From the moment it was released in December 1983, ‘Thriller’ was destined to become one of the most legendary music videos of all time. Nearly 40 years later, it remains profoundly influential and supremely audacious, even to contemporary eyes. Burnishing its pedigree with loving allusions to seminal horror films—Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Hitchcock’s Vertigo and director John Landis's own then-recent hit An American Werewolf in London, Jackson’s 13-minute chiller melds creepy authenticity with campy fun to an astonishingly successful degree. How successful? A behind-the-scenes home-video release of it sold over 9 million copies, and it’s currently the only music video preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry. Only a pop star with MJ’s vision could have pulled it off.
It’s been a long time since video killed the radio star, so all things considered, it’s kind of amazing that the music-video form is still thriving in the age of YouTube and TikTok. Now, with Beyoncé’s Lemonade and other blockbuster album-length videos on the rise, we might just be on the verge of a new music-video golden age. It’s a great time to be a fan, and it’s never been easier to cue up videos for your favorite party songs or pop songs from the comfort of your computer or phone (and there’s nothing to stop you from hitting that replay button over and over). For our money, these videos comprise the pinnacle of the art form—the best music videos of all time—so far at least.