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An Exhaustive Look At The Phenomenon Of Celebrity Cameos In Music Videos

An extensive journey through the history of celebrity appearances in rock music videos

Sometimes, right, and stick with us here, you watch a music video and there’s someone in it who isn’t in the band but you still recognise. What’s going on there? To get to the bottom of it, we’re going on what some would call an excessively thorough investigation into all the ways these celebrity appearances come about. 

Or, just watch a bunch of videos with Jack Black in, as he’s in about half of em.

Get The Family Involved

As seen in:
Aerosmith – Crazy (featuring Liv Tyler)
Metro Station – Seventeen Forever (featuring Miley Cyrus)

The nice thing about fame is you can pass it on to your loved ones. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler’s daughter Liv was an up-and-coming actress when her appearance in the Crazy video catapulted her to stardom. (Is it weird that a large part of the video consists of lingering shots of her stripping? Yes.) It works the other way as well, though – Metro Station got a bit of a boost from featuring Miley Cyrus in their video for Seventeen Forever, and she probably wasn’t hard to get hold of, being the sister of frontman Trace Cyrus.

You're In A Movie, You Have To Do This

As seen in:
AC/DC – Big Gun (featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes (featuring Halle Berry)
Simple Plan – I’m Just A Kid (featuring Tony Hawk and Eliza Dushku)

When an actor signs a contract to star in a movie, it will generally include various promotional obligations – go and tell a daft story on Graham Norton’s sofa, pop your shirt off for a GQ shoot, and so on. Sometimes this extends to appearing in a music video for a tune from the soundtrack – AC/DC and Arnie were pushing the unfairly maligned Last Action Hero, while Tony Hawk and Eliza Dushku both appear in cheerfully crap teen comedy The New Guy. When Oscar-winner Halle Berry found herself making out with Fred Durst in Limp Bizkits Behind Blue Eyes video, it was in the name of promoting 2003’s so-so thriller Gothika. That makeout sesh, btw, was described by Rolling Stone as one of the worst moments in the history of anything”.

This Person Will Definitely Become Super-Famous

As seen in:
Aerosmith – Cryin’ (featuring Alicia Silverstone)
Fall Out Boy – Thnks Fr Th Mmrs (featuring Kim Kardashian)
The Offspring – She’s Got Issues (featuring Zooey Deschanel)
Meat Loaf – Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through (featuring Angelina Jolie)

Sometimes you cast a beautiful but relatively unknown young actress in your music video, and they go on to become massively famous. Bit of a result. Zooey Deschanel was more than a decade away from New Girl when she starred in The Offsprings semi-animated She’s Got Issues video, and the now mega-famous Kim Kardashian was only known for a few appearances on The Simple Life when she was caressed by a chimpanzee working with Fall Out Boy. Aerosmith, meanwhile, not only made Alicia Silverstone famous with a three-video run (Cryin’, Amazing and Crazy), but popularised navel piercings in doing so – the Body Modification Ezine pinpoints the video as the moment when body piercing went mainstream”.

Ben Stiller And Jack Black Are Just Fun Dudes, You Know?

As seen in:
Foo Fighters – Learn To Fly / Low / The One (featuring Jack Black)
Limp Bizkit – Rollin’ (featuring Ben Stiller)

Jack Black seems like the most fun dude in the world to hang out with. If you were friends with him and were making a music video, you would obviously give him a shout and get him involved – even if you didn’t use him much in the actual video, it would presumably be pretty rad having him on set. He’s shown up in videos for Beck (in Sexx Laws), Eagles Of Death Metal (I Want You So Hard), and Weird Al” Yankovic (Tacky), plus a few more mentioned below, and Foo Fighters have drafted him in three times (Jack has also returned the favour, with Dave Grohl appearing in his band Tenacious Ds Tribute video). Also in the Tribute clip is Ben Stiller, another Hollywood star who Fred Durst is pals with, drafting him in for both the Rollin’ video (alongside Steven Dorff, also seen in Aerosmith’s Cryin’ mentioned above) and the hidden final track on Chocolate Starfish.

We Don't Go On About It, But Some Extremely Cool People Like Our Band

As seen in:
Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise (featuring so many people: Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Rashida Jones, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson, Amy Poehler, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Maya Rudolph, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, Orlando Bloom, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Jack Black)

If you’re a massive, iconic band, enjoy it. It’s not a humblebrag when it’s true, you know? That’s how Beastie Boys got basically everyone in Hollywood to show up for their Make Some Noise video. If someone ask, Do you want to be in a Beastie Boys video?” you flippin’ do. Alternatively, if you’re a less well-known band and know you have some famous fans, recruiting them for a cameo here and there can do wonders publicity-wise.

This Isn't A Music Video, It's A Film

As seen in:
Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends (featuring Jamie Bell and Evan Rachel Wood)
30 Seconds To Mars – City Of Angels (featuring Kanye West, Juliette Lewis, Lindsay Lohan, Olivia Wilde, Lily Collins, James Franco, Selena Gomez, Alan Cumming and Corey Feldman)
Nickelback – Trying Not To Love You (featuring Jason Alexander)

Music videos don’t have to be limited to the band plays the song and it’s quite good’. Some people have vastly grander visions, treating them as miniature films. This can result in enormous sweeping epics, like Samuel Bayer’s powerful, moving video for Green Days Wake Me Up When September Ends, featuring Jamie Bell and Evan Rachel Wood as a young soldier and his girlfriend during the Iraq War. Jared Leto made an ambitious documentary for City Of Angels – you wouldn’t get Kanye West and James Franco to show up for something half-arsed. But, sometimes this process results in goofily forgettable but likeable skits, such as Nickelbacks deeply inessential Trying Not To Love You video, in which Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander plays a lovelorn coffee shop employee and his evil goateed doppelgänger. 

We're All On The Way Up, Let's Help Each Other Out

As seen in:
Good Charlotte – Little Things (featuring Mandy Moore)
Gym Class Heroes – Cupid’s Chokehold (featuring Katy Perry)

If you’re on the rise, you probably know other musicians on the rise as well. Even if they’re a totally different genre to you, chuck em in. Can’t hurt, and theoretically everyone wins – the rock band get a bit of a publicity boost and the pop artist gets a bit more credibility. Mandy Moore and Good Charlotte were both signed to the same label when she made a fleeting appearance in the Little Things video, two things which may or may not be related but everyone probably benefited from. More romantically, a pre-fame Katy Perry’s career definitely got a boost after the Cupid’s Chokehold video, in which she starred with then-boyfriend Travie McCoy.

Hey, Everyone Likes Stranger Things

As seen in:
Weezer – Take On Me (featuring Finn Wolfhard)
Panic! At The Disco – La Devotee (featuring Noah Schapp)
Green Day – Meet Me On The Roof (featuring Gaten Materrazzo)

Hey, have you seen this show Stranger Things? It’s really popular! If you need a youngster in a video, use one of those. Can’t hurt. (Finn Wolfhard also appears in two excellent PUP videos, but they pre-date the show so don’t quite count – despite being ace.) 

If You Can Get Robin Williams, Get Robin Williams

As seen in:
Cobra Starship – You Make Me Feel (featuring Robin Williams)

The late comedy legend might only make a couple of ever-so-brief, heavily-bearded appearances in this video, but they’re enough – just three years before his tragic death – that there must be some dust in here or something… (For a non-rock but highly enjoyable music video that also features Robin, Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy is a palate-cleansingly jolly good time.)

Sometimes Dreams Just Come True

As seen in:
New Found Glory – Dressed To Kill (featuring Rachel Leigh Cook)
Weezer – Beverly Hills (featuring Hugh Hefner and numerous Playboy Playmates)

New Found Glorys Chad Gilbert was a big fan of She’s All That star Rachel Leigh Cook. He told Kerrang!: I said to my friends, One of these days I’m going to meet this girl.’ Then four years later we got her in our video.” Whether similar wishing-upon-a-star is what led to Weezer’s incredibly unlikely party at the Playboy Mansion is unclear, but something wacky was obviously going on, because, like, what the hell was that, right?

Posted on May 14th 2020, 3:45p.m.
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