Ever since the early 1980s and the introduction of MTV, musicians have been releasing videos to accompany their singles. It’s hard to imagine Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Beyoncé’s Single Ladies without their famous videos, right?

There are so many stunning music videos from the 21st century, but there’s one particular genre that we want to highlight today—animated music videos. Since MTV made the shift from mostly showcasing popular music videos to airing series and reality television, most viewers can check out the best animated music videos on YouTube.

Some of the very first songs with animated music videos can be traced back to Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies (1929–1939).

The series of 75 musical short films combined playful cartoon animations with synchronized music, inspiring future generations of music-loving animators. Throughout the '80s, '90s, and early '00s, bands and musicians of all genres released iconic animated music videos that are still loved today.

As the new millennium progressed, the popularity of animated music videos dwindled in favor of high-production, live-action visuals. For those of you who watched MTV growing up, you’ll probably always remember the iconic music videos from Britney Spears, Fat Boy Slim, Blink 182, and others.

Flash forward to the current day, and animation has made a comeback with some impressively elaborate music videos.

Animated video clips experienced a recent boom in popularity during the pandemic when in-person shoots weren’t possible. Check out our mix of motion graphics videos and straight-up trippy cartoons below. You’ll be dancing in no time.

Artists like Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, and The Weekend all embraced the meticulous art form to personify their artistic lyrics with cartoon characters and fantasy worlds.

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Accidents Will Happen

Released in 1979, Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Accidents Will Happen was the first animated music video on MTV.

It was made by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, who created a cartoon version of the band using 35mm stills as reference. The video also features animations of common accidents, such as burnt toast and a broken teacup.

Later, the accidents become less innocent, including melting ice caps and a nuclear missile being launched. The video for Accidents Will Happen was met with a mixed response from audiences. 

Accidents Will Happen inspired a visually focused conversation that threw up a bank of ideas to do with accidents—from the mundane domestic, to the catastrophic no-going-back. Accidents, of course, can be ‘accidents,’ which is what we are wrangling with now, 40 years later—in the current political climate.”—Annabel Jankel, Film and TV Director, on AWN

A-ha - Take On Me

The video for a-ha’s famous Take on Me song was created by director Steve Barron and animators Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger. The team used a technique called rotoscoping, which involves tracing over live-action footage frame by frame.

The resulting Take on Me drawing style of the animation makes this a-ha video iconic, but it was no easy feat to produce. It took four months for Patterson and Reckinger to complete a total of 2,000 drawings. 

Since its debut, the video has racked up a whopping 1.9 billion views and has been remastered in 4K for fans to enjoy.

Radiohead - Paranoid Android

Radiohead commissioned animator Magnus Carlsson, the Swedish creator of the animated series Robin, to make the video for Paranoid Android.

This is one of the more graphic music videos made as animation in its time.

The whacky and colorful animation tells the story of two friends who travel the world and get into all kinds of trouble.

“You can watch Paranoid Android a hundred times and not figure it all out.”—Lewis Largent, former MTV Vice President of Music, on Spin

Daft Punk – One More Time

The music video for One More Time features scenes that later formed part of Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, a 2003 anime film featuring the soundtrack of Daft Punk’s Discovery album.

Directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi under the visual supervision of Leiji Matsumoto, the animation features a band of blue-skinned aliens performing the One More Time song to a crowd on their planet. Towards the end, ominous invaders from another planet crash the party.

Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood

One of the most iconic bands famous for its animations is, of course, Gorillaz. Fans know that the band consists of four fictional animated singers, so it’s no surprise their music videos are animated, too.

The famed anime music video style of the Gorillaz is instantly recognizable worldwide.

Debuting in March 2001, one of the band’s most popular videos is for their track, Clint Eastwood. Jamie Hewlett and Pete Candeland directed it, featuring the cartoon band members playing music against a white backdrop.

As the song progresses, the backdrop slowly develops into a dark and stormy cemetery where zombie gorilla hands rise up from the ground.

Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala released a music video in 2012 for Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, which was designed and directed by Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling.

The colorful film is made up of over 1,000 separate, hand-made Plasticine collages that make up each frame, making it quite a trip for viewers.

Lorn - Anvil

The music video for Lorn’s Anvil was made by Hélène Jeudy and Antoine Caëcke (of GERIKO). The black-and-white animation explores a dystopian future when, in the year 2100, overpopulation results in universal loneliness and a robot takeover. 

“Working with Lorn’s music is just incredible. Images come out immediately, it’s very inspiring. His compositions are very cinematographic and convey a strong narrative.”—GERIKO, Visual Artists and Filmmakers, interview with WePresent

Dan Deacon -When I Was Done Dying

The video for When I Was Done Dying by Dan Deacon features animation by nine unique animators:

  • Chad VanGaalen (Canadian musician and artist)
  • Jake Fried (artist-turned-animator)
  • KOKOFREAKBEAN (animator, illustrator, and creative director)
  • Anthony Francisco Schepperd (Webby award-winning animator)
  • Caleb Wood (animation artist and game creator)
  • Taras Hrabowsky (Adult Swim animator)
  • Dimitri Stankowicz (Paris-based animator)
  • Colin White (animator)
  • Masanobu Hiraoka (Japanese animator)

In the video, a cast of colorful characters go on a trippy journey through the afterlife.

Portishead - The Rip

Portishead commissioned Nick Uff to make their animated music video for The Rip. Uff was working as a gardener at the time and made animated shorts in his spare time.

The animation's surreal, somewhat disturbing scenes were entirely hand-drawn, frame by frame.

“I don't storyboard my ideas, but let the films go where they take themselves. There's all sorts of ideas in there—things that have happened, a bit of social comment—like a stream of consciousness you could say.”—Nick Uff, Head Animator for The Rip, in Bournemouth Echo

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The White Stripes - Fell In Love With A Girl

The music video for Fell in Love With a Girl is a stop-motion LEGO animation directed by Michel Gondry. It features Gondry’s own son, who starts building LEGO blocks at the beginning of the video.

The red, white, black, and yellow blocks then start to take on a life of their own, becoming LEGO versions of the band members playing instruments. LEGO didn’t sponsor the video. Instead, the White Stripes invested in all the LEGO themselves.

Pearl Jam - Do the Evolution

The animated music video for Do the Evolution was co-directed by Kevin Altieri and Todd McFarlane and produced by Joe Pearson, the president of Epoch Ink animation, and Terry Fitzgerald at TME. Over four weeks, a team of more than 100 artists worked to deliver the finished animation.

It begins by telling the story of evolution, from the “big bang” and the smallest cell to the extinction of dinosaurs to the beginning of mankind. The video then cuts back and forth throughout human history, detailing violent wars and criminal activity.

The poignant, animated video depicts humankind as brutal and unchanging throughout the ages.

Billie Eilish - my future

My Future was directed by Australian director Andrew Onorato and produced by the Australian animation company Chop Studio.

It features an animated Billie Eilish character wandering alone through a twinkling forest at night in the rain while she contemplates her future. During the second verse, the sun rises, the rain stops, and the forest begins to bloom in full color. Tree roots and branches wrap around Eilish’s character, and she’s lifted into the sky.

Billie Eilish - you should see me in a crown

Billie Eilish collaborated with legendary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to create her animated music video for you should see in a crown. It features Billie as an animated character inside a cyberpunk world, along with the singer’s Blohsh figures and Murakami’s signature Flowers.

“Eight months from start to finish, I sprinted throughout the production process with my animation team, striving to realize Billie’s vision in an unprecedented way.”—Takashi Murakami, Artist, interview with Billboard

Ezra Furman - Every Feeling

The official music video for Ezra Furman’s song Every Feeling was directed and animated by Sivan Kidron. According to her, the hypnotizing purple and pink animation is inspired by “an up-all-night feeling and American motel rooms.”

The video showcases various repetitive scenes, which were used strategically by Kidron. 

“I use repetition in movements to intensify their emotional effect, and to tell a story through it. It interests me to build a rhythm or a composition that tells a story while expressing emotion, from repetitive elements.”—Sivan Kidron, Animation Filmmaker, interview with It’s Nice That

Kanye West - Heartless

The music video for Heartless was directed and produced by Hype Williams. Taking inspiration from Ralph Bakshi's film American Pop (1981), the animated video for Heartless was born.

Williams first shot real footage of Kanye West, now known as “Ye,” and used the rotoscoping technique to render an animated version of the artist.

Williams also employed the help of 65 animators in Hong Kong to draw over every cel. Amazingly, the team had only ten days to deliver the entire video after the original footage was shot. They worked around the clock to finish it, resulting in over 3,000 frames of hand-drawn animation, plus background artwork.

Kanye West - Good Morning

For the music video for Good Morning, Ye enlisted the artistry of Takashi Murakami. It was made in Murakami’s Superflat style, a post-modern art movement influenced by Japanese manga and anime.

The animated short features Dropout Bear, Ye's teddy bear mascot, who journeys through a futuristic, pastel-colored city.

The music video for Good Morning is considered one of Ye’s most artistic videos and was met with universal acclaim from fans and critics.

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Elton John, Dua Lipa - Cold Heart

Filmmaker, animator, and illustrator Raman Djafari (of Blinkink) directed the video for Dua Lipa and Elton John’s Cold Heart.

He and his team combined 3D and hand-drawn art styles to create a psychedelic world where surreal cartoon characters and animated versions of pop superstars dance through a glittering galaxy.

“The video’s glamourous, sci-fi setting is full of celebration, dance and joy. We wanted to evoke a post-lockdown feeling to get back to a place where we can once again enjoy and feel music together in a fresh 2021-kind-of-way.”—Raman Djafari, Filmmaker, Animator, and Illustrator, interview with It’s Nice That

The Chemical Brothers - The Darkness That You Fear

Another experimental take on animation is found in the video for The Darkness That You Fear by The Chemical Brothers.

Directed by Ruffmercy and produced by My Accomplice, the video combines archive rave footage from the '90s with hand-drawn animation and textures.

Want to see more?

When it comes to music videos, more and more musicians and bands are opting to bring their songs to life with 2D animation. The playful trend is not only fun for us music fans to watch but also means more of today’s animators are getting jobs doing what they do best.

There are many different animation styles. But no matter which technique is used, animators, illustrators, and cartoonists prove that the genre is a powerful narrative tool. Musicians and visual artists can work together to visualize their magical worlds that pulse to the sound of their own beat.

This list features only a few of the best animated videos we love, which have been made beautifully captivating thanks to some incredible artists.

If you’re looking to become the next best animator, there are various resources to help you on your way. Becoming a successful animator will require hard work, dedication, and all the practice your time allows. You also need the right tools.

Ready to learn how to make animated music videos? Linearity Move is one of the best tools to bring your ideas to life. Get started for free below, or check out our Pro and Org pricing.

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Frequently asked questions

What are some common mistakes to avoid when making a music video?

Music videos are an artform. As with any artform, anything goes. As freeing (and as daunting) as this may be, there are a few guidelines to keep your project on track and ensure that you aren’t falling behind. These include:

  • Conceptualize: Ensure you map out, if even roughly, a concept so that you’re well aware of the direction needed during the project.
  • Create a timeline: To keep your project flowing, you’ll need to set a realistic timeline that allows you (and your team) to complete the project steps. This will also ensure the project remains active and the creative momentum isn’t lost.
  • Using the right tools: Whether you’re an experienced animator or you’re testing the waters, using the best equipment and software will mean the difference between a good outcome and a great one.
  • Keep creating: Ensure that you keep your ideas with you - you never know when inspiration may strike, and you want to create on the go.

Are music videos considered visual art?

Music videos aren’t necessarily considered examples of traditional visual art, but they’re certainly an artform taken in by sight and appreciated by many.

How many types of animation videos are there?

There are many types of animation videos. Typically, they’re named after the process used to create them, e.g., claymation, traditional cel animation, cutout animation, etc. The most well-known animation videos are 2D animation, 3D animation, and stop motion. 

The global animation industry has experienced a remarkable evolution over the years. Once primarily associated with children's cartoons, animation has expanded its reach to include various genres, such as feature films, television shows, video games, advertising, and immersive experiences.

What are anime music videos called?

An anime music video, also called an “AMV,” is often fan-produced to match the music. There are multiple types of anime drawing styles, and this term doesn’t single out any of them. AMV can also refer to "animated music videos," so it’s important to highlight context when referring to the abbreviation.

Our list of the best animated music videos on YouTube | Linearity
Our list of the best animated music videos on YouTube | Linearity