Still with the music videos? Hell yeah, still with the music videos, just like in 2017 and 2018. You know why? Because people are still pairing moving images with pleasurable sonic oscillations, and as long as that's true, we're going to stay on top of the best of the best. Also, "best music videos" is a somewhat valuable search phrase that, over the course of an entire year, pays off with loads of clicks and, probably, some passive revenue from Google ads. But that's a side of the business I don't deal with, so perhaps I should shut my mouth and make content. Everyone lives to serve the algorithms now, so get on board or get off the internet!
While the nature of online video production and consumption may have changed, what's stayed the same is plenty of artists and directors continue to collaborate on music videos that deserve your attention. Here are the finest the medium has to offer, so check back regularly (or every day, just make sure you close and reopen your browser!) to see what's new.
In it for the music? Check out the best songs of 2018, the best albums of 2018, and the big albums that will drop in 2019.
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24. Preoccupations, "Compliance"
Director: Nicholas Brown and Evan Henderson
Release date: January 29
Why it's great: What if David Lynch made a short film about Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy? The result might be something like this video for "Compliance," featuring a smoke-filled landscape and an industrial monster who happens to resemble a tree-like superhero, but with a ring of fire on its back. The video doesn't attempt to bite off more than it can chew, and it's refreshing to see a focused vision that doesn't attempt to explain itself to you over and over again.
23. Warm Human, "Down"
Director: Carol Brandt
Release date: February 7
Why it's great: Warm Human's chilly expression of depression gets an equally chilly video from Brandt, who keeps the tones blue and never reveals whether you're looking at the world upside-down or right-side-up. The biblical imagery adds even more heft to the video, which isn't exactly uplifting, but which does feature an albino snake -- always a smart move.
22. City Girls ft. Cardi B, "Twerk" (kind of NSFW)
Release date: January 16
Why it's great: "Should we maybe mix it up with some non-twerking shots?" "Absolutely not." There's a single-minded purity to this video that places it on a plane above the myriad other videos featuring twerking -- when your mission is finding the world's greatest twerker, you have to be totally dedicated to your cause. And Miami's City Girls, with help from Cardi B, are certainly dedicated.
21. Rainbow Kitten Surprise, "It's Called: Freefall"
Director: Anthony Francisco Schepperd
Release date: January 28
Why it's great: Who doesn't love a depressing, oblique animated short film? Director and animator Schepperd blends abstract design with narrative storytelling in a shadow-filled world to set up what appears to be an execution averted at the last second thanks to the intervention of a horse-hair covered hero. From there, the story evolves into a psychedelic fever dream featuring horsewhips, dragons, and devils -- not bad for two-and-a-half minutes.
20. Knife Knights, "My Dreams Never Sleep" (kind of NSFW)
Director: Joe Garber
Release date: March 4
Why it's great: As always, going to the YouTube comments is a way to feel worse about the people who live and work in the world, while also laughing. The top comments for "My Dreams Never Sleep" are particularly illuminating, as they reveal a subset of fans who particularly enjoy the "Vaginal Vortex" depicted in this video. Beyond that, though, there's a trippy real-world-meets-animation look that that's more Waking Life than Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and it perfectly matches the heady vibes of Knife Knights' hypnotic beat.
19. Lizzo, "Juice"
Director: Quinn Wilson
Release date: January 4
Why it's great: The lighthearted parody has admittedly been done to death in music videos, but sometimes all it takes is a particularly energetic song, a charismatic performer, and frequent cuts between scenes to make the form feel fresh. That's the case with Lizzo's "Juice," which is part exercise video, part infomercial, part late-night talk show, part lotion commercial, all to convince you that you should probably be drinking the same juice as Lizzo.
18. Jungle, "Casio"
Director: Josh Lloyd-Watson & Charlie Di Placido
Release date: January 15
Why it's great: As the laid-back dance trend takes over music videos, it's increasingly difficult for a choreographed routine to stand out. But "Casio" embraces what appears to be a relaxed vibe and produces a complex and energetic dance choreographed by one of the band's members (and the lead dancer in the video). The result is a hypnotic quality that matches the low-key beats of "Casio," and you'll be lulled into a pleasant trance by time you get to the request for Julia to call.
17. Solange, "Almeda"
Director: Solange Knowles
Release date: March 7
Why it's great: Solange, after three years in the… elevator, hitting Jay Z?... is finally back with her hotly anticipated When I Get Home, the follow-up to 2016's A Seat at the Table. With the album comes an accompanying video project directed by Solange herself. "Almeda" takes elements of fashion shoots, art films, and modern dance to create an eclectically iconic mood piece that reflects the sensibilities of the singer's interpretation of R&B. Like her pop queen sister, Solange has the power to make her performance stick with you.
16. Rive, "Filles"
Director: TEMPLE CACHÉ, animated by Oriane Rondeau
Release date: February 7
Why it's great: Simplicity executed smartly always receives attention on this, the most important of all music video lists! Oriane Rondeau's cut-out animation highlights the wide variety of filles depicted throughout art history, most of whom weren't given much of a voice by the artists doing the depicting. Rive, a Brussels-based duo, puts all the images against a simple backdrop that gradually expands to include more time and space, consuming the blackness that confined the video at its outset.
15. Xiu Xiu, "Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy"
Director: Angela Seo and Anna Lian Tes
Release date: January 15
Why it's great: Xiu Xiu looks like they'll be delivering a full suite of post-modernish art films to accompany the album Girl With Basket of Fruit, out February 8. The videos, which accompany each track -- or Act, as the title cards tell you -- are more Matthew Barney than, say, Superorganism (last year's champion of thematically linked videos), but if you like your chords dissonant, your videos filled with vaguely ominous images, and your celery stuffed in someone else's mouth, "Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy" is for you.
14. Editors, "Barricades" (The Blanck Mass recording)
Release date: March 25
Why it's great: Have you ever wondered what would happen if MC Escher-designed machines were actually built and put into use before they began malfunctioning? No? Seriously? This isn't a common recurring nightmare? Animation studio Hi-Sim created a world of computer-generated devices that perform repetitive, pointless tasks. It's hypnotic enough at the beginning, but once small errors are introduced into the functioning of the machines, everything starts to break down. The fragility of systems are always exposed by human error. In all likelihood, this video won't make more people self-aware of their fallibility, but it sure is fun to look at!
13. Lauren Ruth Ward, "Valhalla"
Director: Alli Coates
Release date: January 18
Why it's great: What if stereotypical masculinity was… NOT stereotypical masculinity? That's the premise of Lauren Ruth Ward's "Valhalla" video, which begins with a women-only poker game of increasingly high stakes. You'll be sold when the trio of elderly men dressed in lingerie enter the picture, and if not, there's the badass weightlifting scene, in which Ward kisses her biceps and practices radical self-acceptance/typical male hubris before a snake wraps around her head. It's weird and irreverent in all the right places -- especially the final shot, which never strays from Ward's face.
12. Gary Clark, Jr., "This Land"
Director: Savanah Leaf
Release date: January 10
Why it's great: The imagery of Gary Clark, Jr.'s "This Land" evokes all kinds of unpleasant feelings about contemporary America and the rotten, false promises on which it was founded. It doesn't take an expert to decipher what lighting the Confederate flag on fire means, but this video actively engages with a social and political landscape littered with exaggeration, blunt rhetoric, and lack of subtlety. Sometimes you just gotta burn the flag to make a point.
11. The Chemical Brothers, "We've Got to Try"
Director: Ninian Doff
Release date: March 8
Why it's great: Thirty years into their career as big beat innovators, The Chemical Brothers continue to experiment, apparent in the first singles off their April 2019 album No Geography. The accompanying videos have matched that ambition. While their other entry on this list takes advantage of the Gondry brothers' world-distorting camera trickery, "We've Got to Try" tells a simple narrative story: What happens when you train a dog to be an astronaut. It's a funny concept, but it contains a surprising amount of pathos and an ending that will have you on the edge of your seat.
10. Juicy J ft. Kevin Gates and Lil Skies, "Let Me See"
Director: Joe Weil
Release date: February 15
Why it's great: Reframing the naked egotism of the Silicon Valley milieu in terms of a rap video gives Juicy J the chance to reinterpret all the greed and self-promotion of tech leaders in a humorous, albeit still critical, light. Juicy J is a Steve Jobs-like character who makes piles of money and touts his own genius before jealous collaborators become the competition, like Kevin Gates. Director Joe Weil and Juicy J prove that the smartly executed parody remains an effective music video format.
9. Sivan Talmor, "Sad Heart"
Director: Karni & Saul
Release date: January 19
Why it's great: The directorial duo Karni & Saul create a layered multimedia backdrop for Sivan Talmor's broken-hearted song, blending animation, photography, and film to track a figure making her way through a three-dimensional landscape. It plays almost like a video game, like a side-scrolling Mario entered a desolate 21st century town and had to make his way out. Unfortunately, this game isn't real, because even this vision of reality is less haunting than actual reality!
8. CupcakKe, "Squidward Nose" (NSFW)
Director: Joe Weil
Release date: February 21
Why it's great: The raunchy, give-no-fucks style on which CupcakKe has built her career does not take any time off in this SpongeBob SquarePants riff on, well, male genitalia. "His dick's smaller than my toes," CupcakKe informs us right off the bat, and you can see pretty easily how Squidward's nose enters the picture. The video echoes the song's absurd disregard for family-friendly television, featuring CupcakKe in a mermaid suit and comedian John Early fishing with a dildo as bait. It may fall into the "not for everyone" category, but you have to admire the audacity and humor CupcakKe brings to her music.
7. The Chemical Brothers, "Gotta Keep On"
Director: Michel and Olivier Gondry
Release date: February 6
Why it's great: The Gondrys have done it again! Fresh off the release of their truly bizarre series of branded videos for Park MGM, all of which clock in at 30 seconds including credits, the surrealist brothers turned back to music videos (Michel made his mark on the genre with The White Stripes' iconic "The Hardest Button to Button"), and the effect is a subtly creepy vision of a dance party, minus the advertising. A restrained use of special effects makes what appears to be a straightforward scene of dancers filling a dark room seem slightly off… until everything devolves into globular clusters. It's the perfect visual hook needed for The Chemical Brothers' catchy beat.
6. The Killers, "Land of the Free"
Director: Spike Lee
Release date: January 14
Why it's great: Well, here we are in 2019 and The Killers and Spike Lee have joined forces; so, yeah, it would take a thousand clumsy papers in an intro-level expressive culture class to trace the origins and implications of this collaboration. Nevertheless! The Killers write good pop songs, and Spike Lee is one of the most talented directors alive, so they can have at it. Lee, who's been chronicling America's racist legacy for more than three decades now, depicts the current American condition at its unvarnished worst by focusing on the humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico. As with his 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, Lee mixes cinematic flair with video captured via phone to give a dignified touch and a visceral immediacy to the conditions immigrants face. It all culminates in the chaotic, violent effort to prevent thousands of people from looking for a better life in America. "Land of the Free," indeed.
5. Little Big, "SKIBIDI (Romantic version)"
Director: Alina Pasok, Iliya Prusikin
Release date: March 18
Why it's great: Holy shit, what is happening here?!?! This is a bit of an apology inclusion for having missed the original "Skibidi" video last year, which apparently started a viral dance trend in Russia -- they have an ironic and absurd sense of humor over there, just like us! In many ways, however, the romantic version of "Skibidi" far surpasses the original, since it features a centaur, a dragon, a man standing on a surfing horse, a reference to the screaming cowboy from 2017's Kirin J Callinan video for "Big Enough," and a Godzilla hybrid baby. What more can you ask for?
4. A$AP Rocky, "Kids Turned Out Fine"
Director: Dexter Navy
Release date: February 6
Why it's great: A$AP Rocky has become one of the reliably interesting music video creators in the business, with "Kids Turned Out Fine" falling somewhere between the deadly serious social commentary of "Gunz N Butter" and the drug-fueled trippiness of "A$AP Forever," both from 2018. The combination of photography and animation bolster the surreal feeling of "Kids Turned Out Fine," a melancholy assessment of utilitarian child-rearing. What begins as a sun-drenched, nostalgic depiction of youth rapidly turns into a hallucinogenic escape in which everyone winds up as a crash-test dummy. What does "turned out fine" really mean, anyway???
3. Powder, "New Tribe"
Release date: January 23
Why it's great: Now THIS is how you make a memorable music video. Japanese animation team AC-bu -- who created a meme with their 2011 video "Galo Sengen" and contribute to the popular anime Pop Team Epic -- take a simple resignation letter and commodify the shit out of it in this delightfully bizarre mix of virtually every kind of animation conceivable. The surreal narrative of production and efficiency captures both the pulsating beat of Powder's sample and the inhumanity of modern working life. Hand in that resignation letter and go dance, or just watch more AC-bu videos, like this absolutely insane commercial for Domino's.
2. Emiko Shibamura, "Akindo Fighter"
Director: Michael Laburt and Daniel Merlot
Release date: February 19
Why it's great: Where to begin?! How about with Emiko's account of how she decided to make this music video: "It was an ordinary day before EMIKO had a vision of a spirit of a white dragon that insisted she fly to Hollywood and film a music video. The vision was so profound that she followed her spirit animal to the United States and invited her white dragon to perform along with her. The world had never seen anything like it." Ain't that the truth! In a world increasingly dominated by algorithms, recommendation tools, and media consolidation, all of which create echo chambers of conventional wisdom and like-minded voices, it's a glass of water in the desert to see a 65-year-old Japanese rapper move to Los Angeles to make a music video with a white dragon because she had a fucking vision. Don't you wish you had visions of white spirit dragons powerful enough to change your life?
Emiko Shibamura's website describes her as "a visionary, self-help celebrity, sixty-three-year-old rapper [she's now 65], acclaimed entrepreneur and already has her ticket to the moon." Is she telling the truth? Who knows! Will she go to the moon? Hopefully! As for her self-help and entrepreneurial life, she is "the first apprentice of Hitori Saito, Japan’s No.1 taxpayer-businessman," which should impress you even if you're not sure what makes a taxpayer-businessman number one. In case you're wondering, she met Hitori Saito "when she was an 18-year-old finger-pressure therapy student." There's a feature-length profile to be written about Emiko Shibamura, but alas, here there's only space for a blurb. Oh, right, the video: It's just as delightful as you'd expect a vision-based dragon music vid to be.
1. Benny Blanco, Calvin Harris, and Miguel, "I Found You/Nilda's Story"
Director: Jake Schreier
Release date: January 4
Why it's great: The original video for Benny Blanco's "I Found You" is a semi-ironic take on the process of making a cool music video, which would have been just fine were it not for the fact that it featured Lil Dicky, thus automatically disqualifying it from inclusion on the list of 2018's best videos. Suffice to say that in 2019, it looks like everyone's taking the dire state of the country/world a little more seriously, as emblematized in Nilda's story. Miguel's toned-down version of the song is an inspired interpretation, and the video punches you in the gut without slipping into sentimentality. Humanizing otherwise abstract political arguments always paints a more complicated picture, and the fact that Nilda's escape from gang violence, separation from her son, subsequent detention, and legal limbo aren't unique should add much-needed context to headlines you see flashing across your various screens every day.
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