The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

For many artists, music videos add another layer of artistry to a piece of music and they often add far more than just a visual accompaniment and a literal new dimension. Whether metaphorical and abstract, topical and timely or surreal and absurd, music videos are an avenue for musicians to place themselves in the director’s chair or put their acting skills and theatrics on display. Whether it’s the glitzy videos with a bottomless budget like The Carter’s “APESHIT,” the black and white, intimate documentary quality of Idles’ “Danny Nedelko,” the heartbreaking realism of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “Pa’lante” or the high-concept sci-fi of LCD Soundsystem’s “oh baby,” music videos moved us this year in one way or another. Paste selected and ranked 20 videos from the past year that made us laugh, cry, feel less alone or completely made our jaws drop. Grab some popcorn and enjoy this mini music video film festival below, as curated by the Paste staff.

20. Young Fathers, “Toy”

Scottish alternative hip-hop trio Young Fathers unleashed “Toy” from their excellent latest album Cocoa Sugar and its Salomon Ligthelm-directed video is just as disorienting, radiant and charismatic. The video is a spoof of the power-hungry dictators who run the world today. World leaders from the U.S., Russia, North Korea and other nations are depicted, but as young, spoiled children who pound their fists on their desks and give orders to their adult military generals. Vocalist Alloysious Massaquoi ferociously spits the words, “You’re just a broken little toy / a silly little boy,” and you can’t help but think of these lyrics in the video’s new context, which makes a mockery of the authoritarian-leaning world leaders. —Lizzie Manno

19. Sextile, “Disco”

The music video for Sextile’s dark, dreamy “Disco” is like a Gap commercial from the mid-’90s, if Gap was actually ultra cool and punk as hell. Sextile members Melissa Scaduto and Brady Keehn dance around a sparse white space, freely moving to the hypnotic beats in monochromatic glory. “Visually and aesthetically, the video was influenced by the NDW (Neue Deutsche Welle/New German Wave) genre,” the band said in Clash Magazine (who premiered the exceptional video.) Scaduto actually directed the video, and personally, I hope she continues to direct because she certainly has a knack for it. —Annie Black

18. Black Honey, “Midnight”

Brighton rock quartet Black Honey released their self-titled debut album earlier this year along with a series of Tarantino-esque music videos to reflect the album’s shimmery, cinematic aura. In a sequel to their puzzling, murderous “Dig” video, “Midnight” takes the glamorous violence up another notch. From the previous clip, it appears that a suave, blond, mustachioed man is the next on the kill list and a disco nightclub makes for the perfect, seemingly unsuspecting murder scene. Black Honey frontwoman Izzy Bee Phillips has enlisted the help of a few male accomplices (her three bandmates) to carry out the dirty deed—after all, you’d think she wouldn’t want to get any blood on her impeccable, sequined clothing. Though by the end of the disco ball-filled, Shaun James Grant-directed video, it’s clear that Phillips isn’t fazed by the sinister and isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. —Lizzie Manno

17. A$AP Rocky, “A$AP Forever (feat. Moby)”

While much of the music video acclaim goes towards his peers like Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Drake, A$AP Rocky has quietly become one of the most reliably great rappers in terms of his visual skills. From his trippy 2015 video for “L$D” to this year’s low budget and incredibly fun “Potato Salad” collaboration with Tyler, the Creator shot in in front of the Eifel Tower, the A$AP Mob leader and candidate for coolest rapper alive has been on a lengthy hot streak with his music videos over the last five years or so. But none are as impressive as “A$AP Forever,” the promo video for the lead single off the Harlem native’s third album Testing. Vertigo inducing and visually stunning, “A$AP Forever” sees a rotating camera taking us through a tour of Rocky’s New York, complete with shots from the streets of his home neighborhood to him lying on the ground underneath the above ground subway. The rapidly flipping cameras eventually calm as they give way to Rocky smoking a joint as he falls into a black abyss as the Moby sample takes over. Not only is “A$AP Forever” a technical feat, it’s one of the most creative and unique videos in recent memory. —Steven Edelstone

16. Little Dragon, “Love Chanting”

You gotta love a video that ambitiously builds a distinct setting and accompanying aesthetics. On Little Dragon’s latest, for the title-track single of their Lover Chanting EP, we’re transported into an Everquest-like RPG candyland. The Jack Whiteley and Joe Wills-directed fantasy world stars Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano and a hunky virtua-Prince, traversing the gardens of Allington Castle in Kent. The costumes are gorgeous as the video leads into a cosmic dance party inside of the castle that the human RPG player has guided Nagano (now in different and even more elaborate attire) and her beau too. These are the types of visuals a band of Little Dragon’s caliber ought to be exploring alongside tweener new releases like “Lover Chanting” and Nagano’s impossibly silky vocals on this sticky dance-pop jam. —Adrian Spinelli

15. Phoebe Bridgers, “Scott Street”

Nobody makes airy, folk-leaning ballads quite like Phoebe Bridgers. Her track “Scott Street” from her debut album Stranger in the Alps is crushingly beautiful—it hurts as much as it heals. However, its Alex Lill-directed video does its very best to lift our spirits and it more than accomplishes this task. “Scott Street” sees a crowd of Bridgers lookalikes, each dressed in black and with silvery-blond wigs, lip-synch, ride a mechanical bull and a double decker bus, hop on trampolines and take whacks at a Bridgers pinata. It’s like watching the greatest birthday party ever held and given those hijinks and the fact that it concludes with a boat ride with the real-life Bridgers under the moonlight, we hope we get the invite for next year’s bash. —Lizzie Manno

14. Mountain Man, “Rang Tang Ring Toon”

This Mountain Man video might be the most relaxing three-and-a-half minutes to happen on the Internet in 2018. The comments section on a YouTube video is rarely home to exchanges of gentle repartee, but one remark underneath the “Rang Tang Ring Toon” listing reads as such: “This is really pleasant.” Pleasant! Now there’s a word you don’t usually associate with the Internet. But I cannot begin to think of a better one to describe this airy, whimsical, warm visual treat. “Delightful and charming,” writes another ‘Tube dweller. Indeed, this enchanting video set during a bewitched dinner party for “Ring Tang Ring Toon,” a standout track from Mountain Man’s first album in eight years, is so darn enjoyable even notoriously rude commenters are on board. Magic Ship is itself a tribute to comfort and connection, and the video pretty much sums up all the album’s warm and fuzzy feelings: Friends arrive with potluck dishes, dine by candlelight and offer to help each other with the dishes. As on the record, harmony abounds. Then, the whole thing culminates in a witchy rain dance that looks like a scene from The Crucible, if Abigail Williams and co. had shopped at Urban Outfitters and took delight in eating heirloom tomatoes. I’m not sure what “Rang Tang Ring Toon” means, but maybe it’s a spell—some kind of good-natured hex that works like a hug. Whatever the meaning behind that mumbo jumbo, Mountain Man have worked their magic on me. —Ellen Johnson

13. Hop Along, “How Simple”

Philadelphia indie rock quintet Hop Along’s latest LP Bark Your Head Off, Dog found its way onto our albums of the year list and one of its singles “How Simple” has a stellar video. “How Simple” offers both a whimsical edge, with its keyboards and guitars, and a familiar sound, with its introspective theme and Frances Quinlan’s rich lead vocals. Its video marks the first time the band has starred in one of their videos. Starring Quinlan and directed by Derrick Belcham, the video features a spotlight that follows the singer as she spontaneously dances, wanders around and eventually eats some cereal as the band performs in the dimly-lit room. Quinlan joyfully dances like no one’s watching amid a flurry of flashing lights and it’s this juxtaposition of a euphoric emotional display and a backdrop of solitude that’s inspiring and immensely gratifying. —Lizzie Manno

12. Japanese Breakfast, “Boyish”

Sad streamers, dreary disco balls and slow-moving gyms are nothing new in the realm of musical visuals, but Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner, who directed the “Boyish” film herself, brings a new wink to the high-school-themed-video trope. After its release, Zauner said of the video on Instagram: “Boyish is a song that has gone through many transformations but ultimately it’s a song that’s simply about wanting to feel pretty & loved. It’s my favorite video yet.” And Zauner should be proud: The four-minute “Boyish” clip absolutely charms. The subject is a shy student trying to make it through her school dance. She, like Zauner, just wants to feel loved and appreciated and noticed. By clip’s end, our heroine is living her dream of being on stage, but, unfortunately, we realize it is only a dream. The video has racked up more than two million views on YouTube (quite a lot for an indie video) and is a joy to watch from start to finish. This music video has it all: balloons arcs, a studly love interest and a cameo from Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan, who appears as a cheerleader. The utterly lovely and thoughtful “Boyish” will have you saying “Go team!” —Ellen Johnson

11. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Pa’lante”

Last year, Hurray for the Riff Raff released the much-buzzed-about track “Pa’lante,” a rousing reckoning with Latin identity, as well as lyricist Alynda Segarra’s own past. The song, one of Paste’s favorite tracks of 2017, is stirring, multilayered and emotionally heavy to say the least. The band released an eight-minute short film about a working-class Puerto Rican family, with a spliced-up version of “Pa’lante” providing a sweeping soundtrack. The phrase “Pa’lante” translates roughly to “step forward” in Puerto Rican slang, and, with the wreckage of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico as a visual backdrop, it feels more like a call to arms than anything else. Alongside a collage of other Puerto Rican faces, the video stitches together a story of the island nation’s struggle in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The video, directed by Kristian Mercado Figueroa (aka Kris Merc), is both a story and a call for help at once: Segarra pleads with viewers to help Puerto Rico “step forward.” —Ellen Johnson

10. Madeline Kenney, “Cut Me Off”

“Cut Me Off,” the guitar-driven first single from her second album Perfect Shapes features a video of Kenney jamming in a technicolor elevator and parading through a fluorescent-lit office complex. Pairing snackable, sparkly guitar riffs with choral layering, Kenney delivers on “Cut Me Off” a more sporadic spread of sounds than on her more muted 2017 debut. She (literally) hits her stride on “Cut Me Off,” jolting and jiving through the music video’s bleak backdrop: an office. She makes the workspace appear fun, though, as her dancing borders on hip-hop and her facial expressions change from bored to enthralled. If “Cut Me Off” played through the loudspeakers in your office, we bet you’d be dancing through the work day, too. The grooves might be new territory for Kenney, but when she decidedly dances through the day, jigging on the office coffee table is the only catharsis she needs. —Ellen Johnson

9. Idles, “Danny Nedelko”

In “Danny Nedelko,” Danny Nedelko himself runs around joyfully making the “OK” hand gesture with people of all walks of life, culture and nationality. While Stereogum says it’s probably a move to take the symbol back from white supremacists (who have, for some reason, tried to make the hand symbol their own), it could just be a literal interpretation that immigrants are totally okay, not detrimental like, well, white supremacists tend to say. The video proudly proclaims that immigrants are friends, not foe, and it’s a message that should be shouted loudly. As Nedelko’s shirt says, “No one is an island.” —Annie Black

8. Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over”

Back in March, “Til It’s Over” dropped seemingly out of thin air as a soundtrack to the Spike Jonze-directed Apple HomePod video spot back in March. And while the song itself doesn’t appear on .Paak’s Oxnard album, the video is a winner for its instantly iconic visual of FKA Twigs dancing in a room of moving walls—like a modern day “Virtual Insanity”—as much as it is for .Paak’s creamy delivery over a beat by Frank Ocean collaborators Michael Uzowuru and Jeff Kleinman. Jonze leads a perfect trifecta with .Paak and Twigs and like all ubiquitous Apple commercials, the song and visual will linger far longer than whatever the ad was selling. —Adrian Spinelli

7. The Carters, “APESHIT”

So…there’s a lot to unpack here. When you’re Beyoncé and Jay-Z, making a collaborative album about love, race in America and a gargantuan net worth is your couples therapy. Also—and again it cannot be overstated that this is only the case if you’re Beyoncé and Jay-Z—that couples therapy happens in a private session at one of the most significant art institutions in the world. Whatever your opinion about The Carters, their flaunting of fortune and their fourth child—the largely critically underrated EVERYTHING IS LOVE—you have to admit this video is something powerful. After Bey and Jay released their respective albums detailing their marital troubles (his: last year’s 4:44; hers: 2016’s Lemonade), they began making music together and dropped this record and video out of nowhere—on a random Saturday in June. It’s a massive power-flex showing Beyoncé and Jay-Z unapologetically owning their space and their art in what is perhaps the most well-known art space of them all: the Louvre. Throughout six striking minutes, dancers commune at a shockingly close proximity to the masterpieces while The Carters mostly stand their ground in front of the Mona Lisa and swap knowing smirks. The Louvre is completely empty save for Bey, Jay and their comrades (seriously, what time of day did they film this thing?!). “APESHIT” is more than a contender for song of the summer—it’s one of the most important pieces of art this year, a mesmerizing glance into The Carters’ world and a severe challenge to what we know to be beautiful, especially when it comes to notions of black beauty. This is the most powerful couple in entertainment at their peak. How can they possibly top that? —Ellen Johnson

6. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

In welcoming us all to Whack World, visionary Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack always intended for sight and sound to go hand-in-hand. She released her concise, yet ambitious debut album—15 songs, 15 minutes—and a full-length video on the same May day, billing the combo as “a visual and auditory project.” Whack’s music and its video, directed by Thibaut Duverneix and Mathieu Léger, interact in fascinating ways: She acts out album opener “Black Nails” with pictograph fingertips; glams up a taxidermied dog during “Flea Market”; offers “some swag you can bite off” while rapping “4 Wings” in a Chinese restaurant; eats pearls with chopsticks over “Hungry Hippo”; performs “Pretty Ugly” behind a wall of magnifying glasses; is laid to rest in a pinstripe suit and sequined coffin on “Sore Loser.” The chameleonic Whack frequently obscures her face or plays a character in these 15 vignettes, leaving us to wonder who she really is. But if there’s one thing a trip to Whack World teaches us, it’s the answer to that question: Whoever she wants to be. —Scott Russell

5. Caroline Rose, “Jeannie Becomes a Mom”

From Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs to oodles of TV shows set in the suburban hinterlands, suburbia is a topic oft covered in American music and entertainment. Indie-pop artist Caroline Rose has her own take on the subject in the darkly hilarious song “Jeannie Becomes a Mom,” from her album LONER, which was released in February. For the song’s video, the title character fulfills Rose’s predictions of moving outside Topeka, Kan., to assume domestic duties, but not without a few fumbles. On LONER, Rose makes the huge leap from country/folk to dark pop satire, which she executes marvelously. LONER is chock-full of humor and absurd characters, including Jeannie, who tries her gosh-darn best to be a good wife and homemaker in the video, but quite literally falls short (with a rainbow Jell-O cake in hand). —Ellen Johnson

4. Flasher, “Material”

D.C. trio Flasher released their debut album Constant Image earlier this year via Domino Records and it made its way onto our albums of the year list. “Material” is one of the album’s most infectious, vibrant cuts as Flasher’s ping-ponging, overlapping pop vocals make for possibly the most satisfying vocal tradeoff you’ll hear all year. Bassist Danny Saperstein’s snotty, playful vocal delivery circles around Emma Baker’s snappy drums as guitarist Taylor Mulitz joins Baker for an unparalleled, ethereal shoegaze vocal rapture (“Construct / Interrupt / Material”). The video is a post-modern, late-capitalist deconstruction of Internet culture, and its surreal humor sheds a light on just how pervasive and crazy that culture has become. Twenty seconds in, they purposely freeze the video—spinning onscreen circle, cursor, groans and all—before clicking onto a fake lyric video of the song and resuming the tune. What follows is a series of absurd Internet parodies of the band performing the track—an a cappella version, an instructional dance video, a cringeworthy karaoke version and a behind-the-scenes clip. They even make a satirical advertisement for socks so high they can’t fall down and a fake conspiracy theory video that accuses the band of having Illuminati ties. It closes with the band being devoured by a devil-like creature—perhaps a reference to the real-life, often ignored ramifications of constant entertainment, connection and sensory overload. This Nick Roney-directed video says more about the Internet in four minutes than the 1975’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships does in an entire hour. —Lizzie Manno

3. LCD Soundsystem, “oh baby”

You can comfortably say that LCD Soundsystem’s brought in some big names for their “oh baby” video. The American Dream track’s accompanying video was directed by none other than Star Wars director Rian Johnson, and it stars Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn. The video is a miniature sci-fi tragedy, focusing on Strathairn and Spacek’s invention of a teleportation device. It’s beautiful and artful, and Johnson’s steady directorial hand is clear. “My goal would be that it works as a video for the song and the song works as a good soundtrack of the film,” said James Murphy in a statement about the video. “Rather than a video that serves the song.” Johnson notes in a tweet about the video that it was shot in the same house that David Lynch shot in for the new season of Twin Peaks. —Justin Kamp

2. Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”

Janelle Monae’s third studio record and futuristic concept album Dirty Computer found its way into the top 15 of our best albums of the year list and the visuals behind this LP are just as noteworthy. Her album was accompanied by an “emotion picture,” a 46-minute narrative film of the same name. Part of that picture was the video for “Make Me Feel,” a powerful, colorful display of frolicsome sexuality, free from boundaries. Monae’s pansexuality and empowering force of individuality is on full display here—teetering between female and male love interests. Her countless clothing changes and seductive dance moves are cloaked with so much personality and attention to detail that it’s hard to think of many other musicians that reach her level of artistry and fearlessness. If St. Vincent’s Masseduction was last year’s game-changing, earth-shattering pop statement, this is the year of Dirty Computer. —Lizzie Manno

1. Childish Gambino, “This is America”

After hosting and performing on SNL, Donald Glover debuted two new songs live and simultaneously shared a music video for one of them. The “This is America” video was directed by Atlanta’s Hiro Murai and it was instantly iconic. To say “This Is America” is a return to Childish Gambino’s rap roots would be a vast oversimplification, but it’s certainly a departure from the electrifying funk and soul of his Grammy-nominated third album, 2016’s Awaken, My Love! The song’s deceptively breezy intro gets a hole blown in it when Glover pulls a gun without warning and executes the guitarist, declaring, “This is America / Don’t catch you slippin’ up.” Good luck taking your eyes off Glover: Murai’s lens paints him as both hero and villain, his dance moves and facial expressions delighting us one moment, his murderous actions disturbing us the next. —Scott Russell

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