The best music videos elevate a song, combining to form an arresting blend of sight and sound that sticks in your head long after the track ends. As in previous years, a deluge of videos was released in 2017, with many landing on the trending page of YouTube, or even becoming pop culture talking points. However, some videos stood out from the rest of the pack. Here are some of Atwood Magazine‘s favorite music videos released this year!
:: Best Music Videos ::
“Utopia” – Björk
Björk is truly a master of creating worlds within her albums, both sonically and visually. In the past, her unhesitant embrace of technology such as animatronics and virtual reality has kept her videos ahead of the curve, as evidenced by videos like “All is Full of Love” and “Notget.” It comes as no surprise that for her latest album Utopia, no expense was spared in the production of her music videos.
If the first single “The Gate” acts as the bridge between 2015’s Vulnicura and Utopia, then her recently released video for “Utopia” is a thorough manifestation of the world Björk intended to create with her latest album. Directed by Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones, the video is a journey through a floating island where everything is colored in shades of pink, and flutists serenade each other without a care in the world. Even the insects float by languidly. It’s almost too easy to forget your worries and escape into Björk’s alternate universe, if only for four minutes.
“Die 4 You” – Perfume Genius
In a marked departure from his previous output, Perfume Genius’ fourth album No Shape saw him experiment with bolder sounds and colorful production. Naturally, his music videos have followed suit, showcasing more flamboyant costumes and makeup. The video for his single “Die 4 You” is simple in concept but beautifully executed. Directed by Floria Sigismondi, it features Perfume Genius on a dramatically lit stage performing a vaguely burlesque dance. As the video progresses, it becomes clear that he’s not alone in the theatre, and that he’s seemingly performing for, or at least in front of, an amorphous, pulsing mass that looks unsettlingly similar to human flesh.
In an interview with The FADER, Perfume Genius explained that the song is actually about erotic asphyxiation, saying “It’s a metaphor for giving all of yourself to someone else…You can push it so far that I might even die and that would be OK.” Perhaps that explains the ending of the video, and maybe the amorphous mass is a disquieting metaphor for how some people lose themselves in the throes of love. Either way, the sensual music video fits the music seamlessly.
“After the Party” – The Menzingers
The title track from The Menzingers’ After the Party’s video is a reflection of the album’s concept as a whole. It’s about coming to terms with growing up and finding joy in things like an adult relationship. The Kyle Thrash (who also directed the equally excellent “No Halo” by Sorority Noise video) directed video features a young couple finding their way through a relationship. The first half of the video sees the two running around while drinking, having sex, dine-and-dashing, and having more sex. The latter half sees the two fighting, screaming at each other, but eventually, the two share much more tender moments, whether they’re cuddling each other or goofing off in a thrift store. The video shows the transition pretty subtly without a dramatic tone shift. It’s a good summation of the feelings of the album, especially that it ends in a calm, normal place.
“Selfish Love” – Jessie Ware
The video for Jessie Ware’s “Selfish Love” plays out like a short film. Within four minutes, the viewer is introduced to the two main characters and their relationship with each other, and you watch the plot unfold as tensions rise before the climactic ending. Directed by Tom Beard and shot in Mallorca, the video looks like a fantasy European vacation come to life; you can almost feel the dry heat on your skin. Even better, the video for Ware’s “Midnight” works as a sequel in which Ware wanders around the city after dark seemingly mulling over her actions.
“Pleader” – alt-J
The word cinematic is often overused, but in the case of alt-J’s video for “Pleader,” it’s entirely warranted. Though the music video only runs for six minutes, the scope of the production is like that of a feature film, replete with a large cast of actors and visually stunning landscapes. According to director Isaiah Seret, “Pleader” was “crafted as a short film musical, drawing inspiration from the novel How Green Was My Valley, the photos of Bruce Davidson, Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice, and the lyrics themselves.” Shot in Wales, the video follows a community of coal miners whose village is destroyed in an apocalyptic natural disaster, and one boy’s journey in the aftermath of those events.
“Daddy” – SAKIMA
2017 saw more queer artists than ever before gain recognition for their work, and SAKIMA is one of the boldest out there. His unwavering dedication to gay narratives soared to new heights with the release of his Ricky EP in September and most recently, the video for his track “Daddy.” The visual is unapologetically sexual without feeling cheap, exploitive or inauthentic. The neon colors and shifting scenes show us multiple sides of gay sex and sexuality (different positions, for example), essentially providing a small window into the world of gay men. SAKIMA’s presence in the video speaks volumes on his dedication to queer art and his adamant belief in the importance of its representation in popular music. While it may present as a fairly simple video on the surface, the depths of its meaning are endless. And although the video does only seem to touch on cis gay sex between white men, it’s a huge step in the right direction when it comes to visual representation of LGBTQ sexual narratives in the world of pop.
“Fake Happy” – Paramore
“Fake Happy” forms the centerpiece of Paramore’s standout LP After Laughter, and it succinctly encapsulates the feel and subject matter of the entire album. With its relatively upbeat instrumental that belies introspective lyrics about depression, the song perfectly captures the struggle of hiding behind a forced smile, and having to pretend that everything is okay.
Directed by the band’s drummer Zac Farro, the music video for “Fake Happy” brings the lyrics to life. Singer Hayley Williams prances around New York City in a sequined jumpsuit, but all the storefronts, billboards, and people’s faces are hidden behind yellow, animated smiley faces. Far from being redundant, the video further drives home the lyrics of the song, and by the time Williams turns around to face the camera in the last shot, with glittery ‘tears’ running down her cheeks, all you want to do is give her a hug.
“Lift” – Radiohead
As part of the 20th anniversary reissue of OK Computer, Radiohead remastered and released three B-sides from the era that had gained an almost cult-like status in the fandom. Much to their fans’ delight, all three B-sides also received the video treatment. Of the three tracks, the song “Lift” retains an overtly 90s sound, echoing guitar-heavy alternative music that was so popular during the decade.
Much like the song itself, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the music video looks as if it was lifted right out of the 90s. The video shows frontman Thom Yorke literally stuck in a lift, but like most Radiohead videos, nothing is quite as it seems. A quirky cast of characters enters and exits the elevator at various points throughout the video as it stops on every floor of an apartment building. Directed by Oscar Hudson, the video is littered with Easter eggs and references to previous Radiohead videos that pleased longtime fans and also acknowledged the history surrounding the track and the album.
“New Rules” – Dua Lipa
2017 was a historic year for women. 2017 was also the year that pop princess Dua Lipa truly came into her own, releasing hit after hit. It was only a matter of time until her anthemic female empowerment track “New Rules” got the iconic music video it deserved. Showcasing the strength and unity of female friendships, the Henry Scholfield-directed video features Dua surrounded by a diverse group of young women who are supporting the star through a breakup. Following the rules is a way of getting over an ex, and Lipa and her gal pals do it with style and panache. The women are decked out in colourful clothes, armed with a fierceness that is fitting for such an upbeat, tropical song. It has several visually stunning sequences, from the infamous hair-brush chain, to a moment of pure power as the women walk on water. There’s a reason feminism is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. From #metoo to the women’s march, “New Rules” exemplifies the power of strong women looking out for one another.
“Lonely World” – Moses Sumney
Moses Sumney released his excellent debut album Aromanticism this year, and went so far as to produce vignettes or official videos for every single track off the LP. Of the eleven clips, the black-and-white video for “Lonely World” is perhaps the most attention grabbing. Directed by Allie Avital, the cinematography of the video enhances the inherent drama of the track, making a normally familiar beach location look alien. In his cape and sunglasses, Sumney fills the screen like a character out of a sci-fi movie, as he attempts to save a mermaid stranded on the beach. The climax of the video is synced with a crescendo in the music before an abrupt conclusion as the waves recede and all is calm again.
“Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” – Father John Misty
How do you produce a music video that stands up to a song about a post-apocalyptic society in the aftermath of severe climate change without resorting to CGI and science fiction clichés? If you’re Father John Misty, you enlist director Chris Hopewell and the team at Jacknife Films to create a stop motion video for your single.
In the “…Revolution” music video, we follow the protagonist for a day in this post-apocalyptic world, as she scavenges for parts and smartphones, and wanders through the ruins of an abandoned town taken over by anthropomorphized rats and cockroaches. The scenes throughout the video bring the lyrics of the track to life via protest signs, and intricately designed sets and figurines. Ultimately, the creative decision to use stop motion animation lent the video a childlike quality, cleverly subverted by the subject matter of the song.
“Boys” – Charli XCX
Charli XCX’s summer release “Boys” became a pop anthem as soon as it dropped. But when she released the accompanying music video — filled with dozens of famous boys in the music industry from Flume to Aminé to Jack Antonoff — it truly blew up. The video, which Charli XCX co-directed with Sarah McColgan, now has upwards of 64 million views on YouTube. In an interview with Billboard, Charli XCX said the video has two main goals: to try to reverse the male gaze and to be a really fun pop video. She does both with ease, finding major success out of a concept that was born out of a vision of Joe Jonas “eating sexily.”
There is no doubt that this is an incredibly fun song and the video enhances the sense of playfulness. Diplo and Khalid play with puppies in front of pink background, DRAM dances in front of TV sets that he smashed, and Dan Smith chews on hot pink bubblegum. But there are also scenes that are more “sexy,” more reminiscent of the roles women are stereotyped to play in music videos. By placing men in these positions — all while maintaining the sense of playfulness — Charli XCX reveals the trivialness and absurdity of these roles. So while it’s a fun, bright, cute video, it’s also working to call out harmful, useless stereotypes; this is pop in its best form.
“Ivy” – The Football Club
Not all music videos need millions of views to be considered the best – some can be quietly groundbreaking. In early March, a little known folk-punk band called “The Football Club” released “Ivy,” a folk-punk ballad where the band’s frontwoman, Ruby Markwell, a trans woman, grapples with her transgender identity – a conflict that was bolstered when the band released a music video for the song weeks later.
Upon hitting play, one is immediately confronted by Markwell – dressed in all white against a black background – in all of her unconventional beauty. As she begins singing, the scene switches between her and two white men in a locked in a strained embrace. The song progresses, and the male figures start to wrestle, smearing black paint over their bodies. With each iteration of the chorus, their limbs turn from white, to grey, and finally to black as they blend into the black background. At times, with the deft use a green screen, the scenes morph together and one can see glimpses of Ruby within the paint of the male bodies. At the end of the video, the male bodies are completely covered in black, but still recognized – symbolizing both the presence and absence of her male identity. The video shows her identity and gender – or any transgender identity for that matter – is not merely composed of black and white, but grey.