From the crumbling backlots of The Bronx in the early 1980s to the dizzying heights of the modern Manhattan skyline, the urban clamour of New York City has always been a visceral visual backdrop for its iconic music scene.
These 11 videos span the decades and show the Big Apple from a multitude of angles, with all its grit and glitz included…
Blondie – Rapture (1981)
The first rap video on MTV was a product of its environment: shot in the heart of the East Village it moves from the streets to a curious studio mock-up of a stereotypical NYC alley, with a graffiti artist to boot.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – The Message (1982)
The hard-hitting social commentary of this landmark hip hop track was matched by the unflinching footage of burned out tenement buildings, claustrophobic streets and the poverty that gripped The Bronx in the early 1980s.
Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)
Martin Scorsese’s blockbuster video caught MJ at the height of his pop powers, throwing shapes in the Hoyt–Schermerhorn subway in Brooklyn. The full 18-minute film paints an even broader picture of Brooklyn in all its dishevelled 1980s glory.
Sting – Englishman In New York (1988)
New York is not just a city of mean streets – David Fincher’s snow-capped vision of the city in the winter is one of opulence and wealth. From Tiffany & Co to the Empire State Building, upscale cafés to grand hotels, this video finds Sting cruising round 5th Avenue and the finer side of 1980s Manhattan.
Björk – Big Time Sensuality (1993)
Nothing communicates the spine-tingling rush of Manhattan in all its grandeur quite like Björk’s infamous cruise down Broadway in the shadow of apartment buildings, skyscrapers and theatres. ‘I was in a taxi stuck in traffic midtown, playing the song, and it was a perfect match,’ said director Stéphane Sednaoui of his inspiration for the video.
Dinosaur Jr – Feel The Pain (1994)
This breezy slice of mid-tempo rock from J Mascis’ perennial grungers finds Spike Jonze framing New York in a sun-kissed, saturated light. The urban golfing antics feature plenty of familiar Manhattan vistas, but it’s the lush green landscape of Central Park that really shines in this video.
New Radicals – You Get What You Give (1998)
In the same way Tom Petty immortalised a 1980s LA shopping centre in ‘Free Fallin’, one hit wonders New Radicals positively championed mall culture in their fleeting spotlight moment. Staten Island Mall was the location of choice, with the band performing in front of one of the complex’s many ‘dancing fountains’ amidst the choreographed teenage hi-jinks.
Ryan Adams – New York, New York (2001)
From Grand Central Station to Wall Street, this video features plenty of NYC landmarks but there’s no escaping the Twin Towers in the background of Adams’ performance under Brooklyn Bridge, filmed just four days before 9/11. ‘You couldn’t take a photograph of New York back then without the Towers being in there. It was always the way to frame your photograph,’ said Adams.
The White Stripes – The Hardest Button To Button (2003)
One of Michel Gondry’s most famous music videos centres around Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Park in Upper West Side Manhattan. When they’re not playing under the steel girders of the Riverside Drive Viaduct, Jack and Meg White can also be seen weaving in and out of a train at the 33rd Street PATH station.
Beastie Boys – An Open Letter to NYC (2005)
The Beasties show off their home turf in this romp through all five boroughs. Cruising under the elevated train line in Queens, indulging in stop motion on the steps at Grand Central – this is as comprehensive a tour of New York as you’re likely to see in four minutes.
Blood Orange – Augustine (2016)
The video to Devonté Hynes’ swooning, 1980s-tinged ballad casts modern day New York in a sultry summer light. As he vogues to the sunset, plays piano in an empty Brownstone apartment and eats jerk chicken, Hynes celebrates the city as a melting pot of culture, creed and sexual self-expression.
Do you agree with our selection? Or have we missed your favourite music video set in the Big Apple? Let us know.
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