It’s a great time for music videos. Last year was a banner year, with reliable masters of the form like Hype Williams and Director X turning out their best work, and new upstarts like Emily Kai Bock showing the old guys how it’s done. This year looks to be no different, as new directors and those who’ve been in the industry for decades are pulling out all the stops. Here are a collection of directors who have really hit their stride this year, showing that the music videos of 2014 will be more weird and wonderful than ever.
Queens of the Stone Age “Smooth Sailing”
No one is better at milking horror out of the mundane than Hiro Murai. And Murai has really hit his stride this year. Not only did he give Donald Glover a Malkovich Moment via a fantastically creepy continual steadicam take in “Sweatpants”, but we also got to see Murai’s vision for “Smooth Sailing” by Queens of the Stone Age. The video involves a drunken handful of Japanese salarymen getting off work to terrorize anyone that crosses their path. Murai’s in top form, choosing to mount cameras on his unsteady actors and paint everything in a disorienting neon glow. The piece is simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, which is Murai’s stock-in-trade.
Brooke Candy “Opulence”
Steven Klein isn’t nearly as much fun as Murai, but one has to give credit where it’s due: the man commits. There’s not much to Brooke Candy’s robo-Betty Boop delivery in “Opulence”, so Klein, with wisdom no doubt gleaned from years of working with Madonna, decided to make her a literal monster, brutally killing a man before the song even starts. We could talk about the semiotics of Candy’s alien-smooth scalp under her pompadour wig, but why? A few seconds later she’s scarfing down diamonds like popcorn. Chatter about this piece primarily concerns the primal scream in the video’s final moments, but Klein makes the list solely for using a Lady Gaga tour’s worth of wigs and facial prosthetics in a single driving montage.
tUnE-yArDs “Water Fountain”
Joel Kefali, the man who put Lorde quietly smiling in front of a blank background for “Tennis Court”, has discovered excess. In order to emphasize the chaos of tUnE-yArDs’schoolyard-chant lyrics in “Water Fountain”, Kefali has created a seizure-inducing color explosion that is without equal. There’s animation, puppets, a half-man, half-dog chef who two-fists ketchup bottles, and…is that a vampire couch? Any attempt at explanation proves inadequate. This much random joy should be overwhelming, but lead singer Merrill Garbus’s delightfully game performance is the calm eye of the storm. As much as Kefali clearly loves uninhibited creativity, he somehow allows the focus of the video to remain on Garbus.
Mounties “Tokyo Summer”
Kevan Funk manages his best Wong Kar-wai impression for Mounties’ “Tokyo Summer”, as we watch an older man slowly become disenchanted with his much younger fiancé. The man eventually seems to find peace in rising early and being alone. Funk revels in the contrast between the lollipop-bright spectacle of a theme park and the neutral serenity of a waterfall. The video might seem impossibly ham-handed if not for Gregory Misumi at its center, wordlessly searching for the happiness of a quiet existence.
iamamiwhoami “Hunting for Pearls”
WAVE, the director collective formed by iamamiwhoami’s Jonna Lee, set designer Agustín Moreaux and cinematographer John Strandh, has been on fire this year, releasing three connected videos for iamamiwhoami’s upcoming album. The beautifully stark Icelandic environment pairs well with the simple elegance of Lee, while WAVE’s dreamscapes compliment iamamiwhoami’s ethereal songs. Despite the absence of the gently undulating yak-hair creature from iamamiwhoami’s previous videos, in “Hunting for Pearls” we take solace in the presence of a collection of faceless, spandex-clad men carrying on the tradition of being vaguely threatening, but ultimately harmless.
Pharrell Williams Remix “Last Night, Good Night”
Pharrell Williams has been accused of being a cartoon, but leave it to visual artist Takashi Murakami to literally turn him into one. Williams remixed “Last Night, Good Night”, the theme to Murakami’s film Jellyfish Eyes, and Murakami returned the favor by remixing Williams. There may be a feud going on between the frequent collaborators, as Murakami has Williams’ animated persona performing with Miku, the CGI representation of a singing synthesizer application. Or, it could simply be Pharrell and an anime girl singing to heartless robots in space. You be the judge!
Sia Cover ft. Puddles “Chandelier – Sad Clown with the Golden Voice”
Even a single static shot of the corner of a living room can be riveting if it’s filled with the right performers. Scott Bradley understands that, which is why his videos, be they his “Post-Modern Jukebox” (modern songs re-arranged to match past styles of pop and jazz, even mariachi to Bond themes) or “Saturday Morning Slow Jams” (cartoon theme songs remixed to match 90’s R&B styles) don’t involve flashy camera work. Nonetheless, they do include saxophones that spout flames, 60’s girl-group choreography and hyper-kinetic tambourine players. Bradley’s ace in the hole, however, is Puddles, the seven-foot tall sad clown with a golden voice, who takes overproduced-ballads and imbues them with an operatic intensity. Bradley doesn’t need a dance prodigy bouncing around the room to give Puddles’ cover of Sia’s “Chandelier” a hypnotic punch. He simply provides the sad clown with the golden voice on the edge of tears in a single, unblinking, take.