Top country music video from every year since 1984

Published 10:45 pm Friday, June 17, 2022

FilmMagic // Getty Images

Top country music video from every year since 1984

There are a few things in this life that just feel truly and genuinely American—apple pie, football, light beer, pickup trucks, country music. Most experts agree that country music as we know it today originated in the early 20th century in the southern United States, where combinations of Appalachian folk tunes, Black spirituals, and popular blues standards began to blur together into the string and harmonica-heavy songs we commonly associate with the genre.

Country music has evolved quite a bit since the early 1900s, when “the father of country music” Jimmie Rodgers released track after track of yodeling, and in 2021 it was the fourth most-streamed genre in the United States.

The Academy of Country Music was founded in 1964 with the express purpose of promoting the genre in the western United States, following in the footsteps of the Country Music Association, which was concerned with shaping the genre on an international level. The Academy held its first awards ceremony just two years later, in 1966, recognizing the industry’s accomplishments from the year prior. The ACM Awards, one of the biggest nights in country music, have taken place every year since, and as we close in on 60 years of celebrations, we’re looking back to some of the genre’s biggest winners.

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To that end, Stacker looked at the winners for Video of the Year at every Academy of Country Music Awards over the past 38 years since it was introduced in 1984. From Hank Williams Jr. hits to Elle King and Miranda Lambert’s party anthem, these songs— and their music videos—have shaped and defined the genre over the decades.

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Hank Williams Jr performing on stage

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1984: ‘All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight’ by Hank Williams Jr.

– Director: John Goodhugh

Hank Williams Jr. parties with country music royalty—Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and members of The Oak Ridge Boys—in the music video for “All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight.” In typical ’80s fashion, a number of women in Jane Fonda-esque leotards prepare the backwoods mansion for the get-together and partake in the revelries. The video ends with a ghostly Cadillac driving off into the moonlight, a tribute to Hank Williams Jr.’s father, a bona fide country legend who died in a Cadillac at the tender age of 29.

George Jones accepts the award for music video of the year

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1985: ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’ by George Jones

– Director: Marc Ball

A year after he appeared in Hank Williams Jr.’s award-winning video, George Jones took home the title himself for “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes.” The clip opens with Jones’ tour bus pulling into an old-timey garage, where the crooner has a conversation with the aging proprietor through song about the genre’s greats. In a reverential, nostalgic manner, Jones asks, “Who’s gonna play the Opry/ and the Wabash Cannonball?” as expertly and heartbreakingly as Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, and so many other legends have.

Reba McEntire accepts the award for "Entertainer of the Year" in 1996

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1986: ‘Whoever’s in New England’ by Reba McEntire

– Directors: Jon Small and Jeff Schock

Reba McEntire’s first music video, “Whoever’s in New England,” is about a woman who believes her husband is having an affair with a co-worker in Boston. In the clip, a very ’80s-looking McEntire roams her wood-paneled house, singing and drinking coffee, while alternating shots reveal her husband flirting with a romantic rival. The final seconds see the couple reuniting in an airport as McEntire croons, “Oh, you know it’s not too late and you’ll always have a place to come back to/When whoever’s in New England’s through with you.”

K.T. Oslin at the Grammy Awards in 1989

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1987: ‘80’s Ladies’ by K.T. Oslin

– Director: Jack Cole

A celebration of female friendship, K.T. Olsin’s “’80s Ladies” starts with a party breaking up. As everyone leaves, two women stay behind to reminisce about the past, watching old home videos and flipping through photo albums. As the video comes to a close, they head out to the graveyard and it’s revealed that their third friend (who appeared alongside them in the home videos) has recently died.

Hank Williams Jr. at the Annual Academy of Country Music Awards

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1988: ‘Young Country’ by Hank Williams Jr.

– Directors: Bill Fishman and Preacher Ewing

Toward the end of the 1980s, country music began changing from the twangy songs of eras past to the rock-inspired sounds of today. In “Young Country,” Hank Williams Jr. defends this transition, shutting down country music purists’ complaints with the help of several other vocalists including Steve Earle, Dana McVicker, and Keith Whitley.
The music video is essentially a mash-up of clips celebrating the old (cowboys on horses) and the new (babies in cowboy hats).

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Hank Williams Jr. and Son Hank Williams III at the 1989 Annual Academy of Country Music Awards

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1989: ‘There’s a Tear in My Beer’ by Hank Williams Jr. and Sr.

– Director: Ethan Russell

Hank Williams Sr. originally recorded “There’s a Tear in My Beer” in the 1950s but never released the song. In the 1980s, his son, Hank Williams Jr., recorded his own rendition of the track, and, using digital editing software, turned both versions into a duet. Using similar editing technologies, Hank Williams Jr. then created a music video for the duet by essentially superimposing clips of himself singing the song over old footage of his father performing.

Garth Brooks poses for a portrait

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1990: ‘The Dance’ by Garth Brooks

– Director: John Lloyd Miller

Many people think of “The Dance” as a love song, but for Garth Brooks, the tune has always had another meaning. As he explains at the beginning of the music video, he sees “The Dance” as a song about life and a tribute to the people who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the things they believe in. Throughout the clip, archive footage of several figures who did give it all—Martin Luther King Jr., the crew of the Challenger, Lane Frost, and John F. Kennedy—is interspersed with shots of Brooks singing.

Reba McEntire poses with awards

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1991: ‘Is There Life Out There?’ by Reba McEntire

– Director: Jack Cole

When it was released in 1991, the “Is There Life Out There?” music video was almost banned by CMT for “putting message ahead of music.” A mini-movie that mixes Reba McEntire’s singing with significant amounts of dialogue and acting, the story follows a young, underappreciated woman who got married at 20 and is now trying to juggle family life, a job, and college while wondering if there’s more to life than the little space she currently inhabits. It is estimated that the video inspired some 40,000 women to return to high school and college.

Tanya Tucker performing at the Poplar Creek Music Theater

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1992: ‘Two Sparrows in a Hurricane’ by Tanya Tucker

– Director: Joanne Gardner

Dedicated to Tanya Tucker’s parents, who celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1992, “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane” is about one couple’s love story as it grows and changes through various stages of life. The music video is set in one room of the couple’s apartment and we watch them flirt as teenage lovers, struggle as young parents, and reconnect as retirees.

Garth Brooks performs onstage

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1993: ‘We Shall Be Free’ by Garth Brooks

– Directors: Garth Brooks and Tim Miller

Country music sometimes gets a bad rap for being exclusionary, but Garth Brooks’ song, “We Shall Be Free,” is proof that it doesn’t have to be that way. Banned by some radio stations for its radical message, the track imagines a world where all people can be free of various forms of oppression—racism, homophobia, religious persecution, homelessness, and war, among them. The music video features difficult news and archival footage of all sorts of world events as well as cameos from celebrities of all walks of life and ends with the simple statement: “This video is dedicated to the human spirit. Unbreakable. Relentless. Free.”

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Garth Brooks performs onstage in 1994

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1994: ‘The Red Strokes’ by Garth Brooks

– Director: Jon Small

Best known for its iconic opening shot of Garth Brooks, dressed in a white tuxedo and playing a white piano, rising up through a puddle of red paint, “The Red Strokes” was 1994’s best country music video according to the Academy of Country Music. The track, which compares a relationship to a work of art, was never as big of a hit as the video, only reaching #49 on the country music charts. But the dramatic clip—which required 18 tuxedos, 12 Stetson hats, 5,000 gallons of mud, 35 gallons of red paint, and six baby grand pianos—was awe-inspiring enough to win audiences over.

Close up man playing acoustic guitar

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1995: ‘The Car’ by Jeff Carson

– Director: Michael Salomon

A father-son relationship is at the center of Jeff Carson’s “The Car.” At the beginning of the video, a young man wishes to buy a fixer-upper Ford Mustang, not because he needs it to get around but because he wants the excuse to spend more time with his workaholic father. Unfortunately, they can’t afford it, and it’s not until his father dies that the son gets the key to that vintage car—a final gift from his dad that allows them to be together even when they’re apart.

Collin Raye performs at the Rialto Theater

Paul Natkin // Getty Images

1996: ‘I Think About You’ by Collin Raye

– Director: Steven Goldmann

Shot in the style of an episode of the popular 1990s police reality TV show “Cops,” “I Think About You” sees Collin Raye playing a cop who thinks of his own preteen daughter every time he rescues a woman in distress. The music video includes Raye’s real-life daughter, Brittany.

Faith Hill & Tim McGraw perform together

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1997: ‘It’s Your Love’ by Faith Hill and Tim McGraw

– Director: Sherman Halsey

Country music power couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill recorded this powerful love ballad—which eventually sold 2 million copies—on a whim back in 1996. The accompanying music video, which sees the duo performing around an ornate mansion, was shot just weeks before Hill gave birth to their first daughter, Gracie Katherine.

Faith Hill performs during the George Strait Music Festival

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1998: ‘This Kiss’ by Faith Hill

– Director: Steven Goldmann

The following year, Faith Hill won another ACM Award for her music video for “This Kiss.” Aside from being pregnant—this time with the couple’s second daughter, Maggie—the 1998 clip has little in common with her first ACM Award win. The video and the song are much lighter in tone, which is reflected through the fantasy computer-generated image sequences that see Hill swinging on peaches and singing on colorful blooms.

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Faith Hill at the Rosemont Theater

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1999: ‘Breathe’ by Faith Hill

– Director: Lili Fini Zanuck

In 1999, Faith Hill won the award for Top Country Music video for the third year in a row. This time it was for her song “Breathe,” which is about the way it feels to be in your lover’s arms. The music video reportedly drew some controversy for its racy shots of a seemingly nude Hill laying in a silk-sheeted bed.

Grammy Award Winners Dixie Chicks pose for a photo

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2000: ‘Goodbye Earl’ by Dixie Chicks

– Director: Evan Bernard

For being a song about domestic abuse and murder, the music video for “Goodbye Earl” is surprisingly lighthearted. Jane Krakowski plays the abused Wanda alongside co-conspirator and best friend Mary Ann (Lauren Holly). The clip ends with a “Thriller”-esque dance scene that features all three members of the Dixie Chicks, a zombified Earl, and the rest of the cast.

Brooks & Dunn during American Music Awards

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2001: ‘Only in America’ by Brooks & Dunn

– Director: Michael Merriman

Released three months before the 9/11 attacks, Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America” sings the praises of a country where everyone can “dream as big as we want to.” The music video for the patriotic single primarily features concert footage of the duo performing the track, alongside footage—both staged and candid—of the various lives ordinary Americans lead.

Alan Jackson performs live at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards

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2002: ‘Drive (For Daddy Gene)’ by Alan Jackson

– Director: Steven Goldmann

In 2000, Alan Jackson lost his father, Eugene Jackson, to an aortic aneurysm. His hit song, “Drive,” is a tribute to the man and their relationship and a wish that Jackson could share a similar relationship with his own daughters. The music video, which is comprised of clips of Jackson singing and a young boy hanging out with his father, is shot to look like animated storybook scenes come to life.

Willie Nelson and Toby Keith perform "Beer for My Horses"

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2003: ‘Beer For My Horses’ by Willie Nelson and Toby Keith

– Director: Michael Salomon

Beer For My Horses” may have been popular with listeners, but it sparked controversy among critics who pointed out that the song was complaining about an ineffectual justice system while arguing to replace it with vengeance. The music video for the track sees artists Willie Nelson and Toby Keith playing detectives working to track down a serial killer. The clip went on to inspire a full-length feature film—starring Keith and Nelson—also called “Beer for My Horses.”

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Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss perform "Whiskey Lullaby"

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2004: ‘Whiskey Lullaby’ by Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley

– Director: Rick Schroder

The internet may not agree on much, but a quick poke around the web shows nearly everyone considers Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley’s duet, “Whiskey Lullaby,” one of the saddest songs in country music history. The track is about a couple whose separation drives them both to alcoholism, eventually killing them. In the opening scenes of the music video, a WWII soldier finds his wife—who had promised to wait for him—in bed with another man. Devastated by this, he begins to drink, eventually passing away from alcoholism. Guilt-ridden, she follows in his footsteps.

Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley rehearse for the Grammys

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2005: ‘When I Get Where I’m Going’ by Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley

– Director: Jim Shea

Despite providing vocals for the song, country music legend Dolly Parton doesn’t actually sing in the music video for “Where I Get Where I’m Going.” However, the songstress does show up in the parade of people—some famous, some not—who hold up images of deceased loved ones, paying homage to the lives they led and the impact they left behind. These tributes are interspersed with shots of Paisley singing and home videos that feature the singer and his late grandfather.

Carrie Underwood accepts Female Video of the Year award

Kevin Mazur // Getty Images

2006: ‘Before He Cheats’ by Carrie Underwood

– Director: Roman White

Before He Cheats,” a song about a woman getting revenge on a cheating partner, was the first country song to rack up 2 million digital downloads. In the music video for the record-setting track, Carrie Underwood, fresh off an “American Idol” win, is shown decimating her unfaithful man’s truck and confronting him and his new love interest. In addition to winning the ACM for Video of the Year, the video also swept the CMT Awards in every category for which it was nominated.

Brad Paisley during 38th Annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

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2007: ‘Online’ by Brad Paisley

– Director: Jason Alexander

The music video for Brad Paisley’s “Online ” is a star-studded one. Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld” fame plays a short, asthmatic geek who lives in his mom’s basement and moonlights on MySpace as a significantly taller male model. William Shatner and Estelle Harris play his parents, Maureen McCormick his next-door neighbor, and Taylor Swift and Kelly Pickler—who were on tour with Paisley at the time the video was shot—act as backup dancers.

Brad Paisley performs "Waitin' on a Woman" on stage

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2008: ‘Waitin’ on a Woman’ by Brad Paisley

– Directors: Jim Shea and Peter Tilden

When speaking to “Great American Country” back in 2008, Brad Paisley said that “Waitin’ on a Woman” was “one of the most important songs [he’d] recorded” and that it demanded a video that could match its message and quality. So he hired his childhood hero, Andy Griffith, to play the old man who imparts life and relationship advice to Paisley’s newly married character.

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Miranda Lambert rehearses onstage for 44th Annual Academy Of Country Music Awards

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2009: ‘White Liar’ by Miranda Lambert

– Director: Chris Hicky

Small towns and cheaters don’t mix in Miranda Lambert’s song “White Liar.” The music video for the track—which is about a woman who knows her man has been unfaithful and decides to be unfaithful in retaliation—sees Lambert walking down the aisle on her wedding day, passing women her groom has cheated on her with along the way. When she finally gets to the altar, she informs the lying man that she’s been telling a little white lie of her own—she’s been sleeping with his best man.

Miranda Lambert accepts the Song of the Year Award for "The House That Built Me"

Ethan Miller // Getty Images

2010: ‘The House That Built Me’ by Miranda Lambert

– Director: Trey Fanjoy

In sharp contrast to the humor-driven song that won her Video of the Year in 2009, Miranda Lambert’s 2010 first-place track is much more emotional and raw. A tribute to her childhood home, the music video sees the country singer walking through a house similar to her real-life childhood home, while flashbacks—both staged and pulled from home videos—illustrate what her childhood was like.

Toby Keith toasts his fans with a red solo cup

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2011: ‘Red Solo Cup’ by Toby Keith

– Director: Michael Salomon

A tribute to America’s favorite party cup, “Red Solo Cup” is one of the few songs in Toby Keith’s career that he hasn’t written. The music video for the track follows the country crooner as he wanders through a house party, red solo cup in hand, before closing out with shots of a dozen or so celebrities—including Jeff Dunham, Larry Bird, Lance Burton, and Eric Church—enjoying beverages from the disposable chalice.

Little Big Town perform during the 2012 CMT Music awards

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2012: ‘Tornado’ by Little Big Town

– Director: Shane Drake

Little Big Town’s song “Tornado” likens a scorned woman to a force of nature, ready to destroy her relationship, home, and anything else in her path in order to get even. The track’s accompanying music video sees the group wandering through a small, southern town, preparing to deal with an unscrupulous man.

Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw perform during the 2013 CMA Music Festival

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2013: ‘Highway Don’t Care’ by Taylor Swift, Tim Mcgraw, and Keith Urban

– Director: Shane Drake

“Highway Don’t Care” was not only a collaboration between Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, and Keith Urban but between the country musicians and Vanderbilt University. All parties used the music video as a way to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. The main female character in the video, who’s texting while driving, gets into a crash and has to be flown by helicopter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

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Dierks Bentley performs onstage during the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards

Kevin Winter/ACMA2014 // Getty Images

2014: ‘Drunk on a Plane’ by Dierks Bentley

– Director: Wes Edwards

In the “Drunk on a Plane” video, a jilted groom sets off for his honeymoon, trying to drown his sorrows with the contents of those in-flight mini liquor bottles. Before long, that plane ride to Cancun turns into a full-blow plane party, complete with kegs, new love connections, and Dierks Bently himself sliding into the cockpit to save the nosediving aircraft.

Eric Church performs onstage during the 2015 CMA Festival

John Shearer // Getty Images

2015: ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ by Eric Church

– Directors: John Peets and Reid Long

A tribute to every kid that has ever felt like a misfit, “Mr. Misunderstood” was the lead single from Eric Church’s surprise 2015 album of the same name. The track’s accompanying music video follows a teenage boy as he goes from a shy, geeky student to confident musician.

Kacey Musgraves, Reba McEntire, Jennifer Nettles, Karen Fairchild, and Carrie Underwood perform onstage

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2016: ‘Forever Country’ by various artists

– Director: Joseph Kahn

Thirty of country’s biggest names teamed up to record a cover of three of country’s most famous songs—John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”—to commemorate the CMA Awards’ 50th anniversary. The video for the song, which features everyone who sings on the track, digitally inserts the artists into locations around the world, from Nashville, Tennessee, to Paris, in order to demonstrate that country music is global.

John Osborne and T.J. Osborne accept an award

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2017: ‘It Ain’t My Fault’ by Brothers Osborne

– Directors: Ryan Silver and Wes Edwards

The tone of the Brothers Osborne song “It Ain’t My Fault,” about a man who refuses to take responsibility for the series of circumstances that led to his affair, is decidedly humorous. However, the music video takes a much different, much more political tone. In the clip, a group of thieves dressed as former U.S. Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump rob a pawn shop, and as they run away visual gags about the leaders’ time in office—and moral failings—are made, all of which directly criticize our dysfunctional American political system.

Chris Janson poses with the award for Video of the Year for "Drunk Girl"

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2018: ‘Drunk Girl’ by Chris Janson

– Director: Jeff Venable

Chris Janson shut down a four-block stretch of Nashville’s entertainment district to film the music video for this 2018 song about respecting women, particularly when they’re at their most vulnerable. The clip flashes back and forth between shots of Janson playing and singing at a piano and shots of a young intoxicated woman being victimized at a college frat party. The video, which Janson told People made him cry the first time he saw it, ends with a man doing the right thing, ensuring the drunk woman gets home safely without taking advantage of her.

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Thomas Rhett performs during the 54th Academy Of Country Music Awards

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2019: ‘Remember You Young’ by Thomas Rhett

– Director: TK McKamy

In the press release that accompanied the “Remember You Young” video, Thomas Rhett said that he wrote the “sentimental” song “about the people in life that we love, and always remembering them in their youth, no matter how much time passes and we all change.” In the clip itself, an older man going about his day flashes back to earlier moments in his life with his friends, wife, and children.

Kane Brown performs onstage during the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards

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2020: ‘Worldwide Beautiful’ by Kane Brown

– Director: Alex Alvga

Shortly after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, Kane Brown—one of the few mainstream Black musicians in today’s country music—released “Worldwide Beautiful,” a song with an urgent message about justice and equality. In the music video, kids of all races come together to heal a post-apocalyptic world while adults, seemingly stymied by their prejudices, stand by helplessly. Proceeds from the video were given to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Miranda Lambert and Elle King perform onstage at the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards

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2021: ‘Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)’ by Elle King and Miranda Lambert

– Directors: Alexa and Stephen Kinigopoulos

A party anthem through and through, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” became the first female duet to top the country charts in almost 30 years, since Reba McEntire and Linda Davis’s “Does He Love You” in 1993. The video, which is every bit as fun as the song itself, sees Elle King, dressed up as a very ’80s bride, and Miranda Lambert, her maid of honor, having the time of their lives at a wedding reception.