Rumors of the music video’s decline have been greatly exaggerated.
Week after week, musicians release videos that aren’t just promotional pieces — they’re artistic statements of the highest quality that increasingly resemble short films more than the MTV fodder of yesteryear. Here are our favorites of 2015.
Dir: Bradley & Pablo
One of 2014’s best songs received a video in 2015, and it’s perfect: a pastel energy drink advert with virtual reality and the styling of a Gap ad.
19. Blanck Mass
Our Dumb Flesh might be a ‘Dead Format’, but the music video certainly isn’t: Konx-om-Pax blends animation, live action and visualizations into a sensory-overloading freakout.
‘Would You Be Mine’
Dir: Adan Jodorowsky
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s son follows in his father’s footsteps with this oversexed epic that features crucifix sex toys, post-coital rapture and the best set design of the year.
Dir: Daniel Sannwald
Kelela teased Hallucinogen with a video where her visage is as powerful as her voice; watch her be reborn as an anime avatar after shearing her locks.
16. Son Lux
‘You Don’t Know Me’
Dir: Nathan Johnson
Tatiana Maslany escapes plastic domesticity with a secret life as the leader of a cult where even simple acts — chewing gum, playing duck-duck-goose — take on creepy significance.
15. Neon Indian
Dir: Tim Nackashi & Alan Palomo
A tribute to the persistence of Miami Vice and Drive as aesthetic models, ‘Slumlord Rising’ explores a bizarro version of the first in one long tracking shot before a bloody, violent cliffhanger of a conclusion nods to the second.
14. The Soft Moon
The Soft Moon’s post-punk dread soundtracks a video seemingly about the paranoia and fear inspired by institutions. Sensory deprivation, seizure-inducing strobe effects, body horror and — yes — Robert Forster give this a cinematic edge.
13. Charli XCX
Dir: Eric Wareheim
Tim & Eric absurdist Eric Wareheim finds the dark side of this bubblegum outburst, focusing on the rotting hypebeasts and social media zombies that hide under the bed and in the closet of the internet and pop music.
12. Aïsha Devi
Dir: Tianzhuo Chen
The guiding principle for ‘Mazdâ’ seems to be sensory overload, as Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen crafts a technicolor dreamscape of ancient religious symbolism that feels like an Eastern take on Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Dir: Ian Pons Jewell
London newcomer NAO puts that other ‘Bad Blood’ video to shame in her latest video. In the starkest black-and-white, a nude statue of a woman is an angel of death (and life), drawing out fractal trees from the mouths and eyes of sinners.
10. Tame Impala
‘The Less I Know The Better’
Finally: a video that fuses high school sexuality and relationships with King Kong. Spanish directing collective CANADA use choreography, animation, psychedelic paint jobs and the type of surreal titillation that made their video for El Guincho’s ‘Bombay’ a classic.
09. Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell Williams
‘WTF (Where They From)’
Dir: Dave Meyers & Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott made her triumphant return in the best possible way, with an eye-catching video co-directed by longtime collaborator Dave Meyers. Whether made-up like a Lichtenstein painting, shining in head-to-toe disco ball or remade as a marionette, Missy still demands your attention.
Dir: Andrew Thomas Huang
Björk has used Vulnicura to add several more entries in her iconic videography, and ‘Black Lake’ is the standout. In the hands of Björk and Andrew Thomas Huang, Iceland’s caves and caverns seem extraterrestrial, especially when the cerulean lava starts flowing. A video so good they put it in a museum.
‘Everybody In The Club Gettin Shot’
It’s tough to distill a label’s entire aesthetic into one clip, but ‘Everybody’ pulls it off, balancing sex, violence, various fuckshit and a sick sense of humor into 150 seconds of all-pink-everything video.
06. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment
Dir: Austin Vesely, Ian Eastwood & Chance The Rapper
Even if Surf wasn’t your cup of tea, there’s too much joy in ‘Sunday Candy’ to not be drawn in. The one-shot video finds Chance and friends dancing their way through the best high school play ever. If he keeps it up, we won’t be calling Chance “the Rapper” for much longer.
05. David Bowie
Dir: Johan Renck
Does anyone do messianic better than David Bowie? With ‘Blackstar’, the pop legend looks back at the various heights of his (nearly half-century-long career), serving as a blind prophet for a twitchy cult of believers — looking great and still taking chances, after all these years.
04. FKA twigs
Dir: FKA twigs
After releasing the best video of 2014, FKA twigs returned with an EP and an accompanying self-directed short film. The suite of M3LL155X videos are united by twigs’ Chris Cunninghamesque vision as she follows a steampunk spelunker, a sex doll pregnancy and a ballroom birth in the forest.
‘Bitch Better Have My Money’
Dir: Robyn Rihanna Fenty & MegaForce
Whether or not Rihanna actually drops Anti in 2015, she still left an indelible mark on the year in music. Her co-directed video for ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ is a cinematic epic that brings a (true) tale of revenge to life in all its violent glory. Wearing a lookbook’s worth of styles, Rihanna’s Invisible Monsters-styled road trip turns rap video excess into Natural Born Killers, with cameos by Mads Mikkelsen, Eric Roberts and a girl she met on Instagram. And those final images — Rihanna nude, smoking a blunt, covered in blood and money — are already iconic.
02. Autre Ne Veut
‘World War Pt. 2’
Dir: Allie Avital
Arthur Ashin stripped all the way down for his latest torch song, but the star here is dancer Macy Sullivan, whose erratic contortions amp up the video’s creep factor as director Allie Avital explores the symbiotic (parasitic?) aspects of relationships and identity.
01. Kendrick Lamar
Dir: Colin Tilley & The Little Homies
Kendrick Lamar did nothing by half-measure in 2015, from the To Pimp A Butterfly down to each of his visionary videos, of which ‘Alright’ is the best. In gorgeous black and white, Tilley and company scroll through images and settings, each more epic than the last: boombox breakdancers, cops hauling a hooptie, Lamar flying and floating and a single cop killing our protagonist with the snap of a finger… although Kendrick does get the last laugh.