Tag Archives: music videos

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.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

No Miley Here — 2013’s Best Music Videos, #10-1

Fiona Apple lead

by Cleopatra Parnell, Vanessa Tottle, & Gabriel Valdez
special thanks to Hayley Williams

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

#10: “Q.U.E.E.N.” – Janelle Monae feat. Erykah Badu
directed by Alan Ferguson

“It’s hard to stop rebels that time travel.” So begins one of the best performance videos of the year, feeding off the visual history of artists ranging from Paula Abdul to Prince to Kate Bush. It fits into Monae’s continuing ArchAndroid narrative of a future dictatorship rebelled against only by artists, singers, and dancers. In an odd way, Monae’s wacky refraction of today’s protest movements reminds us of the crucial and unique role art has in influencing and shaping our society. Hers might be one of the most influential voices around, if only because the seriousness and urgency of her message is accompanied by so much performance and joy. It makes those moments she chooses to buckle down and teach all the more poignant.

#9: “When That Head Splits” – Esben and the Witch
directed by Rafael Bonilla, Jr.

Watching this makes me feel like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind: “This means something!” Damned if I know what, but it’s touching and sends chills up my spine. The crudity of its creature design belies a painstaking complexity in its stop-motion animation. I’d also note that Esben and the Witch’s Wash the Sins Not Only the Face is one of the most overlooked albums of 2013, and won my coveted “Best Scandinavian Band You’ve Never Heard Of Award.” They’re the very first non-Scandinavians to do that.

#8: “Hot Knife” – Fiona Apple
directed by P. T. Anderson

Welcome to P. T. Anderson’s masterclass on editing and lighting. Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) highlights Fiona Apple’s multiple vocal tracks by giving each its own distinct look: the competing backups are profiled in side panels, backlit in high-contrast black-and-white. The central chorus, Apple’s most intense performance, is introduced in a frontlit, black-and-white close-up that anchors us – both in auditory and visual senses – throughout the rest of the video. It evolves later as more vocal layers are added beneath it – we pull away to a medium shot and the coloration becomes deeply oversaturated by the conclusion.

As the song grows more layers, those backup profiles are again introduced, first frontlit and then later in silhouette. This last time they’re given lowlit schemes of muted orange and pale purple that complement – and lead your eye back to – the oversaturation of Apple’s intense performance at the center. With stoic profiles at the edge and emotion anchored to the center, additional layers interrupt where they can. Her pulsing timpani performance keeps pulling back to black-and-white. We end by drawing closer and closer to each performance, creating a visual intensity that reflects the song’s crescendo, until Anderson gives each visual and vocal its own send-off.

Essays could be done on this. Classes should be taught on this. I just launched an exploratory committee to start an experimental college based entirely around analyzing this video.

#7: “Without You” – Lapalux feat. Kerry Leatham
directed by Nick Rutter

Happening in a world that could only be invented by David Lynch, but wasn’t, this is a damning allegory for how we adjust our worlds to fit the expectations of those around us. Whether you view it as living life for someone else or as a metaphor for the treatment of outsiders, Rutter shows us the inevitable outcome of living out the values of others rather than developing our own.

#6: “Sacrilege” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
directed by Megaforce

We used to burn witches. We used to gang up on those less fortunate and blame them for the ill outcomes of our own bad decisions. We used to make scapegoats of women for the same things that men do. Now we just shame them in the media. Now we just blame their desire for rights to their own bodies for the mythical dissolution of American morals. Now we just block them out of the political process. We still burn witches, but now we just do it real civil-like.

#5: “Collider” – Jon Hopkins
directed by Tom Haines

A dance piece about the psychological impacts of being raped, playing out the sequence a thousand times in your head as attacker, as victim, as bystander. One vicious, searing, heartbreaking, violent, irrecoverable moment. The most important dance piece last year.

#4: “Like a Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan
directed by Vania Heymann

This interactive video will require you to watch it off-site.

There’s no quantifying this one. An interactive video for a song that came out 49 years ago, which lets you flip from one reality show to the next to see familiar semi-celebrities lip synching their way through the classic rock song. You can sit on one channel the entire time – the shows go on as normal save for the lip synching – or flip constantly.

It allows the user to create narrative links and select the incongruities that speak to them, to assign meaning to the repetitious meaninglessness of reality TV. It redrafts “Like a Rolling Stone” as a blank slate for our own modern habits, and as such becomes a mirror on which to project our own self-criticisms. After the gimmick wears off, all we’re left with is a meditation on Dylan’s original song and the images that have become most recognizable in our own daily lives – images of false comforts and falser narratives on a TV screen.

#3: “Meltdown” – Ghostpoet
directed by Dave Ma

Two continuous shots enjoy one moment of intersection, creating one of the most powerful visual moments in recent memory. The video, combined with Ghostpoet’s hauntingly uncomfortable song about inhabiting a doomed relationship, replicated a moment we’ve all had – one in which we yearn for what we once had, but don’t reach for it because we’re afraid of losing something we know won’t last. It’s a weird artifact of human nature, and possibly the one we repeat the most in our lives.

#2: “You & I” – Local Natives
directed by Daniel Portrait with Kamp Grizzly

We can’t really tell you anything about this video without ruining it. We’ve shown it to about 20 people so far. They’ve each broken down by the end of it, not just crying but sobbing. None of us wants to do some deeper analysis on it. We don’t want to poke something we love so much.

#1: “Afterlife” – Arcade Fire
directed by Emily Kai Bock
(her 3rd appearance on this list)

Dreams are for lost opportunities, for testing out paths not taken, for expressing our fears and pangs of loss. I had a grandmother I never knew, not when I was old enough to form solid memories of her. Every once in a while, some dream-form of my father’s mother takes shape, guides me, reassures me, stands in the way of the things I fear most. Religion might have me believe she’s an angel. Psychology might have me believe she symbolizes some deeper, definable meaning. I believe it doesn’t matter either way. She or my subconscious would give me a clue if it mattered. It doesn’t. I just know what she does and what it means to me. Those personal meanings, those moments in dreams…that’s what Emily Kai Bock captures in “Afterlife.” – Gabriel Valdez

It’s funny because we all chose this as our #2 video. We whittled things down to a top 60. After that, we were blind to each other’s rankings. Cleopatra chose “Meltdown” by Ghostpoet because it was the most challenging. Gabe chose “You & I” by Local Natives because he’s a big sap. I chose “Collider” by Jon Hopkins because I couldn’t stop watching how the dancer translated a narrative of abuse. But we each chose “Afterlife” for our #2 video, and this gave it the best average. I’m happy it did. I’m not close with my family anymore. I was removed by a distant relative. That means “Afterlife” is a fantasy to me, but it’s a really lovely one to have. It makes me yearn for parents and religion other than the ones I had access to. It makes me miss some humbleness of childhood I never got. It’s like being an archaeologist or some sci-fi pioneer, watching another civilization through a membrane. I’m unable to grasp it, but seeing it is fascinating and it makes me angry and it makes me proud. – Vanessa Tottle

I took care of my grandparents for a very long time. I still check in on my grandmother regularly. She tells me stories about a different time when she grew up. I hear a lot about my grandpa, who passed away but was never really with it for the last decade of his life. “Afterlife” is like one of her stories. They’re completely different from my experiences, but sometimes when she talks to me it’s like having my grandpa back. I imagine he’s listening right next to me. When I’m in a hurry and I ask her to stop, I feel bad later on. I feel like I denied my grandpa a chance to sit next to me again and smile at my grandmother’s stories. I imagine he sits next to me when I watch “Afterlife.” I imagine that he understands how much I miss him and that we found a common story we can wordlessly share. – Cleopatra Parnell

Videos #20-11 ran on Thursday, April 10.
Videos #30-21 ran on Tuesday, April 8.