Pop music dominated YouTube this year, with arena-filling acts making blockbuster-type music videos. These mostly hip-hop and pop stars incited us want to shimmy and shake, mimicking dance moves as we saw them. But here at Paste, we noticed another trend with music videos this year. Some artists used their music videos as spaces to share messages of social import—from body image to the refugee crisis to police brutality. But the very best music videos of 2015 were able to do both.
25. Childbirth, “Let’s Be Bad”
Director: Lara Gallagher
Technically speaking, “Let’s Be Bad” is not a very good video. Its imagery is grainy and blurry, and its story depends on passé fades and mirroring techniques. But all these cheesy devices actually make “Let’s Be Bad” deliciously rebellious. Members of the Seattle-based feminist supergroup appear like thought bubbles to influence the main character to do “bad” things like splitting a dessert, ordering a couple of white wines, or wearing skirts that barely fit. It’s a lady power anthem for punk rock today.
24. Nicki Minaj f/ Beyoncé, “Feeling Myself”
Maybe this video shouldn’t count, since we can only see about 30 seconds without subscribing to Tidal. But, when two of pop’s biggest queens (YAAAS) get together for a dub-like duet, it’s kind of a big deal. Plus, Nicki and Bey look like they’re bffs in the clip for “Feeling Myself,” which only makes us want to see more.
23. Silentó, “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”
Director: Marc Klasfeld
The greatest thing about the video for Silentó’s debut single is that it’s basically a tutorial in how to look cool. The 17-year-old rapper gets people of all ages—from soccer moms and Stepford wives to high-schoolers and small children to perfect his patented moves. Everyone from talk show hosts to sports coaches have been doing the whip and nae nae this year.
22. Lucius, “Born Again Teen”
Director: Bill Fishman
The prospect of a new Lucius album excites us greatly, and if “Born Again Teen” is any indication, Good Grief will be as musically powerful as 2013’s Wildewoman. While the song’s video initially served as an album announcement, it stands alone effectively as a hilarious parody on carpooling with ride shares. Good Grief is scheduled to come out on March 11, 2016.
21. Joanna Newsom, “Divers”
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Film director Paul Thomas Anderson conceptualized this seven-minute music video. It’s as cinematic as you might expect, with Newsom’s mug floating, singing behind spooky landscapes. The pair also worked together in 2014’s adaptation of Inherent Vice.
20. David Bowie, “Black Star”
Director: Johan Renck
This nearly-10-minute epic is the perfect way to announce a new David Bowie album. Swedish director Johan Renck has Breaking Bad and Walking Dead credits to his name, and Bowie himself boasts an impressive acting career, leaving this short film the perfect mix of narrative storytelling and psychedelic weirdness. Blackstar drops January 8, 2016.
19. Jenny Lewis, “She’s Not Me”
Director: Jenny Lewis
Before Jenny Lewis was the singer for Rilo Kelly, she was a child actor. The video for “She’s Not Me,” features a TMZ spin-off tracing an incarcerated Lewis’ backstory through appearances in The Golden Girls, The Wizard, Hellville, and Troop Beverly Hills. Plus, famous friends Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Leo Fitzpatrick, Zosia Mamet, and Feist show up to join her.
18 Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”
Director: Marc Klasfeld
Marc Klasfeld strikes again, but in a totally different way for country pop singer Kacey Musgraves’ “Biscuits.” The video blends three unrelated elements—Muppet-like critters playing on a Grand Ol’ Opry-esque barn stage to the tune of an intelligent modern country song. It blends fantasy and reality, culminating in an adage for the ages: “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.”
17. Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”
Director: Charlie Ford
is a sad clown having an existential crisis as an amusement park in the video for her first single off Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. It’s a performance that’s both devastating and hilarious.
16. Grimes, “Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream”
Grimes has always been a bit of a performance artist. The Canadian electro-pop singer captures that visual element in this two-part music video that she directed, herself. In the first half for her song “Flesh without Blood,” Grimes is portrayed as a range of alter-egos including a tortured angel, bloodied Romantic dame, country star, and more. In the second half for “Live in the Vivid Dream,” however, these characters react to the dynamic melodic shift, becoming more moody and pensive.
15. Taylor Swift f/ Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood”
Director: Joseph Kahn
The video for “Bad Blood” is the sheer antithesis of its predecessor “Shake It Off.” T. Swift reinvents herself again, this time as a Catwoman-like crime-fighter. But the best part of this futuristic video is her team of allies that includes everyone from Selena Gomez to Cindy Crawford to Lena Dunham. #Squadgoals, indeed.
14. Sia, “Alive”
Directors: Sia and Daniel Askill
Purely based on aesthetics, Sia has made a name for herself based through her epically angular hair and her excellent choice of backup dancers. In the video for “Alive,” she reprises both of those accomplishments. Nine-year-old Mahiro Takano performs a Japanese karate routine that fits with the music so perfectly that it seems like choreography. The stark warehouse locale focuses all the attention on Takano and her black and white Sia-looking wig.