Pop music dominated YouTube this year, with arena-filling acts making blockbuster-type music videos. These mostly hip-hop and pop stars incited us want to shimmy and shake, mimicking dance moves as we saw them. But here at Paste, we noticed another trend with music videos this year. Some artists used their music videos as spaces to share messages of social import—from body image to the refugee crisis to police brutality. But the very best music videos of 2015 were able to do both.
Director: Lara Gallagher
Technically speaking, “Let’s Be Bad” is not a very good video. Its imagery is grainy and blurry, and its story depends on passé fades and mirroring techniques. But all these cheesy devices actually make “Let’s Be Bad” deliciously rebellious. Members of the Seattle-based feminist supergroup appear like thought bubbles to influence the main character to do “bad” things like splitting a dessert, ordering a couple of white wines, or wearing skirts that barely fit. It’s a lady power anthem for punk rock today.
Maybe this video shouldn’t count, since we can only see about 30 seconds without subscribing to Tidal. But, when two of pop’s biggest queens (YAAAS) get together for a dub-like duet, it’s kind of a big deal. Plus, Nicki and Bey look like they’re bffs in the clip for “Feeling Myself,” which only makes us want to see more.
Director: Marc Klasfeld
The greatest thing about the video for Silentó’s debut single is that it’s basically a tutorial in how to look cool. The 17-year-old rapper gets people of all ages—from soccer moms and Stepford wives to high-schoolers and small children to perfect his patented moves. Everyone from talk show hosts to sports coaches have been doing the whip and nae nae this year.
Director: Bill Fishman
The prospect of a new Lucius album excites us greatly, and if “Born Again Teen” is any indication, Good Grief will be as musically powerful as 2013’s Wildewoman. While the song’s video initially served as an album announcement, it stands alone effectively as a hilarious parody on carpooling with ride shares. Good Grief is scheduled to come out on March 11, 2016.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Film director Paul Thomas Anderson conceptualized this seven-minute music video. It’s as cinematic as you might expect, with Newsom’s mug floating, singing behind spooky landscapes. The pair also worked together in 2014’s adaptation of Inherent Vice.
Director: Johan Renck
This nearly-10-minute epic is the perfect way to announce a new David Bowie album. Swedish director Johan Renck has Breaking Bad and Walking Dead credits to his name, and Bowie himself boasts an impressive acting career, leaving this short film the perfect mix of narrative storytelling and psychedelic weirdness. Blackstar drops January 8, 2016.
Director: Jenny Lewis
Before Jenny Lewis was the singer for Rilo Kelly, she was a child actor. The video for “She’s Not Me,” features a TMZ spin-off tracing an incarcerated Lewis’ backstory through appearances in The Golden Girls, The Wizard, Hellville, and Troop Beverly Hills. Plus, famous friends Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Leo Fitzpatrick, Zosia Mamet, and Feist show up to join her.
Director: Marc Klasfeld
Marc Klasfeld strikes again, but in a totally different way for country pop singer Kacey Musgraves’ “Biscuits.” The video blends three unrelated elements—Muppet-like critters playing on a Grand Ol’ Opry-esque barn stage to the tune of an intelligent modern country song. It blends fantasy and reality, culminating in an adage for the ages: “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.”
Director: Charlie Ford
Courtney Barnett is a sad clown having an existential crisis as an amusement park in the video for her first single off Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. It’s a performance that’s both devastating and hilarious.
Grimes has always been a bit of a performance artist. The Canadian electro-pop singer captures that visual element in this two-part music video that she directed, herself. In the first half for her song “Flesh without Blood,” Grimes is portrayed as a range of alter-egos including a tortured angel, bloodied Romantic dame, country star, and more. In the second half for “Live in the Vivid Dream,” however, these characters react to the dynamic melodic shift, becoming more moody and pensive.
Director: Joseph Kahn
The video for “Bad Blood” is the sheer antithesis of its predecessor “Shake It Off.” T. Swift reinvents herself again, this time as a Catwoman-like crime-fighter. But the best part of this futuristic video is her team of allies that includes everyone from Selena Gomez to Cindy Crawford to Lena Dunham. #Squadgoals, indeed.
Directors: Sia and Daniel Askill
Purely based on aesthetics, Sia has made a name for herself based through her epically angular hair and her excellent choice of backup dancers. In the video for “Alive,” she reprises both of those accomplishments. Nine-year-old Mahiro Takano performs a Japanese karate routine that fits with the music so perfectly that it seems like choreography. The stark warehouse locale focuses all the attention on Takano and her black and white Sia-looking wig.
Directors: Austin Vesely, Ian Eastwood & Chance The Rapper
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment surprised everyone this May by secretly dropping Surf on iTunes for free. The project is a supergroup of sorts, featuring a ragtag collective of jazz and hip-hop musicians, led by trumpet player Nico Segal (re: Donnie Trumpet) and Chance The Rapper. “Sunday Candy” honors Chance’s grandmother and the video seems like a retro musical theater production.
Director: Peter Glanz
CarJeps’ latest single may not be particularly profound (how many “really’s” do you need to tell someone that you like him/her?), but the video is admittedly hilarious. Tom Hanks lip-syncs nearly the entire song, texts Carly emojis, and gets swiped right on Tinder. Plus, the video concludes with Jepsen, Hanks, and Justin Beiber leading a shimmying flash mob in the snowy streets of New York together.
As if Sleater-Kinney’s grad return and triumphant No Cities To Love weren’t enough in 2015, the riot grrrl group teamed up with the creators of the Fox animated series Bob’s Burgers for “A New Wave.” The video shows the band playing this song in 13-year-old Tina Belcher’s bedroom. Everyone is jumping up and down, which, yeah, is pretty much was Sleater-Kinney makes you want to do.
The Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men released a series of five lyrics videos to build hype for its sophomore album Beneath The Skin. But rather than just use funky typography to spell out the song’s verses, Of Monsters and Men commissioned friends and actors to lip-sync their songs. Singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir recruited Danish actor and make-up artist Atli Freyr Demantur to star in “I of the Storm.” Watching him perform as a tattooed, bare-chested drag queen shows the true emotional depth and fragility of the song.
Director: Andrew Thomas Huang
If you couldn’t make it to the VW Dome at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, the best way to watch Björk’s 360º video for “Stonemilker” is in Google Chrome. Shot on a beach in the singer’s home country of Iceland, “Stonemilker” is a truly stunning visual experiment in virtual reality.
Directors: Quinn Wilson, Asha Efia, Lizzo
The Minneapolis-based rapper and singer dropped a bomb of ballad on her second solo album Big GRRRL Small World with “My Skin.” Lizzo bares her body for the sake of eliminating body shaming amongst young women. With a nod to Beyoncé’s “Flawless,” she sings, “I woke up like this / In my skin.” Plus, Lizzo penned an accompanying essay that makes the video even more powerful and necessary in today’s society.
Director: Philip Hodges
Twenty-one-year-old Shamir shocked the music world this year not just with his zippy electro pop debut album Ratchet, but with his proclamation about being genderqueer. In the video for “Call It Off,” a dance jam of a breakup song, teens shopping in a Forever 21-like store turn into fuzzy puppets. And in the bridge, each takes a line singing, “Just can’t make a thot a wife / No more basic, ratchet guys. / Listen up, I’m saving you / From all the hell that you’ll go through,” pointing out the sentiment applies to everyone looking for love.
Director: A.G Rojas
Hip-hop duo Run The Jewels had such a huge year that it’s hard to believe Run The Jewels 2 came out in 2014 and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fk)” was released in March. Shot in jarring black and white, the video shows a black citizen sparring with a white cop—an artistic visual representation of today’s racial climate. At the end of the video, both exhausted characters sit facing away from each other on the same bed, leaving Director A. G. Rojas to summarize, “They’ve already fought their ways past their judgments and learned hatred toward one another. Our goal was to highlight the futility of the violence, not celebrate it.”
Directors: Dave Meyers and Missy Elliott
After a 10-year hiatus from her own solo career, Missy Elliott’s grand return is perfectly encapsulated in “WTF (Where They From.” It has everything die-hard fans want—fast rhymes, fierce attitude, and funky dancers. It’s consummately Missy.
Director: Xavier Dolan
In some ways, Adele hasn’t changed at all since 21. Her triumphant return with “Hello,” still showcases her powerful voice and heartbreaking emotional insights. And while the video itself features the singer grieving the end of a relationship, its immediate record-shattering ascension is really what makes “Hello” stand out this year.
Director: Director X
Drake’s sweet dance moves made the video for “Hotline Bling” one of the most memeable in the last quarter of 2015. It’s hard to argue with a video that has such cultural cache.
The lyrics to “Borders” maybe be simple, but the message behind the video is anything but. Musician, rapper, and cultural icon Maya Arulpragasam, now known as M.I.A. and based in London, fled Sri Lanka with her mother and siblings when she was just nine years old. She’s since used her platform to comment on the world around her and while “Border” leaves much to interpretation, it can be distilled into one refugee standing in solidarity with today’s global refugee crisis.
Director: Colin Tilley
Kendrick Lamar charted well on our Best Songs of 2015 and Best Albums of 2015 lists, but the Compton-based rapper score the top spot here with “Alright.” The noir-style video embodies police and civilian tensions that have become escalated in America today. Yet, Lamar manages to celebrate still, with a chorus that repeats, “We gonna be alright.”