We’ve discussed our favorite films of 2016. We’ve talked about our favorite shows, scenes, musical moments, performances, horror films, documentaries, animated films, trailers, posters, action scenes, cinematography, soundtracks and scores — and that’s merely scratching the surface. Hell, we’ve also looked ahead to our most anticipated films and TV shows of 2017 too. Yet, we’ve notably overlooked our favorite music videos in the process.
Music videos often get the bum’s rush, both in the film and music communities. Too much of one or the other for their individual tastes, music videos are only sometimes really appreciated and rarely truly discussed or explored — at least, not in any discernible/reasonable depth. That’s a shame, because there was a time where music videos paved the way for some of our most acclaimed and/or notorious filmmakers. For better or worse, we wouldn’t have David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek, Marc Webb, Anton Corbijn or, sigh, Michael Bay, McG or Brett Ratner as we know them if it weren’t for this artistic form.
Looking at this past year alone, The Daniels — best known for their music video for DJ Snake + Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What,” among others — turned in one of the year’s most original feature directorial debuts in “Swiss Army Man.” Now, thanks to YouTube, Vimeo and more, short-form filmmakers have more chances than ever to garner a larger audience thanks to their music video work. Who needs MTV? We have HBO, baby!
That’s why we devoted some time towards celebrating the music videos that captivated us, excited us, surprised us, moved us, astounded us, inspired us and amused us in 2016. Like feature-length films, music videos can be character-focused and/or narrative-driven. Like short films, they can also be expressive and creatively liberated. What we loved might not be what you loved, and we might’ve overlooked a few you really adored — it happens. And though we pride ourselves in our film knowledge, we can often miss out on some of music’s newest, hottest and soon-to-be greatest in the process. If you think we did, just post it below and share the love. At the very least, it’ll keep us grooving through the new year. Without further ado, here are our 20 favorite music videos from 2016.
20. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People”
After nearly 20 years away from the spotlight, A Tribe Called Quest needed to come back with a bang. They deserved it. In our disturbing, violent times, we were thirsty, downright parched, for their soothing, invigorating, sweet rhythms. We got what we needed — and then some — with their phenomenal sixth-and-final studio album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, but first came “We the People,” the second track on the record, and its dual music videos, which were as exuberant, vital and urgent as the rest of the very best singles from the group. As catchy and rousing as it is demanding and heartbreaking, the song is ATCQ doing what they do best — if in a monumentally bittersweet manner — and their punchy, resounding new music videos are both a blast from the past and as timely as ever.
19. Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”
Recent years have seen Solange emerge from the shadow of her undeniably more famous sister, to carve out a distinct identity and voice all her own. And that trajectory continued to an apex in 2016, as Solange continued to build a name for herself by impressing in quieter, perhaps more off-kilter, but also more intimate ways. Her immediate stage/screen presence, is necessarily different from Bey’s, but she doesn’t really play to the same crowd anyway. That’s partially what makes the singer-songwriter so radiant, as seen in “Cranes in the Sky,” which is as stunning and impressive and liberating as anything this year. Every image in this music video, which she co-directed alongside Alan Ferguson, is a beautiful vista on its own. It almost insists that you hang its stills in frames on the wall. Captivating in its splendid visual delights, it’s an instantly impressive display of the younger Knowles’ talents. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of what Solange brings to the table — not just musically but visually — in the years to come.
18. Frank Ocean – “Nikes”
After a four-year hiatus, Frank Ocean wasn’t going to come into 2016 quietly. The soulful, evocative musician knows how to make an impact, and that’s certainly seen and felt throughout director Tyrone Lebon’s raw, hyper-sensual and thematically mature music video for Ocean’s fluid, wistful “Nikes.” In what plays like a one-sided argument exploring fame, sexuality, the media and one’s bulging ego, this visceral, charmingly patchy music video is one that doesn’t go away without cutting the skin. Shiny, homey, inviting, yet unsettling and tragically weird, it certifies Ocean as an artist ready to resonate deep. Just a forewarning: you might want to watch this one away from work/public. It’s very NSFW.
17. Dirty Projectors – “Keep Your Name”
The creative process is frustrating, seemingly endless and filled with soul-crushing tribulations. And depicting it can be just as difficult and fraught with danger. That’s why it’s important to celebrate those who portray creative struggle so vividly, and so meaningfully, in their work, like Dirty Projectors’ lyrical, solemn “Keep Your Name” and its equally morose, disconsolate music video. Directed by Bobby Bukowski, it’s a tender, distinctive depiction of sorrow, heartbreak and residing melancholy. It’s gloomy and hurt, shot handsomely in black and white, but it’s not desolate. It’s an expressive, impressive display of emotions both loaded and bankrupt, loving and quite broken. It’s a sullen, harrowing portrait of grief and struggle, and it’s graceful and mesmerizing in the process.
16. Francis and the Lights feat. Bon Iver & Kanye West – “Friends”
There’s a beauty to the imperfect. The imperfect is beautiful on its own. If nothing else, Francis and the Lights’ music video for “Friends” is a masterful exercise in the precise unknown, a celebration of everything that is not perfectable, and that’s what makes it, well, kinda perfect. Featuring the quite imperfect Kanye West, fittingly enough, this single-shot music video is an exceptionally meticulous, wonderfully imperfect ode to the creative process, one that celebrates the art and the frustration that comes within, without glorifying or catalyzing anything in between. It’s truly a work content in its own merit, and it weirdly can be celebrated for all its strengths as well as its shortcomings.
15. Preoccupations – “Anxiety”
Delirious and devilishly disquieting in its positively gorgeous black and white presentation, Preoccupations’ haunting “Anxiety” is given the elegiac and urgent music video it deserves in director Yoonha Park’s uncomfortable, visually distinctive latest. Creepily old-fashioned and gloomy in its stark presentation, it’s a radiant, near-masterful production, and one that rightly doesn’t sit with you easily. Whenever your music video earns comparisons to “Nosferatu” and “The Witch,” to name a few, you must know you’re doing something right in the visual department. Warning: this one is pretty NSFW.
14. KAYTRANADA – “LITE SPOTS”
In our bitter, demanding times, sometimes all it takes to warm up our cynical spirits is a man and a smiley robot dancing in harmony on the sunny sideways of L.A. Like “Robot & Frank” meets “Dope” meets “La La Land,” KAYTRANADA’s heartwarming, pleasantly slight “LITE SPOTS” is quick to charm and easy to love, not to mention pretty on the eye and comforting for the worn, emotionally torn soul. Director Martin C. Pariseau shoots with an unassuming eye, letting the magic come easily and in friendly fashion with each bright, chipper frame. You could quite easily spent an hour or four in this lively, lovely little world, and it’s a shame it only lasts a mere four minutes. In any case, though short in length, it’s quick to win us over.
13. Tegan & Sara – “Stop Desire”
Canadian indie pop sensations and identical twin sisters Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Keirsten Quin, known collectively as Tegan & Sara, have impressed inside the music scene for over two decades now. Yet they’ve only recently started becoming household names. It’s deserved and long overdue, and that’s found in their catchy, bubbly single “Stop Desire,” along with its warm, splendidly meticulous and deliciously colorized music video. An obvious, but entirely welcome, nod to Wes Anderson, each frame is bursting with invigoration, punctuation and rich visual detail. Director Allister Ann fills her latest music video with liveliness, giddiness and dryly funny observational humor. It’s also as suggestive as it is poppy, which often adds to the inherent silliness and the cheeky fun of it all. Add the always-welcome Reggie Watts into the mix, and you have a music video that’s easy to celebrate. The continuing rise of Tegan & Sara shouldn’t be a problem if they go on making music videos as engaging, delightful and sweetly entertaining as this newest one.
12. Preoccupations – “Memory”
Hypnotic and dreamy, yet provoked and disquieting, Preoccupations’ intoxicating “Memory” is given the disturbing, enthralling and weirdly palliative music video it deserves in director Kevan Funk’s 11-minute visual mediation. With its remarkable cinematography, rhythmic editing and exceptional use of location, Funk creates an uncomfortable yet entirely captivating music video for the band’s Joy Division-esque single, one that doesn’t mean crawl under your skin, but rather wiggles deep inside, puncturing your nerves and feeding all your inhibitions, but still relieving and soothing you along the way. It’s absolutely spellbinding work, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for the new group.
11. Massive Attack, Young Fathers – “Voodoo In My Blood”
A great actress doesn’t simply command the screen; she annihilates it: Rosamund Pike is a great actress. She oozes sensuality, seduction and supreme confidence, yet she’s never afraid to get exceedingly vulnerable and intensely intimate whenever the scenes calls for it. Her acting talents are put to exceptional use in Massive Attack, Young Fathers’ unsettling, alluring and bewitching music video for “Voodoo in the Blood,” which appropriately settles deep under your skin and transfixes you in its wicked little robotic spell. A five-minute performance that demands as much as Pike can muster emotionally and physically, the musicians wisely let the Oscar-nominated actress do what she does best, as her twitches speak volumes, dazzled eyes magnetize and unhinged physicality take the screen by storm. A glorious reminder that she’s one of the best working actresses today, this video leaves you stunned.