The 25 Best Music Videos of 2012

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In this age of Internet searches and YouTube playlists, a great video can pluck a song from obscurity and make it a worldwide sensation. Music videos can also be political statements, emotional confessions, or even just lighthearted fare for established fans of the music. Here are the 25 music videos that brought humor, insight, opinions, and often just plain fun into the world of music this year.

25. YN Rich Kids – “Hot Cheetos & Takis”
Director: 13TwentyThree Photography
A bunch of kids rapping about their favorite gas station snacks? Sounds cute, but more than likely forgettable. The video for “Hot Cheetos & Takis,” which was released this August, is anything but forgettable. The kids spitting out verses appear to be genuinely talented, the rhymes are legitimately clever, their flows are seamless and their confidence and charisma are off the charts. If you listen to it a few times in a row, you’ll more than likely be singing about having “fingers stained red” in your head for the rest of the day. All this being said, I still have no idea what Takis are.—Ryan Bort

24. Killer Mike – “Reagan”
Directors: Daniel Garcia and Harry Teitelman
Comprised of stunning red, white, blue and black animation, Killer Mike’s video for “Reagan” is about as political as popular music gets. In between occasional cutaways to an evil, puppet-style depiction of Ronald Reagan reciting sound clips of the late ex-president himself, Killer Mike raps explicitly about the damaging effects of politics and the corruption that runs rampant in presidential administrations from Reagan to Obama. The animation tells the story along with Killer Mike, graphically depicting everything from “them bricks [coming] on military planes” to how the cops “would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches.”—Ryan Bort

23. Cloud Nothings – “No Future / No Past”
Director: John Ryan Manning
It’s hard not to be drawn in by the visual of this white-haired man, who seems to be generally well-kept, being dragged through roughage, clenching his fists and grasping for a hold on the ground beneath him. His hopeless and scared facial expressions are made more compelling by putting the viewer into the man’s position with shots of sky and treetops. His ultimate rise through the trees into the air feels symbolic, but it’s the little details like his penny loafers and the hopscotch drawing he glides over that make his character feel real.—Dacey Orr

22. Purity Ring – “Lofticries”
Director: AG Rojas
The grungy beginning to this ethereal track from Purity Ring draws you in, but there’s no consistent main character in the collection of portraits that make up this video for “Lofticries.” All of the characters seem somewhat lonely, and particularly captivating is the stark scene with an old shirtless man drinking milk. The scenes are depressingly commonplace, but ultimately, that makes them fascinating.—Dacey Orr

21. Grizzly Bear – “Yet Again”
Director: Emily Kai Bock
Following the strange post-practice plight of an ice skater, this video is remarkable for its portrayal of a beautiful and graceful routine followed immediately by a painfully awkward plod in ice skates on unfrozen ground. The young woman’s screams of madness at the close of the video are chilling to view after the length of her strange trip home, but they remain visually stunning. Director Emily Kai Bock clearly knows how to capture human emotion in a way that’s unexpected yet strangely familiar.—Dacey Orr

In this age of Internet searches and YouTube playlists, a great video can pluck a song from obscurity and make it a worldwide sensation. Music videos can also be political statements, emotional confessions, or even just lighthearted fare for established fans of the music. Here are the 25 music videos that brought humor, insight, opinions, and often just plain fun into the world of music this year.

20. Danny Brown – “Grown Up”
Director: Greg Brunkalla
We never thought we’d put Detroit rapper Danny Brown and “cute” in the same sentence, but that’s the immediate thought that comes to mind in his video for “Grown Up.” It’s sort of an origins tale, with a small Brown riding a bike with training wheels, trashing a classroom, and explaining how he got that signature chipped tooth. Director Greg Brunkalla brings the young streets of Detroit to life in the tale, ultimately seeing the young Brown turn into one of the most promising emerging hip-hop artists we’ve seen in a while.—Tyler Kane

19. Dirty Projectors – “About To Die”
Director: David Longstreth
Several different scenes in this video are made all the more powerful with David Longstreth’s delivery of the main lyric, “I’m about to die.” Whether it’s in bed on a rooftop, enclosed in the back of a truck, or shut up in an archaic bedroom with the pope, if he is in fact on the verge of death, no one seems to be very concerned about it. Each scene is as bizarrely constructed as we’ve come to expect from Dirty Projectors. Longstreth’s creative control over the band’s videos is admirable, and the way he’s reconstructed footage from “Hi Custodian” is impressively appropriate to the song it represents.—Dacey Orr

18. Benjamin Gibbard – “Teardrop Windows”
Director: Tom Scharpling
Benjamin Gibbard: Bad boy. Yeah, we’re still thinking on that one, too. Director Tom Scharpling has had a great run of music videos this year, notably with Aimee Mann’s “Labrador” clip and now with Gibbard’s hilarious mini-story in “Teardrop Windows” from the solo album, Former Lives. It follows the promotion of his solo album, which has a PR rep for Gibbard begrudgingly breaking into warehouses, faking drinking binges and starring in his own reality show, Gibbard House.—Tyler Kane

17. Sleigh Bells – “Comeback Kid”
Director: Derek E. Miller, Gregory Kohn
For their sophomore album, Reign of Terror, noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells evolved to include more melodic arrangements for lead singer Alexis Krauss and slightly peppier synth fills from Derek Miller. This departure was no more apparent than on the headline single, “Comeback Kid,” and the video for this track serves as a testament for the duo’s ability to maintain their edge while opening up to musical territories they had yet to explore. Immediately noticeable are the vibrant colors that fill the video and match the composition’s clean production. Amidst various shots of Krauss dancing and the two interacting with one another, the duo also manages to take the coolest shopping trip in the history of convenience stores.—Brian Tremml

16. Of Monsters & Men – “Little Talks”
Director: WeWereMonkeys
Of Monsters and Men’s video for “Little Talks” looks like it was filmed inside the brain of Terry Gilliam. A steampunk flying ship, a giant singing crow, a monster buffalo, a many-tentacled sea serpant and a Björk-like pixie angel who shoots bombs from her mouth are just the lead up to the five-eyed, four-horned mystical creature with flaming rainbow bat-wings at the end. Iceland is such a wonderfully weird place.—Josh Jackson

In this age of Internet searches and YouTube playlists, a great video can pluck a song from obscurity and make it a worldwide sensation. Music videos can also be political statements, emotional confessions, or even just lighthearted fare for established fans of the music. Here are the 25 music videos that brought humor, insight, opinions, and often just plain fun into the world of music this year.

15. Explosions in the Sky – “Postcard from 1952”
Director: Peter Simonite & Annie Gunn
Explosions in the Sky has never needed words to tell a story, so it makes sense that the series of images in “Postcard from 1952” communicate the nostalgia of simpler times without getting caught up in a specific plot. With so many flashes of joy—a child running alongside a picket fence, blowing out birthday candles—this video takes the moments that make up our most treasured snapshots and captures them with beautiful cinematography.—Dacey Orr

14. Odd Future – “Oldie”
Director: Lance Bangs
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All has always been controversial; that was more or less the point. But at heart, this is just a group of kids having fun, both for fans and for themselves, which “Oldie” showcases brilliantly as an offhand, spur-of-the-moment, rap-off during a promotional photo shoot. Although lightning rod Tyler The Creator, coolly detached Frank Ocean and precociously talented Earl Sweatshirt in his long-awaited return steal the spotlight, Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, and even Jasper Dolphin all get their turn. In perhaps the best display of Odd Future as an actual collective, “Oldie” captures the youthful excitement that continues to surround them. As Tyler finishes his last verse with “not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck,” followed by his OF members’ outburst of excitement, one can’t help but simply enjoy these guys as the group of friends that they are.—Zachary Philyaw

13. The Shins – “Simple Song”
Director: DANIELS
This clip features James Mercer as a hilariously frustrating and eccentric father, creating several droll situations between his adult children as they ransack their childhood home for the deed he’s allegedly hidden. As the video flashes back to home videos of Mercer’s character systematically ruining the simple joys of childhood for his kids, the quest for the deed to the home results in the discovery that this, too, is another of Mercer’s characters pointless tricks. “Simple Song” is simply entertaining.—Dacey Orr

12. Drake – “HYFR”
Director: Director X
Answering the question, ‘What would a rap video bar mitzvah look like?’ Drake re-enacts his own for this clip directed by video veteran, Director X, complete with mega-famous rap friends, slow-mo partying, and plenty of line-reciting mugging. Among the glossy rap tropes though, Drake fully embraces his duel Jewish/African-American heritage to create an absurdly fun (and funny) visual as religion and rap meet for what looks like a hell of a good time. As a rapper, Drake is both so appealing and so polarizing because of his often extremely personal subject matter, and here he fully reaps the benefits of this approach with a clip that is simple in concept, yet still entirely his own.—Zachary Philyaw

11. Aimee Mann – “Labrador”
Director: Tom Scharpling
For a song that features such a depressing, hopeless plight, Aimee Mann has successfully spun the video for “Labrador” into something lighthearted which still communicates the redundancy of hopeless loyalty in a negative relationship. In the opening scene, John Hamm hilariously plays the overbearing director with a vision for a video that re-enacts the clip from Mann’s old ‘80s jam with Til Tuesday, “Voices Carry.” The slovenly boyfriend is the man to whom Mann’s character is devoted, and although she sings of a heartbreakingly one-sided relationship, the video takes the situation and makes it seem absurd and unlikely.—Dacey Orr

In this age of Internet searches and YouTube playlists, a great video can pluck a song from obscurity and make it a worldwide sensation. Music videos can also be political statements, emotional confessions, or even just lighthearted fare for established fans of the music. Here are the 25 music videos that brought humor, insight, opinions, and often just plain fun into the world of music this year.

10. Wilco – “Sunloathe”
Director: Peter Glantz
Imaginative artwork and animation emphasize the relaxed-yet-dark lyrics in “Sunloathe.” With a different song in the background, the scene might feel creepier, what with the torch-wielding animals, flame, smoke and monsters, but the soft sounds of Wilco make the monsters and their plight endearing and relatable. As the song picks up in the last third, the monsters take on the persona of the sun, and as their animated eyes gaze into the camera the video closes with a child-like, nostalgic feel.—Dacey Orr

9. Fiona Apple- “Every Single Night”
Director: Joseph Cahill
Fiona Apple has knack for delivering beauty in a surprising ways. Sometimes it’s an unexpected note or a particularly stirring lyric, and in this case it’s with slimy animals and cool color tones to visually portray her track “Every Single Night.” The octopus hat is certainly an unexpected visual decision, but Apple’s performance shines in the distinctively cold and random flashes of images. Apple’s deadpan stare as she delivers the lyrics to the camera in several uncomfortable situations make the song feel that much more chilling. The coy smile at the end makes the entire video feel like a mysterious message you might be on the brink of understanding, and the clip is hard not to watch more than once.—Dacey Orr

8. Rufus Wainwright – “Out Of The Game”
Director: Phillip Andelman
The mere presence of Helena Bonham Carter makes this video a natural candidate, but it’s not just the movie-star name that makes “Out of the Game” such a wicked fantasy of a video. Wainwright’s performance, embodying several personalities, only adds to Bonham Carter’s portrayal of an up-tight librarian. Unsurprisingly, Bonham Carter’s performance carries this video from the first second as her sad eyes gaze at the camera through those distinctive glasses. Between the wistful moments and the pant-worthy, passionate exchanges, Bonham Carter plays the line between frustration and fantasy in a way that’s flawless and somehow relatable.—Dacey Orr

7. David Wax Museum – “Harder Before It Gets Easier”
Director: Shutter & String
We’ve been fans of David Wax and Suz Slezak for a while and loved watching them play with face-and-body paint in this clever video—painting eyeballs on their eyelids and making an accordion out of painted hands. The bright colors are a nice fit with the upbeat nature of the Mexican-influenced track. It’s the brainchild of the directors of one of our favorite videos from a few years ago, Josh Ritter’s epic mummy-puppet story, “The Curse.”—Josh Jackson

6. Arctic Monkeys – “R U Mine?”
Director: Focus Creeps (Aaron Brown and Ben Chappell)
While not their first one-shot camcorder music video (see 2009’s “Cornerstone”), the Arctic Monkeys take it up a notch here. What starts as a playful home-video-style sing-along between singer Alex Turner and drummer Matt Helders quickly evolves into a sequence of increasingly surprising visual flourishes with little logical connection. Band members pop in and out of frame, masked cowgirls appear out of nowhere, a cloudy, chaotic performance reveals itself outside, all while maintaining the single-take format. Not simply settling for the now archaically fashionable videotape aesthetic to hold attention, directing team Focus Creeps twist their own concept and defy viewer expectations, achieving a video that is at once darkly cool, ridiculously fun and unexpectedly fluid, encouraging repeated view after view.—Zachary Philyaw

In this age of Internet searches and YouTube playlists, a great video can pluck a song from obscurity and make it a worldwide sensation. Music videos can also be political statements, emotional confessions, or even just lighthearted fare for established fans of the music. Here are the 25 music videos that brought humor, insight, opinions, and often just plain fun into the world of music this year.

5. Ben Folds Five- “Do It Anyway”
Director: Phil Hodges
The reunited, mathematically challenged trio enlisted a bunch of Fraggles (is that a gaggle or a flock?) for their new video. The lack of Doozers is more than made up for by the presence of Rob Corddry as the slick, clueless producer, who intros the song, “Ben Folds Five, you ready to change rock ‘n’ roll?” Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick and actress Anna Kendrick also appear in the video but the real stars are Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, Red and Uncle Traveling Matt, along with Folds’ rollicking piano and a driving bass line from Robert Sledge.—Josh Jackson

4. Jack White – “Sixteen Saltines”
Director: AG Rojas
“Sixteen Saltines” is a volatile mash-up of grubby kids and destruction for destruction’s sake. As Jack White struggles against his bound limbs at the hands of adolescents, the youthful cast finds creepily inventive ways of entertaining themselves. It seems to be a suburban wasteland and a breeding ground for dangerous ideas and creative drug use, when the participants aren’t busy taking part in some kind of flash mob or bloody outdoor baseball game. That kind of jarring and relentlessly energetic scene is the kind of thing that makes Jack White so fascinating. You never know what he’ll do next, and while it may be odd or vaguely unnerving, you just can’t look away. —Dacey Orr

3. Grimes – “Oblivion”
Director: Emily Kai Bock
In this beautifully shot clip, director Emily Kai Block places Grimes’ Claire Boucher and her dancy electro-pop within the seemingly opposite world of violent, masculine sports and physicality. But “Oblivion” is a video not only of presenting dualities, such as masculine and feminine, but of subverting preconceived notions regarding such opposites. Split between the spontaneous on-location shots of football games and motocross races, and the highly staged interiors of a locker room and a slam-dance house party, Grimes is placed at the center of it all. Rather than settle as a spectator, Boucher instead performs to the arena itself. Grimes’ music has often been described as feminine, and perhaps in many ways it is, but “Oblivion” displays a welcoming, inclusive nature where such definitions prove to hold little meaning.—Zachary Philyaw

2. tUnE-yArDs – “My Country”
Director: Mimi Cave
It’s easy to love these aggressively adorable swarms of children, but it may be easier to love the cause that drove tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus to make this memorable video. As funds for the arts in schools were being cut, she gathered kids from the San Francisco Rock Project, a non-profit organization that brings music to children, for a colorful exploration of how a world without arts makes the youngsters feel. Whether they’re angstily strumming a guitar, trapped in a claustrophobic room or strung up by their hair, these kids seem to be asking the question Garbus sings: “If nothing of this is ours, how will I ever know if something’s mine?—Dacey Orr

1. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”
Director: Romain Gavras
The absurdities are what make this empowering. Speeding cars, provocative moves and smoky stunts may be necessities in any music video touting the phrase “Live fast, die young,” but transplanting these attention-grabbing extravagancies to a pummeled backdrop in the desert reveals them for the odd gimmicks that they are. From nonchalant nail-grooming atop a car on two wheels to women gyrating with assault weapons, it’s a chaotic jumble of powerful imagery. Blending the most stereotypical aspects of American and Middle Eastern culture into one common picture, this video can be enjoyed at face value or after devling deeper into the issues facing women around the world.—Dacey Orr

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