The 25 Best Music Videos of 2015
You requested it, so we rewind
Whether you were Asleep in the Deep or busy practicing your Dope Walk, we’re betting that you carved out time this year to watch some of music’s finest visual work. There were myriad options, whatever your cinematic tastes: UFO crash-landings in Shamir’s “In for the Kill,” rom-com goofiness in Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” and a feel-good crowd-pleaser top-billed by Justin Bieber and Tom Hanks in Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You.” (And before you ask, no, it’s not an accident that Taylor Swift isn’t on this list.) So, all hands on deck: It’s time to revisit the best music videos of 2015.
25. Shlohmo, “Buried” (Directed by Lance Drake)
After making himself a bedside name with his 2012 remix of Jeremih’s lascivious ode to sticky silk sheets (that’s “F**k U All the Time”), electronic excavator Shlohmo took a nose dive into the abyss on this year’s bleak, cavernous Dark Red — an album title that suits the visual accompaniment to its charred first single, “Buried.” An ultrasound floating on a television screen in an abandoned hotel room recalls this iconic image of another horror flick, and it only gets creepier from there: Shlohmo’s yawning synth whines and whimpers torture the ears as long pans of a pregnant woman staggering down empty nighttime highways — slashed through with cuts of her bloody, screaming face — burn into the eyes. By the time she gives birth with a blank stare, we’re as emotionally eviscerated as she is. — HARLEY BROWN
24. Missy Elliott, “WTF” (Directed by Dave Meyers and Missy Elliott)
The long-absent (save for last year’s stellar Super Bowl Halftime guest spot) Missy Elliott might be the first to admit the innate challenge in upstaging her own early-’00s visual masterpieces, “One Minute Man” and “Work It.” But she did so with great aplomb in “WTF (Where They From),” her first official single since 2008’s “Ching-A-Ling.” Filmed in a similar sped-up style as her best-known work, the jittery clip is all rubber-legged dance montages, abstract-art makeup, opulent (yet athletic) costumes, and… Pharrell and Elliott as marionettes. Which, despite its obvious “WTF?!” factor, works. That’s the magic of Missy. — RACHEL BRODSKY
23. Mount Eerie, “Sauna” (Directed by Allyson Foster and Phil Elverum)
Despite forgoing the usual music biz exercise of making videos for any of his material pre-2012, Washingtonian singer-songwriter Phil Elverum (first and best known as the Microphones, now Mount Eerie) has said that he once had filmmaker ambitions before settling on music. He returns to those urges with “Sauna,” making an abstract Lynchian psychodrama to soundtrack an abridged version of the tape-drone doom that opens his album of the same name. Elverum’s always expressed an affinity for Twin Peaks, and though there’s no direct nods here, “Sauna” manages to parallel the intellectual absurdity and soap opera self-seriousness of that show. It is, in all of its strangeness, an argument for never giving up on your childhood dreams. — COLIN JOYCE
22. Fraser, “Why The F**k You Lyin'” (Directed by Nicholas Fraser)
Sound and vision of the Internet’s gleefully smug id, made unforgettable through a Vine’s worth of full-bodied convulsing and impossibly wide smiling. Yeah, the full-length video wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it inevitably dulls over four-and-a-half minutes what glistens as brightly as Frasor’s teeth for just ten seconds here. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
21. Goodbye Tomorrow, “Jay Z” (Directed by Goodbye Tomorrow)
Kinetic channel-flipping between lip-synching faux-Beyoncés, computer-generated chase sequences, fake riots in front of fake magazine spreads, and Gaspar Noé-esque credit sequences (don’t forget to rewind!). Goodbye Tomorrow may be feeling like they’re the Jiggaman, but the hip-hop CEO hasn’t made a video this exciting in a decade. — A.U.
20. A$AP Ferg, “Dope Walk” (Directed by Ferg and Matt Starr)
While you were watching Silento and a high-school gym’s worth of backup dancers doing the Whip and Nae Nae, A$AP Ferg was bringing the dope walk to Fashion Week, making those other crazes seem like the child’s play that they are. “My walk meaner than Cara Delevingne’s,” boasts Ferg, and Delevingne — a silent presence on FaceTime throughout — is clearly stunned by the evidence on display. — A.U.
19. Arca, “Front Load” (Directed by Jesse Kanda)
Alejandro Ghersi is one of those guys who makes a point of his instrumental music being about something, and his great subject is the human body in all its ingrown hairs and asymmetrical areolae. Perhaps belatedly realizing that Mutant highlight “Front Load” is an unusually friendly composition, he correctively pairs it with this nearly endoscopic clip of penises, pomegranates, and everything in between. Your move, Puppetry of the Penis. — DAN WEISS
18. Joanna Newsom, “Sapokanikan” (Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
Joanna Newsom collapses space, time, and street corners in the charmingly lo-fi, jaunty video for “Sapokanikan.” Her lyrics already traverse history (“The cause is Ozymandian”) and her fleet orchestral tapestry is timeless, like antique furniture re-presented for a chic storefront. Shot over the course of a single evening gloaming in her former haunts of Manhattan’s East Village and Washington Square Park, the “Sapokanikan” clip is particularly remarkable for how well-timed it is to the song’s instrumental bobs and weaves. As flutes spiral in volume and clarity at the three-minute climax, Newsom skips past a clot of fire engines, bathing the scene in shrill red light that matches the moment’s intensity. And then, just past her solemn face in the final shots, a food truck pops up. Her camera leaves her at the subway, and all is well in the world. — H.B.
17. Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta” (Directed by Director X)
In which King Kendrick climbs on top of the Compton Fashion Center to survey his domain, seeing a city still every bit as vibrant, beautiful, and proud as the kingdom that Dre and Snoop commanded two decades earlier. It’s been a long time since a rapper from Compton got the whole world talking like K-Dot, but “King Kunta” proves that hip-hop’s landmark Hub City needs to be visited much more regularly. — A.U.
16. Tame Impala, “‘Cause I’m a Man” (Directed by WEIRDCORE)
“Lost in a moment for a second time,” Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker drawls over narcotized bow-chicka-wow-wow electric riffage on “‘Cause I’m a Man.” In the track’s official video, we see a series of moments that would scan as all too familiar to, say, a drug addict. (Ironically, the technicolored psychedelic mastermind does not do drugs.) In the lurid-hued, glossy clip, a mannequin-like CGI humanoid follows a futuristic relationship from start to assumed finish: He falls in love, hovers with his partner over a dance floor like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and gets married. But he can’t stop the hail of pills and booze bottles from drowning and tripping him up, leading him to a strip club-esque den of iniquity — and, eventually, to an empty, rumpled bed split evenly down the middle. — H.B.
15. Young Thug, “Best Friend” (Directed by Be EL Be)
Young Thug and his team reportedly attempted to get Vine star Tokyo Vanity in the video for “Best Friend,” as a nod to her inspiration of the song’s chorus. She refused, but it’s hard to imagine where she would’ve fit in the clip anyway, considering that most of the video’s primary roles are played by Young Thug. At one turn, there’s Young Thug making out with Young Thug. And at another the rapper and his friends sit down to eat a lovely meal: Young Thug’s still-rapping cranium. The visual, at least, answers the song’s central assertion. When he says, “He’s my best friend,” Thugger’s obviously just talking about himself. — C.J.
14. Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits” (Directed by Marc Klasfeld)
Baking do-unto-others truisms into a flaky pastry metaphor is just the cherry atop Kacey Musgraves’ prudence pie. Joining her homespun wisdom with a diorama-like video set and an old-fashioned hoedown, the country star takes her literalism one further by churning butter in a bonnet and advertising some Mind-Your-Own-Business Biscuit Mix. It’s tasty enough to make even the worst hestiaphobic two-step into the kitchen. — R.B.
13. Drake, “Energy” (Directed by Fleur & Manu)
Drake does the Internet’s job here, Photoshop meme-ing himself as Oprah, Obama, Bieber, Miley (can’t un-see that one), and so many more before we did. “Good fun” and “definitely not overly serious” were descriptions few (if any) used for the shut-in raps and cold-world beats of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, so it was good of Aubrey to remind us that he’s still peerless among pop stars when it comes to a much-needed sense of humor. — A.U.
12. Mastodon, “Asleep in the Deep” (Directed by Skinner, Shane Morton, and Video Rahim)
What if Alice in Wonderland was even more terrifying and starred a cat on an epic quest worthy of Frodo Baggins? Well, Mastodon — possibly high on LSD-laced catnip — dared to dream up such a surreal scene. Creepy, Tim-Burton-on-acid puppet visuals document our heroic tomcat as he risks all nine of his lives to take down an evil, three-headed rat who lives in a volcano. Not quite what you expected to go down while the cat’s away, eh? — JAMES GREBEY
11. Jenny Lewis, “She’s Not Me” (Directed by Jenny Lewis)