The 20 Best Music Videos Ever Shot in Los Angeles
For bands and music video directors, L.A. is a seemingly limitless visual playground. Mountains and beaches; grimy urban landscapes and tranquil parks; ornate, historic theaters and sleazy strip clubs — our sprawling city contains multitudes, and from the classic days of early MTV to the YouTube era, recording artists and their visual collaborators have taken full advantage.
Hundreds of videos filmed on location in Los Angeles have since achieved iconic status, so narrowing those down to a list of just 20 is the sort of fool's errand we couldn't resist. In compiling our picks, we considered not just the quality of each video and the song it accompanies, but also how much L.A. itself plays a role in the final product.
If you'd like to learn more about these 20 videos and where they were filmed, check out the slideshow in which photographer Jared Cowan tracked down many of the most recognizable (and in some cases, unrecognizable) locations. And if we left out your favorite L.A. video, let us know in the comments.
20. YG, “I’m Good”
“I’m Good,” like the best rap videos, succeeds in spite of its nonlinearity. First, the police (of course) chase YG from a liquor store. In subsequent frames, when he’s not rapping on the Compton Creek bike path, he’s back in front of said store and still wearing a Kevin Durant jersey. From the constant motion to the quick cuts between frames, the energy is undeniable. “I’m Good” marked the birth of the ratchet sound, and its video offers a glimpse of the city that rallied around it. Shots of Compton High School, the Compton Courthouse, and the now shuttered Compton Fashion Center temper scenes at the home where Mustard and YG probably recorded their earliest work. The original “Mustard on the beat ho” arrives at the end. - Max Bell
19. OK Go, “End Love”
OK Go filmed the colorful, time-lapse music video of their song “End Love” at Echo Park Lake during one continuous day-to-night-to-day take over an 18-hour period, plus a week-long shot of the lake that concludes the video. The effect produces a frenetic portrait of the L.A.-based band gliding through the park while singing about falling sky, hiding in the dark and swimming for the boat. The directors of “End Love,” Jeff Lieberman and Eric Gunther, credit OK Go for the lake's use as a location in the video. Gunther tells us, “Our original idea for the video included transitions between multiple sets, but of course the OK Go guys wanted to do a single continuous cut. Once we decided to go that way we knew we needed a nice big open space.” - Jared Cowan
18. Aphex Twin, “Windowlicker”
When director Chris Cunningham and electronic music mind-bender Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) joined forces in the late '90s to create two music videos, 1997's genuinely terrifying "Come to Daddy" and 1999's repulsive yet mesmerizing "Windowlicker," no one had ever seen anything quite like them. "Windowlicker" took viewers on surreal ride through the streets of Los Angeles — first over the East 1st Street bridge between downtown and Boyle Heights, where two comically foul-mouthed men in a convertible try to pick up two unimpressed women, then through Koreatown in the back of Aphex Twin's impossibly long limo, winding up in a dance sequence on the beach in Santa Monica. Through it all, the video vixens sport increasingly grotesque Richard D. James masks. "It is sexist," Cunningham later admitted of the controversial video in an interview with NME, "but it's a piss-take of R&B videos, which are all sexist." - Andy Hermann
17. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge”
Director Gus Van Sant originally wanted to shoot all of the video for the Chilis' 1992 breakthrough single in a studio, but lead singer Anthony Kiedis convinced him that the clip needed some L.A. street shots to accompany the song's lyrics, which were both a love letter to the band's home city ("Sometimes I feel like my only friend/Is the city I live in, the city of angels") and a grim depiction of Kiedis' struggles with heroin addiction. In the end, Van Sant mixed his studio footage with shots of Kiedis walking down Broadway between 5th and 6th Streets in downtown. There are also a few fleeting shots in which Kiedis and bassist Flea can be seen standing in front of the graffiti-covered Belmont Tunnel, which formerly connected downtown and Westlake via a trolley line, leading many to speculate (wrongly, we think) that it's the "under the bridge" locale where Kiedis used to go to shoot up. - Andy Hermann
16. Murs, “L.A.”
Rappers offer in-depth reporting as much as they codify the cliche. Murs’ “L.A.” places the specific between broad brush strokes, and its video follows suit. Shots of palm trees and low-riders serve as touchstones for out-of-towners. For L.A. natives, shoutouts to places like Earlez Grille, which has since closed to make way for the Metro line, accompany shots of Magic Johnson’s 24-Hour Fitness in Ladera Heights and the Slauson Super Mall. Though the song is called “L.A.”, the video truly serves as a to tribute to Mid-City. Everyone in the video even has the neighborhood written on his or her shirt. - Max Bell
15. N.W.A, “Express Yourself”
Unlike their video for “Straight Outta Compton,” which features plenty of footage shot in Compton and South Central, most of “Express Yourself” — the group’s most accessible song, thanks to a lack of profanity and a sample of Charlie Wright’s 1970 hit of the same name — was filmed 20 miles north on Santa Monica Blvd. just east of Vine St. The video’s street party and a loose recreation of JFK’s assassination were filmed across the street from Paramount Recording Studios (6245 Santa Monica Boulevard), where N.W.A and individual members of the group — including Ice Cube and, with some of his last material, Eazy-E — recorded many of their tracks. - Jared Cowan
14. Beck, “Girl”
Fans of Mad magazine immediately recognized the "fold-in" trick employed throughout Beck's video for "Girl": a pharmacy wall collapses to reveal the words "Side effects: Death"; a child's sidewalk drawing folds in to become a police chalk outline of a body. The song itself, a deceptively breezy tune from Beck's 2005 album Guero, also conceals a darker tale beneath its laid-back, summery vibe, once you pay attention to the lyrics: "I know I'm gonna make her die," he croons at one point. Most of the video's Eastside street and park scenes were filmed along Cesar Chavez Avenue and at Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, but there's also a brief shot of the Westlake Theatre Swap Meet in MacArthur Park, probably inserted as a nod to the neighborhood where Beck grew up. - Andy Hermann
13. Against Me, "I Was a Teenage Anarchist”
This video is a reality check, as a punk kid, in one continuous shot, attempts to evade the LAPD as they swing batons to slow his rebellious gallop across Venice’s boardwalk. There’s a message to be heard in the words of singer Laura Jane Grace: that the anarcho-punk movement had given way to the authoritarian rule of conformity. Agree or disagree, it’s a song that became an anthem for aging punks, hiding the truth in its message under a catchy chorus, the way "Born in the U.S.A." makes clueless right-wingers orgasm on patriotism. This is a visual crash-and-burn, not a nostalgia trip; a cry for freedom in one punk-lives-matter tracking shot. - Art Tavana
12. Michael Jackson, “Thriller”
The first music video ever inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, the John Landis-directed clip for "Thriller" was groundbreaking in its day — a short film with a (mostly) coherent storyline, at a time when music videos were typically just a random assemblage of intercut shots of rock bands and pop stars driving around in convertibles and dancing in front of wind machines. Its two most-recognizable L.A. locations are the Palace Theatre in downtown (though the interior shots were done at the Rialto in South Pasadena) and the Sanders House, a Victorian mansion at 1345 Carroll Avenue in Angelino Heights. Griffith Park provided the spooky woods for the opening werewolf scene, and the iconic zombie dance was filmed along an industrial stretch of Union Pacific Avenue in Boyle Heights. - Andy Hermann
11. Motley Crue, “Girls, Girls, Girls”
The Crue's paean to the ladies with "long legs and burgundy lips" name-checks strip clubs all over the world, but the video made one in particular famous: the Seventh Veil on Sunset, a popular '80s hangout for local rock bands and still going strong today. Shot at the Veil in 1987, the original clip was banned by MTV and had to be recut with all the dancers keeping their tops on. Today, the Seventh Veil is still at 7180 Sunset Boulevard, but has been extensively remodeled, and you can no longer park your motorcycle in the lot next door. The former site of the parking lot is now occupied by a health clinic. - Andy Hermann
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.