30 Years Ago: When Alicia Silverstone and Aerosmith Ruled MTV

Between 1993 and 1994, future 'Clueless' star Alicia Silverstone featured in a trilogy of Aerosmith videos that saved the band from obscurity and landed the teen actor squarely on Hollywood's A-list.
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage via Getty Images ; Background: debela/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

There were lots of good reasons to watch on MTV circa 1993. MTV News was doing groundbreaking reporting on sex, politics, and everything in between. The Real World was facilitating important conversations about race, gender, and sexuality while inventing a new format known as reality television. And iconic artists like Nirvana, Dr. Dre, and Janet Jackson were changing the sound of popular music. But really, it was all about Alicia Silverstone.

On June 20, 1993, indefatigable arena rockers Aerosmith released “Cryin’,” the third single off their 11th studio album, Get a Grip. The music video would be the first in a trilogy of extremely memorable Aerosmith clips starring Silverstone, then a fresh-faced teen actor coming off the 1993 psychological thriller The Crush. With the videos for “Cryin’” and “Amazing” in 1993, and “Crazy” in 1994, Silverstone essentially hijacked MTV for a couple of years. And she did so by playing a different kind of video vixen.

Unlike the scantily clad hair-metal babes from the previous decade, Silverstone’s Aerosmith characters are free-spirited thrill seekers beholden to no one. All three videos move at a pace of a million miles per hour, challenging viewers to keep up with Silverstone. One minute she’s getting tattooed and bungee jumping off a highway overpass; the next, she’s having cybersex on a motorcycle and ditching school with her best friend for a riotous road trip through Middle America.

Silverstone was undeniably sexy, but she was also the main character of these adventures. “After watching all these other videos, it’s cool to see that one, to see a video with a real person,” Silverstone told Rolling Stone in a 1995 cover story. “I’m never posing, never doing this supersexy stuff. I’m just being.”

Aerosmith’s video trilogy changed a lot of people’s lives—not least of all Silverstone’s. Among the millions of viewers mesmerized by her presence was writer and director Amy Heckerling, who wound up casting Silverstone in a little movie called Clueless. That 1995 teen comedy would become a generational touchstone and forever define Silverstone’s career. But her work on those three Aerosmith vids remains a source of fascination three decades later.

Prelude to Stardom

Alicia Silverstone was born to British Jewish parents in San Francisco on October 4, 1976. She grew up just outside the city and began modeling as a child. This was partially due to her real estate agent father, Monty, who’d take snapshots of his photogenic daughter and shop them around to talent agencies. Silverstone made her TV debut with a Domino’s pizza commercial and landed an episode of The Wonder Years in 1992. That show’s star, Fred Savage, got Alicia’s phone number—but when he tried calling her, he got Monty’s fax machine.

The following year, Silverstone bagged her first feature film, The Crush. She stars as Adrian Forrester, a 14-year-old girl who becomes obsessed with her 28-year-old next door neighbor, played by Cary Elwes, a.k.a. Westley from The Princess Bride. In the course of making the film, the 15-year-old Silverstone got legally emancipated from her parents in order to bypass child labor laws. 

The Crush earned Silverstone a pair of MTV Movie Awards, for Breakthrough Performance and Best Villain. It also caught the eye of Marty Callner, a veteran music video and comedy director who’d been working with Aerosmith since their unlikely comeback in the late ’80s. The “bad boys from Boston” were once again in danger of becoming irrelevant, but Callner had a plan for keeping them afloat in the age of grunge.

Video Vixen—'90s-Style

Back in the ’80s, Callner had been the Martin Scorsese of sleazy metal videos. His resume includes Poison’s Hollywood cautionary tale “Fallen Angel,” Scorpions’ bikini-packed “Big City Nights,” comedian Sam Kinison’s aggressively raunchy “Under My Thumb,” and the trilogy of Whitesnake videos starring Tawny Kitaen, who cemented her place in pop culture history by doing splits on the hood of a Jaguar in the clip for “Here I Go Again.” But a new decade brought new social mores, and Callner was happy to change with the times. 

After spotting Silverstone in The Crush, he came up with an idea for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’” video that would have been unthinkable even five years earlier. In the clip, Silverstone plays a young woman who catches her boyfriend (actor Stephen Dorff) cheating and responds by punching him out, getting a tattoo and a belly-button piercing, and bungee jumping off an overpass in a mock suicide, just to further mess with the guy. One of the final shots is Silverstone dangling over the highway, flipping him off. Oh, and she also chases down and karate kicks another dude—played by future Lost star Josh Holloway—for trying to steal her backpack.

“I try not to be a misogynist when I’m [making videos],” Callner told the podcast Industry Standard. “That’s what I like about the [Silverstone] Aerosmith videos. It was the first time a woman was a protagonist in a video—strong and not a sexual object. And I was guilty of that too, back in the Whitesnake days and the Scorpions days, but I decided it was the ’90s—it was too much, and it was time to make a change.”

Silverstone and Dorff do some heavy making out in the video, but Silverstone doesn’t actually show much skin. She spends much of the clip in a grungy flannel shirt and pair of work boots that she got from her “way-older-than-me boyfriend,” as she revealed in a 2021 Glamour video. “I just happened to be wearing it, and they thought it looked great for this.”

“Cryin’” went into heavy rotation on MTV and became the network’s No. 1 music video of 1993. Silverstone’s fan base wasn’t limited to smitten adolescent boys; it included plenty of young women like Cobie Smulders, then a pre-teen in Canada about a dozen years away from finding fame on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. As Smulders told Jimmy Fallon, she was so inspired by the “Cryin’” video that she broke her elbow practicing Silverstone’s flying kick in her basement. She probably wasn’t the only one.

An “Amazing” Comeback

It’s no great mystery how Silverstone wound up in Aerosmith’s next video, for the power ballad “Amazing.” “Aerosmith made a hell of a lot of money off [“Cryin’”],” Silverstone told Rolling Stone. “Their sales tripled or something. They would have been crazy not to ask me back.”

For the sequel to “Cryin’,” Marty Callner doubled down on the sex, the stunts, and the sheer ’90s-ness of it all. The video opens with actor Jeremy London—who in 1993 also appeared in the film Dazed and Confused—using his newfangled CD-ROM drive to create a custom virtual-reality fantasy starring Silverstone, whom he selects from the “Cryin’” video. At first, cyber-Alicia doesn’t feel like putting on his sweaty motorcycle helmet and going for a ride, so London clicks “Attitude Adjustment” and gets a much friendlier Silverstone, complete with maroon minidress. 

London and Silverstone eventually make love on a moving motorcycle and veer further into MTV Sports territory by going sky surfing, a thing people did back then. If the “Amazing” video had ended there, it would’ve been pretty cool, but Callner lives up to the song’s titular adjective with a shocking twist ending. It turns out London is Silverstone’s CD-ROM fantasy—we’ve been watching her screen the whole time.

“Was that weird to do, all the kissing?” Jon Stewart asked Silverstone on his short-lived MTV talk show in 1994. “Yeah,” she replied with a smile. “But you just do it.”

A “Crazy” Coincidence

Thanks in no small part to the Silverstone videos, Get a Grip became a septuple-platinum blockbuster and spawned six singles, the last of which, the bluesy earworm “Crazy,” marked the triumphant conclusion of the Alicia trilogy. This time around, Callner cast 16-year-old model Liv Tyler—daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler—as Silverstone’s partner in crime. Incredibly, Callner had no idea Liv was Steven’s daughter. “I saw her in a Pantene commercial,” he told Industry Standard. “I thought her dark hair and Alicia’s blonde hair would make a great foil.”

“Crazy” opens with Silverstone and Tyler in classic schoolgirl uniforms skipping class and hitting the road in a convertible. They lip-sync to “Crazy” before pulling up to a gas station where they shoplift a bunch of food and sunglasses. As a thank-you gift to the doofy stoner cashier guy who allows their thievery, the ladies cram themselves into a photo booth and take some risque pics that we the audience are left to imagine.

The next stop is a strip club, where Liv wins amateur night by copying her real-life dad’s slinky stage moves. Tyler and Silverstone celebrate their $500 windfall at a local motel, and the next morning, they pick up a shirtless farm boy who’s happy to abandon his tractor and hop in their backseat. They go skinny dipping, and the ladies naturally steal the guy’s clothes.

This time around, Callner opts for two surprise endings. Remember dude’s tractor? While he’s cavorting with Alicia and Liv, it continues plowing the crops and spells out “Crazy” in perfect cursive. But it gets better. After dropping off the farmer, Silvertone and Tyler get a little further down the road and drive past London’s character from “Amazing,” still wearing his sky-surfing outfit.

Beyond Clueless

Before her association with Aerosmith, Silverstone was well on her way to becoming a movie star. The videos simply accelerated the process. Amy Heckerling told Rolling Stone that she “just went cuckoo bananas” when she saw Silverstone in the “Cryin’” video. “She’s funny and beautiful—anyone who shows even a glimmer of that mix becomes a major star,” Heckerling said. 

Heckerling’s Clueless made Silverstone a household name, and Alicia ended the decade by starring in Batman & Robin, Excess Baggage, and Blast from the Past. While her A-list superstardom didn’t quite extend into the 2000s, Silverstone has built an impressive filmography and done several stints on Broadway. She also emerged as an outspoken animal rights activist. In a 2023 Hollywood Reporter feature, Silverstone reflected on the downsides of being a super-famous teenager.

“When Clueless came out, it really shifted. I had been the girl from Crush, then I was the Aerosmith chick, and then, after that, I was Cher,” Silverstone said. “It was very complicated and I don’t think I knew how to manage it: I didn’t have the foundation, the good tools to deal with it, I wasn’t prepared for it in any way, shape, or form. I really had no idea what was happening, and it didn’t feel comfortable.”

Silverstone had always been more concerned with improving her craft than with being a celebrity or sex symbol. Way back in her 1995 Rolling Stone cover story, she made a point of correcting anyone who thought the Aerosmith trilogy was the first thing she’d ever done.

“That’s absurd,” Silverstone said. “I’m not a video star turned actress. I’m a serious actress who spent a few days making videos. I’ve done a lot more than videos, you know.”