The music video might be the perfect vehicle for an artistic statement: It's succinct, it has a built-in springboard, and it's conducive to both abstract and literal statements. Here are 18 of the most creative and interesting music videos out there.
Note: Some of these videos occasionally contain strong language, sexual themes, or nudity.
18. Red Hot Chili Peppers: "Otherside"
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, this 1999 video gives nods to German expressionism ("The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari") and M.C. Escher with dark, angular set designs that evolve in unpredictable ways.
17. Ingrid Michaelson: "Hell No"
Michaelson filmed the video by herself over the course of several weeks, using nothing but Snapchat filters. The result is a fun amalgamation of short clips that support the generally lighthearted nature of the song.
16. Pharrell: "Happy"
Directed by We Are from LA, I've only included four hours of the Pharrell's hit, "Happy," because the full video is 24 magnificent hours. Featuring a multitude of celebrity cameos and people dancing to the song in Los Angeles, the video was such a hit that many fans created tribute videos in their own cities. Beyond the video's quality, it's admirable for the sheer undertaking of creating it.
15. Coldplay: "Up&Up"
Directed by Vania Heymann, this 2016 video is surreal, bizarre, and weirdly affecting. I feel the video itself complements the song well and pushes the collective artistic statement to another level.
14. Gotye: "Somebody That I Used to Know"
The video for everybody's favorite breakup song was directed by Natasha Pincus. It took 23 hours to paint both Gotye and Kimbra to match the background, which itself was based on Gotye's father's artwork. The video does well to match the song's bizarre structuring for a duet that doesn't see its second singer enter until it's over halfway done, with the camera staying tight on Gotye until a simple zoom-out introduces Kimbra's presence. The camera work and design do well to encapsulate the strained intimacy embodied by the number.
13. Oren Lavie: "Her Morning Elegance"
Directed by Oren Lavie, Yuval Nathan, and Merav Nathan, this stop-motion video is just that, elegant. The fanciful visuals are a strange juxtaposition to the very dark lyrics, but they also manage to capture those lyrics. Beyond that, it's visually stunning.
12. John Legend: "Made to Love"
Directed by Daniel Sannwald, "Made to Love" opens with dancers in beautiful, static geometric forms a la Pilobolus and alternates with abstract imagery and Legend himself singing in clean shots. The imagery and dancers eventually combine into beautiful shapes that are both abstract and suggestive with Legend as the throughline, a seeming trip through his imagination.
11. Greg Laswell: "Take Everything"
Director Otto Arsenault shot "Take Everything" in one long take, requiring Laswell to move through the set backward and learn to sing the song backward as well, a trick that he occasionally showed off at his live performances. The result is slightly trippy and a lot of fun.
10. Kanye West: "Runaway"
A perfect microcosm (though there's nothing "micro" about it) of the West aesthetic, the self-directed video is a 34-minute short film that pays homage to many of West's inspirations and features songs from "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." West said he wanted the video to represent what he dreams, and the imagery is certainly vivid, matching the epic scope of the video.
9. Mike Doughty: "Na Na Nothing"
Yuliya Lanina's animations are as sharp as the song's lyrics, weaving a visually fascinating story that deftly takes on its own life while still maintaining the storyline of the music. Her stop-motion animation is an enthralling and nuanced visual treat that complements the music brilliantly.
8. Nirvana: "Heart-Shaped Box"
Time Magazine described Director Anton Corbijn's video as "beautiful and terrible." It's hard to describe to non-90s kids the impact Kurt Cobain had on music culture, and perhaps nowhere is this more on display than in "Heart-Shaped Box," as he actually designed the majority of the video's concepts himself.
7. FKA twigs: "Pendulum"
FKA twigs directed the video herself, noting that she chose to suspend her body by her own hair because "using my own hair represents me at one time being suspended and held back by my own fears." It's a fascinating video.
6. OK Go: "The One Moment"
I couldn't not include an OK Go video on this list. Director Damian Kulash's concept took seven weeks to design and plan and 4.2 seconds to film. The clip was then slowed to nearly four minutes to match the song, resulting in a very impressive visual feast.
5. Sia: "Breathe Me"
"Breathe Me" is permanently etched in my mind as the music playing during the final scene of "Six Feet Under" (if you haven't watched that show, you're missing out). For the video, Director Daniel Askill took over 2,500 Polaroids, with the singer narrating her own struggle in the pictures throughout the video. Transfixing and effective, it was a fitting visual manifestation of the song.
4. Rob Dougan: "Clubbed to Death"
Directed by David Slade, this video is four minutes of masterful editing that read like an otherworldly dream.
3. Beyoncé: "Foundation"
Directed by Melina Matsoukas, "Foundation" is absolutely overflowing with political symbolism and imagery, all interspersed with Beyoncé's signature choreography. It weaves a complex storyline through Hurricane Katrina, race relations, police brutality, and cultural representation and pride. It takes a certain succinctness to reference so many deeply nuanced topics in four minutes and still place a personal brand on it.
2. Björk: Pagan Poetry
(Contains sexuality, nudity, and images of piercings being performed.)
Directed by Nick Knight, the video was shot using only natural sunlight indoors to match the rawness of the music. So raw was the topless sequence and footage of skin piercings that it was initially banned by MTV. The director gave the singer a camera for the topless portion and told her to "film her love life." The result is hauntingly real and beautiful.
1. Johnny Cash: "Hurt"
Heartbreakingly self-referential, Director Mark Romanek had to film in lightning time, as Cash's health was failing (June would die three months later and Johnny would die four months after that). He chose to visually replicate Cash's health and the state of his life as did the song, sparing nothing in tackling the cruel loneliness of the later stages of life, of past days of glory, and of coming to terms with many kinds of loss. It's both symbolic and unnerving in its directness, as Cash's trembling hand pours wine over a banquet he has no one to share with, and he looks directly into the camera: "You could have it all, my empire of dirt." It's astounding to me that such a strong emotive statement was expressed in four succinct minutes.
Admittedly, this list is skewed toward my personal music tastes, but hey, that's what I know. Share your favorites in the comments!
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