2016 gave us several audio/visual combinations that changed the game for ever. Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade‘ was an epic affair and Frank Ocean‘s big comeback album, ‘Endless‘, was best enjoyed while watching the man himself build a staircase. This year, it’s not been so intense, but the short-form is alive and kicking with these 13 seriously ace music videos.
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Charli XCX – ‘Boys’
Director: Charli XCX and Sarah McColgan
Why it’s great: In Charli’s latest vid for Nintendo jam ‘Boys’, she lets the lads take centre stage as video vixens. Opting to take a place behind the camera, XCX directed a bevy of a-list boys to lick guitars (Mac DeMarco), cuddle puppies (Diplo) and channel their inner ‘American Beauty’ (Brendon Urie). And why did Charli do this? To turn the male gaze on its head and poke a bit of fun at the way women are objectified in music videos. Absolute hero.
What they say: “They’re doing all the sexy things that girls usually do in music videos…I just wanted to flip the male gaze on its head” – Charli XCX
Gorillaz – ‘Saturnz Barz’
Director: Jamie Hewlett
Why it’s great: Optionally available as an immersive, 360º VR experience, ‘Saturnz Barz’ found Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s animated band taking shelter in a ‘spirit house’, haunted by a freaky, multi-headed monster that delivers all Popcaan’s lines. It ensnares the quartet and takes them on a trippy adventure, sending you hurtling through an asteroid field with them.
What they say: “That six-minute video cost $800k, I don’t know where the money would come from for another” – Damon Albarn
Lorde – ‘Green Light’
Director: Grant Singer
Why it’s great: The accompanying video to Lorde’s absolute banger ‘Green Light’ shows a more playful side to the meteoric songstress, as she dances alone through the streets and in a club bathroom. It’s all terribly clichéd music video stuff, but it’s Lorde doing it, and she makes it look effortlessly cool. Also she lives out literally everybody in the world’s dream of having a dance on top of a car.
What they say: “The video for ‘Green Light’ and the song are quite symbiotic. I knew that I wanted it to be set at night, like my real life – I’m wearing the shoes that I wear every night when I go out partying at home” – Lorde
Jay-Z – ‘The Story Of O.J.’
Directors: Mark Romanek and Jay-Z
Why it’s great: Taken from his incredibly candid comeback album ‘4:44’, ‘The Story of O.J.’ sees Jay-Z reflect on black racial identity, concluding that little has changed in terms of racial equality since the burgeoning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. The video satirises racist cartoons from the 1940s and ‘50s, forcing American pop culture to confronts its past in a bid to make way for a better future.
He says: “”O.J. [Simpson, former NFL ace] would get to a space where he’s like, ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J.’ Like Tiger Woods would get to a space and think, ‘I’m above the culture.’ And that same person when he’s playing golf and playing great, you’re protected. When you’re not, they’re gonna put pictures of you drunk driving and, like, embarrass you. That world will eat you up and spit you out.” – Jay Z
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Jaden Smith – ‘Batman’
Director: Moises Arias
Why it’s great: Because Jaden Smith is great, wonderfully lacking in self-awareness and prone to tweeting, er, quasi-philosophical musings such as “That Feeling When Peeing Feels So Good You Start Crying”. On ‘Batman’ he undergoes a trap/mumble rap makeover while also reimagining himself as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Highlight: when cool, white-suited Batman (a costume Jaden genuinely wore to Kim and Kanye’s wedding) dances with a mime artist dressed as Spiderman on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
What they say: “I wore the Batman suit to heighten my experience at the wedding… I felt as though I needed to protect everyone there and needed to have the proper gear to do so.” – Jaden Smith
Kendrick Lamar – ‘HUMBLE.’
Director: Dave Meyers and The Little Homies
Why it’s great: The lead single from ‘DAMN.’ is a bulldozer with far too much going on visually for us to pick out just one highlight. We see Kendrick dressed as some kind of cardinal in a church; teeing off in an enormous, vacant storm-drain; sitting with his friends, like half of da Vinci’s The Last Supper; standing calmly with his head on fire; rapping studiously into a camera as it swivels madly around him. No need for humility here.
Marika Hackman – ‘My Lover Cindy’
Director: Sam Bailey
Why it’s great: Probably the year’s most surreal video. It may just seem like a friendly game of fencing at first, but it unravels to be two love rivals having a right old duel – and then finishes with some creepy tummy mouths having a kiss. Er, OK then.
What they say: “I love how grubby Marika’s lyrics are from a story point of view.‘Rarely do we hear an account of love and lust from the one who wants the cake and to eat it. So I wanted to play with this ‘cakey eaty’ attitude between two people drawn together in a battle of status. I’ve also always loved the idea of the upper-classes up to no good so it was a lot of fun to run amok around a stately home.” – Sam Bailey
Liam Gallagher – ‘Wall Of Glass’
Director: Francois Rousselet
Why it’s great: It’s been four years since we’ve had a Liam video, and boy, we’ve missed him. Swaggering onto screen in a leather jacket and jeans, the Britpop icon sneers his way through a kaleidoscopic masterpiece of shattered glass and rotaing mirrors. It’s way better than any of Oasis’ MTV fodder from the ‘90s, probably. Welcome back, our kid.
What they say: “I did get to wear a gold Saint Laurent hooded jacket in one scene, which I convinced myself made me look like a modern day Elvis, as he loved to wear gold suits,” – Liam Gallagher
Young Thug – ‘Wyclef Jean’
Director: Ryan Staake
Why it’s great: The star of the video deciding not to make it to the shoot is usually a disaster for everyone involved – but not this time. When Young Thug was a no-show, and opted to send in some of his own clips instead, Staake took it upon himself to craft a hilarious video out of the shots he actually did get. Was it all set up? Who knows, but Staake and Thug (kinda) have nailed it
What they say: “I think some viewers are recoiling in horror at the honesty of the video. Everyone is so used to being lied to by advertising, marketing and music videos that the idea of someone being truthful seems improbable, and they assume it was a plan from the start. I lived this nightmare, it was 100% true” – Ryan Staake
Dua Lipa – ‘New Rules’
Director: Henry Scholfield
Why it’s great: Skipping from hotel room to poolside bar with an all-female posse in tow, Dua Lipa gives the perfect masterclass on how to get over a fuckboy. Rule one, don’t pick up the phone. Two, don’t let him in. Three, don’t be his friend. Four… well she never gets that far. But she does have time to frolic with flamingoes, walk on water, and engage in a spot of synchronised swimming. Time well spent.
What they say: “I had saved pictures on my phone to use as reference points for the video…There was an image I’d saved of Naomi Campbell in the ‘80s where she is basically holding another girl on her back. I loved the idea of girls looking after each other like that, holding each other, that sense of humility, that sense of strength” – Dua Lipa
J Hus – ‘Spirit’
Director: Hugo Jenkins
Why it’s great: The London rapper travelled to Jamestown, Ghana to showcase the intricacies and lifestyle that makes the nation such a vibrant and unique place. Much like J Hus’ genre-bending debut album ‘Common Sense’, then.
What they say: “I made ‘Spirit’ to try keep everyone’s head up high” – J Hus
Matt Maltese – ‘As The World Caves In’
Director: Sam Hiscox
Why it’s great: South London’s wisest soul effortlessly weaves together nuclear-attack paranoia and the intimacy of love in this devastating visual – with a bit of added dodgy dancing.
Selena Gomez – ‘Bad Liar’
Director: Jesse Peretz
Why it’s great: Gomez returns to her acting roots to play literally every single main role in her video for ‘Bad Liar’. It’s a complex watch, and asks way more questions than it answers, but judging by the closing TBC plate, we can expect many more WTF moments in following videos.
What they say: “Jesse Peretz” wanted a really realistic look for the costumes — several of his reference photos were from Dazed & Confused. Selena just walked into these characters so easily, and it looked great. – Jesse Parkins, Costume Designer (Billboard)
Dirty Projectors – ‘Little Bubble’
Director: David Longstreth & Adam Newport-Berra
Why it’s great: Dave Longstreth flew solo for this year’s self-titled, seventh Dirty Projectors album. Although the record’s narrative has mostly centred around the ringleader’s relationship with ex Amber Coffman, it’s more something that that peers directly into the soul, asking big questions about the past and the meaning behind heartbreak. Here, Longstreth looks like the loneliest man alive, exploring gorgeous landscapes, greenhouses and caves in a pursuit of the truth.
What they say: “The video I wanted to make, that money was not around. So if we’re going to use product placement, what product placement could we use? I wanted to do it in a way that was consistent with the messaging, with the feeling” – Dave Longstreth (Spin)
St. Vincent – ‘Los Ageless’
Director: Willo Perron
Why it’s great: St. Vincent’s mammoth ‘MASSEDUCTION’ album explores love and heartbreak under a superficial sheen. None more so than on ‘Los Ageless’, a synthetic, spiky shock to the system. She goes full LA in this video – going gaga for yoga, getting plastic surgery, being pampered to an extreme. With a Red Bull-backed big budget, this is the sharpest realisation yet of Annie Clark’s truly unique vision.
What they say: “MASSEDUCTION’ is different, it’s pretty first person. You can’t fact-check it, but if you want to know about my life, listen to this record.” – St. Vincent
Brockhampton – ‘Gummy’
Director: Kevin Abstract
Why it’s great: New to self-described all-American boyband Brockhampton? They share the same house in Texas. They don’t like being called a collective. And they’ve made some of the fiercest, genre-bending, self-released albums of 2017. The creative force are also kings of self-directed videos, the best being ‘Gummy’, which tells the story of a flawless bank heist from the roof of a getaway car.
What they say: “I think what we’re doing hasn’t really ever been done before.” – Kevin Abstract (The Fader)
King Krule – ‘Czech One’
Director: Frank Lebon
Why it’s great: The strange, floating ‘Czech One’ has its head in the clouds, and director Frank Lebon mimics this perfectly with his surreal video. It stars Archy Marshall as the lone awake stranger on a plane, sporting a mysterious eye patch while navigating the skies. Like the song itself, it’s a dreamy, bittersweet trip.
What they say: “One of the few places you can be deep in your own lucid thoughts surrounded by hundreds of strangers is the flying metal tubes we call planes. Archy contemplates past present and future in a journey on a flying metal tube through his mind.” – Frank Lebon
Tyler, the Creator – ‘Who Dat Boy’
Director: Tyler, the Creator (Wolf Haley)
Why it’s great: The weird, brilliant mind of Tyler, the Creator goes gun-ho insane for ‘Who Dat Boy’. Amongst other things, it sees contains the following: Tyler going under the knife and having a white man’s face stitched over his own; A$AP Rocky performing the plastic surgery; a getaway chase; and various Tyler’s serenading a loved one in pink blossom trees. Standard stuff, really.
What they say: “Everything I said, I made sure it was really ridiculously important. And I think that’s what people kinda like about it this time around – because there’s nothing funny on it.” – Tyler, the Creator
Kelela – ‘LMK’
Director: Andrew Thomas Huang
Why it’s great: ‘LMK’’s video is a throwback to the Hype Williams-directed, late 90’s/early 00’s R&B heyday. There’s a futuristic, intentionally unbalanced feel, like being thrown headfirst into a space age club in some distant planet.
What they say: “The song is directed at a man who’s being weird instead of being honest. Does casual have to be careless? Is wifey the only woman who deserves your respect, and why do you think I want more when I demand it? These are my questions.” – Kelela (The Fader)
Words: Thomas Smith, Hannah Mylrea, Larry Bartleet, Alex Flood, Jordan Bassett, Jamie Milton