For decades, the idea of the apocalypse has been constantly touched on in pop culture, and music videos have never been immune to catching that dystopian fever.
Most recently, Taylor Swift battles herself in a Ghost in the Shell-inspired music video for “…Ready For It,” where Swift goes full sci-fi with her lasers, clones and AI.
But Swift isn’t the first artist to create her own future. From Britney Spears to Arcade Fire to Janet Jackson’s classic “Rhythm Nation” video, establishing one’s version of a post-apocalyptic universe has been a hot trend in music videos for a while.
Here are 10 other post-apocalyptic music videos that came before “…Ready For It.”
Perhaps the gold standard of post-apocalyptic pop music videos, Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” is, and forever will be, a standout. Taking place in a dim factory, and shot in black and white—Jackson leads a cool militia through some of the most memorable choreography in music video history. The video proves that if the future seems bleak, at least it will be funky under Jackson’s command.
This isn’t Britney Spears’ first attempt at a post-apocalyptic music video. In what seems to be the prequel to “I’m a Slave 4 U” with its bombed out cityscape, tattered outfits and quasi-militaristic dance choreography, Spears and her troupe jump into the sewers as meteors and solar flares plague the planet. Released in 2011 but set on December 21, 2012, the video was an obvious play on people’s fears of the “Mayan doomsday.”
The Mayans may have gotten it wrong, but Spears’ take on the end of the world, while drawing parallels to the underground rave scene in the second Matrix movie, somehow works.
Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” is not your typical post-apocalyptic music video. Directed by Spike Jonze (Jackass, Her, Where The Wild Things Are), this video takes a darker turn on a dystopian future by keeping it realistic. Jonze turns a modern, typical suburban landscape into a war zone, flipping the scales of America as kids ride bikes past military blockades and masked armed forces. The result is chilling, hinting that the apocalypse may already be slowly happening.
There aren’t many dystopian pop videos from the 90s—maybe because back then, the future seemed a lot more cool and optimistic. However, the Spice Girls went against the grain with the visuals for “Spice Up Your Life.” Set in a grimy and rainy Blade Runner-esque world, the quintet seems to have taken control of humanity, encouraging every boy and every girl to spice things up.
Best known for that famous machine gun bra, the “Alejandro” video is a stunning take on Fritz Lang’s 1927 expressionist masterpiece Metropolis. Filled with homoerotic dancing men, weapons and dark cinematography, the “Alejandro” music video is a post-apocalyptic world of classic Gaga antics.
According to indie-pop band Foster the People, the end of the world includes futuristic kids running amok, deriving their power from electricity in a lawless world.
Set in the year 2095, California has never looked so Mad Max under 2Pac and Dr. Dre. The two party like it’s the end of the world in the sci-fi wastelands of the West Coast. As one of the earlier depictions of a dystopian music video, “California Love” may not have the most convincing effects but any future with these two hip-hop icons leading the militia is intriguing enough.
Whether they play to the reality of the now or take inspiration from classic sci-fi films, sometimes there are zombies when it’s the end of the world. And sometimes Rihanna is the Queen of the Zombies, and we’re OK with that.
Set only a couple years from now in 2019, My Chemical Romance attempts to take back the world as some sort of scrappy superhero group called the Fabulous Killjoys. The company Better Living Industries has taken over the world and these colourfully dressed, laser gun-equipped vigilantes have had enough. The music video plays more like a short film with one part fantasy and another part plausible reality.
Fifth Harmony’s music videos are always fierce, and “That’s My Girl” is no exception. Essentially Mad Max: Fury Road meets The Hunger Games, this one is set in a crumbling city in the desert, where girls rule all. The song’s lyrics remind females to keep working hard and always be proud of their accomplishments, and although the video’s treatment is pretty different, it’s still empowering in its own right.