Artwork by Jaclyn Castaldo
Since the late 2000’s, even with the cancellation of video-oriented shows like TRL, and the decline of others like 106 & Park, the music video itself still maintains major relevancy. When taken seriously, it’s an art form that is now more accessible than ever thanks to the dominance of sites like YouTube. When used for comedic effect in a six second clip, a la Vine, it’s still able to give us unshakable (if not completely beaten into the ground) moments like this.
The importance of a good music video should never be underestimated, simply because it possesses so much influence. It can make an otherwise forgettable song into a memorable one, or push an already-amazing track into fabled territory: re-affirming the elite status of already-established stars, while also introducing us to unbelievably talented new artists along the way. Why else would fans get shower curtains and shirts made if they didn’t buy into all of the hype? Examining all of these factors in detail necessitates a year-end list like this and, while no such list is truly objective (or definitive), it’s always pretty cool to do them regardless. So without further ado, SNTW presents to you the Top 20 Music Videos of 2014.
Oceaán, “Need U“
GoldLink, “When I Die“
Haim, “If I Could Change Your Mind“
Taylor Swift, “Blank Space“
OG Maco, “U Guessed It“
Outside Looking In (no. 21)
20. Beyoncé, “Drunk In Love”
Some fans will point to videos like “Partition” and “7/11” as ones that are truly deserving of year-end honors, but last December it was “Drunk In Love” that set the internet (and basically the entire world) ablaze. Sure the visual was simple: black and white on a beach, as Beyoncé tantalizingly rolled around in the sand. But it simultaneously helped reinvigorate a major feminist movement in 2014, and gave us a new variation and meaning for the word surfboard. “Drunk In Love” it is.
19. Jacques Greene, “After Life After Party“
At 24, Canadian producer Jacques Greene (real name Philippe Aubin-Dionne) has always maintained a no gimmicks, low-profile persona, which is an unusual m.o. when compared to many of his fist-pumping contemporaries. Much like the beautiful strain of house-leaning EDM that he’s been able to create, Greene takes the same subtle, unorthodox approach to his visuals. With the minimalistic “After Life, After Party”, viewers are able to step into the world of Greene by way of director Melissa Matos’ vision. Matos takes footage shot in the a.m., creating a split-screen visual that captures clubbers’ mind states during real afterparties in Greene’s native Montreal. The end result is weird, and altogether fascinating.
18. Kindness, “This Is Not About Us“
There’s something truly enthralling in the contrast of skill presented in the video for “This Is Not About Us”. Co-Directed by Daniel Brereton and Adam Bainbridge himself, the star of the show is undoubtedly the choreographer of the video in Karla Garcia. Yet it’s Bainbridge’s somewhat off-pace, slightly awkward mirroring of Garcia’s adept, animated moves that ultimately makes the visual so intriguing.
17. Mick Jenkins, “Dehydration“
Caught somewhere in between the poignant, street savvy rhymes of a Chance or Vic Mensa and the abrasive, play-no-games mentality of a Fredo or Chief Keef is one of Chicago’s fastest rising emcees in Mick Jenkins. Echoing that kind of middle-ground position on screen would seem difficult, but Jenkins (with the help of director Nathan R. Smith) couldn’t have done a better job with the video for one of The Water[s]‘ standout tracks, “Dehydration”. With so much violence consuming the lives of Chicago’s black youth, staying away from the streets is a lot easier said than done.
As the old saying goes, sometimes it’s not about the destination but the journey along the way. And the journey TĀLĀ takes viewers on during “Alchemy” is an absolutely beautiful one. Directed by Studio Moross, the London singer brings us back to Morocco with a video as epic in scale as the song itself. There is no plot, or subliminal theme, yet the framed wide shots of vast desert expanses, close-ups on native wildlife, sweeping shots of canyons, valleys, mountains, and fleeting appearances of TĀLĀ herself all combine for an incredible visual that competently does its source material justice.
15. Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda” (NSFW)
*wide eyes emoji* *100 emoji*
14. How To Dress Well, “Repeat Pleasure“
Setting the tone as the first part of What Is This Heart?‘s video trilogy, “Repeat Pleasure” follows the story of an adolescent coping with the sickness of his ailing grandfather. As the boy discovers young love along the way, aspects of his life only devolve further into disarray. Tom Krell’s moody vocals, gliding alongside the song’s pronounced handclaps and soft guitar riffs, accent the the visuals perfectly: all of it providing the somber feel that closely mirrors the desired effect of director Johannes Greve Muskat (and HTDW himself).
13. Shura, “Touch“
London’s Shura was a breakout star this year, and her song “Touch” speaks of the singer’s lost relationship with a former lover, only to have her old feelings revived when she sees him (or her) again after three years. The video for the song is a near-perfect compliment, featuring a hefty amount of girls kissing girls, boys kissing girls, and even boys kissing boys. It’s quite literally one of the gayest videos you’ll see and, in 2014, that’s perfectly fine.
12. Big Sean, “IDFWU“
A while ago, sometime close to when Big Sean’s anthem for all the scorned lovers out there came out, someone on Tumblr put up a text post that said something along the lines of: “Don’t get me wrong, ‘IDFWU’ bangs. But doesn’t Big Sean sound like some sort of crybaby high schooler on this?” And almost as if the rapper read that post himself, he gives us a video where he’s the quarterback of a (very fictional) high school team, with DJ Mustard as his running back, and Kanye as his coach. Never mind Big Sean being drastically undersized at the position, or him wearing a receiver’s number. Seeing Yeezus directing a comeback for the ages on the sidelines, while Big Sean talks his shit to all the non-believers is entertainment enough. Now focus.
11. Caribou, “Our Love”
What’s most disturbing about the video for Caribou‘s exceptional 2014 track, “Our Love”, is the spiritless look on the elderly protagonist’s face. As the camera pans to an unsettlingly still body in bed, it’s easy to guess why the woman doesn’t seem to care about life anymore. The picture becomes even clearer after she takes viewers on a long trek through her estate, eventually leading us into a warm, happy memory of her and her significant other. As the nostalgia fades, the woman continues her walk towards a sizable lake, and it doesn’t feel like she’s just going for an evening swim.
10. Jungle, “Busy Earnin“
It must’ve been hard to try and top videos like “Platoon“, and “The Heat“, yet Jungle‘s creative director Oliver Hadlee Pearch continues to find ways of making dance captivating again. During the video for the British funk duo’s fantastically smooth “Busy Earnin”, you can key in on any single dancer of the dozen in crew to watch throughout its entirety, and not one of them is even the slightest off-pace. This attention to detail results in a synchronization of choreography that’s rarely seen, and highly impressive.
9. Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me“
With Steven Ellison’s fifth album, The L.A. artist appears to have captured his deepest, darkest moments and translated that onto a beautifully transformative canvas. This is best demonstrated in Your Dead!‘s excellent single “Never Catch Me”. Only a blistering Kendrick Lamar, could keep up with the shimmering instrumental Ellison constructs, yet with the video, two talented young ones form a pace that’s all their own. Director Hiro Murai creates a touching, emotional pull as the pair of kids, literally back from the dead, gleefully dance their hearts away: seemingly unaware of their tragic and untimely demise.
8. Brodinski feat. SD, “Can’t Help Myself“
Chicago rapper SD caught lightning in a bottle with his fantastic (if slept on) debut album Truly Blessed, but that didn’t stop him from branching out towards new sounds. Teaming up with French electronic producer Brodinski for his raving electro-house cut in “Can’t Help Myself”, SD proved to be a multi-faceted emcee. Yet the Megaforce-directed video doesn’t feature either artist, instead focusing on one man throughout a lifetime set in reverse. You see the protagonist going from an old man with no family, to middle-aged with a wife and kids, to young and reckless, ending with him as a small boy. The most interesting aspect of the video is that each time SD’s chorus rings out “I fell in love with drugs ni**a, I can’t help myself,” the man’s life instantly and frantically degenerates, ultimately making you wonder if substance abuse is what left him with nothing.
7. FKA Twigs, “Two Weeks”
The R&B genre has seen a borderline outrageous influx of new artists onto the scene over the past four years, but none perhaps are as peculiar and intriguing as FKA Twigs. While the mainstream may only recognize her as the ‘girlfriend of Robert Pattinson’, in “Two Weeks” we get the sense that the Egyptian-like deity portrayed in the Nabil-directed video is a real goddess made flesh. During it, Twigs plays over a dozen different, moving versions of herself, all gracefully centered around her larger than life persona. And as the beautifully sinister beat slowly uncurls, so does the video: majestically widening out as the song goes on.
6. Majid Jordan, “Her“
Majid Jordan‘s sleek, new-age brand of R&B is perfectly translated on screen for the pair’s sleeper hit “Her”. Directed by Toronto film collective Common Good, the video’s focus on symmetry and synchronization is eye-opening. Specifically, its use of minimalistic futurism and monochrome color tone provides a chic backdrop, as the OVO duo chase after mannequin-like girls and that one special woman that stands above the rest.
5. Vic Mensa, “Down On My Luck”
At one point or another, everyone has had that one regrettable night they wish had never happened. We’ve all been there, so the idea of unlimited restarts for one such evening (until everything plays out exactly like it did in your head) is why Vic Mensa‘s “Down On My Luck” is so appealing. And after experiencing this Groundhog Day-like limbo for however many times, finally seeing Mensa make it through the club without being knocked out, harassed, drugged, puked on, arrested, or killed is just as rewarding for the viewer as it is for the young Chicago emcee himself.
4. Movement, “Ivory” (NSFW)
Parisian directorial duo Fleur & Manu give visceral life to the shadowy melding of electronica, R&B, and rock heard in “Ivory”: Movement‘s standout song from their excellent debut EP. The raunchy visuals are as erotic as music videos come, effectively giving new meaning to the term ‘sex as art’. What’s most compelling is watching the young lovers view their actions with ambivalence and fear, almost as if seeing themselves engaging in such uninhibited lust couldn’t actually be who they really are.
3. Kiesza, “Hideaway“
The mere fact that this video was shot in one take earns it respect enough, but when you add in all of the moving parts and subtle cues to be in exactly the right place, during exactly the right time, Kiesza‘s “Hideaway” is a pretty miraculous achievement. On top of that, she’s proven to be able to pull all of this off in real time as well, which speaks volumes about Kiesza and choreographer Ljuba Castot’s imagination, dedication, and execution.
2. Lykke Li, “No Rest For The Wicked“
Lykke Li‘s dramatic video for “No Rest For The Wicked” depicts the emotionally sweeping ballad in a story that grapples with race, love, and fear. It’s both impressive, and a bit disconcerting, that a Swedish director (Tarik Saleh) and popstar presumably have a better grasp on America’s continuing racial divide than many Americans do in 2014. Yet the tale they tell is a realistic and heartbreaking one, ultimately resonating more than any other music video on this list does.
1. Jamie xx, “Sleep Sound“
It goes without saying that those of us with hearing probably take the ability to listen to music for granted. But could you honestly imagine your life without it? Well for the members of the Manchester Deaf Centre, no imagination is needed. Ranging in ages five to 27, a dozen of these members participated in Jamie xx’s video for “Sleep Sound“, which for many was their first musical encounter. London-based artist Sofia Mattioli directed the project, drawing upon the musical experiences of these people by dancing with them. “The relationship between silence and music is a big part of what I am trying to express with my work,” she said. As without a doubt one of the most impactful videos you’ll ever see, the members of the MDC were truly appreciative of the gesture, proving there’s more to music than just sound.