The streaming services are starting to figure something out: People like music. People also like to throw on things to watch casually in the background. That means we’re now getting Netflix-funded projects like Paul Thomas Anderson and Thom Yorke’s Anima short film, or like Beyoncé’s Coachella concert movie Homecoming. That’s only beginning. We’re going to get a whole lot more like this, and maybe it’ll start to change the definition of the term “music video.”
Once upon a time, music videos were cheap marketing gimmicks. Maybe artists couldn’t make it to every Top Of The Pops-style show on the planet. Maybe they’d send goofy little films of themselves lip-syncing their own songs instead. Slowly and haphazardly, music videos became an art form. At the dawn of cable television, they also became free programming for MTV, the channel that used them to become a youth-culture powerhouse. Eventually, music videos moved off of television and went to YouTube — another form of free content for another youth-culture powerhouse. That’ll change again. It’s always changing.
In the meantime, people are figuring out new ways to match music to images, or they’re doing the old ways beautifully. A lot of my favorite music-on-video artifacts from 2019 were not music videos. They were elusive little moments, like Zendaya rapping along with Too Short in Euphoria. Or they were crucial documents of fleeting and powerful moments, like the video of Have Heart’s reunion set at the Sound And Fury festival.
But the traditional music video is as strong as ever. For years, I’ve been writing a regular column of the week’s best music videos. That column went on hiatus a few months ago — not because there aren’t enough videos, but because there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to keep writing all that I’ve been writing. Rest assured: The great videos did not stop coming just because I stopped tabulating them. And now, like we always do at this time, I’ve put together my list of my favorite music videos of 2019. Enjoy.
Freddie Gibbs has always had sneakily great comic timing. But Freddie Gibbs has never had a chance to showcase that sneakily great comic timing amidst zebras and beautifully photographed mountain vistas. That’s a new thing.
There is an art to the one-joke music video. In the best version, you take that one joke, push it as far as it can possibly go, and then push it way further than that. “Glad He’s Gone” is a masterful example of just how far you can go with it.
PUP have always made great music videos. But they have not always made those videos into bittersweet and oddly heartwarming little Black Mirror mini-episodes. I can’t even imagine how this got made, but I’m glad it did.
Too often, music videos, even narrative ones, show you one thing, and then they keep showing you that one thing again and again. This one keeps twisting and wriggling and fucking with your expectations until its glorious ending. Some great dog acting in there, too.
Natalie Mering is really good at making music. But if she ever decided to quit music and to focus on making ’70s and ’80s horror-movie pastiches instead, I’d be OK with that.
Everything is stupid now, but we might as well make Weekend At Bernie’s-ass music videos about it. The TV host at the beginning, acting like every dumb thing he just heard is the coolest thing in the world, just killed me.
“Glammed-out Freddy Krueger” is an incredible look, and I’m mad that I didn’t think of it first. I probably couldn’t have pulled it off as well as Rosalía, though.
When the key-change hits? And the camera levels up to meet Angel Olsen’s gaze, and then zooms out from that hillside? Fuck.
On the one hand, it’s a strange, personal, ultimately horrific art piece. On the other, it’s a ridiculously beautiful man doing kung-fu dance moves in a meat locker. Both of those things are cool. (I wonder if it’s easier to be confident that people will go along with your strange, personal, ultimately horrific art piece when you look like a damn Terminator.)
At the end of this video, there is a lady who twerks upside-down, in a no-hands headstand, while lighting a cigarette. Then she flips over, lies on the floor like she’s dead, and suddenly comes back to life and keeps twerking. Imagine having even a tenth of that confidence or ability. What a hero.
Name-the-celebrity cameo-parade music videos are fun. Name-the-celebrity cameo-parade music videos that descend into increasingly absurd jokes about a robot apocalypse are even more fun.
The absurd, ecstatic pop phenomenon of the year gets the absurd, ecstatic music video that it deserves. My kids have been attempting to line-dance for months.
If you can make a rap video that looks like some combination of Step Up 3 and Children Of Men, then you should do that. The motion here just never stops. It’s beautiful.
The most acclaimed film director of his generation spent the second half of 2019 making a series of HAIM videos. I love that. This one is my favorite of them, and I can’t even really tell you why. Something about the light.
Zack Fox’s about-to-beat-the-shit-out-of-somebody face is a gift to the world.
An elegantly designed Mad Max dreamworld. When was the last time you saw a movie that looked this good?
This is what the Broadway-musical version of rap should be. Fuck Hamilton.
You, and everyone you know, will never be as cool as the 15th guy in the background of this wonderfully chaotic Mediterranean-goth reggaeton fever dream. Crow-makeup Sting might’ve lost the battle to Hulk Hogan at Starrcade ’97, but thinking long-term, he won the cultural war.
What we have here is a pole-dancing special-effects art film, full of naked sexuality and mind-boggling dance moves and interdimensional vortexes and vividly designed CGI alien-hallucinations. It is a spectacle. And yet what I can’t get over is how vulnerable it is.
Billie Eilish was already well on her way to stardom before this masterful piece of bratty surrealism entered the public consciousness. Once the video hit, though, it was a wrap. I don’t know if anyone from future generations is going to want to look back at 2019, for any reason. But if they do, then this video is a pretty good place to start.