The 25 Best Music Videos of 2015
You requested it, so we rewind
10. Shamir, “In for the Kill” (Directed by Anthony Sylvester)
Like Oasis’ “All Around the World” video, with about one-hundredth of the budget and 500 times the charm. Flying across Middle America in his tin-foil UFO, Shamir was happy to use the “In for the Kill” visual to symbolize the way he hovered over 2015 as a benevolent disco alien, fascinating onlookers of all types as he traversed the country, forever just outside their grasp. — A.U.
9. Tinashe, “All Hands on Deck” (Directed by Ben Mor)
For her “All Hands on Deck” clip, Tinashe does what a lot of contemporary pop artists have deemed expendable in 2015: synchronized choreography. Not only does the Kentucky native get crunk on her own, but she pulls off an expert set of moves with her backup posse — each of whom commands her own shipyard crate, lending the video a Tetris-y quality. The dancing *NSYNC dolls in “It’s Gonna Be Me” would be into it. — R.B.
8. Carly Rae Jepsen, “I Really Like You” (Directed by Peter Glanz)
Flash mobbing with Tom Hanks and Justin Bieber on the streets of SoHo might sound strange in theory, but Jepsen wins points for turning a potentially cheesy idea into a truly precious few minutes. Likely poking fun at the plethora of celebrities moving their cake holes to “Call Me Maybe” in the summer of 2012, Carly’s vid gets Hanks to literally wake up lip-synching the words to her just-as-sweet (if not slightly muted) 2015 ode to crushing. And as if that’s not charming enough, Jepsen and Hanks trade emojis before meeting up with a pre-Purpose Bieber, and the three set off to convince us that they really, really, really, really, really like each other. — R.B.
7. Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best” (Directed by Charlie Ford)
Have you ever wondered what clowns are really thinking behind those luridly painted faces? Judging from the video for “Pedestrian at Best,” 2013 Clown of the Year Courtney Barnett knows. The feedback-addled monologue that soundtracks the clip reveals the anxiety and frustration that likely lurks inside many a jester. She “tries her very best” (and fails) to make balloon animals, suffers an “existential time crisis” on a tilt-a-whirl, and achieves the exact opposite of her yowled command, “Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey!” — she loses all of her money to bullies. Though her glum face remains fixed until the clip’s closing, she actually wins out at the end when her rival is pushed to the ground. She who laughs last… — H.B.
6. Run the Jewels, “Close Your Eyes and Count to F**k” (Directed by A.G. Rojas)
Despite being shot in stark black and white, RTJ’s masterful “Close Your Eyes” clip captures a depressing gray area. The brutal and weary fight between a white cop and an unarmed black civilian powerfully highlights the senselessness of so much violence that has dominated the news cycle for the past few years (and, if we’re being honest, a lot of unreported violence that dates further back). Here, Killer Mike and El-P offer a thought-provoking and visceral look at America’s epidemic of police brutality: It’s not quite clear why they’re fighting or who — if anyone — is to blame. All we do know is that it needs to stop. — J.G.
5. Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, “Feeling Myself” (Directed by Beyoncé)
Good girlfriends swap burgers and feed each other french fries. They’re not afraid to get goofy and, most importantly, they encourage the other to be smart, savvy, and sexual — no slut-shaming allowed. Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj are basically teaching a class in female friendship with their carefree, ultra-posi “Feeling Myself” clip. They’re so much fun to watch, actually, that we (mostly) forgive Tidal for holding it hostage. We wouldn’t want to let this one go either. — R.B.
4. Skrillex and Diplo featuring Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now” (Directed by Brewer)
You can watch the “Where Are Ü Now” video a hundred times and always see something new. The doodles — a nifty, playful shorthand for fidgety creativity and vulnerability — flash by so quickly that there’s a rush in watching the way they flash and dance over Bieber’s melodramatic dancing and seeing which frames jump out at you. On my last viewing, I spotted Brian from Family Guy, several Jack Ü logos, The Simpsons, and the words “who farted.” — J.G.
3. Björk, “Black Lake” (Directed by Andrew Thomas Huang)
Watching Björk’s video for “Black Lake” on YouTube doesn’t really do it justice. The clip debuted as a video installation during her mostly maligned MoMA retrospective, a gleaming piece of obsidian amidst the Rock Hall kitsch that marked most of the collection. Screening simultaneously on two opposing screens in a dark room, she starts the ten-minute track broken, amidst an austere landscape in her homeland, pinging back and forth between the dual video channels. Her presence and emotions feel transient, unstable, and irrevocably broken.
Though the track is about romantic death, it’s about rebirth and empowerment, too. As the strings swell and develop into denser thickets of instrumentation, so too do the on-screen environs, transporting the singer to more pleasant realms of floral fields and sunny skies. And as she slowly settles into one channel of the video, then both, for gradually longer periods of time, the turbulence slowly settles. There’s peace, rest, and life. Björk’s at her best when she doesn’t just show you her emotional landscapes, but when she makes you feel like you’re traversing them right along with her. — C.J.
2. Drake, “Hotline Bling” (Directed by Director X)
Wherein the most Internet-savvy artist working today films the most Internet-savvy video of the year. Drake’s made-to-be-memed clip for “Hotline Bling” inspired an avalanche of #content — if a piece of online media could be crafted around the clip, it was. Even Saturday Night Live couldn’t resist making Donald Trump cut a rug à la Champagne Papi during his hosting gig — a segment that went down as the only bearable moment from the presidential candidate’s otherwise despicable year.
It’s not just that Drizzy created a flashing, monochromatic world with Escher-like staircases leading to who knows where. He shimmied. He shook. He swiveled. He did a weird little floor-rubbing motion. He was watchable. And best of all, he was just being himself. — R.B.
1. Kendrick Lamar, “Alright” (Directed by Colin Tilley and the Little Homies)
Everything about Colin Tilley’s spine-shivering clip for “Alright” — a tersely hopeful highlight from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly — matters. The video-only intro verse in patois dedicated to “dead homies” matters. The cops carrying the car with Lamar inside matter. The fact that Lamar was able to execute his vision with the perks of a major-label budget matters. In the best video of the year, our most empathetic rapper flies through the air, hangs upside-down over his faithful audience, and stands atop a Los Angeles street lamp, all in beautiful, stark black and white. When a cop makes a gun with his fingers and mouths a gunpowder explosion, down goes Kendrick from midair. It’s trippy. It matters.
In a year of abject terror faced around the world, Lamar’s not-subtle symbolism is devastating. And in a world where black people can’t seem to gather in public assembly without fear of being decimated by abusive authorities and militias, only the final frame, of a gunned-down Lamar flashing a quick smile, seems implausible. Maybe that’s intended to be part of the we-gon’-be-alright uplift. But he knows full well that Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, and 161 other unarmed citizens executed in the “second-safest year for police ever” are not going to be alright. — D.W.