The 23 Best Music Videos of 2019

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The 23 Best Music Videos of 2019

2019 was a stunning year for visuals in music. Artists like Thom Yorke and The National didn’t just release award-worthy music videos—they released striking short films, in Yorke’s case with the help of Netflix. Yorke also joined rock band HAIM in being two artists to work with Phantom Thread director Paul Thomas Anderson this year. Some artists, like Weyes Blood and Blood Orange, self-directed their own video projects, while others, like Better Oblivion Community Center and Stella Donnelly, enlisted their peers to direct mini films (Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner and Julia Jacklin, respectively). All this collaboration made for an especially interesting year for music videos. Check out our favorite 23 from 2019 below.

23. Flying Lotus feat. Denzel Curry: “Black Balloons Reprise”
Director: Jack Begert

“Black Balloons (Reprise)” is the third track in Denzel Curry’s “Black Balloons” trilogy. In this culminating version, producer Flying Lotus took the extremities of Curry’s first two installments (artificial happiness and despair) and made this—the most tempered and telling output of the three. Curry’s black balloons represent the anguish and depression he struggles with and director Jack Begert’s video masterfully personifies those emotions in a minefield of exploding balloons floating over Los Angeles and surrounding Curry, the protagonist. The methodical way in which Curry moves in the clip, even the way his facial features contort as he raps, speak to the pain and internal struggle that has been a hallmark of his music. On “Reprise,” Curry accepts the possibility of his own death as an outcome if the balloons overtake him and FlyLo—a producer who has vividly dissected death and what it could look and sound like in his last two albums and throughout countless spectacular videos—is in the periphery like a sage grim reaper. You feel the realization through Curry’s words in one of the realest, best-produced rap tracks of the year, and it gets driven home as the video closes when FlyLo raises his sweater to reveal the face of their friend who was overtaken by the proverbial balloons: Mac Miller. —Adrian Spinelli

22. Better Oblivion Community Center: “Dylan Thomas”
Director: Michelle Zauner

Before Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst officially announced their new band Better Oblivion Community Center, there was quite a bit of mystery surrounding this aforementioned “center.” Whether it was their cryptic answering machine, social media accounts or mailed brochures, this “center” advertised alternative medicinal treatments like “sacred crystal implanting and removal” and events like “macrodosing bingo night.” When Bridgers and Oberst dropped their sole music video for the project, it was just as dystopian and enigmatic as their album rollout. “Dylan Thomas” opens with scratchy TV footage of a dude in a lab coat who looks suspiciously like a cult leader, and that suspicion seems to be validated by the following events. Oberst and Bridgers arrive at the “center” and find a room full of candles, blindfolded people and VR headsets. When they discover a crew of henchmen in red suits, masks and goggles and a mad scientist in a room full of monitors, they luckily escape before a full-on horror movie escape plot unfolds. —Lizzie Manno

21. Taylor Swift: “Lover”
Directors: Drew Kirsch & Taylor Swift 

2019 was an aesthetically inconsistent year for Taylor Swift. The pop star began the album rollout for her latest LP Lover in horrendous fashion, with the rainbow hell-of-a-single “ME!” and its corresponding psycho-pastel video. One more clip, for her LGBTQ-sympathizing “You Need To Calm Down,” arrived before the best video/single package she’s released this side of 1989, August’s “Lover.” The song immediately welcomed comparisons to Mazzy Star and Sheryl Crow and Swift’s artistic integrity seemed in tact after all. And the charming video reminded us that the same Swift who wore her heart on her sleeve in quirky videos like 2009’s “You Belong With Me” was still here, too. “Lover,” directed by Drew Kirsch and Swift, is a visual snack. Swift and her “lover” bounce around a fairy-light-lit mansion, each room dedicated to a different shade on the color wheel. It’s campy and fun with high production value, and the sweet snow-globe ending is just too darn clever. —Ellen Johnson

20. Aldous Harding: “Fixture Picture”
Directors: Jack Whiteley & Aldous Harding

New Zealand songsmith Aldous Harding released one of the best visual marketing campaigns in music this year for her sneakily enchanting album Designer. Lead single “The Barrel” arrived with a strange yet wonderful video of Harding basking in what looks like a giant blanket fort. She takes the party (and the Big Hat Energy) outside to a collection of cliffs for “Fixture Picture,” another stunning tune. The video opens with a slow zoom on a tiny little figure who later turns out to be Harding hunched over a guitar, decked out in all red and a wide-brim sun hat. She often makes eye contact with the camera throughout the video, casting alarming glances our way as if supplying a warning. The costumes, setting and choreography for this video are all so strange, but the result is striking. Like the album itself, Harding’s videos bear repeated engagements. —Ellen Johnson

19. (Sandy) Alex G: “Gretel”
Director: Zev Magasis

(Sandy) Alex G’s “Gretel” is an off-center rumination on selfishness. With a backdrop of ominous, howling ambience and earnest vocals to circumvent the fear, Alex Giannascoli tells his own version of Hansel and Gretel where Gretel lurks like a vulture for more sweets after her brother Hansel was devoured. Though there was plenty of darkness in the original, Giannascoli’s retelling emphasizes our hyper-individualistic culture, a phenomenon which is often ignored or exacerbated by the media. The song’s video is also a window into a rarely discussed topic—America’s rural working class, whose spare time is filled with activities like violent car rallies in the dirt, but there’s a beautiful simplicity to this way of life, despite all its struggles. Like this remote subculture, “Gretel” is also offbeat and may appear unusual to outsiders, but Giannascoli proudly wears his heart on his sleeve, perhaps most obviously with the line “Good people gotta fight to exist,” a sentiment the video’s subjects would definitely sympathize with. —Lizzie Manno

18. Mitski: “A Pearl”
Directors: Saad Moosajee and Art Camp

Mitski’s “A Pearl” makes you wonder whether she knows us better than we know ourselves. Much like this track about the reluctance to let go of a toxic relationship, Mitski writes songs that hit you like a train and depart after a few short minutes, leaving you in an emotional puddle and unsure of the next step, but somehow comforted. Her accompanying video for “A Pearl” is similarly jaw-dropping as it artfully illustrates the emotional crux of the song—falling into a false sense of security that you don’t know how to escape. This colorful animated clip, which contains approximately 1,480 individual frames, all illustrated and painted by the creative studio collective Art Camp, sees Mitski enter a stately building, which tries to gobble her up at every turn. Whether Mistki’s apparent escape is successful or just a mirage is anybody’s guess—adding another layer to the song’s already heady intrigue. —Lizzie Manno

17. Blood Orange: “Benzo”
Director: Devonté Hynes

In addition to releasing a mixtape, composing a classical album, touring with Tyler, The Creator and scoring a film, Dev Hynes somehow found time to direct a series of his own music videos. “Benzo” from the mixtape Angel’s Pulse is possibly his most extravagant video yet. Featuring a cast of gender-bending Elizabethan-era characters dressed in pastel colors and elaborate wigs and makeup, Hynes entertains a group of well-to-do, courtly folk (including his frequent collaborator Ian Isiah) with his cello and Michael Jackson-indebted R&B vocals. Though “Mr. Orange” is running late, this surreal royal family appears moderately entertained by his performance—laughing with sheer joy, briefly distracted by a couple making out in the corner, eating grapes from a servant and lightly clapping. As Hynes explores sexuality, gender stereotypes and ego, the song itself is a search for confidence—a naked display of vulnerability from one of today’s most interesting artists. —Lizzie Manno

16. Weyes Blood: “Everyday”
Director: Natalie Mering

Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering has long loved campy horror movies from the ’70s and ’80s, so it makes sense that she would attempt to recreate one on “Everyday,” the second single from Titanic Rising, Paste’s number one album of 2019. It all transpires at a cabin in Big Bear: First, it feels like everything’s going to be OK, and the video will go down the route of Whitney’s woodsy “No Woman” visuals. But things eventually take a turn, and the easygoing dancing, making out and Mering’s laid-back singing are interrupted by a murderer on the loose. It all goes down like “Too Many Cooks”—each death is more dramatic than the last as if everyone is trying to one up each other. Set against the bouncy, happy-go-lucky sounds of “Everyday,” easily Weyes Blood’s most upbeat track to date, the mood is always light even as scores of her friends are killed. It must have been loads of fun to shoot this one. —Steven Edelstone

15. Jennifer Vanilla: “Space Time Motion”
Director: Jennifer Juniper Stratford

If you’re a middle school science teacher, put down the Bill Nye the Science Guy VHS tape and show your classroom this video instead. Jennifer Vanilla, the performance-art alter ego of former Ava Luna member Becca Kauffman, has a history of borrowing inspiration from found sources (including, on Ava Luna’s last album, a crate of cassettes consisting of “neo-pagan goddess chants from ’90s women’s lib groups”). “Space Time Motion,” her recent single, is a thumping dance track that borrows educational sentences from a physics textbook she stumbled upon in a former schoolhouse and transforms them into a disco mantra. Its video, directed by Jennifer Juniper Stratford, channels the surreal energy of ’80s low-budget public action television, placing Vanilla’s wildly expressive performance art in a world of fuchsia backdrops and tacky visual effects. The result is hypnotizing. Maybe you teachers aren’t ready for this yet—but your kids are gonna love it. —Zach Schonfeld

14. Caroline Polachek: “Door”
Directors: Caroline Polachek & Matt Copson

“Door,” the first single from Caroline Polachek’s debut solo effort Pang, is not a clear departure from her old group Chairlift’s springy, esoteric electronic sound (the single’s warm, cinematic intro recalls pluckier ballads from Moth), but it is a glossier and more hyper-real take on the pop landscape. “Door” finds Polachek stepping into lovesick shoes to lilt over glittering synths and weighty bass lines. “Sometimes I don’t know who I’m singing to / Who is the you who I sing to / When the house is empty?” she croons, leading into the flickering, pop-leaden chorus. If anything is hyper-real, it’s the accompanying video for the single, co-directed by Polachek and London-based artist Matt Copson. The video travels through a series of portals, finding Polachek lit by moonlight on the roof of a suburban home, leading greyhounds through a nuclear landscape of power lines and barren trees, and sitting in front of a warped portal leading to … the ether, maybe? To make a lazy comparison, the video is the personification of whatever wayward dream you would cook up while listening to Joanna Newsom or Kate Bush as you lie sedated in a dentist’s chair. —Savannah Sicurella

13. Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus: “Old Town Road”
Director: Calmatic

Put on your spurs, dust off your hat and get ready to whistle: In the official “movie” for pop-cultural behemoth “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X, a rootin’-tootin’ rustler in 1889, gets sent to the present day after a heist gone wrong, linking up with Billy Ray Cyrus to line dance at the Old Town hall. He races—and beats!—Vince Staples in a race down a California road. Chris Rock bookends the video, telling the audience that “when you see a black man riding a horse that fast, you just gotta let him fly.” The video even cheekily references the song’s earlier removal from Billboard’s Hot Country charts, with Billy Ray Cyrus saying, “you’re with me this time—everything is going to be all right,” after Lil Nas X points out that the Wild West isn’t too welcoming to outsiders. Beyond Rock and Staples, “Old Town Road” features cameos from Rico Nasty, Diplo, beatmaker Youngkio and more. Directed by Calmatic, “Old Town Road” makes use of panoramic imagery present in classic Western films and even manages to find time for recent viral dances. The whole video is a hoot and a holler. —Harry Todd

12. Joywave: “Obsession”
Directors: Laura Gorun, Cooper Roussel and Dimitri Basil

Shot entirely on analog film provided by Kodak, Joywave’s “Obsession” video takes cinematic tropes and spoofs them so well that these snippets look like actual movie clips. The montage features westerns and horrors, ’60s-esque romances and what looks like satires of Spartacus and Pulp Fiction. The cast of characters include band members Joseph Morinelli, Benjamin Bailey, Daniel Armbruster, Paul Brenner and friends starring as nuns and teens, action heroes and hitmen, soldiers and thieves. Joywave used this upbeat pop song as an excuse to toy with genre and create something truly striking. The movies in this video—everything from “Forbidden Affairs” to “Helmet” and “Sacrtlegio”—are fake, but I’d surely like to watch them. Joywave: any chance you guys are planning to make a feature film sometime soon?! —Ellen Johnson

11. Angel Olsen: “Lark”
Director: Ashley Connor

Angel Olsen’s “Lark” harnesses power from its dramatic emotional arc. This single from her recent album, All Mirrors, reminisces about the ups and downs of relationships, and it examines how time shifts our perspective on past encounters with significant others. Its video sees Olsen depart a relationship on bad terms and enter the great unknown in the back of a pickup truck before eventually descending into a river where the song reaches its point of no return. The beautiful strings quickly turn quiet and sinister as she’s transported back to bitter memories that initially drove her to the edge. Between images of rainy moonlight, a crackling bonfire and runny mascara, Olsen feels a tidal wave of conflicting emotions—the same ones that will overwhelm her listeners. —Lizzie Manno

10. Kevin Morby: “No Halo”
Director: Christopher Good

Kevin Morby’s latest album, Oh My God, is an examination of the sacred from the perspective of the profane. Rather than pointing his finger at organized religion’s many shortcomings, Morby uses its imagery and stories to illustrate universal truths about the human condition. The lead single from his recent album, “No Halo,” explores how aging hardens us in both positive and negative ways. On one hand, we’re more experienced as we age, but we also often become more cynical. In its music video, Morby is lured away by the sight of angels, but he’s soon thwarted as they disappear. Next, Morby spots Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on a broomstick when he’s driving, but he’s not so naive to follow her this time like he did with the angels. At the video’s conclusion, he’s terrified by the sight of an angel being tortured by a devilish figure, unsure of what’s real and fake anymore in this strange dream world. Much like the song, Morby finds more questions than answers. —Lizzie Manno

9. The National: I Am Easy To Find
Director: Mike Mills

“Half of the songs were informed by the movie,” Matt Berninger explained at New York’s Beacon Theater in April, where The National debuted their new album I Am Easy To Find, alongside its corresponding Mike Mills-directed, Alicia Vikander-starring short film. “We wouldn’t have an album without Mike,” Bryce Dessner added in a Q&A with Berninger and Mills (20th Century Women, Beginners), moderated by Julien Baker. After watching the ultra-elongated, black and white music video for “Quiet Light,” “The Pull of You,” “Oblivions,” “Rylan,” “So Far So Fast,” “I Am Easy to Find” and “Light Years,” it makes sense: Hugely cinematic in scope and tone, the final version of I Am Easy to Find perfectly complements the melancholic, 26-minute coming-of-age short film that the Brooklyn band released alongside the record. In fact, it’s hard to hear songs like “Light Years” and “Oblivions” without seeing Vikander dancing or falling in—and out—of love. And Vikander is at the center of all of it (including on the album’s cover art), growing up and learning about loss, love and pain while everyone around her ages in real time. It’s the perfect companion for a gorgeous record. —Steven Edelstone

8. Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens: “Gone”
Director: Colin Solal Cardo

Charli XCX and Heloise Letissier begin the “Gone” video tied to a car (no, not the same one Charli destroys in her “White Mercedes” video, but close) and writhing in agony. Not even halfway through the video, though, Letissier frees herself by simply undoing the ties that bind her. The agency is entirely hers, a power she transfers to Charli upon freeing her too. Paired with a song about escaping music industry pressures, the grim public eye, and parties too isolating to enjoy—notoriously Charli’s favorite setting—the video’s narrative resonates as loudly as the Charli pinnacle’s robo-clattering, ’80s-synthpop bombast. Just as ferocious as the track’s Terminator purr is Charli and Letissier’s dancing, which spans big queer energy, fierce full-body gyrations and the salvation of close friendship. When sprinklers go off to celebrate the two singing “Why do we keep when the water runs?” and continuously thrashing about, the question answers itself. —Max Freedman

7. Billie Eilish: “bad guy”
Director: Dave Meyers

What do we do with Billie Eilish? For some, the overt sexuality of “bad guy,” the goth teen queen’s lead single from When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is kinky liberation, a provocative track from a young woman with bruises on her knees (but only when she wants them). She plays with these expectations in the track’s music video; the camera angle deceives you into thinking she’s giving head, when in fact Eilish is bobbing up and down on the back of a muscular male lackey as he does pushups. For others, the track is too much from a minor, who’s self-proclaimed status as a “might-seduce-your-dad type” is in all-too-close proximity to a track featuring Eilish popping out her Invisaslign. Either way, Eilish’s intelligence is clear. The discomfort she elicits is born out of sheer creative control and forces us to think about the hypersexualization of young women in the music industry—at least for Billie, it’s on her own terms. —Katie Cameron

6. Stella Donnelly: “Tricks”
Director: Nick Mckk and Julia Jacklin

All is well for Stella Donnelly and her hot cup of tea until a try-hard arrives. In the video for “Tricks,” co-directed by Nick Mckk and Donnelly’s fellow Australian indie rock comrade Julia Jacklin, an overeager dancing man (Adamo Di Biase) does all he can to make Donnelly laugh or simply acknowledge him. Instead, she responds with complete disinterest, looking awkward and uncomfortable as she gives feigned thumbs-ups, waves uneasily, and shoots bothered, Fleabag-style glances at the camera. The video perfectly suits the Beware of the Dogs highlight, a catchy-as-all-hell, hilarious indie rock tune about a man who, through unwarranted schemes, racist tattoos and an insistence on Donnelly performing for him, digs himself into never-ending holes. Like her obnoxious foil, Donnelly too dances throughout the video, but her routine appears effortless and endearing while the dancing man flounders. She’s the funniest, most charming part of the video—men, stop trying so damn hard! —Max Freedman

5. HAIM: “Now I’m In It”
Director:   Paul Thomas Anderson  

What’s even more all-consuming than the thought of a supposedly imminent new HAIM album is a particular moment in the “Now I’m In It” music video, which was directed by the band’s frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson. Many of the other PTA/HAIM collabs from the last album cycle were live videos, like the stunning one-take shot of the sisters performing “Night So Long” live at the Greek Theatre in their native Los Angeles, or the in-studio look at “Right Now.” But in the “Now I’m In It” and “Summer Girl” videos—both directed by PTA—Danielle, Este and Alana shake up the scenery a little bit. In the former, Danielle plays a hungover waitress who, before getting swept up by her sisters and thusly improving her mood, serves up more than just coffee and pie. Cut to 00:43 and you’ll see what I mean. Did you see that?! That eye-roll is one thing, but the series of looks she throws at customers whilst haphazardly refilling their coffees deserves a medal. —Ellen Johnson

4. Thom Yorke: ANIMA
Director:   Paul Thomas Anderson  

Thom Yorke  was always the shy outcast, the musician who—despite being critically adored and beloved by millions—was always hiding something, whether it was his voice under a bevy of effects or shielding his personality in high-concept music videos. It’s what made Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” video so special—it felt like Yorke was truly, finally leaving his shell. It would have been unthinkable to imagine the legendary Oxford musician dancing like that in the years prior. If that 2011 video was the start, ANIMA was its endgame, a full blown-out dance performance, complete with dozens of professional modern dancers and Yorke at the center of it all. Choreographed by Damien Jalet (Suspiria, among loads of evening-length works) and directed by frequent Radiohead collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson, Yorke and co. dance on a subway (perhaps a nod to Fleabag?), on a suspended, angled platform and later in a beautifully-lit Prague and Paris. Through the first two parts of the 15-minute Netflix film, the dancers embrace the anxious and high-strung nature that make up the core of Yorke’s record of the same name. But everything changes when the gorgeous and crushingly devastating “Dawn Chorus” hits: The pre-dawn dancing in abandoned cobblestone streets feels like a Damien Chazelle film, perfectly matching the warm but distant embrace of the song’s synths. It’s as stunning as anything you’ve ever seen in a music video along these lines, somehow enhancing an already-near perfect song. —Steven Edelstone

3. Lizzo: “Juice”
Director: Quinn Wilson

Both cocky and infectiously effervescent,”Juice” has risen as the self-confidence anthem of a year that has put us all through the ringer. It certainly helps that the ’80s-inspired pop jam has an equally entertaining video, featuring parodies of old fitness routines (complete with star wipes), the QVC channel and ASMR. “Juice” also closed out the iconic 2010s show Broad City—which featured the pop star’s music before her meteoric rise over the past 18 months—cementing itself in television history. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go get lost in Lizzo’s DMs. —Clare Martin

2. Sharon Van Etten: “Seventeen”
Director: Maureen Towey

Pick your favorite lyric about New York’s cultural stagnation. Maybe you’ll go with an LCD Soundsystem classic: “New York you’re safer and you’re wasting my time.” Perhaps you’ll spring for a deeper cut, like The National’s “New York is older and changing its skin again / It dies every 10 years and then it begins again” from 2017’s “Born to Beg.” But no one showed us how New York—and herself—has changed over the past decade or so quite like Sharon Van Etten in her video for “Seventeen.” Chock full of visuals from Manhattan and Brooklyn music venues past and present, Van Etten takes us down her own personal memory lane (alongside her younger-looking but not 17-year-old Wooing frontwoman doppelgänger Rachel Trachtenburg), showing us her old haunts, from music venues to apartment front doors. Opening with a shot of Van Etten walking up the stairs at the Marcy Street JM (but certainly not Z—does it even exist?) subway stop in Williamsburg, she proceeds to sing in front of Baby’s All Right’s iconic glass light stage, Pianos (a venue that certainly isn’t nearly as cool as it was in its early-2000s heyday), Union Pool, underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and at the locations of the now-shuttered Cake Shop, Sin-é (home of Jeff Buckley’s star-making residency) and Zebulon, the latter of which has since moved to Los Angeles, where Van Etten currently lives. Using Trachtenburg to play her younger self, 2019 Van Etten shows her 17-year-old counterpart how she’ll grow and how much things will change over the next 14 years since she moved to New York in 2005. It’s a gorgeous and heartbreaking look at how cities, music scenes and people change over time. —Steven Edelstone

1. FKA twigs: “Cellophane”
Director: Andrew Thomas Huang

In the five years since her transformative debut album, 2014’s LP1, FKA twigs has been through a lot. As though having six fibroids removed from her uterus during this period wasn’t torment enough, she dated and split up with two famous actors, to one of whom she was engaged. As she suffered both immense emotional and physical pain, she all but rebirthed herself. This rebirth narrative is one possible reading of the stunning video for “cellophane,” the first song released from MAGDALENE, LP1’s long-awaited album-length follow-up. A devastating piano lament that only vaguely includes the howling, clicking and stuttering vocal and synth tricks of LP1, “cellophane” arrived alongside a video that, like the majority of FKA twigs’ visuals to date, exists in a not-quite-terrestrial space full of forthright sexuality, brooding sci-fi, angular dancing and plain old horror. The two videos that have followed have been, well, exactly not that, and that contrast lies at the heart of what makes the game-changing genre-less artist’s sophomore album so special.—Max Freedman

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