In an age where YouTube views affect the charts, a memorable video can be the gamechanger for an artist on the rise or a slam-dunk for established performers seeking their next smash hit. This year, our favorite videos included both of the above. Check them out below.
20. Real Estate: “Crime”
Director: Tom Scharpling
This video’s got everything, from zombie skateboarders to pottery to self-aware jokes about product placement and controversy-laden sponsored content. Director Tom Scharpling’s confessional intro, in which Scharpling is played by comedian Andy Daly, takes the concept of the music video and turns it into a spectacle in itself.
19. OK GO – “The Writing’s On The Wall”
Directors: Aaron Duffy, Damian Kulash, Jr., Bob Partington
When you’re a band known to many people for a breakout hit of a music video, the bar’s set pretty high for everything that follows. Fortunately, OK GO didn’t disappoint this year with “The Writing’s on the Wall,” which employs enough mind-bending optical illusions to make you want to watch the whole thing over and over in slower and slower motion just to catch the quirks you may have missed.
18. Chad VanGaalen – “Monster”
Director: Chad VanGaalen
VanGaalen’s twisted cartoon fits perfectly with lyrics like “My skin that’s grown scaley and yellowish brown/And my mind is a cloud and it wants to come out” right from the beginning, and the darker imagery will stick with you long after the song has stopped bouncing around in your head. It’s this kind of recognizable, memorable work that gives music videos purpose—the visual calls the song and lyrics to mind, and vice versa.
17. Lykke Li – “No Rest For The Wicked”
Director: Tarik Saleh
This vintage-filtered video starts out with slow-dancing, wide-screen wandering and rustic romance, starring Lykke Li in an interracial romance with a rural setting. As the song plays on, the stares—both Li’s self conscious scattered ones and the icy, intimidating ones from onlooking townspeople—tell a story of isolation and hate. When the video closes with her lover struggling to stand, it’s hard not to cling a little tighter to lyrics like “I let my good one down.” It’s powerful stuff, and the kind of video that makes you listen to the song a little bit differently after viewing.
16. Deerhoof – “Exit Only
Director: Vice Cooler
Michael Shannon stars in a gritty interrogation video set to Deerhoof’s excellent “Exit Only,” and the tooth-spitting depravity between Shannon and, er, Shannon makes for compelling yet comical stuff. Just as you might expect in real life, the band’s intervention with pyrotechnics and guitar playing ultimately saves the day by making someone’s face explode. It’s awesome.
15. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
Director: Joseph Kahn
Swanky digs surround Swift as she casts herself in the same super-wealthy-stage-five-clinger role the media does, and the results are GIF-able enough to make your own mascara run—with tears of joy. If it’s true that “boys only want love if it’s torture,” Swift’s alarmingly spot-on performance in this video makes for an excellent theory as to why she’s got such a long list of ex-lovers (and a longer list waiting in line).
14. Disclosure – “Grab Her”
Director: Emile Sornin
This gravity-defying series of office mischief takes the concept of the productivity-killing manager in a hilarious and absurd direction, giving a fresh meaning to workplace harassment.
13. OFF! – “Over Our Heads/Meet Your God”
Director: Sing Howe Yam
In this late-year double video, Jack Black stars as an unhinged skydiving coach, follows the guys on a birthday free-fall that manages to include inter-band spats, killer bears, decapitation and broken bones, all in the span of under five minutes.
12. HAIM – “If I Could Change Your Mind”
Director: Warren Fu
What’s the point in being in a band if you don’t get at least one opportunity for a retro video and a choreographed dance routine? The ladies of HAIM are usually too busy tearing it up on their respective instruments to worry about synchronized dancing in their live performances, so their deadpan expressions doing these over-the-top moves are all the more wonderful. I won’t share exactly how many times I watched this video, but I will say that I’ve got the timing on the hand snaps down, and if anyone wants to learn the dance for a potential flash-mob situation, I’m available.
11. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
Director: Bruno Mars, Cameron Duddy
Strutting through the streets in sharp, matching suits; grabbing a perm at the salon with your pals; going about your day in step with a catchy, retro-inspired musical number: just another day in the life of Bruno Mars, I’d assume. The video for “Uptown Funk” has all of the fun and embellishment and color and choreography that a music video needs to be a real classic, though, and if the song doesn’t get the job done, this visual certainly makes you want to move.