Ladies and gentlemen, step right up for the most fabulous, the most thrilling, the most spectacular show of a lifetime!
After a boom in popularity during the 1800s and early 1900s, the traditional circus (and circus themes in general) became kind of gauche and unstylish. Movies like "It" and video games like the Twisted Metal series turned clowns into creepy abominations. Mimes came to be viewed as lame street performers. Jugglers, acrobats, and contortionists got relegated to Burning Man and other unconventional events and gatherings. And circus "freaks" became so politically incorrect that no self-respecting person would risk being caught ogling them by friends and neighbors, no matter how strong his or her curiosity or taste for the bizarre.
But in the early 2000s, the history and culture of the 1800s experienced a resurgence in popularity. People started reading Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, dressing up in steampunk fashions, and watching films like MirrorMask and Big Fish. The renewed fascination remains unflagging and the Victorian aesthetic is still totally "in." Especially when it comes to the curious, the bizarre, and the fantastic. The classic circus is once again a place of magic, mystery, and delight in the popular consciousness.
Check out these 10 music videos with circus and freak show themes to see how the aesthetic has permeated popular culture, and how many performers have made it their own.
"Disturbia" by Rihanna
The Artist: Rihanna is a Barbadian-born American pop icon. She debuted in 2005 and has maintained steady popularity ever since. In fact, she's one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
Circus Elements: The video for Disturbia contains many of the more macabre elements of a classic freak show including the style of costuming, shots of a strong man body builder, caged displays, pyrotechnics, and the use of animals.
Disturbia Music Video
"Beautiful Loser" by William Control
The Artist: William Control is the solo stage name of William Francis, the Seattle-born lead singer of horror punk band Aiden. He maintains membership in Aiden while continuing a solo career and has even published two books of poetry.
Circus Elements: The "Beautiful Loser" video contains several circus and freak show elements including belly dancing, a "strong man" performer, a "fattest woman" performer, live horses, snakes, and birds, and women in cabaret-style circus-type costumes.
Beautiful Loser Music Video (WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS)
"I Write Sins Not Tragedies by Panic! at the Disco
The Artist: Panic! at the Disco is an American rock band formed in 2004 when all members were still in high school. They released their first album in 2005, which was certified double platinum, and they have remained popular ever since.
Circus Elements: The lead singer is shown in a ringleader outfit in the music video, and the wedding is invaded by different types of performers in circus garb including hoop dancers, mimes, and a man on stilts.
I Write Sins Not Tragedies Music Video
"The Carnival is Over" by Dead Can Dance
The Artist: Dead Can Dance is an experimental neomedieval darkwave band from Australia. They formed in 1981 and gained greater popularity worldwide in the early 1990s. After two long periods of disbandment, the group is currently active with members Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry still recording and performing.
Circus Elements: The video contains performers dressed as jesters, animals in circus decorations, a fire eater, a man flapping his ears, tightrope walkers, clowns, and many other circus elements.
"The Carnival is Over" - Dead Can Dance
"Hurt" by Christina Aguilera
The Artist: Christina Aguilera is an American pop star who debuted in 1998 and garnered overwhelming popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She starred alongside Cher in the 2010 musical film Burlesque, and has also appeared as a TV personality.
Circus Elements: This one should be pretty obvious. The video takes place at the circus with Aguilera as a circus performer.
Hurt Music Video
"Circus" by Britney Spears
The Artist: Britney Spears is an American pop icon from Louisiana. She debuted in 1997 and became one of the most critically acclaimed female artists of the early 2000s. In 2007 she entered rehab after dealing with family issues and suffering a breakdown, but made a successful comeback later in the year and remains a popular artist and performer.
Circus Elements: Like the lyrics say, Britney is the ringleader at a fun, flashy dance circus with ribbon dancers, performers on stilts, contortionists, and circus tents galore.
Circus Music Video
"Tears from the Moon" by Lunascape
The Artist: Lunascape was a Belgian trip hop project consisting of two members: Kyoko Baertsoen and Walter Hilhorst. The group formed in the mid-1990s and split up in 2008 after producing 4 studio albums together.
Circus Elements: The video includes trapeze performers, circus-influenced costumes, and a circus ring as the singer's background.
Tears from the Moon Music Video
"Good Boys" by Blondie
The Artist: Blondie is an American new-wave band from the mid-1970s started by frontwoman and lead-singer Deborah Harry. The band is hugely popular worldwide and currently still active after a 15-year breakup from 1982 to 1997.
Circus Elements: I'm pretty sure this one goes without saying.
Good Boys Music Video
"TNT for the Brain" by Enigma
The Artist: Enigma is a German electronic music project founded by Michael Cretu in 1990. The style of music is typically ambient with samples of Gregorian monks, Native American chants, and other elements of world music.
Circus Elements: This video contains many circus and freak show elements such as the costuming, the setup of "display" rooms, and the use of live spiders, colored flames, and other macabre elements,
TNT for the Brain Music Video
"Imagine It Was Us" by Jessie Ware
This one is my personal favorite.
The Artist: Jessie Ware is a British musician who debuted in 2012. Before beginning her solo career, she did vocals for other musicians and projects including dubstep artist Joker and UK project SBTRKT.
Circus Elements: The video takes place at a circus-themed party complete with costumes and vivid stage makeup. Several scenes also show a costume dressing room.
Imagine It Was Us Music Video
Shane Dittman on August 13, 2015:
"Goodbye in her eyes" Zac Brown Band
asdf on November 01, 2014:
i've been looking everywhere for about a year for Dead Can Dance, thank you
CJ Baker from Parts Unknown on May 24, 2013:
Very fun hub! Really enjoyed checking out the videos (even though I had to check out some of the videos directly from YouTube because the small screen didn't work for me). I am also digging the Lunascape, really trippy!
Mary Craig from New York on May 04, 2013:
How very interesting. this is definitely a different slant on these videos that I never would have thought of but after reading your hub I would have to agree with everything you said! Performers and pop culture going back to circus days...it has me scratching my head but you've proven your point very well.
Voted up, useful, and interesting.