watch it here.

9. “Smack My B*tch Up” by The Prodigy

Well, to say this video is graphic feels like a huge understatement. It depicts drunk driving, drug use, nudity, violence, vandalism, abuse of women, and a full sex scene. It received a ton of backlash from feminist groups for encouraging violence against women. But on the flip side, some people actually praised it for addressing gender stereotypes and shedding light on the fact that women can be abusers too (since the main character turns out to be female). While this video is definitely disturbing, it still earned two MTV VMAs – one for “Best Dance Video” and one for “Breakthrough Video.”

Watch it here.

8. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana

From little girls picking human fetuses off a tree in KKK attire to old men climbing on crosses, this entire video is just confusing and cringe-worthy. But despite the disturbing imagery, the music video was actually well-received. It won two awards and was ranked at number 10 on Time magazine’s “30 All-TIME Best Music Videos.” They described it as “beautiful and … terrible.” (We totally agree, minus the beautiful part.)

Watch it here.

7. “Stress” by Justice

Though the song itself was loved by critics, the same didn’t ring true for the music video. It shows a group of young teenagers who roam the streets of Paris to commit gang violence, and it was met with a ton of criticism after rapper Kanye West released it on his site. Not only did it face backlash from the general public, but it also got banned in France. And one of the band’s members, Xavier de Rosnay, once mentioned that the National Front and anti-racist organizations threatened to sue them over the video.

In response, the group said: “The film was never intended as a stigmatization of the banlieue (suburbs), nor an incitation to violence, nor above all, as an underhanded way to deliver a racist message.”

Watch it here.

6. “Window Seat” by Erykah Badu

Overall, the video got mixed responses from fans and critics. But it became so popular that it attracted the attention of Dallas city officials. They grew concerned ahout Erykah’s public nudity and the fact that she filmed without city permits. Former Mayor Dwaine Caraway said: “None of this would have occurred had she stayed clothed. But since she didn’t, it elevated the need for making sure that we have policies in place that will protect folks and the integrity of the city as best we possibly can.” A witness eventually came forward, and Erykah was charged with disorderly conduct for her public nudity.

On top of this, she was also called out for disrespecting the memory of former President John F. Kennedy by alluding to his assassination in the video. But she responded: “My point was grossly misunderstood all over America. JFK is one of my heroes, one of the nation’s heroes. John F. Kennedy was a revolutionary; he was not afraid to butt heads with America, and I was not afraid to show America my butt-naked truth.”

Watch it here.

5. “Only” by Nicki Minaj

Soon after the video got released, some fans called Nicki and the whole YMCMB family out for using Nazi imagery, claiming this video was anti-Semitic. And it didn’t help that the lyric video also depicted her as a dictator in what looked like 1940s Nuremberg.

Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and the Anti-Defamation League’s National Director Emeritus, released a statement saying that the music video “disturbingly evokes Third Reich propaganda and constitutes a new low for pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism.” The backlash had gotten so intense that Nicki issued an apology on Twitter. She said: “I didn’t come up [with] the concept, but I’m very sorry & take full responsibility if it has offended anyone. I’d never condone Nazism in my art.”

Watch it here.

4. “This Note’s For You” by Neil Young

Throughout this entire video, we see Neil poke fun at how pretentious corporate sponsorships and ads can be. It includes several parodies of actual commercials, including the infamous moment when Michael Jackson‘s hair caught on fire during his Pepsi commercial. Even the title is a play on Budweiser’s campaign, which had the popular slogan: “This Bud’s For You.” But because of legal threats from MJ’s attorneys, MTV immediately banned the video. After seeing its success on the Canadian music channel “MuchMusic,” however, they changed their minds and started playing it constantly. It even got a VMA for “Best Video of the Year.”

Watch it here.

3. “Pagan Poetry” by Bjork

It’s no wonder why everyone thinks this music video is one of the most explicit ones ever made. It includes blurry footage of graphic scenes like fellatio, ejaculation, and needles sewing pearls to the skin (*shudders*). You can also see Bjork sporting a dress that covers mostly the lower half of her body, while her torso has several pearl piercings.

Apparently, the video is about a woman preparing herself for marriage (which of course, makes us even more confused..). Due to the explicit content, it got banned by MTV in the United States.

Watch it here

2. “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails

Guys, this video is not for the faint of heart. Set in an old-fashioned scientist’s lab, it includes animal cruelty, nudity, S&M;, and fetish gear. Some have even gone as far as saying that there are Satanic influences in this (because of its use of religion), but it turns out that the video was mainly inspired by the Brothers Quay’s animated short film, Street of Crocodiles. An edited version of the video was aired on TV, but MTV2 aired the uncut version as part of a late-night countdown of the most controversial videos ever.

Watch it here.

1. “Hate Me Now” by Nas & Puff Daddy

The video, which features Nas being crucified and Puff Daddy (now Diddy) on the cross, didn’t sit too well with religious groups. Diddy, who was a Catholic himself, insisted that his crucifixion scene be cut from the edited version to be broadcast – but the wrong edit was sent out to MTV and TRL. So when it aired, Diddy wound up attacking Nas’s manager just moments after it premiered.

Regarding the incident, Nas explained: “Me and Puff got hammered to the cross, but after Puff expressed his religious beliefs and speaking to his pastor, he wasn’t ready to take that stance, so it was really my idea anyway, so we took his part out. For some reason, I think [my former manager] Steve Stoute let it fly with Puffy still being crucified to the cross, so there was that fight at the office…I kind of stepped in and squashed the whole thing, and it’s all in the past. Just growing pains. We were all growing up.”

Watch it here.

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