The music video is an interesting and rewarding artform to explore, but one that doesn’t get enough attention from those who love film. While music videos as we traditionally think of them are unarguably mired in the world of the commercial, this doesn’t prevent them from serving as an amazing bridge between music, art, and cinema. A perfect format for short-storytelling, aesthetic exploration, tone poems, and (most importantly) experimentation, it is the playground of filmmakers and artists who are often pulling off the most fun and inventive accomplishments of anyone working with motion-pictures. Each Renn Loves Music Videos takes a look at a batch of music videos –new, old, weird, radical, classic, experimental, and everything in between– to try and figure out what makes each one special. Keep in mind that many older videos aren’t available in magnificent quality. Graphic photo: Nathan Jones
20 OF 2013’s GREATEST MUSIC VIDEOS
We’re a week into the New Year (to be filled with MANY more of these columns), which has been enough time for me to look back over the year in music videos and assemble a list of the really great efforts. The problem is the sheer number of music videos released in any year given makes any claim of seeing them all an absurdity. No joke: I’ve seen estimates of anywhere from 6 to 7 thousand of them put out in 2013.
With that said, I did watch a lot of music videos, and I can certainly point you toward some real standouts. I encourage you to share your own favorites in the comments below- I undoubtedly missed/forgot dozens, if not hundreds, of cool/great promos.
My taste runs all over the place, musically and cinematically, but you’ll notice a penchant for the outrageous mixed with a love for the sophisticated. A fair amount of them are NSFW (and labeled so), so tread carefully. The list is in no particular order, and there are some extras linked at the end. Enjoy!
Justin Timberlake – “Suit & Tie”
dir: David Fincher
dp: Matthew Libatique
Let start things off classy. Effortlessly beautiful. Retro, yet modern. A perfect visual distillation of a hit.
Bloc Party – “Ratchet”
If you’ve never seen a Cyriak piece, prepare to be terrified and blown away simultaneously. The After Effects evil genius crafted this recycled video that is a perfect representation of his work. Others may prefer his “Cirrus” video for Bonobo, where he explores vintage footage in a sort of brain-fucked Koyaanisqatsi tour through materialism. See that one here.
Duck Sauce – “It’s You”
dir: Phillip Andelman
dp: Morgan Susser
Had I actually ranked this list, this one may well have sat at the top or very close. I love the weird funkiness of the video, and the song is a delight. It also seem influenced by the aforementioned Cyriak, but is way more accessible (as if that matters).
Gesaffelstein – “Pursuit”
dir: Fleur & Manu
dp: Nicolas Loir
Love this one. Weird, European, full of vague dread over a sophisticated electro hook- some of my favorite things! The persistent dolly-back of Fleur & Manu’s video takes us through strange, ominous tableaus (and goes a bit NSFW briefly) and I’ll definitely be watching this one for a long time.
Indochrine – “College Boy”
dir: Xavier Dolan
This one is intense. Though beautifully captured in limited ratio, black and white photography, the story it illustrates is as rough as they come. Not for the faint of heart, but the symbolism here is as powerful as anything you’re likely to have seen in any kind of motion picture of late. (NSFW)
Eminem – “Rap God”
dir: Rich Lee
I love almost all of the promos off Marshall’s new album, from the throwback “Berzkerk” to the trip down memory lane of “The Monster.” It’s the video for his bravura declaration of lyrical intent “Rap God” though, that hit me hardest. I’m a sucker for Matrix homages, but it’s the visualization of the way a brilliant rapper brain assembles its ammo that pushes it over the top.
NIN – Tension Tour
dir: Kerry Asmussen
art dir: Rob Sheridan
Indulge me here a bit. This year Nine Inch Nails returned, and Trent Reznor staged another remarkable live show to tour the album. While a major label handled the album, Reznor did not go without some of his usual progressive distribution antics, and the tour was beautifully filmed and uploaded online for free- you can see the entire show here. The video below for “Disappointed” is not my favorite song/performance per se, but it does showcase some of the more awesome effects of the spectacular lighting setup and three-pane LED panel rig that created some cool hologram-like effects.
Earl Sweatshirt (feat. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies) – “Hive”
dir: Hiro Murai
dp: Larkin Seiple
Earl’s 2012 collaboration with Hiro Murai for “Chum” is one of my favorite videos of that year, and their follow-up treads a similarly eery, melancholy vibe. It beautifully alludes to the cartoony demons that pervert the suburban origins of OFWGKTA. While frontman Tyler The Creator shows up in the honorable mentions with something very different, this is a great payoff to the sensibility that first brought Odd Future attention.
Breach – “Jack”
dir: The Sacred Egg
dp: Ben Todd
I love weird funk apparently, because this video for “Jack” is another one I’ve spun over and over. For me, I need to see this video with the song to fully appreciate both- the mark of a truly great promo. The choreography too is great, which makes this a video that remains a blast to watch once the visual concept/novelty has sunk in. (Behind the scenes video here).
Arcade Fire – “Afterlife”
dir: Emily Kai Block
dp: Evan Prosofsky
I’m not a particularly enthusiastic Arcade Fire fan, but there’s no denying the artistry of this promo for their song “Afterlife.” A lovely, simple story of longing told through the overlapping dreams of several characters. Beautifully conceived and executed.
Major Lazor (feat. Bruno Mars, 2 Chainz, Tyga, and Mystic) – “Bubble Butt”
dir: Eric Wareheim
dp: Aaron Platt
Real talk: I’ve watched this video an order of magnitude more times than… well, anything else in 2013. This is the playground Miley Cyrus spent 2013 bumbling around in to make white moms uncomfortable, but it’s explored here with no irony, no gimmicks, but plenty of humor. The choreography, the majesty, the colors… it’s impossible to take your eyes off it. An infectious good time that I’ve had a blast sharing with people. (NSFW)
Darwin Deez – “You Can’t Be My Girl”
dir: Keith Schofield
dp: Ben Fordesman
This is a hilarious trip through lives told in stock footage, with the goofy looking Darwin Deez comp’d into the frames in all manner of ways. Catchy song, and the video is a blast to watch – treading a thin line between creepy and satirical that I really dig.
Janelle Monáe (feat. Erykah Badu) – “Q.U.E.E.N.”
dir: Alan Ferguson
dp: Sidarth Kantamneni
This is a sharply designed, catchy music video, but it largely comes down to Janelle Monáe’s gushing charisma perfectly styled and captured here. (Give it a minute to get started).
SPECIAL: Beyonce – “The Visual Album”
Loathe as I am to include a Terry Richardson video in my list, I like “XO” better than “Drunk In Love,” so there it sits below. The real impact of Be’s recent video effort comes from taking her new album as a whole though. Dropping the EP with every track represented by a proper, often excellent music video, the Diva has doubled down on the value of music video craft. Her dedication to the medium is impressive, but the sheer volume of great promos made for the album is more impressive still. “XO” below is the best of what has been officially “released” (read: uploaded to Vevo), but for those that buy the album, “Pretty Hurts,” “Grown Woman,” “Partition,” and “Haunted” will be special treats.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege”
My huge crush on Lily Cole aside, this video tells a simple tale that reveals itself in remarkable fashion, and says a lot without piling on the ham-fisted metaphors. It’d be sexy, were it not such an ugly story. One of the best of the year, no doubt.
Is Tropical – “Dancing Anymore”
SUPER DUPER NSFW. This one meanders a bit before it gets weird and gratuitous, and then it keeps escalating into sheer brilliance. Never before has the wacked out mind of a teenage boy with time on his hands been so… exuberantly visualized. HolyShitNSFW.
FIDLAR – “Cocaine”
dir: Ryan Baxley
dp: Ryan Baxley
While we’re at it, here’s another bizarre, NSFW video about a dude being weird with his dick. This one stars Nick Offerman and is one of those amazingly simple, hilarious concepts execute with all the class it deserves.
Phoenix – “Trying To Be Cool”
dp: Oscar Faura
A blast of a music video, this effort celebrates the artifice of music videos, and takes the trends of rube goldbergian and single-take music videos to a whole new level.
Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell Williams) – Lose Yourself To Dance
dir: Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Warren Fu, Paul Hahn, Cédric Hervet
dp: Thomas Bangalter
I love a confidently simple, gorgeous video that is content to simply groove along to its song. Shot with a deliberate camera and cut with restraint, this a throwback in more than just aesthetic and the result is a joy to watch.
Jackson and His Computer Band – “G.I. Jane (Fill Me Up)”
dir: Mrzyk & Moriceau
I’ll go ahead and end this on the weirdest, most NSFW note possible with the batshit animated video for Jackson and His Computer Band. Male viewers in particular are going to be torn between the video’s slick, undeniable sexiness and the sheer volume of phallic destruction to which you bear witness. I dare you to take your eyes off this one.
That’s the main list!
EXTRA: Great Work From Friends of CHUD “The Conflict of Interest Section”
The Chicarones – “Hi Hey Hello”
dir: Joseph Kahn
dp: Christopher Probst
Director Joseph Kahn is a pal of CHUD and someone I work for professionally on occasion, but my inclusion of his Samsung-sponsored video for the Chicarones is an earnest one. There’s some next level shit going on in this video photographically and editorially, and it represents a creative, innovative merging of a music video with sponsorhip. In a world where music video budgets are shrinking, there’s going to be a lot more of this kind of thing, so a classy trend-setter is good for everyone. Kahn also directed a gorgeous Mariah Carey video in 2013 and Britney Spears’ most recent promo, though the latter is a compromised cut, surrounded by notable controversy. (It’s still great).
Biting Elbows – “Bad Motherfucker”
dir: Illya Naishuller
dp: Sergey Valyaev
We’ve premiered both of these “Insane Office Escape” videos on CHUD, and dropped exclusives on the feature-length film that has spawned out of Illya Naishuller’s awesome POV work on this and other videos. The insane viral success of this promo is a testament to just how plain fucking awesome it is- full of kineticism, creativity, and endlessly crazy stunts. It’s truly as spectacular as any music videos has ever dared to be.
Here are the near misses that are still well worth your time…
• JJ Doom – “Bookfiend”
Simple, evocative video for a strong song from my favorite rapper.
• Thee Oh Sees – “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”
Pretty mean video, but if your sense of humor is as bone dry as mine…
• Run The Jewels – “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”
Spectacular (relatively) new rap duo from Atlanta, and their vaguely Tim & Eric-esque XMAS video.
• They Might Be Giants – “Black Ops”
Cool, clever video that is meant to be watched in a completely dark room- give it a shot. I wish my favorite band still made real videos from time to time though : (
• A$AP Rocky (feat. Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar) – “Fuckin’ Problems”
As slick a traditional, straightforward hip hop video as anyone produced last year.
• Tyler The Creator – “Tamale”
Great song, with a hilarious video that’s about as distinctly Tyler The Creator as you can get. Nearly made the list proper.
• Pharrell Williams – “Happy”
A true 24-hour, cameo filled music video. Simple but triumphant, and a big push for the medium.
• Jon Hopkins – “Open Eye Signal”
If you’re looking to sit back for 8 minutes and just take a journey for the journey’s sake, have at this one.
• Sugo Tokumaru – “Katachi”
Truly mind-boggling, adorable stop-motion.
• Childish Gambino – “3005”
Mopey, but very nicely executed with tons of subtle touches.
• John Meyer & Katy Perry – “Who You Love”
It’s really just the sweetest, cutest video ever.
• Mike Will Made It (feat. Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa, and Juicy J) – “23”
Deal with it. #getlikeme