Video Voyeurism: Rihanna, Ciara, And Madonna Dance 4 U

Why we love to watch.

In the fall of 1984, Madonna’s video for her single “Lucky Star” was in heavy rotation on MTV. The clip — a key turning point in her trip from NYC nightclub notoriety to full-blown pop stardom — shows Madonna dancing against a solid white screen, sometimes using structured choreography with two dancers behind her, sometimes writhing on the floor solo with the camera close on her face. It’s a pretty simple concept, but at a time when artists and directors were beginning to do flashier and more complex things with this newly popular medium, the spare video felt instantly iconic. And while she wasn’t yet a legend at the time of the single’s release, Madonna cast herself as one, complete with a subtle homage to Audrey Hepburn’s signature sunglasses. The implication was that Madonna didn’t need the smoke and mirrors seen in some other popular videos — she traded in the special effects for one hell of a gaze.

As music has become increasingly free and easily downloadable, the fate of the big, expensive music video has wavered. Decreased budgets have forced many musicians and directors to turn to green-screen and other low-frills concepts; with more people watching music videos on their smartphones than they do on their televisions, lo-fi videos made for consuming on tiny screens or in GIF form are in vogue. “Lucky Star”–style minimalism has enjoyed something of a renaissance in music videos in recent years, from Robyn dancing on her own in a strobe-lit warehouse to Drake’s pink-hued, James Turrell–esque “Hotline Bling” set. Sia’s “Chandelier” video, starring Maddie Ziegler as a Sia avatar gorgeously freaking out in a decrepit apartment, is going into the vault with the most memorable videos of this decade. Justin Bieber could have released a hand-wringing, sad-boy video portrait for his dancefloor tearjerker “Sorry,” but instead he got a gaggle of colorfully dressed female dancers to get down to his pain. Synthpop band Pillar Point enlisted artist Kia Labeija to vogue around Bogotá for their stunning “Dove” music video.

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