Five clips that embody the decade’s love of futurism, from TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ to Michael and Janet Jackson’s ‘Scream’
If you have a look back at your favourite 90s music videos, chances are at least one of them will have a slick, sci-fi aesthetic. From robot love stories to epic, zero-gravity tubes, the decade’s obsession with everything futuristic was pervasive, first finding its roots in pop, and swiftly infiltrating hip-hop’s visual landscape thereafter.
Director Mark Romanek can be considered an early pioneer of this style, kicking off with Madonna’s brilliantly surreal “Bedtime Story” before scoring another career highlight with Michael and Janet Jackson’s incredibly iconic “Scream” video, which was set on a giant spaceship. Hype Williams then picked up where Romanev left off, introducing avant-garde sci-fi visuals into the world of rap through his creative relationship with hip hop visionary Missy Elliott. The famously forward-facing and tech-obsessed Björk took a more left-field approach, commissioning video artist Chris Cunningham to create one of music’s most famous cyborg sex scenes for “All Is Full Of Love”.
Since then, the space-age influence of the 90s has endured and evolved, from Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” to Ciara’s “I’m out (ft. Nicki Minaj)” To celebrate a trend that was as garish as it was fun, we dived into some of the best sci-fi visual creations to have beamed out of the 90s.
MADONNA – “BEDTIME STORY” (1994)
Acting as a blueprint for the 90s’ brand of futurism, Madonna’s “Bedtime Story” video is so influential that it is part of a permanent collection at New York’s MoMA. Naturally, Madonna’s take on the theme incorporates more than just a metallic colour palette – the conceptual 4-minute clip fuses Surrealism and Sufism, featuring whirling dervish dancers (characteristic of the Sufi religion) and visual nods to artists such as Leonora Carrington. A fitting accompaniment to the song’s minimal production and trance background, the video eschews the obvious and instead relies on undulating CGI sunflowers and computer-generated birds for its sci-fi edge. Both the song and visual are largely credited as a turning point in the icon’s lengthy career, marking her first foray into the electronic soundscape that would later dominate 1998’s William Orbit-produced “Ray of Light”.
MICHAEL & JANET JACKSON – “SCREAM” (1995)
Legend has it that this sci-fi extravaganza was the most expensive video of all time, costing around $7m to produce. Although director Mark Romanek disputes this claim, it’s undeniable that the epic video was worth the money. Set in a gigantic shiny spaceship, the brother-sister duo don matching holographic turtlenecks to play video games, pull angry faces at the camera and smash a few expensive vases. In the background, a giant LCD screen flashes up a series of cartoon clips which range from Japanese anime through to Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum. The song was famously a response to the media backlash MJ received in 1993, featuring the lyrics “stop pressuring me / you make me want to scream”, and the appearance of his younger sister was exemplary of a superstar family sticking together, uniting despite adversity to create one of the most iconic clips of all time. Read more about how it was made here.
BJÖRK – “ALL IS FULL OF LOVE” (1997)
Like most moments in Björk’s career, there’s a brilliant story behind the Icelandic musician’s glitteringly space-age “All Is Full Of Love” video. After being intrigued by Chris Cunningham’s visual work for the likes of Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, the singer arranged a meeting, in which she arrived armed only with a series of prints from the Chinese Kama Sutra. Her reasoning was simple – she linked the song to sex, as did Cunningham, but portraying this in a way that would remain uncensored by mainstream channels proved challenging. The agreed solution was to forego human actors entirely, instead creating two cyborg lovers to get up close and personal on screen. Despite the progressive, futuristic aesthetic, the duo succeed in introducing an element of humanity – the narrative of the clip attributes human emotions to these robots, essentially mirroring the song itself which teams heartfelt vocals with sweeping electronic synth lines. Not only are the visuals slick and hyper-realistic, they are also era-defining, serving as the ideal accompaniment to Björk’s cyber geisha look on the Homogenic album cover.
MISSY ELLIOTT – “SHE’S A BITCH” (1999)
Not only is Missy Elliott a criminally underrated feminist icon, she is also a visual pioneer. Her elaborate video concepts and avant-garde looks were arguably one of the driving forces behind commercial hip hop’s embrace of slick, forward-thinking fashion. The rapper first explored a sci-fi aesthetic in the 1997 video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”, directed by Hype Williams and featuring the sartorial equivalent of an inflatable PVC bin bag. Williams returned in 1999 to work with Elliott again on the spectacular “She’s A Bitch”, the first single from her second album. Following on from her sci-fi beginnings, Elliott this time took futurism to the next level with an LED tracksuit which, when filmed against a mammoth light installation, allowed the rapper to literally become part of the set. Another shot sees Elliott and airbrushed completely black, clad in a latex tracksuit and embellished with rhinestones – a look which, according to this behind the scenes clip, took hours and hours to achieve.
TLC – “NO SCRUBS” (1999)
“No Scrubs” is, in many ways, more than just a song. It’s an anthem for women mistreated by men below their standards and the ultimate sassy clapback to sleazy guys in the club. It seems fitting that an iconic song be accompanied by an equally iconic video – the trio turned to established director Hype Williams for cinematography, a man who, at that time, had already racked up credits for Mariah Carey, Foxy Brown and Tupac. The resulting visuals are slick and arresting, set against a futuristic backdrop emblazoned with the band’s name. In keeping with the song’s theme of empowerment, the girls collectively they dance, shake and slap their butts throughout a 4-minute clip, light years ahead of their contemporaries. Despite the questionable outfit choices (the tin foil halter tops and laser beam belt buckles are just two examples), the video has continued to stand the test of time, proving emblematic of the sci-fi craze that swept the music world throughout the decade.