Rolling Stone names Beyonce’s ‘Formation’ the best video of all time

MTV turned 40 this past weekend. In honor of MTV’s birthday, Rolling Stone dropped their top 100 videos of all time list. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson was number ten, Childish Gambino’s “This is America” came in at number four and Madonna’s “Vogue” was at number three. (Here’s a link to just the list.) Beyoncé’s “Formation” video won the number one spot and is the best video of all time according to Rolling Stone. I have so many thoughts but lets discuss them after these few details about the list from Revolt:

The Melina Matsoukas-directed “Formation” video came as a surprise the day before Queen Bey was set to headline the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. With its powerful messages about Black culture, its debut during Black History Month was not only strategic, but fitting. In the music video, Beyoncé addressed issues of police brutality, remembered Hurricane Katrina and danced over lyrics that flaunted her Black pride, her country roots and her Creole background.

The song and music video sparked backlash from conservatives and politicians, who called the Houston native out for allegedly spreading anti-police messages.

Despite the negative reactions, the visual helped Bey bring home a few awards, including six wins at the MTV Video Music Awards and the Best Music Video award at the 2017 Grammys. Billboard named “Formation” the best music video of the 2010s, and now, Rolling Stone is praising the visual as well.

“In under five minutes, Beyoncé moves from a plantation-style house where the Black denizens are the masters not the slaves to the top of a sinking police car,” the magazine wrote. “If Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album established her as one of the greatest artists of all time, her surprise-released ‘Formation’ video (and ensuing album Lemonade) marked her as one of the most important.”

[From Revolt]

I am not a card carrying member of the Beyhive, but I admit that I have been loving Beyoncé’s art these last few years and her evolution as a person and an artist. So of course, I had to have a discussion with a group of friends about this announcement. We all agreed that there are better videos that should have been number one and definitely in the top ten. In fact, we agreed that there are better Beyoncé videos than “Formation.” Honestly, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “Remember the Time,” and “Scream” videos alone should have been number one, two, and three. And “Hold Up,” “Sorry,” and a few from Black is King are better than “Formation.” Missy Elliot also had several amazingly creative videos (“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” was number 16) and few 80s rockers did too. I agree “Formation” was a Black cultural reset but the entire Lemonade album produced a few video bops. I am not sure what the criteria was for Rolling Stone but they definitely missed the mark on some of these. With all of that being said, I am celebrating the fact that one of Houston’s hometown sheroes is being recognized for her work and art.

Photos via Instagram, screenshots from YouTube

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86 Responses to “Rolling Stone names Beyonce’s ‘Formation’ the best video of all time”

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  1. Ariel says:

    Take on me at 14 and Hungry like the wolf at 17.
    I can live yet that.

    I’ve never seen formation, I will have to YouTube it later today.
    I have no doubt it is worthy.
    Mrs Knowles-Carter has high standards.

    • Robin says:

      Take On Me – great video.

    • Moxylady says:

      I think culturally all of lemonade were such extreme cultural validation that it brought the conversation regarding race to another level – for white people obviously. I think it’s less about entertainment value and more about absolute historical cultural value. It deserves its place – the whole thing does.

      • readingissexy says:

        Yes, “Formation” layered significant historical-cultural references, events, and symbols of both the trials and tribulations of the black community and moments of greatness and community (the emphasis on porches, Hurricane Katrina, etc). The video even juxtaposes time periods of the black community (scenes with Victorian-style clothing versus the present). The video is rich in symbolism, and I 100% see why it was chosen.

      • Laxmom says:

        I loved Formation-the visuals were extraordinary. I see everything through a political lens these days (sorry) so when I read:
        …… music video sparked backlash from conservatives and politicians, who called Beyoncé out for allegedly spreading anti-police messages……
        Now the same right wing lug nuts are spreading anti-police hate with their stand on Jan. 6 riot. (Literally the same police that saved their asses)

      • A.Dubs says:

        well said Moxylady 100% agree

      • observer says:

        moxy, thats exactly the thing about ‘best music vid of all time’ — what the criteria? significant historical and political commmunication (valid, thousands of bands have done thisb before beyonece) or simply to entertain & spread escapist jubilatin?

        like i dont think it’s possible to compare band like A-Ha to Beyonce because the context of why they create music and why people enjoy it or talk about it is almost completely unrelated so it just doesnt make any sense to me. findme one “top 100” list about a subjective opinion (“Best X ever”) from any major gossip publication that actually lists the criteria they choose their rankings by….

      • observer says:

        sorry for all the spellcheck errors, commentings being wonky wont let me fix them. hopefully i sound like i made some sense.

    • Yvette says:

      Yes, but no matter how good it is, she won’t get the Grammy love she deserves. Even Adel was like “WTF?? What does the woman have to do to win this award???”

    • H says:

      I’m not a Michael Jackson fan, but “Thriller” should still be at #1. “Take On Me” should be #2. That A-HA video revolutionized the way music videos were made, as did Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.”

      I’ve seen “Formation,” an while it should be in the top ten, I’m not seeing it as #1.

    • Fabiola says:

      Whoever made this list did not grow up with classic mtv. The videos of the 80s and 90s influenced all the current artists so you can’t have a video like Formation be the greatest video since it is too new and hasn’t influenced other videos. Unless you’re a Beyoncé Stan then most people haven’t even seen it since MTV doesn’t even play videos anymore. The list should have more MJ, Janet, Madonna, prince, Duran Duran, Aha, Peter Gabriel, Tom petty,and Guns N’ Roses.

  2. Becks1 says:

    Oooh I disagree with that one. Even just in the beyonce universe I think she has better videos – BUT what I will say is that I think that video reset music videos a bit. That was one of the last music videos that I went out of my way to find and see (and the music video before that I remember doing that with was Telephone with Gaga and beyonce.) I think its probably weird for younger people to realize what a cultural force MTV was and how big a deal new videos were. Formation brought that back a bit. So even if I don’t think its the best Beyonce video ever, I can see what they were going for if cultural relevance/impact was a big factor.

    And I think that (relevance/impact) may have been a big factor because I’m looking at the list and I can see a lot of people scratching their heads over some of the choices but those choices were HUGE at the time (I remember we had the November Rain video recorded on VHS and watched it all the time, my sister wanted a wedding dress like that one lol). So historical context is always important.

    • Maria says:

      Love the term “Beyonce universe”, stealing that, lol!

    • Oya says:

      I was there when MTV was born. My uncle and I would watch it on channel 5 in Houston. Michael Jackson is the literal godfather of feature length video and altho I loved Formation and how it culturally reset the Black Community there were several in that series I liked better. I do love what Bey has been doing with these visual albums tho. They have been out of this world.

  3. tempest prognosticator says:

    Johnny Cash’s Hurt video breaks my heart every damn time I watch it.

  4. Nev says:

    My favour song by her. Love it.
    But no

    Micheal Madonna Janet Duran Duran Missy even JLO.

  5. Merricat says:

    I thought “This is America” was amazing.

  6. Edna says:

    How is MJ’s Thriller not even on the list? This list is purely subjective, of course. But no way many of these videos are “greatest video” material.

    • Eleonor says:

      My take is MJ is too problematic.

    • LightPurple says:

      There is nothing on that list from Tom Petty whose videos were groundbreaking.

    • Pusspants says:

      I wish MJ weren’t on the list at all. I used to love his videos but he was a pedophile and doesn’t deserve recognition for his adult career. I believe his accusers and hearing his music now makes me ill.

      • psl says:

        I believe all his accusers too. But omg did I LOVE that man as a kid and a teen. I will not buy anything anymore, but I cannot stop listening to Thriller, Off The Wall or anything by the Jacksons/J5.

        I don’t like myself for it, but I love that music too much.

      • lucy2 says:

        I used to carry his photo in my little kid wallet, I loved him so much. It’s really sad to see what he became, and that he passed his pain onto others, especially children.

        As a kid of the 80s, Thriller will probably always be the all time #1 in my mind. It’s a decent list though. Beyonce’s is probably the best for recent times, every era was different. I miss the early days of MTV, I used to watch it every day after school, even if it was the same stuff over and over, and when a new video came out it was such a bid deal.

  7. Monette says:

    From my cultural impact I would go with November Rain. I too wanted a wedding dress like that. I made one for my Barbie.

  8. GraceB says:

    I’m not a huge Beyonce fan. To me she just seems to get far too much hype and comes across as though she believes her own hype but I did like the video for “Hold Up” and there was another video I thought was really good, from that same album. I don’t remember the track but it was black and white. Way better than “Formation”.

    I don’t get their list at all though. I guess it’s all art and therefor subjective but there are some great videos which should have been in the top 10 and weren’t even close.

  9. Wilma says:

    This video really imprinted itself on my brain. I don’t know about best, but to me it has a huge impact. Those images were very well chosen.

  10. MellyMel says:

    Agreed that Thriller should be number one. Just from a historical point, it completely changed the landscape of music videos and MTV.

    • Sue M says:


    • Sue M says:

      The fact that Thriller is not in the top five of the this list completely invalidates it for me. How on earth Thriller, which changed what the world thought a music video should be, is not number one is astonishing.

    • Pusspants says:

      Thriller was ground breaking, but the man was a pedophile, full stop.

  11. August Rain says:

    I think they should have categories because it is true that context is everything.
    Can’t Stop by the RHCP for me is amazing, especially because they took the artist Erwin Wurm’s idea if living sculptures and ran with it. As an art curator I found it amazing that they understood the concept and took to a level of visibility that exhibitions in museums don’t have.

    I don’t understand Beyoncé as a white woman although I appreciate what she does for the validation of black folks, especially women in the US. I watched her Netflix film about Glastonbury and it all seems so exhausting, and not about the music at all. More about setting impossible goals and creating a glossy, almost divine image. Celebs like this are the glittery version of billionaires who own the world in the shadows.

    I do love her video Why Don’t You Love Me?

    But an all time favourite that I showed all my kids on YouTube is Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity and as a kid Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

    Ed: oh and the White Stripes Seven Nation Army! Also Thriller, of course. And Prince’s Sign o’ Times and Take on Me! Gosh I am showing my age.

    • BnlurNforever says:

      This response hurt me in ways I can’t articulate and I’m not even a Beyonce stan.

      • August Rain says:

        I’m sorry about that.

      • Bunny says:

        I’d pick Blind Melon’s “No Rain”, REM’s “Losing My Religion”, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, They Might Be Giants “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back”, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky”, Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” (Christopher Walken is amazing), Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit”, Beastie Boys “Intergalactic”, A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen”, Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity”, and so on.

        And yes, Michael Jackson was a pedophile, but he was a groundbreaking entertainer and it is hard to remove him from the list and pretend he didn’t contribute to the Arts.

    • AmelieOriginal says:

      “I don’t understand Beyonce as a white woman” is not something you should admit out loud. You might as well substitute it with any other black celebrity’s name: Simone Biles, Michelle Obama, Oprah… also Beyonce is not the only female celebrity obsessed with projecting a certain image, that is not limited to black female celebrities. Lady Gaga, J. Lo, Madonna, Taylor Swift etc. are some names that come to mind with over the top visuals who want to project a certain “divinity” as you put it.

      I think it’s okay to say you will never understand a black woman’s experience. I’m a white woman and I know I will never understand what it’s like to walk through life as a black woman. It’s also fine to admit you don’t like Beyonce, maybe her music and style aren’t for you. But to write her off for being black and how you are too white to understand her… yeah don’t do that. Your whole comment is an SNL skit waiting to happen.

      • Larisa says:

        huh? saying “I don’t understand someone’s art” is “writing them off”? How so? It’s the epitome of making it clear that it’s subjective and on me to understand (or not), rather than on Beyonce to be understood?

    • Katy Bowman says:

      Netflix film about Glastonbury? Did I miss a Beyonce doc, or did you mean Coachella? You do your argument discredit by not having your details correct. As for “not about the music at all” – you’re mostly correct there. Coachella was about the whole HBCU experience. To focus on the music, rather than the spectacle, you’re disregarding the artist’s entire intent. To her credit, Beyonce is using her platform to showcase issues and others. Impossible goals, yes. Divine image, not her schtick at all.

      • August Rain says:

        @Amelieoriginal The sentence you quote from me is exactly the condensed version of this one from you: “I’m a white woman and I know I will never understand what it’s like to walk through life as a black woman”.
        I am not “writing her off as black”, on the contrary I am writing myself off as white of many experiences I can’t fully comprehend such as the African American experience, the American experience (I am European), and a system of celebrity that is alien to my culture. And I am giving credit where credit is due: no one gives a crap if I like her or not, especially the African American people she is so important to and who am I to take that away from either of them, the artist or her fans.
        But I can comment on the image she sells, which is what all artists are judged for. And she is an artist. You are the one who is assimilating all black artists together, of whom I am not talking about. Why do you do that? I am discussing Beyoncé’s work, someone who has certainly endured a lot of ingrained and overt racism throughout her career and yet found the strength to speak to black people, and women of all ethnicities.
        I can speak to her art though. This is what I am talking about, this celeb-ultra-capitalist system (note I say system, so it obviously includes Madonna, Taylor Swift etc.) which propagates values that are not amazing such as “hard” work, the suffering artist as trope, iconic levels of image, the artists who suffers but is a genius, the spectacle of wealth, the curated life etc.
        As a curator, it pains me as well to see that the system – not her, I am not making that mistake – or, rather, her team, have a problematic habit of taking lots of artists’ work and use it without giving credit where credit is due – and this touches upon the music videos.
        @Katy Bowman: apologies for saying the wrong festival. It was Coachella indeed. But was it such a crime to mix up both? It was about the content not the place. Again, not commenting on the symbolic value of the show itself but on the earnestness of the documentary that I found too much.

      • Larisa says:

        Wow, the response to this… Somebody on the Internet made a mistake! Stop the presses, that almost never happens and invalidates everything!

    • Wilma says:

      But Jay Kay (Jamiroquai) and his collection of useless cars that are just for show is not a sad footnote on capitalism? You can’t have a standard for the artist of the video you did like and another standard for the artist of the video you didn’t like. Especially if one of those is the derivative Jamiroquai (who plundered Stevie Wonder to have a career).

      • August Rain says:

        Fair point on the system that Jamiroquai is part of. (By the way he disappeared and doesn’t have half the cred Beyoncé has, and fairly so).
        But, again, I am not passing judgement on Beyoncé’s life but on her image and brand. Jay Kay is rich. So is Beyoncé and Pj Harvey, and Travis Scott etc. The subject we are talking about is videoclips, and I raised that of celeb culture and the image that goes with it. Re: Jamiroquai’s music totally agree that it’s derivative.

      • Wilma says:

        I don’t see Beyoncé promoting capitalism. I know it’s something people always throw at her, but I would say she is pretty big on promoting black, female, financial independence. Which is revolutionary within the existing system even if she’s not breaking the wheel of the entire system. I know there’s a huge discussion about whether black people should strive to get their own within the capitalist system or strive to break the system completely as it’s built on white supremacy. I think if one lives in the US you cannot wait for capitalism to destroy itself and you might as well do as Malcolm X says and build up black wealth as much as you can.
        Anyway, I don’t think Beyoncé has a lot of pure capitalist imagery in her recent videos or films. Particulary Lemonade, Black is King and the Coachelle doc.
        Do you get the images from both the Lemonade video and the Coachella documentary? I mean, when you see an image do you get the entirety of what it stands for? Because I don’t really get why you equate her so much with capitalism instead of all the references she makes in Formation to police brutality, black culture, Katrina and its ongoing aftermath, all the black hairstyles in it etc.

      • August Rain says:

        I don’t think Beyoncé stands more for capitalism than many other artists. As for whether Black Americans should share the same patriarchal and white imperialist US values that’s a whole other topic.
        You’re all over the place… Again, I am referring to ultra-capitalism as a commodification of image and values through fandom and celeb culture. And that it is quite disingenuous to perform as a mere representation of hurt and then a validation of self through wealth and image – as appealing as it is. I like the argument about promoting female independence though.
        I prefer not to address your condescending tone that I “get” oh so well. Performative.

      • Wilma says:

        Actually it was an honest question. I didn’t know what every image meant. Had to read up a lot and find out.

    • Valerie says:

      Sledgehammer is great, as are all of PG’s videos. He was (and remains) so creative.

  12. Southern Fried says:

    No. Not even close.

  13. Pocket Litter says:

    Seriously? The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony.

    • Robin says:

      Hi, Pocket Litter. Had to join you and say YES! that Verve song has a fantastic video. I love the moment in time it captures – when you could walk down a street without bumping into the back of people, heads down, glued to their phones. It has a freedom to it. Ahh, for the 90s and easy pavements!

  14. Maria says:

    Lemonade is genius and I love Beyonce so I’m not mad about this.

    But I’d have to say my favorite music video of all time was Bad Girls by M.I.A. The tafheet and horses in Morocco…

  15. line says:

    If the choice of training is due to a question of black cultural reset, for me the choice should have been given to Childish Gambino – This Is America because the worker is much more research and original in the staging, add to the fact that the song is better. Formation is revolutionary compared to Beyonce’s career which has always been very neutral in order to appeal to a more homogeneous audience (black, white, Latino) with lemonade, it was the first time that she had asserted her blackness so strongly.

    But this list is just not credible, Thriller is the reason why all the artists start to be more creative in the realization of their music video, there was a before and after Thriller so Michael Jackson should have been first on the list. And where is Janet Jackson, Rythm nation, Pleasure Principle, Control, Nasty and All for You.

    • HeatherC says:

      Janet is on the list….way down. Too far down IMO. I was glad November Rain made the 10 ten cut, it’s just a gorgeous epic video with beautiful cinematography. And that guitar solo from Slash. I also would have put Hurt higher.

      they included Billy Jean, a good video, but not Thriller, a groundbreaking video? Makes no sense to me. Yes MJ is problematic, but if you’re going to choose one single video to represent him, I would have gone with Thriller or even Black or White

      I’m old enough to remember when MTV had their big premieres on Friday nights for videos, the anticipation, the build up, just for 3 or so minutes of programming. Young adults and kids today will never know the joy of a station that showed your favorite music brought to life.

      • line says:

        My question about Janet is that she’s way too low on the list, she’s the model of all the pop stars, from Britney Spears, Ciara, Tisnashe, Normani, Christina Aguilera, Cassie, Justin Timberlake, TLC,Rihanna, Chris Brown and even Beyonce. They swear everything by her, so it’s boring to see her musical legacy and her impact diminish or erase. The number of artists who have reproduced the famous chair choreography of Pleasure Principle.

    • LightPurple says:

      Where is Tom Petty?

      • H says:

        Thank you, @Lightpurple. I first saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on tour as a kid of 13. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” video is ART.

  16. Seaflower says:

    Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer – so innovative and groundbreaking.

  17. lemonylips says:

    Ummm ok. I mean, “best of all times”… those categories are so silly to me and ranks especially.

  18. Nlopez says:

    King Already by Bey is still my jam. Love the video too. It never gets old!

  19. rawiya says:

    *stares in all of Michael Jackson’s videos* I love Bey, but this ain’t it, Rolling Stone.

  20. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Smells of favors and payoffs.

  21. Marie says:

    MTV is completely dead. Happy anniversary, I guess? Seeing this list makes me miss the age of MTV and music videos. I’m thankful I grew up with the channel since its inception. Sad that all they do now is a show that exploits teenaged mothers with poor support systems and a show where they film people laughing at Youtube videos.
    Bring back MTV!

  22. Leanne says:

    I love Everybody hurts by REM, Unfinished Sympathie by Massive Attack and that song Runaway Train, forgot the band.

  23. Pusspants says:

    I’m a bit surprised by all the MJ love here. He was a pedophile and calling him problematic is a huge understatement. It suggests it’s okay to call out some people who are not as talented as Michael for lesser behavior but if someone is supremely talented, it’s okay to separate the person from the art. Or perhaps there are still people on this thread that think MJ wasn’t a pedophile?

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      I can try to make sense of this. I was never a huge fan of his, but I grew up with that family’s music. The 90s brought to light a great many horrors. Horrors that I personally didn’t find all too shocking because by that point, it all made sense. But in the early and mid 80s, we did not know these things. His videos were groundbreaking. High school bands throughout the country made his tunes their weekly go-tos. He was pervasive… ubiquitous. Children and adults dressed like him. Hell he hadn’t even started carving his face yet. So in that light, in memory and nostalgia, MTV and MJ were a prolific pair. Only availables were magazines and television. The harsh dichotomy is remembering that time and then knowing his demise and then his deplorable private life. I don’t believe anyone dismisses pedophilia by any stretch; just that they have fond memories of a talent yet to be spoiled. Does any of that make sense? Lately I tend to babble about nothing lol.

      • Pusspants says:

        Mabs, I appreciate you taking the time to comment & flesh your thoughts out on this. I think I understand what you’re saying and the nuance of your statement.

        Perhaps because I work with survivors of sexual trauma sometimes, I now have a visceral negative reaction to his music. I once loved it and even learned the entire choreography to Thriller when I was a kid, but it now makes me think of the young innocent lives he destroyed.

      • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

        Oh for certain. And me as well. Any time his name is brought up, his victims are all I think about.

  24. Imara219 says:

    Formation is just Black Brillance. Each frame, movement, step, etc is a specific reference to the Black American experience and that is why I do not mind if it was number one. I can understand why Billie Jean would rank higher than Thriller BUT not by much. Thriller helped make MTV but Billie Jean helped stylized it for a wider audience. However, none of that makes sense with how they composed that list because I wouldn’t consider Formation an MTV moment but just a music moment. So I do wonder what the criteria were for this list but whatever it is I am here for it.

  25. Beech says:

    I echo This Is America.

  26. psl says:

    I just watched the video. Turned the sound off because I LOATHE anything auto-tuned.
    THIS? The BEST video of all time?

    Nope. And whatever we found out about MJ, “Thriller” should be number one.

  27. shanaynay says:

    I think Apeshit is a better video. The amount of work that had to be done in such a short time window and the juxtaposition of black contemporary music against such a historic, conservative, colonial exploitative setting was pretty cool to see.

  28. Jamie says:

    Oh hell no. I can think of at least a dozen songs/albums that are way better than her. Rolling Stone has lost its mind.

  29. A says:

    I’m going through the list right now, and I can’t say how pleased I am that Gangnam Style actually made it!!! I remember reading about the commentary that Psy was trying to make with the song and the music video, and it’s great to see it recognized for that as well as for just how great and f-cking catchy it was at the time.

    I’m too young to really know or care much about MTV’s heyday. The big thing for me growing up was Youtube. Formation is really a weird choice to cap the list with. It kind of came out of nowhere, especially considering how Beyonce’s previous two entries were Single Ladies (YES) and Telephone ft. Lady Gaga.

    I’m trying to think of the music videos that I really liked, which left an impression on me growing up. I didn’t fully grow up in North America, so the earliest ones I can remember seeing on TV repeatedly were (in no particular order), Daler Mehndi, Dhol Bhaaje from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se (which was just iconic), Dola Re from Devdas, and then No Doubt’s version of It’s My Life with Gwen Stefani as the serial killer who murders her rich husbands.

    I think from then on I mostly just saw things on Youtube. I remember listening to the Kal Ho Na Ho soundtrack entirely on Youtube so much I couldn’t listen to it for a couple of years after. But the one music video that sticks out in my memory was the second one for Mr. Brightside.

  30. Sabzinic says:

    Should have been MJ’s thriller because of influence and impact. Rolling Stone mag is a joke, now.