Contrary to the belief of diehard MTV-era faithfuls, the music video game is as alive as ever. And thanks to the internet and streaming sites like YouTube and Vimeo, we have unprecedented access to all of it. Still, it can be difficult to break through the clutter and find what’s relevant and inspiring to your filmmaking hobby or career. So here are 2016’s most relevant music videos for filmmakers, in no particular order.
1. David Bowie – Lazarus
If we had to choose just one music video to be remembered as 2016’s greatest, this would be it. David Bowie was one of the many musical legends we lost last year, but the only one to draw inspiration from his impending passing to create a chilling and cinematic farewell. The video came out on Jan. 7, just three days before Bowie died of cancer. Perhaps he felt it coming and decided to do something beautiful with it.
2. Kanye West – Famous
The day Kanye no longer causes controversy will be the day he retires. In 2016, one of his main attempts to stir the pot was this video inspired by Vincent Desiderio’s painting “Sleep.” The self-directed video for Kanye’s seventh studio album depicts him sleeping naked in a bed with celebrities and topical figures, such as Taylor Swift, George W. Bush, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby. It’s a strangely brilliant masterpiece, grandiose in its fake amateurism.
3. Beyoncé – Formation
As The Guardian‘s Syreeta McFadden puts it: the video for Beyonce’s “Formation” is “inherently political and a deeply personal look at the black and queer bodies who have most often borne the brunt of our politics.” With a variety of shooting techniques, scenery, and dance moves, it’s fascinating to watch time and time again.
4. Solange – Cranes in the Sky
While big sis Beyoncé loves to focus on a clear cut message in her videos, her younger sibling takes a slightly different approach, broadening the emphasis on aesthetic and artistic value. Her latest video is yet another masterpiece, as Solange takes us on a trip through high-end photo shoots and ingenious dance performances.
5. Kings of Leon – Waste a Moment
These Tennessee rockers are no strangers to telling visually appealing stories with their music videos. Although the storyline behind this one can be a bit difficult to comprehend, it’s nonetheless a fascinating carousel of light, sound and color, paired with cheerleaders, fainting cops and an octopus pin.
6. Leon Bridges – River
This video gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of those struck by poverty, crime and police brutality. Filmed in Baltimore, it uses footage from the city’s 2015 uprising and was released on the first day of Black History Month. In a statement that came along with the video, Leon Bridges said that “the river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption […] I want this video to be a message of light.”
7. Kanye West – Fade
There’s good reason for having more than one Kanye release on this list. In this video, Teyana Taylor plays the lead role, performing intense fitness routines inspired by the 1983 film “Flashdance.” Even though Kanye himself doesn’t appear, it’s clear that the production is all him. It’s weirdly inspiring, slightly controversial, and one hell of an erotic workout.
8. Sia – The Greatest
Maddie Ziegler is probably the greatest (ha!) asset Sia could ever have dreamed of when it comes to music videos. From her 2014 breakthrough single to this collaboration with rapper Kendrick Lamar, Ziegler’s moves have never failed to amaze. This 14-year-old’s got talent! No wonder Sia gladly puts the dancer in the spotlight.
9. Frank Ocean – Nikes
This video is as gorgeously complex as the song it was created for. Filled with a ton of layers, it’s as exhausting to watch as it satisfying, fusing artfully shot imagery with deep poetic messages.
10. Grimes – Kill v. Maim
Grimes is one of very few artists who can throw dozens of ideas and concepts into one song or video, and still manage to turn it into beautifully chaotic underground insanity. She once tried to explain the concept for “Kill v. Maim” by saying her song was inspired by Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part II” if he had been a vampire who was able to travel through space and switch genders.
11. Radiohead – Burn the Witch
Ahh, there’s nothing like a tribute to the ancient art of stop motion. Animator Virpi Kettu told Billboard that the band wanted this video raise awareness about the refugee crisis in Europe and the “blaming of different people… the blaming of Muslims and the negativity.” The video took Kettu 14 days to shoot, in which she claims she never slept. If you’re a filmmaker, you definitely know this struggle.
12. Jamie xx – Gosh
Director Romain Gavras doesn’t just make music videos—he makes musical short films. For Jamie xx’s “Gosh,” he puts African albino Hassan Kone in the midst of hundreds of Chinese boys performing several soldier-like choreographies. The setting is the Chinese ghost city of Hangzhou, sometimes called “China’s mini-Paris,” the perfect location for some classic Jamie xx drama.
13. Beyoncé – Sorry
When Beyoncé’s sixth studio album “Lemonade” dropped, it was accompanied by a 60-minute HBO-film divided into 11 chapters: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption. To be fair, every minute of it deserves to be in any “Best Videos of 2016” list. But this album’s first standalone video takes the prize. It is filmed in black and white and features tennis legend Serena Williams, who Beyoncé wanted to include because of her “personification of strength.”
14. The 1975 – A Change of Heart
Critics call this black and white pearl “1975’s most plot-driven music video to date.” Basically, two clowns go on a date to a fair and end up… well, just watch it. It’s strangely relaxing and will undoubtedly make you think about things that look like they’re meant to be, but actually aren’t.
15. Clipping – Wriggle
This might be 2016’s weirdest video and it’s a masterpiece because of it, but it surely isn’t for the faint of heart. The Bay Area noise-rap crew, for the most part, constructed the video using a diverse selection of creepy, vulgar GIFs, which is a perfect fit for their chaotic hip-hop sound—and definitely provides a unique take on music video production.
16. The Weeknd – False Alarm
Viewer discretion is highly recommended for this intense video. Beginning with a bank robbery, viewers get a first person perspective on kidnapping, road rage, murder and more, in what’s more akin to a short film than music video.
17. Pup – Sleep in the Heat
Pup’s music might be a little niche, but this video revolves around a theme that many people will be able to identify with: the strong bond between a boy and his dog. Heartwarming and deeply saddening at the same time, one of the main roles is played by Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things,” making it a crowd-pleaser for sure.
18. Die Antwoord – Fat Faded Fuck Face
Ah, Die Antwoord, our favorite rap weirdo’s on the planet. Remember how they had Lady Gaga eaten by a lion back in 2012? Or how about 2014, when Ninja turned into a man-eating pitbull? Their latest video is equally as strange and stylistically reminiscent to the duo’s 2010 breakthrough hit, “Enter the Ninja,” but with more nudity and lots of original body art.