by S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabe Valdez
It’s been a great year (so far) for pop videos. Coldplay, OK Go, and Ariana Grande all feature today. If there’s something to take away with you, it’s that this is the year rap matters again, the year where it woke up, looked around, got fed up with what it saw, and decided to start doing something about it. You’ve seen that already in the countdown (if you missed them, here are parts 1 and 2 of our rankings), and you’ll see it again today and tomorrow.
-S.L. Fevre & Gabe Valdez
P.S. Due to music copyright law, we can only feature some videos here. It’ll vary by country. Click on each title to watch it directly on YouTube.
15. You’re Not Good Enough – Blood Orange
directed by Gia Coppola
80s Music belonged to my older sister, who listened pretty exclusively to music like Blood Orange’s. It’s a light, airy, emotive groove reflected well in Gia Coppola’s faux behind-the-scenes rehearsal. What makes the video is how Coppola’s technical precision translates into loose, relaxed visuals – by harshly overlighting the whole picture, she achieves both the crispness and color of an HD piece as well as the flatly lit, soft tone of watching a variety show on an analog TV with so-so reception.
Combine the behind-the-scenes aspect, with dancers warming up and wearing era-appropriate rehearsal clothes, and it all sparks the feeling of getting a glimpse into a relaxed practice run from another era. And yes, Gia Coppola is Apocalypse Now and Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola’s grand-daughter. -Gabe Valdez
14. Summertime – The Head and the Heart
directed by Chad VanGaalen
Chad VanGaalen’s unique animation style initially hints at a simple, cutesy video. You don’t expect it to be as detailed or darkly humorous as it is, but it rewards repeat viewings. The macabre takes the video over later on as if you’re watching a gorier, er, Edward Gorey. In a year flooded with complex animation videos, “Summertime” stands out as one of the few vids that’s truly different, both for its fresh style and its incredibly wicked sense of humor. -Gabe Valdez
13. Girl You Look Amazing – Nicole Atkins
directed by Laurel Parmet
When you’re a PhD and you spend the majority of your life in Alberta, Nicole Atkins’ imaginary date out resembles way more evenings than I’d like to admit. Her performance is genuinely funny (those eyes!) and the song kills (so does the album). -Vanessa Tottle
12. Magic – Coldplay
directed by Jonas Akerlund
While Ziyi Zhang not being able to free herself from captivity doesn’t seem quite right to me (she was my pick as the Next Jackie Chan, after all), she gives a charming performance as Cecile, the damsel in distress in Jonas Akerlund’s Depression-era tale of dueling magicians. The silent film look gets the most out of Zhang’s capability for softness and Chris Martin’s chiseled persona, while letting the video communicate a complete story without ever getting in the way from the music. -Gabe Valdez
11. The Writing’s on the Wall – OK Go
directed by Aaron Duffy, Damian Kulash Jr, & Bob Partington
OK Go became famous because of a lo-fi music video done in one long take, “Here It Goes Again.” It involved the band dancing across treadmills in a video choreographed by one singer’s sister. They’re OK musicians, but they’re trailblazing music video artists. One-upping their Rube Goldberg machine in 2010’s “This Too Shall Pass” is “The Writing’s on the Wall.” It takes one of their better songs, plays with perspective like a Magic Eye, and literally turns you on your head all in one long, mind-bogglingly complex take. -Cleopatra Parnell
10. Work Work – clipping. feat. Cocc Pistol Cree
directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada
Rats in the head and curb stomping. This is old school rap and old school videomaking. It hits you hard and low, catches you off-guard, and contains violence without being violent. Social comment about the state of rap? Introspective psychological exam? Or all of the above? The video is filmed in one long shot that baits-and-switches you into something you don’t expect at all. I can’t think of very many music videos that have made me jump. Can you? -S.L. Fevre
9. State of Grace – Talib Kweli feat. Abby Dobson
directed by Daniel Cordero
Talib Kweli’s been sitting on the fence between educative rap and boastful superstardom for a hell of a long time. I’d like to think this means he’s finally chosen a side. “State of Grace” is his most important video yet, a vibrant animation full of color and emotion, a monument to hip hop’s origination in protest verse, and a call for women to take creative power and control of their image in the hip hop community. -Gabe Valdez
8. West Coast – Lana Del Rey
directed by Vincent Haycock
Lana Del Rey leaves her loving, caring beau for an older, rich man. She burns in Hell. That’s what this video amounts to. Metaphorical Hell, real Hell, or just a certain L.A. lifestyle? Her regretful, slowdown, ‘narco’ chorus ends in a chant of “I’m in love,” as if she’s trying to convince herself but doesn’t really believe it. It eventually takes over the song, her personality and the video to the point where there’s nothing of her original, laughing self left. The story in the video illustrates the evolution of selling out, not as a celebrity but as a human being, of replacing every original part of herself with the image someone else has projected on to her. It’s a stirring, thoughtful commentary to the feel-bad song of the summer. -S.L. Fevre & Gabe Valdez
7. Problem – Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea
directed by Nev Todorovic
This remains one of my favorite dance videos not just of the year, but of all-time. Grande, who’s extremely involved in the filming and editing of her videos, has found someone in director Nev Todorovic who she synchs up with perfectly. Earlier this year, I compared their creative relationship to that of David Fincher’s and Paula Abdul’s in the late 80s. In “Problem,” the framing constantly teases the viewer not just with Grande but with her dancers, too. The rhythmic editing style paces the music perfectly.
The video itself is filled with cinematic detail. Faux signal losses and swish pans keep the editing pace when a shot isn’t broken through a direct cut. Film scratches abound at the edges of the image, constantly drawing you to the center. A sort of psychedelic tunnel vision accompanies Iggy Azalea’s rap solo, in contrast to Grande’s trademark pinwheel and in visual complement to those swish pans and signal losses. Like the song, the video is cleverer by far than its simple pop housing would make you assume. -Gabe Valdez
6. Wrong or Right – Kwabs
directed by Emil Nava
The story of dance is sitting there and feeling like you’re wasting away. It’s needing to get out and express yourself. It’s not caring what you look like. It’s doing it in places you shouldn’t. It’s finding other people to do it with you at a moment’s notice. It’s finding something more in that community, something you get through movement and feeling music inside you in a way that has to get out. It’s letting every frustration you have get to your fingertips and toes to shake it out. It’s impressing people one minute and embarrassing yourself the next. It’s about taking down the walls between people in a way that makes everyone in a room appreciate nothing else but moving and feeling music inside you that has to get out. It’s about falling down and maybe getting back up and maybe not. It’s about telling your story to everyone else in a way that makes them understand their own stories better. The story of dance is sitting there and feeling like you’re wasting away, and finally deciding to do anything else but keep on sitting there. -Vanessa Tottle
Keep an eye out for our Top 5 music videos (so far).