Ever since Michael Jackson and Madonna became early masters of the form, rigorously choreographed dance routines have become de rigueur for a pop star’s music video. So much so that you could even argue that for a time in the ’80s and ’90s around MTV’s peak power, certain pop stars and groups’ success rested more on their dancing ability than their singing or musical abilities. It makes sense. Music makes you want to dance, and acts have four minutes of airtime to fill up in a video. Dancing is a natural ability to show off to fill up that time.
But not every musician is gifted with the added fancy footwork ability of Gregory Hines or Fred Astaire. Sometimes their dance moves are about on par with those of your Aunt Linda’s at an open bar wedding. Sure, there are other things to do in a music video, but if your career goes on long enough, eventually the time will come for you to pull some sort of 1-2 step on camera. So do you do if you didn’t find time in between your childhood piano and singing lessons to also master modern tap? Well, you can always just pull off intentionally goofy dance moves.
Take Taylor Swift for example, her move away from country and into full on pop has meant she’s had to embrace a bit of choreography at some point. Save for a pretty earnest Todrick Hall-assisted breakdown in “Look What You Made Me Do,” she’s mostly taken to the intentionally goofy dance move route. It started with “Shake It Off,” and continued over the weekend with her “Delicate” video. Though, she’s not the first to play the game. There’s a long history of hilariously (but intentionally) bad dancing in music videos. Here, a GIF-assisted history of some of the biggest moment of intentionally goofy dancing in music videos. Mind you, we do mean “goofy,” and not “intentionally artsy,” so Kate Bush and Sia haters can stand down.
The Bangals’ Accidental Hit Dance in “Walk Like an Egyptian”
The Bangals were a bonafide poprock band who formed in Los Angeles underground scene. After breaking through to the mainstream with the Prince-written track “Manic Monday,” they had a followup with the far less serious hit “Walk Like an Egyptian.” The song was not actually written to touch off a novelty dance trend, and yet the lyrics basically called out for one. So what do you get? Four female musicians pulled from out behind their guitars and drums, and put in front a green screen in questionably appropriative garb to do some early awkward dancing.
Any One Direction Dance Move Ever
One Direction inherited the boyband throne world at a time when it had been unclaimed for some time, so they were free to reinvent what that meant. They weren’t expected to dance for our pleasure in the way that the Backstreet Boys and B2Ks of the world had, and they seemed to have no real interest in it either, though they weren’t afraid to, as the English say, take the piss out of the notion of dancing boybands. So whether it was in videos like “Best Song Ever,” on stage, or in behind the scenes videos, they racked up quite a few moments of intentionally goofy dancing.
David Byrne Going to Town in Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”
Talking Heads have always known the power of a good visual and a good beat, so, sure, a dance-based video makes sense. Though, it turns out David Byrne was not a Prince-level dancer. The video for the band’s biggest hit features Byrne doing stilted dance moves as both lead and backup in a bizarro style that would certainly come to inform so much of what we see on Adult Swim and random web ephemera now a days.
Psy’s Gallup in “Gangham Style”
Unlike a lot of people on this list, Psy can pull off intense choreography pretty aptly, but the KPop stars galloping moves in “Gangham Style” were delightfully bonkers enough to make him a worldwide star.
Drake’s Dad Moves in “Hotline Bling”
Hmmm, does Drake actually intend for his dance moves to be intentionally goofy? Think about it too long, and maybe you’ll give yourself a headache and actually start to think Drake is a good dancer. He certainly pulls them off with cool confidence as if that were the case. “Hotline Bling”‘s dad moves were legion, but Drake never intentionally winked at the camera to let you know he was in on it. So, we’ll never know.
Paul Simon and Chevy Chase in “Call Me Al”
For Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al” was a major music video milestone. For Millennials it may be the video most synonymous with VH1’s “Pop Up Videos.” For Gen Z-ers, well, they may just be finding out about it right now. Whatever the case, the Chevy Chase-assisted video’s bad dance moves are legendary.
Thom Yorke going Beyoncé in “Lotus Flower”
It is a testement to the respect the world generally holds for the Radiohead leader that we let him get away with this.
LMFAO’s Speedo Style “Sexy and I Know It”
Pretty much everything about this band was intentionally goofy. Including this.
Most Die Antwoord Choreography
Suddenly we’re starting to question how much of a difference there is between LMFAO and Die Antwoord when you really think about it.
Katy Perry Calls in Help in “Swish Swish”
Katy Perry is not a Janet Jackson-level dancer, and for the most part she isn’t trying to be. While she’s fine with being goofy in other ways, she’s never gone full on goofy in the dance department, though got close with her “Swish, Swish” video.
Most Eric Wareheim-directed Videos, Including Flying Lotus’ NSFW “Parisian Goldfish”
One half of Adult Swim’s Time & Eric, Eric Wareheim found a nice side gig as a goto music video producers for indie bands and leftfield dance acts. Bad dancing has become an ouvre-defining trademark.
Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” and the Work of Spike Jonez
Though, Warheim is not the undisputed directoral master of bizarre dance videos. That title belongs firmly to Spike Jonez. Indeed, fans on Twitter pounced on the similarities between Swift’s “Delicate” and a perfume ad the director made for Kenzo. That ad, in turn, was something of a spiritual sequel to his landmark Christopher Walken-starring clip for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice.”
Though, one could argue that Walken’s footwork in that video was, actually, pretty good. In any event, that video was proceeded by another Fatboy Slim clip for “Praise You.” It starred the otherwise lowkey director himself as “Richard Koufey,” the leader of the fictional Torrance Community Dance Group, as tried to pull off a very strange flash mob in public. It cost just $800 to produce, but the video one three Moonmen, including Best Choreography, at that year’s VMAs.