The Year’s Best Music Videos


I choose this

Hey, another list! Last year, I wrote about how music videos were moving further and further from the forefront of a shrinking music industry, how directors seemed to be working on smaller budgets and tweaking their videos so they’d look better on a postage-stamp YouTube screen. Well, that trend has gone way further than I would’ve imagined; half the videos from major-label rap albums seem to be made pretty much exclusively for YouTube, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because we’re finally seeing a return to grimy black-and-white streetcorner rap videos, right at a time when directors were running out of ways to make money-porn interesting. But it’s bad because this new wave of YouTube videos comes with its own stagnant cliches. Rap videos are looking more and more like interludes on unwatchable DVD mixtapes. Indie-rock videos are leaning more and more on overbearing cuteness and self-conscious weirdness. Rock videos are still using those sickly green filters, on some circa-96 Nine Inch Nails shit. Country videos are content to stay pedestrian. Niche video-shows, meanwhile, are becoming an endangered species; BET moved Rap City to the late-night graveyard, and MTV canceled Subterranean and pushed Headbangers Ball back even further. And still, this turned out to be a pretty great year for the music video; a whole lot more videos could’ve made this list depending on my mood. The Shop Boyz’ “Party Like a Rock Star” took an absurdly fun and dumb concept-song even further into funness and dumbness: Kiss makeup, white kids fighting outside a trailer park, an explosion in the shape of devil horns. DJ Khaled’s “We Takin’ Over” did the bullshit epic rap video absolutely right. LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great” was an oddly moving meditation on absence. Escort’s “All Through the Night” had Muppets. I really can’t complain. And videos are actually getting seen on YouTube; as I’m writing this, Avril Lavigne’s dumb-as-shit “Girlfriend” video is the second-most-viewed clip in YouTube history, just behind that dumb-as-shit “Evolution of Dance” thing.

1. UGK feat. OutKast: “Int’l Players Anthem.” I can’t pretend that me loving this song didn’t have everything to do with it topping this list, or that me getting married this year wasn’t also a huge factor. But: “Rowdy Piper”! Juicy J’s Ramones shirt! Andre 3000’s miles-wide grin! That one shot of the flower girl tossing petals in the air in slow motion! Lukas Haas, inexplicably and goofily playing a groomsman! Pimp C’s giant fur hat! Bryan Barber’s great lounge-singer act! Assorted Dungeon Family veterans in the crowd on the church steps! David Banner, sitting in Bun B’s passenger seat, looking like his chest was about to explode from pride! Farnsworth Bentley not taking up too much screen time! Everyone lip-syncing along with everyone else’s lines! I love this thing.

2. DJ Medhi: “Signatune (Thomas Bangalter Edit).” A Eurotrash Rocky story, staged with grace and empathy, all its performers hitting their marks beautifully, the camera lingering on faces and details without every mocking them. The guy who plays the villain seems like such a dick.

3. Trentemoeller: “Moan.” Man-and-his-dog stories always, always get me, and this one is almost on the level of the first half of I Am Legend. Laika, the Soviet space-capsule dog, floats above the Earth and thinks forlornly of her master. Apparently, exposure to zero-gravity gives Russian dogs the ability to sing in English. And I mean, shit, I buy it. Dogs are smart. If only Amp was still on, this thing would be in heavy rotation.

4. Feist: “1 2 3 4.” So yeah, iPod commercials, whatever. But it takes a lot for me to feel good about willfully fey dinner-party music, even breezily charming willfully fey dinner-party music like this. And this burst of motion and color and joy is like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Super Mario World or something; it’s just impossible to not love. YouTube comment: “I wish I could walk sideways on people.”

5. T.I. feat. Alfamega & Busta Rhymes: “Hurt.” When I was in high school, videos of dudes sneering and brandishing baseball bats in abandoned warehouses used to keep me up watching the Box all night, and this might be the finest example of the form since Method Man’s “Bring the Pain.” T.I.’s Napoleonic batshit charisma always translates well to TV, but he’s never had a chance to display it with this much force and rigor. Alfamega gives great Freddie Foxxx, and I’m really enjoying Busta’s transition into hungry and underappreciated old-man status. If T.I.’s gun arrest hadn’t immediately lent a patina of creepiness to this whole thing, it might’ve even finished higher.

6. Bat for Lashes: “What’s a Girl to Do?” In indie-rock videos, scary animal-masks and bargain-basement surrealism are basically the new fisheye lens. But this clip manages to build on the song’s eerie innocence, never overplaying its hand as it bombards us with stuff that doesn’t make any sense at all. And BMX choreography always makes for a great secret weapon.

7. Young Buck: “Get Buck.” The nighttime scene here actually reminds me of that Bat for Lashes video: the ghosts of Young Buck and a rowdy-ass marching band haunt the parking lot of a broken-down check-cashing place, and every light-source causes a sort of ambient smear. Beyond that, it’s hard to say quite why this video works so well; it’s something in the pinpoint editing and the musty, evocative locations and the unpredictable cameo-parade and Buck’s own rangy young-lion magnetism. This is how it’s done.

8. Gui Boratto: “Beautiful Life.” This isn’t money-porn or porn-porn; it’s, like, domestic-bliss-porn. A family spends a sunny day quietly enjoying each other’s company, and the only thing resembling conflict happens when grandma drops a pear. There’s a visual-punchline ending, and it’s fine, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as all the floating happiness that precedes it. Great smiles in this one.

9. Snoop Dogg: “Sensual Seduction.” Snoop’s indulged his fetish for vintage kitsch on video plenty of times before, but this one vaults past “Doggy Dogg World” into the same realm of Soul Train lunacy of Cee-Lo’s “Closet Freak” mostly because it’s so utterly devoted to its ridiculous idea. The amazing washed-out VHS effects almost make up for the barely-there song.

10. Dizzee Rascal: “Sirens.” This one finds a seriously charged and provocative way to draw connections between England’s history of upper-class barbarism and the country’s demonization of its black youth, but it also works as heart-thumping on-the-run narrative. Some people, it turns out, still take the form seriously.