In 2018, artists embraced the medium of music videos more than ever, churning out everything from teaser videos to short films, all in efforts to drive home artistic statements or call attention to the underlying meaning behind their music. At its best, the synergistic fusion of visuals and music has the capacity to invoke strong emotional responses and conjure up specific atmospheres. Even when they don’t reach that creative sweetspot, good music videos still make for a fun escape from reality for a few short minutes.
Here are some of the notable music videos that caught Atwood Magazine’s attention this year!
– Carmen Chan, columnist – Viewfinder
:: Best Music Videos ::
“Mr. Tillman” – Father John Misty
Directed by Jeff Desom & Carlos Lopez Estrada, the video for “Mr. Tillman” plays out like a weird, recurring dream in which Father John Misty can’t quite seem to escape his hotel. Making use of tilt-shift effects and miniature models of the set, the resulting video is disorienting and bizarre, mirroring the lyrics of the track itself. Full of twists and turns, the video leaves the viewer second guessing what happens next as things descend into madness. In the end, the storyline isn’t resolved. With everything left open ended, the video itself could theoretically be looped infinitely, creating a never-ending cycle in which Tillman never escapes the hotel. Yikes.
“Come Over” – The Internet
Syd took a spin in the director’s chair for the “Come Over” video – The Internet’s first single off Hive Mind and a doozy at that. A lush and groovy soundscape featuring Syd’s signature smooth, hushed vocals set the stage for the color popped video featuring each member in their own hue. Throughout the video, we meet Syd’s crush – the girl next door – and watch as she tries to score an invite over and some alone time. Eventually, each member of the group is seen enjoying company in their individual, color splashed rooms. Steve Lacy goes in on a guitar solo in yellow, Patrick’s guest meditates in green, Matt grooves in orange and Chris eats cereal in purple. The video is playfully artistic from vision to execution, and the band’s communal energy, humor and connection shines brightly through. As the music fades out, the group and all of their guests gather around the television, that age old nuclear family nighttime routine. The video overall is smart, and the perfect reintroduction of The Internet three years post Ego Death. It showcases the members’ unity as well as their autonomy, evokes personality, and gives the viewer a nostalgic fuzzy feeling about school crushes and longtime friends.
“Hide” – Rainbow Kitten Surprise
“I hid [doing drag] in the same way that I did being gay,” explains the first subject of Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s latest music video. Part traditional music video, part video diary, the visual for “Hide” follows four New Orleans drag queens who feel most comfortable onstage in full glam, but — appropriate for the track’s remorseful themes — have kept their sequined alter egos under wraps to certain family members. By the clip’s end, RKS have presented unconditional love in both familial and romantic forms that will leave viewers’ hearts warm, guts wrenched and eyes teary (not to mention the infectiously fun cameos from a stacked lineup of queens).
Director Kyle Thrash was responsible for the intimate and revealing video, knowing the song’s meaning struck a personal chord with lead singer Sam Melo. “These are beautiful people on the inside and out who have these moments of struggle in the landscape of the south and being so brave to do what they do,” Thrash told Billboard. “The video is a celebration of their stories and was all a pretty special experience.”
“Light On” – Maggie Rogers
Maggie Roger’s latest video, ‘Light On’, is the last single released before her debut album comes out early next year. Rogers describes it as a letter to her fans talking about the last two years of her life. With her career moving quite quickly after she graduated college, she didn’t know how to feel about it all. Her debut album, Heard It In A Past Life, is her accepting everything that is to come and saying ‘Yes’ to making music.
Not only is the song itself beautiful, but also the cinematography created by Olivia Bee is simply stunning. The incredibly refreshing and pure visual shows Rogers in her unique light and doesn’t stray from that at all. Close up shots singing in the car, dancing her own way, and being in the presence of nature all form the aesthetically pleasing vibe of what is Maggie Rogers. This concept showcases Rogers in the most vulnerable state thus far and will leave you understanding every lyric and feeling every emotion she portrays.
“Is This Real?” – Caspar Leopard
2018 has seen Caspar Leopard deliver not one, but two dazzling animated videos that are as thought-provoking as they are utterly beautiful. In June, the London-based artist treated us to “Is This Real?”, a collaboration with animator/director Stefano Cassini that captures humanity’s insatiable thirst for more through breathtaking anthropomorphic imagery. Whilst a poignant electrofolk ballad stimulates the ears, Cassini and Leopard treat our eyes to incredible scenic vistas of an Earth not unlike our own, but for the odd semi-human entity desperate to understand its purpose and meaning. The life cycle runs its course in front of our very eyes as a living blob of earth emerges as a tadpole from a pool of water and proceeds to strive for more and more. First, it gains legs to go on land; then, the legs become arms so it can climb a mountain; then, the arms become wings so it can fly above the clouds. The living being evolves before our very eyes, constantly wanting more until it falls down to the earth, and becomes part of a stream once more.
“Is This Real?” encourages us to pause and reflect on life’s grandeur. While it is against our nature to sit still and simply embrace the moment – to exist solely in the here and now, happy with what is and unencumbered by what could be – perhaps, for a little while, we can each take a step back, take a breath, and just be. Meanwhile, I can only hope that Caspar Leopard continues his own climb, and that he brings us along for the journey.
“My My My!” – Troye Sivan
The first single released from his sophomore album Bloom, “My My My!” is a mature departure from Sivan’s previous music videos. Though simple in concept, the music video is electric. Directed by Grant Singer and shot mostly in black and white, it focuses on Sivan’s dancing and passionate singing as he struts about an abandoned warehouse. The weight of the video rests entirely on Sivan’s shoulders, allowing him to show off his charisma and stage presence, all while drumming up anticipation for the release of his new album. The video taps into his natural magnetism, and his performance feels like a celebration of youth and all that it entails.
What better way to make a splash than by releasing a huge pop song accompanied by well-produced visuals?
“Me and Michael” – MGMT
MGMT’s video for their track “Me and Michael” is surreal to say the least. It’s an absurdist parody of fame and the music industry, touching on everything from the talk show promotional cycle to product endorsements. Directed by Joey Frank and Randy Lee Maitland, the six minute video has the story arc of a movie, charting the rise and fall of the band as they achieve superstardom after releasing a song stolen off an internet video. Full of handmade and cardboard props, and 90s-esque computer graphics floating on the screen, watching the video feels like you wandered into some strange part of YouTube. There hasn’t been any other video quite like this released in 2018.
“Movement” – Hozier
Not many artists can claim that one of the world’s best ballet dancers starred in their music video. Hozier checked that off the list this year with the release of his music video for “Movement.” Featuring Sergei Polunin and directed by Christopher Barrett and Luke Taylor, aka Us, the video fuses Hozier’s powerful vocals with Polunin’s breathtaking dancing. If that concept sounds familiar, it’s because a video of Polunin dancing to “Take Me To Church” first went viral in 2015, spawning this collaboration for Hozier’s new single. According to the directors, the video revolves around the “idea of self reflection, being able to take a step back and look at the decisions you’ve made. It’s that movement within our own minds, how you can end up battling with yourself. This is where the idea of multiple Sergeis came into play. These multiples represent inner demons and versions of ourself we all fight with, a notion we felt Sergei could relate to and express perfectly.” Not many people are able to tell a story and express themselves with dance; even fewer are as adept as Polunin.
“Hunnybee” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Sex and Food from Unknown Mortal Orchestra contains some of the most beautifully animated music videos for its tracks, none more so than the video for “Hunnybee.” Set on a moving train, the video takes the viewer on a serene, bucolic exploration of mountainsides and rivers – mirroring the same hypnotic and wistful mood the song produces. As the train heads towards its destination, small warning signs of impending danger begin to appear sporadically, going hand-in-hand with the lyrics to the track. “Hunnybee, there’s no such thing as a sweeter sting” is an ambivalent sentiment, one that is shared with the dangers presented in the video. If the goal was to capture the essence of the track, their music video certainly has done just that.
“Playwright” – Trevor Powers
Trevor Powers’ return to music was a highlight of 2018. He made his entrance with the track “Playwright,” and accompanying it was the stunning music video filmed underwater. There’s panic in the video, but also astounding beauty. The synchronized swimming troupe Aqualillies has done a fantastic job at capturing the emotions laid bare in the track and performing them with a poise that is jaw-dropping. Joined with the track and video was a letter in which Powers goes into detail on his life post-Youth Lagoon and the struggles he had faced. “Playwright” was his feigning chair, and the video was the visual representation of it all. What starts off as a lone dancer in the water turns into a frenzy as more begin to appear and surround the protagonist. As the dancer narrowly escapes, the viewer is left with an impression of the struggles and internal war Powers shared with the world.
“Career Boy” – Dorian Electra
Dorian Electra’s “Career Boy” is an ode to workaholics everywhere. Anyone who’s ever been stuck behind a desk working overtime can surely relate to the track. Directed by Charlotte Rutherford, the accompanying video features stress balls, spreadsheets, and tons of office coffee. With its nostalgic 90s aesthetic and striking color palettes, the video complements the track perfectly. I couldn’t help but share this with friends after watching the video – it’s just that eye-catching.
“If You’re Over Me” – Years & Years
A dystopian future taken over by androids where humans are forced to perform emotion-evoking cabaret? That’s the stage set in the “If You’re Over Me” video, and it’s a glittery, creepy wonder. It quickly becomes clear that Olly is the star of the show, performing numerous song and dance numbers alongside other human dancers to whom he inevitably forms a connection. Throughout the video, we see smooth choreography, dazzling outfits and the juxtaposition of genuine human emotion both behind and onstage against the forced feelings in the audience. From the stunning choreography to the intimate cinematography, the video really feels like a scene from a movie. All of the participants communicate complex emotions incredibly well, and viewers don’t miss a beat when it comes to the feelings and relationships involved. As just one part (the second, to be exact) of the Palo Santo LP’s short film series, “If You’re Over Me” is the most evocative and surely the turning point.
“Son of the Morning” – Caspar Leopard
Directed by Caspar Leopard and animated by Ben Wilson, “Son of the Morning” is Leopard’s first animated video and explores both the vastness and grandeur of life. The song’s cinematic and atmospheric qualities are amplified through a truly ethereal filmic experience: “Son of the Morning” is a visual manifestation of our search for answers to questions of purpose and place. Darkness and light collide with mesmerizing grace as we follow a floating orb with a human head around its lonely Earth-like world.
Often times, we look well beyond ourselves and our lives for understanding, when perhaps the truths we seek lie closer to home than we think. Leopard and Wilson’s surreal imagery evokes a sense of wonder at our endlessly dazzling existence; they intensify what it means for us as individuals to scour our surroundings for answers, depicting how such a search extends in both directions, and without resolve. Our quest for purpose is endless, yet we ourselves are not. Perhaps there is something to be gained from making the most of our time…
“1999” – Charli XCX and Troye Sivan
Charli XCX is no stranger to producing stellar music videos, having directed the amazing video for “Boys” last year. For her surprise collaboration with Troye Sivan, the pair released an equally amazing video for “1999.” The video reads like a checklist of all the most significant moments in pop culture history from the 90s, referencing movies like Titanic and the Matrix, as well as artists like the Spice Girls, and Backstreet Boys. Directed by Ryan Staake & Charli XCX, the video is steeped in nostalgia, a fun counterpoint to Charli XCX’s forward-thinking pop music.
“Regular” – NCT 127
For the release of their single “Regular,” K-pop group NCT 127 went so far as to produce two separate videos, one for the English version of the track and another for the Korean version. Both the music videos for “Regular” look like the lovechild of an anime and a Wong Kar-Wai film come to life. The videos almost play out like a tourism ad for Seoul, but with a hyper-futuristic edge, taking the viewer on an adrenaline-filled journey through urban night scenes, traipsing through arcades, rooftops, and alleyways illuminated by neon lights. What sets the videos for “Regular” apart is the sprinkling of Asian elements and imagery littered throughout. On the whole, the videos are a fun celebration of youth, modernity, and identity.
“hostage” – Billie Eilish
The video for Billie Eilish’s “hostage” lends a sinister tone to an already disquieting song. Directed by Henry Scholfield, the video unfurls slowly and starts off innocently enough, with Eilish dancing with Devyck Bull in a white room. But as the lighting changes, their relationship unravels. Like a spider spinning a web to catch its prey, the room morphs to ensnare Bull in its confines as Eilish stares apathetically, ending up alone with him just like how she wanted in the song.
“Ottolenghi” – Loyle Carner ft Jordan Rakei
Although the entire video for “Ottolenghi” takes place exclusively in a train carriage, director Oscar Hudson somehow manages to make it an exciting and unpredictable one, with twists up to the last second. There’s no CGI involved, just good editing and visual tricks that keep the viewer surprised. It’s hard to explain without completely ruining the video – just press play.
“It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You)” – The 1975
Directed by Warren Fu, the video for the 1975’s “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” is vaguely Inception-esque, featuring dreams within a dream, as well as cameos from No Rome and the Japanese House. In a nod to the classic Talking Heads’ concert film Stop Making Sense, the video revolves around a staged performance from the band, backup dancers and grey suit included. However, a series of strange events keep interrupting Matty Healy’s performance on stage, even a surreal throwback to their video for “Sincerity Is Scary.” As the video ends, the credits roll to canned applause, effectively adding another layer in between the viewer and the events that occurred in the video. Did I just watch an homage to the Talking Heads or was it all taking place in Healy’s dreams?
“5 dollars” – Christine and the Queens
Christine and the Queens released a slew of excellent videos this year, all geared towards creating a ecosystem for her alter-ego and sophomore album Chris to inhabit. Perhaps none of her recent videos are as direct and in-your-face as the video for “5 dollars.” Directed by Colin Solal Cardo and produced by La Blogothèque, the video follows Chris as she gets ready in the morning. All seems relatively normal until the slightly after the 1 minute mark when she reveals the contents of her closet to be stuffed to the brim with bondage gear.
With the release of her new album, Christine and the Queens has proven that she’s one of those artists that doesn’t underestimate the power of visuals. Her music and its accompanying videos work hand in hand to create thought-provoking art regarding gender identity and sexuality. By recontextualizing these topics in contemporary terms, Christine and the Queens has created arguably the most riveting pop album this year, elevating her music to the realm of theatre along the way.
“Street Fighter Mas” – Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington has helped elevate and shape a new wave of jazz. His larger than life sound expounds upon the definition of not only what jazz is, but an album as a whole. This talent and methodology is then taken and transformed into the charming music video for his track “Street Fighter Mas.” If the title isn’t a giveaway, the tune acts as a homage to the video game that he has described as a “safe space” for him in his childhood. It’s a vibrant track only made stronger by its earnest music video. The track boasts an outpour of melodies, rhythms, and beats that all combine into a flawless soundscape that makes one feel like a winner. The video only emboldens this feeling by showing the triumphant journey of Washington as he dukes it out with some of gaming’s best in order to reign supreme. The video is a love letter to Washington’s past, and it shows not only his talent, but his imagination, creativity, and character.
“Everything Apart” – Foxwarren
One of the sleekest videos of the year, Foxwarren’s “Everything Apart” has created a high octane spy thriller in only four minutes. It begins with the creation of an explosive device, synths echoing in the foreground as wires are being cut and metal melted. Then a ‘70s inspired bassline and percussion beat join the mix and the mood is set. Tension is built as the group meets to discuss their target, and from then on it’s pure perfection. The noir setting was a fantastic match, making listeners and viewers alike on edge, constantly moving and grooving to the beat as they wait for an explosive finish. And they certainly deliver.
“Take Mine” – Joey Dosik
Music has the power to comfort any weary soul, no matter how lost they might be. Joey Dosik takes this sentiment and runs full force with it on the track “Take Mine” from his album Inside Voices. Joined with the track is the heart-wrenching video that acts as a time-lapse through the good and bad, the losses and gains one faces in life. It starts with an elderly woman wandering aimlessly down a street, but her attention is soon caught by the soothing sounds of a piano. As she follows the melodies and enters the home, she sees her whole life. As the video goes through her biggest moments, one would be hard-pressed not to think of the loved ones in one’s life. The track sends this message of love, understanding, and comfort with utter perfection, and the video has captured the idea in the most gorgeous of ways.
“Freelance” – Toro y Moi
After moving back to California from Portland, Oregon, Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick faced a serious culture shock. The shock turned into disgust, and what better way to manifest those feeling than through music. His single “Freelance” acts as his response to the shift in cultural styles, an attack on the faux lifestyles he has been witnessing. The video exists in the same world as the album cover and acts as a portal into the production process Bundick undergoes. The heavy funk and disco beats are contrasted with his almost monotone and apathetic vocals, and this apathy is mirrored in the video through the expressionless faces as the photo shoot is taking place. “No more shoes and socks, I only rock sandals. I can’t tell if I’m hip or getting old” is a tongue-in-cheek jab that aids in expressing his feelings towards this new life, and with all of the outfits he adorns himself with in the video, it’s fairly clear that it’s a sentiment that needs some further pondering on. The quick jumps and stylized approach the video takes elevates the track to new heights, making it a stand out for 2018.
“This Is America” – Childish Gambino
This is the video. This is the video if you didn’t care to MAGA for all it was worth. This is the video if you MAGA’d till it hurt. This is the video if you think Black Lives Matter. This is the video if you think All Lives Matter. This is the video if you were Trayvon Martin. This is the video if you were George Zimmerman. This is the video if you didn’t care for music videos. This is the video if you didn’t care for the music. “This is America” hollas our newfound Lando Calrissian, done with all his gooey, freaky, styley Funkadelic shag-pile carpet soul and rhythm and ready to rip on all yo asses a new one or two or three or forty; juxtapose the trap with the funk, then the funk with the gospel and then back again to the trap; riddle us with bullet point questions and hit us with the good book of sense behind the senseless. Baptist choirs get shot, pale mares ride the industrial lot, cars burn and smoke riots, the looting picks up speed nonstop. This is Los Angeles, this is Baltimore, this is Ferguson, and this video is the America we are getting to know more and more and more. It’s not that we all live in terror—it’s that the Gambino sees a people terrorized, and in one foul swoop, one single strike, he has a created a touchstone video that everyone—everyone—had to see. It’s the epitome of what a music video can do: taking a standard fare song and turning it into an icon. And the symbology of the thing notwithstanding, the video freeze-framed minority society and had everyone talking about what America is or could be to whom.
“Just a Stranger” – Kali Uchis ft Steve Lacy
You can always count on three things from Kali Uchis – trippy visuals, sex appeal, and a ton of dancing. The music video for her Steve Lacy collab, “Just a Stranger,” checks off all of the boxes. The video delivers nothing short of a compelling visual accompaniment to the song, full of dreamy transitions, drug-induced special effects, and of course, raining money. Uchis and her fierce girl gang move from the club to the beach only to find a map in a bottle leading to some sort of treasure island. The narrative continues with Uchis captaining her ship through various perilous encounters. It is a video that further proves her brilliance as her own creative director, with the help of BRTHR. Though the quality of the video is seemingly low budget, Uchis pulls it off as a masterpiece in all its technicolor beauty with the staple humor and attitude present in all of her work. You can tell a lot about her as an artist by watching this one video, and it’s a feat in itself to pull together such an all-encompassing visual piece for such a smash song.