Long before the recent releases of Taylor Swift’s supermodel-packed, Lena Dunham-guesting “Bad Blood” video, Jenny Lewis’ “She’s Not Me” (featuring Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer), or Hozier’s “Someone New” (Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer), actors were slumming it in music videos.
And we’re not just talking about the ultra-memorable ones, like Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” with Christopher Walken, Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” and its pre-self-caricature Johnny Depp lead performance, or Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, which introduced Courteney Cox a full decade before before she achieved sitcom super-stardom (the Petty video also includes a blink-and-you’ll miss-it Matt LeBlanc cameo, so there are Friends everywhere). Here are more than a dozen familiar faces in music projects you may have forgotten or — especially in the case of a special bonus track at the end — may never even have known existed.
JENNIFER LOPEZ, “JENNY FROM THE BLOCK”
Featuring Ben Affleck
Say you’re part of an engaged super-couple with a one-word tabloid nickname. If you’re the man, you’re mocked for being nothing but a celebrity boyfriend. If you’re the megastar female singer with a working-class background, you get the rap of having gone Hollywood. What’s the best way to handle it? Well, J.Lo’s approach was to record a song trumpeting that she hadn’t changed at all, getting the other half of “Bennifer,” Ben Affleck, to costar in this 2002 video. The humorless spectacle aimed at helping fans understand how really, really hard it is to be famous, wealthy, and in love totally worked, if “worked” means that fifteen months later the couple was no more and J.Lo was trying to get the video pulled from circulation.
THE ROLLING STONES, “ANYBODY SEEN MY BABY”
Featuring Angelina Jolie
In the years before Gia and Girl, Interrupted made her a star, Angelina Jolie guested in more than a few music videos. Two of the most notable serve utterly forgettable songs by past-their-prime rock stars: the Rolling Stones’ 1997 “Anybody Seen My Baby” and Meat Loaf���s 1993 “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through.” The Stones song is a little better, and its video — in which a lingerie-clad Jolie flees a wildly gesticulating Mick Jagger in 1990s New York City — is directed by Samuel Bayer with some of the same techniques he used in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Dreams,” on the other hand, has the inimitable M. Loaf in dual roles of mean dad and helpful fortuneteller, with Jolie as a teenage runaway (Jolie as an escapee was apparently an aging-rocker fetish). It’s directed by a pre-Bad Boys Michael Bay, whose trademark visual style is already on display here.
ED SHEERAN, “LEGO HOUSE”
Featuring Rupert Grint
Just months after the release of the last of the Harry Potter films, loveable Ron Weasley starred in this, the sweetest video about an obsessive fan stalking his idol that you’ll ever see. Sheeran near-lookalike Grint at first seems to be an avatar for the star, lip-synching the song, playing his guitar, picking out an outfit for a concert, and so on, before a dark, King of Comedy-style turn winds up with him being led past the real Sheeran by security. The 2011 video has very few actual Legos in it, but in case the false-advertising worries you, there’s also a split-screen with an all-Lego re-creation out there.
GUNS N’ ROSES, “SINCE I DON’T HAVE YOU”
Featuring Gary Oldman
Before his late-career renaissance in franchises like the Dark Knight trilogy and the Harry Potter series (not to mention less-merchandise-oriented films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Gary Oldman spent the 1990s playing villains. But Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, a Russian terrorist in Air Force One, and the titular vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula don’t hold a candle to the weirdness of this 1993 G-n-R video where Oldman plays the Devil alongside Axl Rose, Slash, and co. Oldman doesn’t have any lines, but soulful looks from Axl, a remarkably disengaged performance by Slash, and a lot of leg plus some implied girl-demon-on-girl-demon sex make this one to watch.
Featuring Bruce Willis
If you thought the movie Twelve Monkeys was a cruel tease because star Bruce Willis doesn’t really spend any appreciable time on screen with monkeys, this 2010 video might be as close as you’ll get to satisfaction. You can almost see Willis calculating his pay per minute (check at around 2:44 in) as he drives a cool car and shoots gorillas — yes, I know gorillas and monkeys are different — in this baffling story of car chases, cops eating donuts, rubber masks, a shadow creature that could have been cut from Game of Thrones, and a driving EDM beat.
Featuring Jeremy Renner
BOB DYLAN, “WHEN THE DEAL GOES DOWN”
Featuring Scarlett Johansson
ELTON JOHN, “I WANT LOVE”
Featuring Robert Downey Jr.
It’s the Avengers before they were Avengers in this uneven trio of videos. The 2003 Pink video, showcasing Renner as the most unconvincing western tough guy you’ll find outside of Times Square’s Naked Cowboy doesn’t make much of a case for the future Hawkeye’s talents — though his near-perpetual smirk is already in evidence — and while the 2006 Dylan video certainly shows that ScarJo is stunningly beautiful (even in non-glam settings), that wasn’t exactly news to anyone, even nine years ago. The 2001 Elton John video, on the other hand, was and is a revelation, starring a pre-Iron Man, deep-in-career-nadir RDJ in a lip-synching tour de force that reminded audiences of the actor’s remarkable talents, even though he doesn’t utter a word.
BROKEN BELLS, “THE GHOST INSIDE”
Featuring Christina Hendricks
Mad Men’s pneumatic redhead dons a pretty unsexy jumpsuit — and literally loses an arm (well, a hand) and a leg — in this 2010 video from Broken Bells. The musical duo and director Jacob Gentry juxtapose 1970s’-style sci-fi effects and glamour lighting from the Golden Age of Hollywood in this dreamy video, and the luminous Hendricks, like Robert Downey Jr. elsewhere in this list, sells the whole enterprise without saying a thing.
P. DIDDY, “BAD BOY FOR LIFE”
Featuring Ben Stiller
The words “Diddy” and “comedy” have never been less synonymous than in this video, which follows Diddy and friends bringing their nouveau-riche/gangsta style (hitting golf balls off a balcony into a neighbor’s house — hilarious!) to an extremely white neighborhood. It might (and I stress the might) have been funny in the ‘90s, but “Bad Boy” dropped in 2001, and this cameo-stuffed, slowly paced slog is all kinds of self-indulgent, though at least Stiller’s angry-but-wanting-to-be-one-of-the-gang neighbor performance (“shout me a holla, dog”) includes some nice mocking of the then ever-name-changing Sean Combs. The video takes an extra turn for the inexplicable as then-Access Hollywood host Pat O’ Brien guests as an ecstatically voyeuristic neighbor.
DON JOHNSON, “HEARTBEAT”
Featuring Paul Shaffer
The absolute weirdest video on this list is for the title track of Miami Vice actor Don Johnson’s 1986 album. Johnson was arguably at the peak of his stubble-sporting Sonny Crockett fame when “Heartbeat” became the #5 single in the country. What makes this video something special isn’t the music (shocking), but rather that, unlike videos which pair musicians with guest actors, “Heartbeat” flips the script, and actor Johnson is joined by David Letterman’s musical director Paul Shaffer in an acting role. Did Shaffer, who co-wrote the Weather Girls hit “It’s Raining Men,” have some behind-the-scenes role in the creation of the song “Heartbeat”? Nope. He’s just here to help girl-obsessed news photographer Johnson look at pictures of a pretty girl Johnson is obsessed with finding. Unsurprisingly, as an actor, Shaffer makes a great bandleader. More surprisingly, as a singer, Johnson makes a terrible actor, though he brings a lot of intensity to staring at photo negatives.