It’s List Time: Best music videos of 2016

[Content warning: swearing, gore, sexual imagery, rambling, excessive use of parenthesis, wanky writing, probably some mistakes]

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So list ‘week’ kind of crumbled thanks to exams and my general lack of worth. BUT the festive period is all about sharing, and there’s still a lot of great music to share.

Music videos might be the most underrated type of visual media. We often hear of the MTV generation as the golden age of the medium, and while there were countless gems put to tape – many of which were directed by now-legendary filmmakers – I’d argue that a golden age is happening right now. Fresh talents and a few returning legends have been crafting amazing things at a relentless pace. This is partly because they no longer need to rely on labels, a television network or even high-end recording equipment to make something special. All they need is the vision, the talent and an internet connection. Or in the case of Beyoncé, a few million dollars, a huge team of artists and a massive legacy to flip what a music video can do completely on its head.


Honourable Mentions

Run the Jewels – Love Again [Dir. Ninan Doff]
Charli XCX – Vroom vroom [Dir Bradley and Pablo]
Jamie xx – Gosh [Dir. Romain Gavras]
Róisín Murphy – Ten Miles High [Self-Directed]
CL – Lifted  [Dir. Dave Meyers]
The Avalanches – Because I’m Me [Dir. Greg Brunkalla]
DJ Shadow – Nobody Speak [Dir. Sam Pilling]
High on Fire – the Black Pot [GINA NIESPODZIANI and MARK SZUMSKI]
Stylo G x Jacob Plant– Bike Engine [Dir. Keith Schofield]
Grimes – Kill V Maim [Self-Directed]
Wolf Eyes – T.O.D.D.
Shamir –  Tryna Survive
ABRA – PULL UP
Chris Farren – Say U Want Me [Dir Clay Tatum]
Wolf Eyes – T.O.D.D
Aesop Rock – Blood Sandwich
Xenia Rubinos – Mexican Chef
Clarence Clarity & Pizza Boy – Splitting Hairs [Self-Directed]

25. Clipping – Shooter  [Dir.Carlos Lopez Estrada]

This band/director combo are responsible for some of the best music videos in recent memory (and my favourite, possibly ever.) Shooter is another winner, with slick choreography and the punchy, minimal style it’s director has become known for.

24. Kanye West – Famous (Unofficial Official Video) [Dir. Big Bud and Lil Bud]

The “official” official video for ‘Famous’ wasn’t good. It was a clickbaiting, faux-artsy mess of puppet bodies that tried to justify Kanye’s crass lyricism by making a boring statement on celebrity status, something he’s has been vapidly exploring for too long. Aziz Anziri’s and Eric Weirheim’s video, on the other hand, is nourishing. We see the duo lip-syncing to Swizz Beat’s hyped ad-lips while gorging on pasta. We see them dry humping a tiny car. We even see them pretending to have swag in slow-motion, while confused Italians go about their day.  It’s a good time, and shows the pure bliss of being famous and free, without taking itself to seriously.

23. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – People Vultures [Dir. Danny Cohen]

This Monty-Python-channeling, psych-rocking, light-force-dueling, paper-mache-ing masterpiece is everything you could want from a band called ‘King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’. What Black Dynamite does for awful blaxploitation flicks, this video does for awful fantasy films. The full band fit inside of a giant vulture costume (a possible throwaway from Labyrinth) and have a series of duels with legally safe knock-offs of a cyberman, B. Barry Benson and Darth Maul. The budget was clearly blown on the ridiculous outfits, because the rest of the video devolves into dramatic crash-zooms, and it’s all the better for it.

22.  Laura Mvula – Phenomenal Woman [Dir. Alex Southam]

This stunning video is a vivid show of Ms. Mvula’s roots. Its colour palette alone is impeccable.

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 21. Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants to Love You [Dir. Adam Kolodny and Michelle Zauner]

How can a song with the line “When we wake up in the morning/ Will you give me lots of head?” be so so lovely? The video for Japanese Breakfast‘s jangle-pop gem mirrors the brodude/kawaii dichotomy wonderfully, blending generalisations with jolly optimism to make something three-dimensional and deeply human. The video’s personal relevance for Michelle Zauner makes it even more poignant. She dons her mother’s wedding dress, just months after her passing due to cancer. When she lets out a cheery guitar solo near the end of the video – while balancing on the back of a pickup, no less – it’s obvious there’s a lot more to this clip than cute vibes.

20. Isaiah Rashad – 4r Da Squaw [Dave Free of the little homies & Christian Sutton]

“If I pay my bills, I’m good” Isaiah Rashad mumbles at the beginning of ‘4r Da Squaw’, a red zero hovering above his head. His son stands next to him clutching a fare token, and a green ‘2’ lets us know how much he’s worth in this moment. And then there’s everyone else, some massively in debt, some scraping by, some doing very bloody well for themselves. In this clever video everyone is on equal footing, just enjoying a day out by the beach. Our rapper/son duo are by far the most outwardly happy, beaming as they playfight over the token. They try to pay for a drink and the machine swallows it whole, so they just run on the sand instead. Isaiah’s opening line is less out of desperation and more a reduction of his problems; he’s good as long as he gets by. We’re along way away from C.R.E.A.M here, and this mature look at monetary worth is even more powerful with bold visuals matched to its words.

19. Touché Amoré – Skyscraper (feat. Julien Baker) [Dir. Touche Amore]

‘Stage Four’ is an unsettling listen, but its capturing of a ubiquitous theme – grief and all that surrounds it – is powerful enough to pull any listener into these intimate moments. Jeremy Bolm uses the project as a cathartic mode of processing the death of his mother, with ‘Skyscraper’ standing tall as its bittersweet emotional climax. Backed by Julian Baker’s sturdy vocal, Bolm tells of his mother’s final wish to see New York City, and the small joy of being able to give that to her. The accompanying video is a much starker retelling, that sees Bolm repeating this walk through New york city, this time with an empty wheelchair. It’s a stunningly simple rendering of personal tragedy that needs nothing more than its central concept to bring you to tears.

18.  Ham + Stam – 1000 Times [Dir. Ross Goleman and Rostam Batmanglij]

‘1000 times’ starts out like any band performance music video. A kid takes Hamilton’s role as lead, as the band bash out the song’s tale of impossible love that refuses to be shaken from the singer’s mind. And then Leithauser takes the second verse. And then an older gentleman takes the third, joined by an elderly Rostam (both played by the duo’s fathers). The three performer’s lines are spliced together, in an effective and affecting use of the songs repetition that emphasises its agonising endlessness. Sometimes the simple ones are the best.

17. PWR BTTM- I Wanna A Boi [Dir. Liv Bruce & Anneliese Cooper]

Rocky Horror levels of sass are mixed with messy feelings, messier lipstick and real, human intimacy with an inflatable boyfriend.

16. PUP – Sleep in the Heat [Dir. Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux]

RIP NORMAN. WE HARDLY KNEW YOU. (I mean, I didn’t at all.) BUT YOU WERE BEAUTIFUL.

15. Danny Brown: When It Rain [Dir. Mimi Cave]

“You ain’t heard it like this before” yelps Brown on this rattling single – braggadocios, provocative, but acutely aware of his large audience and that they’re probably gawping at his weird style. His album title, his lyrics, and this video all reflect the same thing: the judging eyes of those viewing life at its most extreme and self-destructive. This VHS-fever dream is proud of its excess, and its representation of Detroit’s vibrant scene  – something outside of the knowledge of a lot of hip-hop listeners. But it’s also aware that there’s a viewer there, happy to enjoy his intoxication without participating in it. It’s a complex piece of filmmaking that never lets its morally shaky presentation get in the way of its excitement

14. Massive Attack: TIE between ‘Voodoo in my blood’ and ‘The Spoils’ [Dir. Ringan Ledwidge // John Hillcoat]

[To be read in the style of Quentin Tarantulino]

Give Rosamund Pike an Oscar. NO WAIT. Give Cate Blanchett an Oscar! Someone is DEFINITELY getting an Oscar for this! WAIT. Can you give out Oscar’s for music videos? Could they get a ‘Best Live Short’ Oscar? But then Lemonade should be eligible also, right?  – Aw jeez, now I’ve spoiled the list. Oh screw the whole thing.

13. Clams Casino – All Nite feat. Vince Staples [Dir. Ryan Staake]

Just as a rule of thumb, if Vince Staples is in a music video, it’s probably fantastic. His deadpan stare and complete inability to stand bullshit shine enough on their own. If there’s a director who can match his charisma, they’re on to a winner. ‘All Nite’ is exactly that. Oh. And it’s also got some of the most meticulous editing I’ve ever seen in a music video, so much so that it’s sharp shot composition threatens to outstage Staples himself.

Seriously how did they do some of these transitions?

12. Moses Sumney – Worth It [Dir. Allie Avital]

Allie Avital and Moses Sumney recreate D’Angelo’s ‘Untitled’ with just as much sex appeal, but twisted into something starker and even more compelling than D’Angelo’s beautiful oiled chest. Two promising talents have produced something masters of the form would struggle to create.

11. OK GO – Upside Down Inside Out [Dir. Damian Kulash, Jr. & Trish Sie]

OK GO have made a whole career out of ridiculous concepts for music videos. They’re better known for their gleeful gimmicks than they are for their actual tunes, which is not meant disparagingly when they’ve created some of the most incredible contraptions ever put to film. With their focus on virality and success-through-sponsorships, they’re a hipster site’s worst nightmare, which is probably why they didn’t end up on Pitchfork’s list (I’m not picking a fight – all of those writers are lovely. I’m just saying it doesn’t fit with their branding.)

‘Upside Down Inside Out’ is something else. The band float at zero G and manage to choreograph a pitch perfect music video in the process. Every second must have cost a more time, money and effort than I can imagine, but its glorious presentation is worth it.

10. AJJ – Goodbye, Goodbye [Dir. Joe Stakun]

So you know all that stuff about how great OK Go is? Well I’m also a cynical hypocrite. AJJ parody the groups legacy with a stunningly stupid video that gave me way more joy than it should have.

9. Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair; Cranes in the Sky [Dir. Alan Ferguson and Solange Knowles]

For these sister videos – and for the majority of A Sit at the Table – the style is completely Entwined with the substance. The striking costumes, lighting, shot composition and exuberant dancing all fully represent Solange, and the communal spirit of her lyrics. The vision is stunning, and refuses to be watered down.

8. Blood Orange – Augustine [Dir. Devonté Hynes]

Back when Freetown Sound’s release date was announced, Devonté Hynes wrote an accompanying note on Instagram, explaining that the record was intended for those who had been told they were “not black enough, too black, Too queer, not queer the right way, the underappreciated.” This loving statement on the fluidity of identity oozes from the album. It embraces the most neglected and mocked periods of R&B, with its campy builds and hazy drum machines, and rebuilds them like magic, to show why optimism should be sought for. It’s music where finding joy in your identity matters above all else.

This is channeled through his music videos too. His delicate film-captured camera paints New York as a sunbaked utopia: photos of Muhammad Ali and a book on Black Queer Theory sit next to him equally as he plays the piano in an empty apartment; faces of all shades vogue with each other in a park just because they can; he dances on a rooftop in a crop top and COMPLETELY pull it off. Because why shouldn’t he? There a distance to these over-exposed shots too. It’s a kind of gooey nostalgia for a time that we know never existed. At one section, an article titled ‘After Treyvon’ flashes on screen, reminding that this utopia is only available in short bursts for many, and not at all for others.

7. Angel Olsen – Shut Up Kiss Me [Self-Directed]

Donning a silver wig and an evil grin, Angel Olsen becomes a damn rock star, shedding twee stereotypes about what a folk musician is meant to do. She roller-skates after cars. She side-eyes the camera like its a piece of dirt. She dances with a half-shrug while singing about obsession and love making you crazy. And then, at the very end,  she’s cool enough to ask someone behind the camera if she’s ‘giving enough attitude’. ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ is a lifetime’s worth of attitude wrapped up in a sparkling piece of film.

6. Frank Ocean – Nikes [Dir. Tyrone Lebon]

“I’ve got two versions”, mumbles Frank Ocean at the beginning of ‘Nikes’. He could be talking about the two subtly different versions of Blond(e) floating about on the internet. Or maybe he’s making a sly reference to his bisexuality. Or maybe he’s talking about the two statues of the Virgin Mary in the back of his GT, who transform into doe-eyed Asian schoolgirls later on in the video. Mr Ocean has trouble conveying his true emotions on the album, either from a galvanised layer of stoicism he’s learnt to build up after getting hurt in the past, or from just having his true feelings misunderstood when he states them plainly. It’s fitting that he reflects this elusiveness onto his listeners.

Anyone who sees the video for ‘Nikes’ will feel these emotions, even if they can’t place them. It is a vivid capturing of intimate moments that finds Ocean healing himself with warm bodies, glitter on his skin and a drink in his cup. It’s also a painful show of public insecurities and fluctuating states of mind. It’s a surreal depiction of gender fluidity and self-worth. And then it’s a gorgeous capturing of physical beauty of all shades. It also just looks cool. It’s a lot at once OK?

5. Vince Staples – PrimaDonna [Dir. Nabil]

WHEEEEEW. I told you about the Vince Staples Rule above, but he really outdoes himself on PrimaDonna, an EP retold through film that picks up where Senorita messed us all up. Staples is clear in that the great majority of audience will never understand his situation, and now this Nabil-directed video shows some of the repercussions. Its a trippy look at fame and its effects, and it fully captures the gravity his lines deserve.

4. Mitski – Happy [Dir. Maegan Houang]

The video for ‘Happy’ is pure, unadulterated Mitski. It’s a painful look at identity insecurity, told with precision and clarity that not many artists can manage. And then adds a brutal twist just to fuck with us.

Humans are really weird, which I guess is what Mitski has been saying all along.

3. Radiohead – Daydreaming [Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson]

As someone who’s a bit of a daydreamer, I can empathise with Thom Yorke here. He moves between rooms worlds apart, completely surprised as he enters a new one, as if he’s never even seen a hospital, or a beach, or a car park, or an office, or a house. As the song ramps up, it becomes obvious he’s searching for something, but each new room finds him just as panicked and lost. Paul Thomas Anderson’s subtle direction builds this moment of crisis with nothing more than a few close-ups and flickers of a handheld camera, and it’s Yorke’s performance that frames it all.

2. David Bowie – Lazarus [Dir. Johan Renck]

A true master of the medium – and that could mean pretty much every modern art medium – gives his fans a final message with uncompromising grit and a true swagger until the last curtain is closed. There have been a lot of cynical discussions surrounding Blackstar (and all completely necessary considering the weight of the work), about whether Bowie’s death has rose-tinted our view of the power of the album itself. It’s a hyper-personal work for Bowie as well as his fans, many of whom have spent their life consuming his art. But a video like ‘Lazarus’ makes clear how much vision he had over it right until the very end. It’s a powerful statement on death, image and decay, told by a man who knew what all three felt like, and knew how to make his audience feel it too.

1. Beyoncé – Lemonade (Yes, the whole feckin’ thing) [Dir. Jonas Åkerlund; Beyoncé Knowles; Kahlil Joseph; Melina Matsoukas; Dikayl Rimmasch; Mark Romanek; Rodd Tourso]

‘Lemonade’ has converted four close friends of mine into fangirls, and they were all curmudgeons on the Yoncé hype train – Hi Lindsey. Hi Kelan. Hi Evie. Hi…me*.  This is a blockbuster with none of the stilted emotions. It’s political art with none of the pretension. It’s pure pop, with added complexity. It’s what pop musicians should aspire to be, and it uses its huge list of contributors and massive financial backing to add to its worth as a film. Watch the full thing, and tell me Beyoncé is shite. You can’t. It’s too good.

*Yes I can be my own close friend. What of it. No I’m not Lonely YOU’RE LONELY.

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