Category Archives: Music Videos

Awkward Playlist: Habits of Dying Nations

One thing that’s difficult to wrap our heads around is the sheer amount of information bombarding us on a daily basis. We can barely understand new pieces of shocking corruption, racist tragedies, and systemic violence before the next new piece comes along. We feel helpless because even if we can figure out how to help one situation, dozens more that we’re too overwhelmed to help in the same way have just piled on.

That makes it so easy to lose track of the things we are helping and changing. We try our hardest, and lose track of even what we’re doing, of the change that we might be making.

One reason I put these songs together is that artists who are tackling particular elements can help to clarify them. We have a lot of the information about what’s happening around us in our heads, but when we get overwhelmed our emotions mix across the bunch of them and we lose sight of any in particular. We don’t process the information, and we just let others make narratives of it for us – often in a harmful way – just to feel a little less overwhelmed.

Art can get shoved to the side in moments like this, but that art can be an incredibly useful way to anchor emotions, to compartmentalize and clarify. A lot of this music contrasts in culture, tone, approach, perspective. The music videos below do share a focus, though. They’re each protest songs, protest videos, and they help me feel clearer because they all look to give a space for getting back to those emotional anchors about the things that rightly anger us.

“Vipers Follow You”
Amon Tobin

 

“The Seduction of Kansas”
Priests

 

“Pa’lante”
Hurray for the Riff Raff

 

“They Keep Silence”
Jambinai

 

“Mirrors”
El Perro Del Mar

 

“Daddy”
Lafawndah

 

“No Land”
Buke & Gase

 

“Blood of the Fang”
clipping.

 

“When the Fires Come”
Kero Kero Bonito

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Awkward Playlist: Frustration / Depression

One of the major ways that I cope is by making lists. It’s funny because list articles generally aren’t my favorite to write. Sometimes I’ll make a quick list of art that evokes an emotion, or connects things in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

One of the ways this takes more solid form is creating playlists of music videos and performances. It’s not just the song, it’s about what the video and performer evoke, the way all of it together flows into the next or contrasts with it.

Sometimes I’ll go through dozens of music videos putting 10 in the right order. I always feel like what I come up with is imperfect, that there’s something missing I haven’t tripped upon or been introduced to yet. I’m frustrated when a song doesn’t have a video or performance I like, and then I sit on the list for ages wondering if I should put the song itself in. But I also feel like whatever I do come up with is useful for storing an emotion, processing it, seeing it turned over and over in this weird tumble dryer of videos.

As something extra, I thought I’d put together a playlist of videos every two weeks – no discussion like I might put in an article, just an order of videos that helps me to think about something, cope with it. In this one, it felt like I had permission to be sad and frustrated. They’re emotions that I often deny myself – angry and frustrated, sure, but sad I fear de-railing work, I fear getting in the way. I hate the way it makes me doubt myself, second-guess my worth. I fear wasting time when I already have trouble focusing. I hate permitting stress when it feels like I already have enough, as if that doesn’t somehow create more stress.

I think putting these particular videos together helps me create a space where I have permission to be sad, where I can let that be legitimate, where I can feel safe feeling that, and realize how badly I sometimes need to allow that for myself.

“Tap Dancer”
Local Natives

 

“Rich, White, Straight Men”
Kesha

 

“Value Inn”
Laura Stevenson

 

“Poison”
Little Simz ft. Tilla

 

“Blame”
Denai Moore

 

“Re”
Nils Frahm

 

“Bluebeard”
Patty Griffin

 

“Coming Down”
Anais Mitchell

 

“Just Make it Stop”
Low

 

“Fear”
Sarah McLachlan

 

“Helplessness Blues”
Fleet Foxes

 

“On a Hilltop Sat the Moon”
Amon Tobin

 

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What Were the Best Music Videos of the 2010s?

The 2010s were an odd decade for music videos. The medium seems to have both a record audience and a diminishing importance. Music videos at the beginning of the decade measured the celebrity of an artist. The best were (for some reason) often considered those with the most cameos of other celebrities.

Now, viewership is overwhelming, there’s more access to music videos than ever before, and that interest is much more fragmented. Websites dedicated to covering music videos have gone under. A star can no longer maintain their celebrity solely on opulently produced music videos.

Are these good things or bad? It’s genuinely hard to say. It’s an evolution. I certainly don’t mind that stars themselves have become less central to music videos. When they do feature, it’s less about anchoring the video to a musical performance and more about how the star features, highlights, or contrasts to a story taking place. It leaves more room for narrative, setting, a director’s touch, dance, choreography, performance.

These are the 10 music videos of the last decade that stick with me the most:

10. “Land of the Free” – The Killers

directed by Spike Lee

Hope can’t function without the work to realize it. Change doesn’t happen unless people enact it. Spike Lee’s video for The Killers’ “Land of the Free” speaks to the sad, backwards phase the United States has found itself embracing. We’re running concentration camps for Latinx immigrants, tearing children from their parents and keeping them locked away for no reason. Incarceration has been transformed into a modern version of slave labor for the prison industry. Children are shot in our schools with no real effort made to decrease the risk they face.

“Land of the Free” is a Rorschach test for how you’re feeling that day: hopeful, angry, motivated, hopeless, desperate. All of those feelings are part of a whole. All of them are legitimate and natural. Just keep taking the next step to changing something. Keep taking the next step of the work that feeds that hope and one day realizes it.

9. “Happy” – Mitski

Content Warning: Gore

directed by Maegan Houang
produced by Ben Kuller

Mitski’s likely had the strongest music video output in the last half of the 2010s. There are a number of her MVs that could make a list like this: “Washing Machine Heart”, “Nobody”, “A Pearl”, “Your Best American Girl”.

Many of Mitski’s videos center on the dissonance of being biracial. Director Maegan Houang’s “Happy” might investigate this best in terms of the white beauty standards held against women of color. What the video reveals is how racism is used to undermine feminism that isn’t intersectional. While it supposedly prizes white women over women of color, it’s ultimately used to suppress both. White patriarchy doesn’t enable or reward women held as successful in it, it just points them at another marginalized community while both are victimized.

8. “Genghis Khan” – Miike Snow

directed by Ninian Dorff
produced Sarah Boardman, Rik Green
choreography by Supple Nam

And now for something happy. A surprise hit that came out of nowhere, “Genghis Khan” is a terrific love story that exemplifies the strengths of music videos as a medium. It communicates its ideas quickly and upends your expectations through song, dance, and just a few cutaway shots.

We’re familiar enough with the tropes it plays with that it doesn’t need any more than this. It’s successful because it can tell a story in under four minutes with very broad strokes and a bare handful of specifics that establish and then invert cliches we love. It’s expertly directed because it knows where to pull back and trust the audience.

7. “Elastic Heart” – Sia

directed by Sia, Daniel Askill
choreographed by Ryan Heffington

Dance can communicate a great deal, including the inability to escape certain struggles and bring the people we love with us. Sia has discussed the video in terms of being two sides of her personality, and it also works as demonstration of family members struggling and fighting – sometimes with each other. A daughter learns to cope with mental illness and trauma and a father can’t escape its impact – whether because it’s too late or too progressed, he simply didn’t have the tools and help in time.

The responses to this video were understandable. Many worried about connotations of pedophilia at the idea of Shia LaBeouf dancing opposite Maddie Ziegler in a cage. Impact outweighs intent, so it’s appropriate that Sia herself quickly clarified the aim of the video and didn’t seek to blame or attack those who were concerned about it.

As a metaphor for mental illness and trauma recovery, it can be powerful. The video itself is the sum of a number of smart decisions. Ryan Heffington’s choreography is off-kilter and imbalanced, playing with the power dynamic and difference in size between his two dancers. The camera remains still at various points only to explode into motion. The editing is energetic and chooses its patient moments. There’s sometimes a slight fish-eye effect used in shots taken from inside the cage that creates a slightly distorted perspective. And of course, the two dancers are phenomenal, both in their choreography and in their performances as actors.

6. “What Kind of Man” – Florence + The Machine

directed by Vincent Haycock
produced by Jackie Bisbee, Mary Ann Marino, Alex Fisch
choreographed by Ryan Heffington

Florence Welch has a catalog of fearless performances in music videos. Perhaps none of them match “What Kind of Man” for their range and the flexibility of their interpretation. Welch and Director Vincent Haycock put together a 48-minute film called The Odyssey, composed of nine original Florence + The Machine music videos. “What Kind of Man” serves as the opener to it.

I’d describe it as a burgeoning storm of a music video if it wasn’t expressly making that comparison within the video itself. The range of scenes swings wildly across intimate experiences, framing an entire rocky history of trust, anger, desire, shame. We come away with the shape of what someone’s love life has felt like – whether across multiple romances or just one is hard to say. We understand the gender inequality that played into it, the feelings of disaster and healing that accompanied it.

If we were asked to build a chronology of events out of the video, we couldn’t possibly. Yet if we were asked to describe the feelings surrounding those events, we could describe what the video shows us for far longer than it runs. “What Kind of Man” is like an impressionist painting – we may not be able to identify individual objects in it, but we can describe exactly what it feels like.

(I had this list sorted out before I looked at the production and choreography credits. Lo and behold, choreographer Ryan Heffington again. I supposed I should be looking for more of his work.)

5. “The Body Electric” – Hurray for the Riff Raff

directed by Joshua Shoemaker
produced by Dan and Cathleen Murphy

Hurray for the Riff Raff’s protest anthem “Pa’lante” could just as easily have made the list, but “The Body Electric” is the music video I go to when I feel most helpless in changing things. It’s not because the video makes me feel hopeful. It’s because it makes me see how much more hopelessness out there is felt by others, how many marginalized communities are struggling and seeking for their voice to be legitimized, to be seen as human. The sheer volume of that struggle isn’t reassuring, but I know we’re none of us alone in that struggle. The hopelessness I’m feeling isn’t unique, or unprecedented, or insurmountable. It’s a desired effect of the racism I fear and fight against, of the misogyny and transphobia addressed in the video.

“The Body Electric” reminds me I’m not alone. There are more of us who want to change things than those who want them to remain this way. That pain is heard. It’s felt. It has platforms. People are fighting every day. I don’t fail if I’ve fought until exhaustion. We all have at some point. I fail if I don’t recognize that in others, if I don’t see the communities who are all in this. Art like this can be poignant in driving a point home, and it can also serve as a bridge to the lonely and exhausted that reminds them it’s OK, that exhaustion is shared, just as overcoming it is shared.

4. “Quarrel” – Moses Sumney

directed by Allie Avital, Moses Sumney
produced by Meghan Doherty

Moses Sumney’s song speaks of the power imbalance in a relationship between people of different privileges. The music video deals with the desire to transform into something he cannot, the fairy tale that people of color can be seen as the same when the difference that’s applied to them is itself illusory. We turn the hate of that inward in an impossible effort to become the things that hate us.

Or, the music video deals with the desire to oppress and cause violence to those we care about who don’t have the same privileges, and it’s not until Sumney puts himself into the shoes of those he oppresses that he can understand how his actions cause harm.

“Quarrel” is difficult to parse. Like many great fairy tales, it can say multiple things depending on your point of view.

3. “This is America” – Childish Gambino

directed by Hiro Murai
produced by Danielle Hinde, Jason Cole, Fam Rothstein, Ibra Ake
choreographed by Sherrie Silver

Obviously, “This is America” belongs high on any list like this one. Why does it work so well for so many people? It speaks to a country (and cultural movement across many countries) that increasingly uses fear to dominate and radicalize its people against each other. It builds layers of violent imagery immediately ignored with smiles and dancing. The smiles and dancing immediately enable the next eruption of violence.

Nothing is healed in that cycle. All of us quietly fear it while simultaneously feeding it, participating in it, enabling it. It fuses together the acts of violence and illusions that erase them to evoke a lurking fear that we use those illusions to suppress and deny.

2. “RAPIN*” – Jenny Wilson

Content Warning: sexual assault

animated & directed by Gustaf Holtenas

Jenny Wilson’s 2018 album EXORCISM is an unraveling of after-effects from a sexual assault. The entire album serves as a maelstrom, an extensive fallout of damages and dealing with them. Its uncomfortable discussion of recovery as a process that often repeats the trauma is stark and realistic. There’s no before-and-after picture to it.

“RAPIN*” is the first song on the album, a fever dream that serves as a terrifying monument in life that can never be erased. Gustaf Holtenas’s animated music video reflects that terror in a way that’s both surreal and sickeningly physical.

It’s not a representation that can be easily digested. It’s confrontational, visceral, revolting, haunting. It conveys how trauma changes the way someone sees the world from that point forward, how the event itself replays in their mind. It’s a direct and painful music video that places the viewer into the shoes of the victim, if only to describe in some slight way something that can’t be described.

1. “Afterlife” – Arcade Fire

directed by Emily Kai Bock
produced by Anne Johnson

The best we can do for the people we’ve lost is remember them. Sometimes we can only do so in impressions. Perhaps its a TV show you grew up watching with them. Perhaps its a place where you danced. Perhaps its a shoulder you rested upon. We don’t always have access to these things anymore. We reach out to them in our imaginations, in our dreams, we try to resurrect them in the art we create.

We try to touch them just one more time, to evoke something lost – their image, their voice, their presence. Sometimes a death can feel like nothing will ever be the same. Sometimes it can feel like they just stepped out for a minute, and they’ll be right back.

“Afterlife” deals in the impressions we might remember in our dreams, the memories of work and leisure a father might have, a teenager’s memory that’s precise but lacks context, the brief feeling of reassurance after a child’s nightmare.

“Afterlife” is sad and longing, but it’s also immensely reassuring. It shares one glimpse of something we all feel in our lives, at a way our hearts all break and mend until we can test their breaking once again because we so dearly want to remember those we’ve lost.

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The 12 Best Music Videos of March

Take Flight Lindsey Stirling

by S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith & Gabriel Valdez

Don’t worry, we’re still writing original content for this site, too! We better be, cause this takes a long time to put together. Over 150 music videos were watched. Here are the top 12:

12. “Stole the Show” – Kygo ft. Parson James
dir. Saman Kesh
prod. Geoff McLean

Invaded by aliens? Time to throw a party. That was my favorite part of Independence Day, at least. Too bad they had to blow up the party. “Stole the Show” asks, what if they just came here for dance-offs instead? In other words, “Stole the Show” is better than Independence Day.

11. “Take Flight” – Lindsey Stirling
dir. Joe Sill
prod. Nick Erickson

Can someone just give Lindsey Stirling her own TV channel already? No musician has better adapted positive messaging into a music video career. Her videos always tell stories, they have fun doing so, they sometimes address difficult themes, and they encourage their viewers toward change. The idea that “Take Flight” might be one of her lesser MVs shows you just how much she’s dominated the medium.

10. “When We Were Kings” – Ikey
dir. Xaivia Inniss

Watch a fever dream. Watch it break into delirium. Watch the delirium break into anger. This is reaction to a once great people enslaved, ghettoized, reduced to victims of police brutality – to “niggers, bitches, killers, hoes” by the media, who are murdered in the streets on camera with no recourse even as they’re defined as villains to the establishment and usurpers of white privilege.

9. “Wake” – Dems
dir. Tom Mustill

Give this one a minute to sink in. What it’s doing isn’t apparent at first, but once you figure it out, it’s a well-needed shock to the system.

8. “Bloodstream” – Ed Sheeran & Rudimental
dir. Emil Nava
prod. Danyi Deats

You’d be forgiven if you forgot how good an actor Ray Liotta is. He’s been in so many one-note comedies and B-films lately, you might have overlooked his intensity and pathos. But few can translate character so effectively in the space of four wordless minutes. Everything else removed from the MV – and there are a lot of other reasons to like it – this is a singular performance by Liotta.

7. “Realiti” – Grimes
dir/prod. Grimes

This song is a demo from Grimes’s lost album. Let’s repeat that: this thoroughly awesome and addictively danceable high point in Grimes’ career is just an unfinished demo. What makes the video great is the way it’s shot – it reflects her work with director Emily Kai Bock, who shot her video for “Oblivion” in 2012. Grimes mixes over-hued and saturated scenes, location shots too front- or back-lit, and deepened shadows, all married to the neon, unnaturally lit city night – it evokes the passage of time via lighting and color instead of narrative.

6. “Closer” – JP Cooper

The pain of miscarriage can be hard to convey. One in every four pregnancies ends in one, and yet we fail to educate about the risks and realities. Instead, we teach women to feel as if something’s wrong with them. We teach men to feel as if they didn’t do enough. We teach ourselves to second-guess and feel ashamed. In some places, we even imprison women for them. “Closer” reaches out to communicate a story of loss and pain, of futures that will never be. It’s a momentous music video, and hopefully it can connect to others who have suffered similar pain.

5. “Gibberish” – MAX
dir. Greg Jardin
prod. Jennifer Heath, Garen Barsegian

The definition of a song that’s too clean. It’s catchy, but it needs to sink deeper into its grooves, overlap its tracks a little more, let that brass reverb more. It needs to dirty up. Either way, the music video is pretty spectacular, a mix of forward and reverse motion married through complex choreography, camera trickery, and clever use of CGI.

4. “Lionsong” – Bjork
dir. Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin
prod. Stephanie Bargas

Essentially performance art, but what else did you expect from Bjork? If you answered, “An awesome song,” then you’re going to be pretty pleased with “Lionsong.” The performance is alternately heartfelt and cheeky in true Bjork style, but the odd enhancements to her legs, her costume turning into a galaxy – it all becomes something more. For the life of us, we can’t tell you why. We can’t pin a meaning to it or a reason it digs so deep. It just does. That’s the power of Bjork. She gets under your skin and into your subconscious and you can’t say how. It’s like she’s always lived there.

3. “Glass & Patron” – FKA twigs
dir. FKA twigs
prod. Dominic Thomas

FKA twigs continues to know exactly what she’s doing, even if the rest of us don’t. Her music videos exist in the surreal mindspace between fashion, dance, and identity. As the MV’s director, she can mirror the dissonance between our stereotypes and realities through her lighting, costuming, and editing. Stylist Karen Clarkson deserves special acclaim for the costume choices, make up and hair, as does editor Julia Knight, who delivers a nuanced and complicated edit that brings all of it into vibrant life.

2. “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” – Run the Jewels ft. Zack de la Rocha
dir. A.G. Rojas
prod. Park Pictures

We’re not going to put it better than Run the Jewels did, so in their words: “We were tasked with making something that expressed the intensity of senseless violence without eclipsing our humanity. For me, it was important to write a story that didn’t paint a simplistic portrait of the characters of the Cop and Kid. They’re not stereotypes…the film begins and it feels like they have been fighting for days, they’re exhausted, not a single punch is thrown, their violence is communicated through clumsy, raw emotion. They’ve already fought their way past their judgments and learned hatred toward one another.”

1. “St. Jude” – Florence + The Machine
dir. Vincent Haycock

It’s difficult to define music as having “quiet power,” especially that of Florence Welch. Yet how else to describe “St. Jude,” a soul-felt ballad of imperfection, regrets, and changed directions? It’s essentially the cinematic opposite of Welch’s last video, the powerfully angry MV of the month for February, “What Kind of Man.” That told its story through multiple timelines (or realities) and quick editing – “St. Jude” is all one shot. It reflects on life in a similarly apposite way. As communicated early in the video, this is the calm after the storm, the magic hours of dusk where you sit and contemplate as the world dwindles to darkness. The anger’s passed. What’s next? Florence + The Machine are doing something spectacular here, stringing together chapters of emotion that reflect on a life much in the same way an album is meant to.

It’s worth noting that the same choreographer – Ryan Heffington – has choreographed our January (“Elastic Heart” by Sia), February, and March music videos of the month. He also choreographed our music video of the year for 2014, Sia’s “Chandelier,” as well as another in our 2014 top ten, Arcade Fire’s “We Exist.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS

14 rappers from 14 countries perform in “Hip Hop is Hip Hop.” It’s a brilliant introduction to how rap is used in different cultures. Click if only because the profits all go to children’s education via UNICEF.

K-Pop gets another shout-out with Fiestar’s stylish dance video “You’re Pitiful.”

Modest Mouse endorses party anarchy in “Lampshades on Fire.”

How did Lucy Rose’s “Our Eyes” not make it onto the list? Whatever, just watch her get eaten by a variety of animals, it’s fun.

While the rest of the country deals with homophobic idiocy from Indiana, Steve Grand delivers “Time,” a music video that reminds us everyone faces the same stories and struggles no matter their sexuality.

More Bjork! Bjork’s “Family” is offered as a “moving album cover” instead of a music video. We still think it counts.

Go Watch This: “Gibberish” by MAX & Hoodie Allen

by Gabriel Valdez

In celebration of the YouTube Music Awards, the internet video giant released 13 commissioned music videos, their artists ranging from FKA twigs to Ed Sheeran. Some of these are better than others and, of course, we’ll count them through in our Best of March round-up at the end of the month (see the Best of February here).

Here’s the complete list of what was just released – it’s a strong group of music videos – but among the best of these is a bit of magic put out by MAX and Hoodie Allen. It’s called “Gibberish” and it uses clever choreography, special effects, and plain, old visual trickery to create a video that travels forwards and backwards in time all at once.

The metaphor it creates for how people in a relationship communicate past each other is pretty exceptional, but it’s always a complement to the music and dancing itself – it prioritizes style and a “how’d they do that?” factor over making you think too hard. In other words, it’s good to get you through the middle-of-the-week grind. Check it out above.

Go Watch This: Lindsey Stirling’s “Roundtable Rival”

by Gabriel Valdez

As we scour our way through dozens of music videos each week, we sometimes come across something we’ve missed. This site’s always been about trying different things out, especially when it means teaming different writers together, and late last year that means we gave music videos a break to try other things.

Now that we’ve brought that coverage back to stay, we’re finding a few gems we didn’t feature, like “Roundtable Rival.” In this case, that means discovering that Lindsey Stirling totally stole the idea that I was gonna steal from Six String Samurai. (No, it’s not really stealing.)

If you’re unfamiliar with Stirling, I could say something snarky like, “That must’ve been one comfortable rock,” but instead I’ll point you to her channel, where she combines playing the violin with her unique brand of hip hop and folk dancing – usually all at once – to create some of the most imaginative (and positive) music videos being made in the industry today.

The 10 Best Music Videos of February

What Kind of Man Florence and The Machine 2

by S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith & Gabriel Valdez

After a year of writers experimenting with different features and articles, we’re bringing back the ones we liked the best. This means a return of our music video coverage. These actually take more work than anything else, but we love this kind of filmmaking too much to abandon talking about it.

What follows is our selection of the 10 best music videos from the last month, with some honorable mentions.

Please be aware that our #2 video of the month comes with a pretty severe trigger warning.

10. “Can’t Control My Love” by Total Giovanni
directed by Sherwin Akbarzadeh

Boy falls in love with girl. Boy sees how other boys treat the girl. Boy is inspired to reject the patriarchy by hallucinations of a glam band. Boy is rewarded with gummy worms. That’s not exactly how it works in the real world, but…whatever, it’s close enough.

9. “JAY Z: A Dissertation on the Diaspora of the Black Soul” by Goodbye Tomorrow

If you’re on board with the idea that rap’s going through a funk, you haven’t been paying attention to the right rap. There’s a conscience that’s returned to much of the industry, driven by the economic collapse of the middle class and recent racial violence. Goodbye Tomorrow’s first video is a trippy, angry lamentation on how African-Americans are portrayed in the media and how this portrayal carries over into everyday life.

8. “Champagne Kisses” by Jessie Ware
directed by Chris Sweeney

It all feels as if Bat for Lashes got hold of a Nine Inch Nails video and plastered everything over in pastel. There’s a dreamlike quality of yearning here, of not wanting to wake up from whatever dissociated feeling we’ve managed to trap ourselves in. It comes together in such a strange, bittersweet way. There’s a tone here that isn’t common. It feels like peeking into someone’s psyche where we shouldn’t be.

7. “Goodbye” by Who Is Fancy

This is a trio of videos, each to the same song. Each time, a different artist is presented as singing the song. The other two can be seen here and here. Each is guided through the exact same music video, made up and fashion accessorized closer and closer to the point of visually becoming a pop star. Together, the individuality of the singer is removed and replaced with a commercialized image. Just like the image at the end of each video isn’t real, we don’t know which of the three singers – if any of them – is the real one. It’s a clever commentary on modern pop and the identity of the singer has remained – up to this point – anonymous.

6. “Julia” by Jungle
directed by J & Oliver Hadlee Pearch

Jungle posted the #2 album of the year for us last year and you can hear why. Even better, they continue to put out some of the best dance videos to accompany these songs. The connection from song to dance isn’t always apparent, but it doesn’t seem to matter when the emotion of the dance takes hold. It’s not so much based on logic or narrative as how the dancers seem to feel the song, and how they interpret and communicate that feeling to the audience.

5. “Perfect Ruin” by Kwabs
directed by George Belfield
produced by Jessica Wylie

At least someone’s taking advantage of the snow. Filmed in the Swedish winter, Kwabs captures the essence of a lonely emotional journey, the way a moment of loss can both uplift and break the soul. It reflects the simplicity and beauty of the song itself – the instrumentation always complements, but never impedes, Kwabs’s voice. It’s peaceful, it’s contemplative, and it’s utterly beautiful to watch.

4. “Blame” by Denai Moore
directed by Simon Cahn

The best music videos reflect what appeals to us about music itself – they leave themselves open to interpretation. A young woman sits in the back of a police car. A man chases after. Is he trying to save her? Is he trying to catch her? Is he scared for her, angry with her? If he’s scared, is she being taken away unjustly? If he’s angry, is he trying to capture her or does he blame her for something? Is the police car trying to protect her or drag her to prison? There doesn’t even seem to be a driver. Even the end reveal is intentionally obscure. Has she caused a death, or is she dying? Is the whole thing a metaphor – she’s slipping away and he rages at this? We don’t know. We can’t know. And that’s what makes “Blame” – paired with its beautiful song – so important and rewatchable. What the video is about will always be a mystery, but it’s a mystery that communicates important possibilities.

3. “I Can’t Breathe” by Pussy Riot
directed & produced by Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot, the Russian punk movement that protested Russian president Vladimir Putin, includes the two members here who served nearly two years in Russian jails for “hooliganism.” There’s argument over what Pussy Riot stands for, whether they should serve as a voice of protest, and the same talking heads in our news media who called them heroes for standing up to Putin tore them down once they protested the United States’ own militant police elements, as they do here in a powerful response to the choking death of Eric Garner committed by a New York City police officer.

So call Pussy Riot what you want, but only do it after you serve two years in Russian jails, return to the country to be whipped by police, and take the Kremlin to the European Court of Human Rights.

THE FOLLOWING VIDEO CARRIES A SEVERE TRIGGER WARNING. SKIP TO OUR #1 CHOICE IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO SEE IT.

2. “Buried” by Shlohmo
directed by Lance Drake
produced by Danielle Hinde, Jessica Zeta

The best, most meaningful horror movie of the year may be this 6-minute music video. Where to even start? It’s a brutal depiction of a pregnant woman eluding and confronting the kidnapper she’s just escaped on the seemingly uncaring streets of a midnight Los Angeles. The style and imagery behind this is in turn beautiful and appalling. The ties on a bed. A brief glimpse of a missing poster, weather-worn and forgotten for months. The editing of flowers opening, that god damn cinder block. This is a brilliant and very, very tough piece of filmmaking.

1. What Kind of Man – Florence + The Machine
directed by Vincent Haycock
produced by Jackie Bisbee, Mary Ann Marino, Alex Fisch

At the end of this video, check to see if your entire body is tensed. No artist in her videos exposes the crazy dreams, alternate realities, and fears going on inside her head better than Florence Welch. We connect to them because we all have those things happening in our heads, we’re all possessed by these inhibitions and fears, we’re all convinced of constant rebirths and better versions of ourselves to the point where we can’t identify the true changes in ourselves from the false ones.

Watching a Florence + The Machine video can sometimes seem like therapy – it’s cathartic and dreadful, healing and existentially terrifying all at once. More than any of her other videos, this taps into all the different narratives happening in our heads, all the possibilities we play out, all the inner selves and the memories they embody struggling to get free. And as director Vincent Haycock pointed out, Welch is fearless. There’s nothing she won’t do in a performance. You can see that here. You can see what’s laid out before us that most of us wouldn’t dare, all the inner clockworks and those things we’re afraid to say and admit. If only we were all so brave.

Honorable Mentions

“Black Mambo” by Glass Animals

“Empty Nesters” by Toro y Moi

“FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney

“I Luv It” by Sunny & Gabe ft. D.R.A.M.