The 10 best music videos that lit up 2018
From scathing political statements to carefully constructed mini-films, 2018's fare of music videos has been as impressive as the eclectic musical releases.
With some of the most eclectic and surprising releases of the decade, 2018 has been a great year of music. As an added bonus, the visual pairings for a lot of these stunning releases have also been a class apart. In our world of instant gratification and multimedia overload, music videos can still be a powerful way for an artist to introduce us to their creative world, unveil a new aesthetic, or offer an emotional short story, without demanding the attention that a TV show or feature-length film does.
This year, the format of the music video was redefined yet again as artists pushed the boundaries of what their audio-visual pairings can convey. While artists like The Carters, A Perfect Circle and Childish Gambino used videos to make bold political statements, acts like LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire gave us carefully constructed clips that could pass off as standalone art-house short films.
From sci-fi mind benders to surreal nightmares and everything in between, here is our pick of the 10 best music videos of the year:
10. Play - Dave Grohl
Never one to be satisfied by stagnation, Dave Grohl embarked on an experimental journey this year that culminated in the 30-min short film 'Play'. The entire song was played by Grohl, each time on a different instrument, live for 23 minutes. Beginning with the recording of the entire drum track purely from memory, with no sheet music or guide tracks, followed by guitar, then bass, then keyboards, and so on. Grohl basically tasked himself with a one-man-band recording session that was forced to start from the very beginning of the 23-minute song any time the slightest mistake was made (and you can see many of those frustrating retakes in the intro to the song). Ultimately, 'Play' is what you get if turn up the dials to maximum Grohl!
9. Be Alright - The Dandy Warhols
Dandy Warhols celebrated their 25th anniversary this year with an epic 360 degree video of their latest single 'Be Alright', lifted from their upcoming album 'Why You So Crazy', due out in Jan. Conceived by award-winning creative Kevin Moyer and the video Mad Men’s Jessica Paré, who plays the guide as we are transported through many of the Warhols' elaborately constructed set pieces. Throughout, we're free to look around as and take it all in like a floating spirit, all while grooving to the signature twinkling pop rock of the track. It's a fine example of using new technologies in innovative ways and feels like a one-up on Foals' 360 deg video for 'Mountain at My Gates'.
8. Street Fighter Mas - Kamasi Washington
Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington rolled out a kick-a$$ video for the nostalgic hit 'Street Fighter Mas', off his 2018 magnum opus double album 'Heaven and Earth'. The funky jazz grooves set up the video for an epic battle, a boss battle if you must, at the end. The massive build-up leads to an arcade battle in a classic game of Street Fighter featuring Blanka and Ryu, while Washington incorporates the soundtrack of the game into the track. Along the way, there are some surreal sequences thrown in, like the one where Kamasi finds himself in a infinite loop as he enters a room over and over again. And the look on his face when he reads a sign that says "Read sign" is priceless!
7. Nothing Breaks Like A Heart - Mark Ronson ft. Miley Cyrus
The first taste of Mark Ronson's upcoming album of "sad bangers" came in the form of the heartbreak anthem 'Nothing Breaks Like A Heart' featuring Miley Cyrus. The music video is tastefully done, packed with a ton of easter eggs, a lot of them referencing Miley's own past. From 'Wrecking Ball', the blue-eyed Miley meme, the NFL and The Black Lives Matter to Britney Spears, the music video flits through a host of references while the main story revolves around Miley locked in an OJ Simpson-like car chase with the police. Ronson shows off his slick production skills on the track, a string-filled disco styled club banger with a melancholic central theme and it fits perfectly with the visuals.
6. Apes**t - The Carters
Hip-hop's first couple whipped up a storm this year when they dropped their self-titled surprise album 'The Carters'. The highlight of the release though didn't come from the album but from the groundbreaking music video for the track 'Apes**t', which was shot at the Louvre in Paris. Beyonce and Jay-Z made one of the most biting political comments of the year with the video as they romp around and seize center stage in a high-culture place that, like most Western art museums, historically made little room for non-white artists. The video quickly surpassed 100 million views on YouTube while the internet blew up with hundreds of explanations analyzing the meaning behind each frame of the tightly choreographed clip.
5. Money + Love - Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire might have missed the mark for the first time with their polarizing release last year - 'Everything Now'. But that didn't stop slow them down from pushing their creativity and furthering the 'Infinite Content' universe that they constructed for the pseudo-concept album. Money + Love is a combined music video for the final two tracks of the album - 'Put Your Money On Me' and 'We Don't Deserve Love'. Directed by David Wilson, the short film is self-referential as we see the band trapped by the Everything Now Corporation, a giant conglomerate that is monopolizing the entire world. Divided into two neat halves and full of intertextual references to their own previous works, we see the band rebel against the system, wreck a casino and make run for it in the first half. The second half is fittingly morose to complement the sad and emotional 'We Don't Deserve Love'. Interestingly, the video comes after Arcade Fire's first album with Columbia Records, their first major label release. Is this Arcade Fire's way of saying they've sold out? It could be.
4. It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) - The 1975
The 1975 returned this year with the stunning album 'A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships', which took the No. 1 spot on our list of Top Albums of the Year. Out of the four brilliant music videos that accompanied the singles of the album, the one that took the cake was the one for 'It's Not Living'. The clip comes across as Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' set in Talking Heads' unforgettable concert video 'Stop Making Sense'. Frontman Matt Healy channels David Byrne as he mimics the legend's unique song and dance routine, but keeps waking up in a recurring nightmare where he can't escape the sets of the music video. Well, he does escape for a brief moment only to find himself in another one of The 1975's music video, that of 'Sincerity Is Scary'.
3. oh baby - LCD Soudsystem
LCD Soundsystem came back from retirement last year to serve up 'American Dream' a sort of apology to fans that was also one of the best albums of the year. This year, they released the music video for the album cut 'oh baby'. Helmed by 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' director Rian Johnson, the clip stars Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, who both play an old scientist couple embarking on "a devastatingly romantic journey of discovery, tragedy and eternal love". The sci-fi short is reminiscent of Shane Caruth's 'Primer' and will leave your mind scrambled as you try to piece together what just happened. Who would have thought that one of the most soulful dance numbers of 2017 would form the perfect soundtrack to a sci-fi tragicomedy short film!
2. Disillusioned - A Perfect Circle
A Perfect Circle returned this year with their first album in 12 years, 'Eat The Elephant'. Maynard James Keenan and the gang lay the doom and gloom thick on the album and seem angrier than ever, but they have devised more mature outlets to their rage as they warn audiences of the dangers of consumer culture and creature comforts.
The music video takes us to a futuristic black and white dystopia where everybody is plugged into a digital feed. We see dark shamanic figures huddled around a screen in a room while the masses are blissfully ignorant of everything that's happening around them. It's like an episode of Charlie Brooker's 'Black Mirror' set to a Perfect Circle song. The poetry of Maynard's lyricism is reflected beautifully in the video. As Maynard preaches what he himself practices in real life with the line "time to put the silicon obsession down/ take a look around," one defiant woman plugs out of the digital reality and proceeds to free her fellow humans from the clutches of digital subservience. It's heavy stuff and could not be more apt to describe the culture that we live in.
1. This Is America - Childish Gambino
If the Carters statement on Black culture was done tastefully through a critique of high Western art, Childish Gambino took a more hands-on approach in his highly provocative music video for 'This Is America'. The carefully choreographed music video is designed to elicit a visceral response, one that wouldn't materialize by listening to the song alone.
Donald Glover takes center stage as he dances through a series of carefully constructed sets, and while he distracts us with the song and dance routine, everything in the background breaks into chaos. From school shootings to looting, battery, gang violence and police brutality, the clip zooms through one harsh reality to the next and by the time it's all done, you've missed the plethora of blink-and-you'll-miss references through the video.
With a dual layer of meaning running through its length and its intelligent camera use, Childish Gambino has arguably delivered the most scathing critique of our time with the visuals for 'This Is America'.