Every month has a few great music videos and June was no exception. This month also had a logjam when it came to the really good ones that sit just behind them. With summer starting, dance videos are ramping up. There were also a number of videos with LGBTQ+ themes.
This isn’t uncommon – musicians from Lil Nas X to Allison Ponthier could make arguments as the music video artist of the year so far, with wildly different videos and even whole artistic universes based on representation and acceptance. June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and I think this played into seeing an even bigger wave of LGBTQ+ videos.
It’s also worth mentioning that artists like Bo Burnham and Wolf Alice each dropped a ton of videos this month. You probably would’ve seen Burnham’s “White Woman’s Instagram” or Wolf Alice’s “Lipstick on the Glass” if this were a top-25 countdown. Burnham released a number of comedic videos and Wolf Alice continues laying down chapters in what amounts to a larger film of connected music videos. A list like this isn’t necessarily built to group those larger, multi-month projects, but they can still be worth following. We’ll keep an eye on them; we’ve gone in-depth with similar projects in the past.
Let’s get into it. This month’s music videos were selected by Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabriel Valdez.
CW: Photosensitivity Warning; Strobing Effects
10. God Save This Queen – Bimini
directed by Kassandra Powell
Bimini is a British drag queen and model who gained fame on “RuPaul’s Drag Race UK”. “God Save This Queen” marks their first single. I love how the punk editing and mentality are thrown together with high fashion concepts and a pointed sense of humor.
It’s a beautiful statement video that’s simultaneously fun and inviting. It’s brash and confrontational, while at the same time embarrassing anyone who might seek to confront it. That humor and inviting nature gives it a disarming charm. That’s certainly not a line Bimini should have to walk, but that they choose to and do it so well is what makes the video.
9. The King – Sarah Kinsley
directed by Lux
This is a solid performance video anchored by a superb, 75-second opening one-take and those explosively stagey elements that introduce the chorus. It’s a great fusion of set, costume, performance, and editing.
Lux is Hannah Lux Davis, who’s directed videos for Doja Cat, Bebe Rexha, David Guetta, Kacey Musgraves, and has become Ariana Grande’s go-to director. Sometimes in filmmaking a director makes it big and you love what they do with all those expanded budgets…but you also miss some of what they can do on a smaller scale. “The King” is a return to that smaller scale and proof of just how much Lux can do regardless of budget or resources.
8. Hot N Heavy – Jessie Ware
directed by I Could Never Be a Dancer
This is exquisitely done as a one-take. There could be hidden edits, but if so they’re not even slightly obvious. There’s a figure in movement at every moment, and rarely does something cover or swipe across the camera in a way that significantly interrupts it.
If there’s one thing that holds it back, we all thought there was a certain chemistry missing between the dancers. It’s hard to pin down what makes chemistry happen, but the video works on cleverness, effort, and skill. It’s missing just that heat and intensity that would put it over the top as one of the best dance videos of the year. That can obviously hold an MV for something called “Hot N Heavy” back.
It’s still a really good video, but sometimes those elements in dance that have more to do with acting get traded off just a bit to accomplish a tough goal like a one-take. I think it’s one reason why Jungle (who’s on the list further on) hide edits in their one-takes: it allows more focus on those extra aspects like acting that make a video become a singular monument to its song.
7. Butterflies – Skrillex, Starrah, Four Tet
directed by Ben Strebel
There’s something about this that speaks very specifically to the pandemic. There can be a dissonance to how we’ve fractured and reconnected as things potentially get back to some kind of normal. Social interaction that would’ve once been ordinary can now feel highly charged, pressured, abnormal. It doesn’t help that we’re in such an unsure space, with countries shutting back down as the Delta variant of COVID spreads. Are we about to see widespread socializing and connection return, or are we at the prologue to another year of isolation and distance?
There’s a fraught edge between those two spaces that “Butterflies” explores, and I think it speaks to a larger anxiety that accompanies the pandemic and, in turn, much of the nationalistic, socially fracturing politics that enabled its spread. Certain social spaces that were once familiar can now seem celebratory, surreal, and stressful all at once.
6. Sofia – Askjell, iris, Aurora
I have a pretty cynical attitude toward music videos that are made up of clips from fans. They often come off as narcissistic because they use community as an excuse to reinforce a band’s brand. It’s difficult to avoid making them feel exploitative. It’s one reason you don’t see us include many of them in our monthly rundowns.
Here, that’s different. It’s not the musician being celebrated, it’s a young artist who didn’t get enough of a chance to explore her art. It’s not primarily the musician whose brand we’re spreading, it’s the art of a girl who wanted to share what she did. At least something of what she believed and how she saw the world survives and touches others. At least some part of the person she wanted to grow up to be is realized.
5. Dating is in China – Modeselektor ft. Catnapp
directed by Maximilian Villwock
Modeselektor is a German group that took shape in the chaotic wake after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Featured artist Catnapp is an Argentinean artist based out of Berlin.
The video features Ukrainian gymnasts and was shot in Kiev. It’s strange and unexpected, reassuring throughout and unsettling in its last shot. It feels exceedingly directed, often iconic, but also something of a blank canvas we can begin to place our own emotional meanings upon.
One of my favorite aspects of it is an intentionally blurry quality to the images. This isn’t simply downsampled, it’s an included effect. It gives the video something of a discovered quality, like a decade-old video stuck in YouTube obscurity that’s suddenly been uncovered.
4. Rainin’ Fellas – Todrick
directed by Todrick Hall, John Asher
This is one of the most charming and celebratory dance videos of the year. There are so many pieces from costuming to choreography that fuse together in a way that’s simply fun. I love it when elements like kitsch are used this earnestly.
It’d be easy to dismiss this as an easygoing, uncomplicated video. To a large extent, that’s the effect it’s seeking. There’s also an element of deconstructing and then reconstructing so much of what we see in dance videos. A lot of big dance videos with so many moving parts only seek to be more extravagant than what came before. That can leave a lot of substance out. Here, there are notes of Broadway, movie musicals, a choreographic thread that can be traced back to Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, and notes of contemporary art, kitsch, and pop art that have each been hugely important in LGBTQ+ acceptance.
3. Talk About It – Jungle
directed by J Lloyd, Charlie Di Placido
Jungle continues making the best dance music videos on the planet. They often center on long takes, or faux one-takes. It would seem like this is all done in one shot, but there are hidden edits (a whirl past a wall, a shirt sweeping over the camera for a moment). The effect is no less powerful, and it’s important for the concept here to feel unbroken.
For dance to play out the emotional push-and-pull of a support group is a difficult idea to pull off. There are so many incredible decisions here, centered on alternating moments of conflict and synchronization in the choreography. The viewer is involved in a lot of these like a character, fed by the continuous, point-of-view nature of the take.
2. Purple – Retriever
directed by Theo Le Sourd
“Retriever” is an exquisitely shot, well acted, lightly erotic montage that perfectly captures the sensation of heartache and rewinding memories. It has a gorgeous cinematic feel in front of a song that feels like a lost 80s pop ballad.
When a music video’s about exactly what the song’s about, it can feel a little too on-the-nose, but it’s that sensation of memory scrambled together that helps this work. Some things we have context for, some things become colored in new ways: an argument begins to influence a happy memory. There’s a desire to compartmentalize impressions we want to keep sacrosanct, so that some part of the relationship still feels as it was – even as the rest of our lives grow further from it. “Purple” finds what’s ultimately a very elusive sensation that often escapes description.
CW: Photosensitivity Warning; Strobing Effects
1. Null – eAeon ft. Jclef
directed by Years
There’s no denying that this is visually stressful, but what that stress achieves is something that can only be found in this medium. “Null” is an evocation of trauma and crisis that feels especially pointed. It captures a profound and inescapable anxiety that also humanizes and contextualizes behaviors that are avoided and overlooked in daily life. The main character is someone who’s often relegated as someone else’s problem, or as a situation for police to (mis)handle.
What’s so successful here is that it’s not disturbing, but rather it makes the disturbing identifiable. It creates an empathy for someone who might be angry, unpredictable, perhaps even dangerous, but who genuinely needs support and understanding because none of us would be able to handle a reality so eroded any differently.
More music videos we liked in June:
“Cipi” by Noga Erez continues the artist’s line of biting socio-political commentaries, fused to her trademark wary performance style.
“Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” by Joy Crookes is a colorful dance video with some stellar costume design.
“Freedom” by Jon Batiste is a great dance video in a month overstuffed with them. It celebrates, New Orleans, Black culture, and has charisma to spare.
“Calling U Back” by The Marias boasts some really special cinematography set to one of my favorite songs of the month.
“All You Can Do” by Bess Atwell hearkens back to 70s montage styles and double-exposures to create an evocative and yearning MV.
“PTT (Paint the Town)” by Loona excels in all those things that make a mainstream K-pop video: it’s a clinic on choreography, costume design, set design, and editing.
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