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Thursday
Dec 29 2016

The 16 Greatest Music Videos of '16

Every day,different angles on a 2016 wrap up.Tonight Nathaniel with the year's best musical short films...

It's true.They're more commonly referred to as "Music Videos"but since they have their roots in the Movie Musical,we think of them as short film descendants of that greatest of film genres.Music videos,which exploded so spectacularly in the 1980s with the dawn of MTV but experienced something like a midlife death rather than crisis,when MTV dropped the music part of music television,have roared back to life in the past decade with YouTube Vimeo and other saviors.The medium is alive and well and arguably healthier than ever (until the next platform crisis at least).

Though Beyonce'sLemonadedominated the conversation,2016 actually produced a remarkable number of musical shorts that one might include under the umbrella of "Women Gone Wild,"a subgenre equal parts political,erotic,and psychological...

Milla Jovovich in "Signal"

This group is possessed by the spirit of old and bold female classics likeWhatever Happened to Baby JaneandPersonaand on through recent thorny feminine mystique classics likeEx Machina.Bonus points,too,because this subgenre is gloriously delivered by a surprising number of film actresses and female celebrities: Milla Jovovich,Kristen Stewart,Naomi Campbell,Rosamund Pike,and evenEx-Machina's own Sonoya Mizuno working the female android terrain once again.This subgenre doesn't account for all of the 16 shorts on the following list but they're a bustling sidebar within it...

Honorable Mentions:
Years and Years "Worship,"Nadia Rose "Skwod,"Anonhi "Drone Bomb Me,"starring Naomi Campbell.Radiohead "Burn the Witch,"Kanye West "Fade,"Tinashe "Superlove,"Clipping "Wriggle,"Aluna George feat.Popcaan "I'm In Control," Todrick Hall feat Bob the Drag Queen "Wrong Bitch,"Sohn's "Signal"directed by and starring Milla Jovovich.Note: I was only allowing one music video per artist so just chose one chapter of Beyoncé's Lemonade to feature which is why the more famous "Formation,"isn't on the list.

16.RIDE 'EM ON DOWN
The Rolling Stones
In some ways it aint much but the old school horn-centric rock 'n' roll finds a great visual whiskey breathed counterpart in Kristen Stewart's tough girl,who drives like a maniac and dances like no one and everyone is watching.To quote Max Weiss "is there any gender or sexuality combination that isn't attracted to Kristen Stewart?"

15.DON'T TOUCH MY HAIR
Solange Knowles

The Knowles sisters didn't just move records this year but got people talking political.I asked around about people's favorite videos this year and this one kept popping up.Says Kyle Turner "We see Solange and a legion of black dancers and models in wide,open spaces,close to the camera and far,looking away,and looking directly at us.A challenge.And inversion of a white gaze prone to objectification.In a sociopolitical climate that continues to grow more fraught,these messages of liberation and power are exactly what we need."

14.[double feature]
WIDE OPENChemical Brothers feat.Beck
LITE SPOTSKaytranada

Dance as conversation with artificial intelligence.The visual effects on Wide Open (wow) and so fun to use Sonoya Mizuno.And the communal play of "Lite Spots"is so endearing.

13.PUPPET
Alaska Thunderf***
And now the insane clown riff on the Girls Gone Wild subgenre we were talking about.Drawing onBaby Janeimagery and Alaska's own "Lil Poundcake"merchandisable,the RuPaul's All-Stars winner reminds us that drag works best as an artform when its not mass appeal cuddly but a lot funny,a bit scary and a whole lot of  transgressive."Alaska isn't foolin' around.Her voice may be sub par but her music videos prove she still wants the win- she typically puts her peers to shame in this realm with higher production values and memorable,nay,derangedcommitment to the execution.

12.DOING IT TO DEATH
The Kills
The choreography just kills me in this one: that attitudinal chill,sideways lurching,and Allison Mosshart's cigarette drags,none of which should go anyway but do;they're tied to an inexorably forward funeral march.I don't read much music writing and certainly don't have the language for it myself,but can only assume that The Kills inspire great music criticism.

[tie] 10.HYMN FOR THE WEEKENDColdplay feat.Beyonce
ONE MOMENTOK Go

Douse everything in color,shoot it across the sky.Got me feeling so high.Spectacle for spectacle's sake?Possibly but too pleasureable to waste time pondering that style vs substance battle when you can get just hit "replay"instead.

09.BRUJAS
Princess Nokia
Beyoncé gets all the credit but the truth is that a whole wave of artists are getting politically charged and digging deep into their diasporic roots and it's beautifully confrontational."We is them ghetto witches,Speaking in tongue bitches..."I don't fully understand what I'm hearing or watching but hand me the Rosetta Stone.

08.PERFECT ILLUSION
Lady Gaga
Gaga's countryfied album 'Joanne"may be hit and miss with the public but there is something galvanising about the stripped down thrashy abandon of the woman and the video this time around.The short is minimal enough aesthetically to make the pure rage of a bad break-up feel nothing like "Next Gaga Affectation"and more like a hostile exorcism.Even ridiculously successful household names can get knocked down and dragged around in the dirt with the rest of us when it comes to the vagaries of (bad) romances.

07.SOY YO
Bomba Estéreo

When I asked the team for favorites,Steven shared this pure jolt of do your thing inspiration "no one has more sass than this young lady."That's right.

06.SEND MY LOVE TO YOUR NEW LOVER
Adele
Instantly catchy enough to spark parodies and memes but if you're a sucker for minimalism that maximizes its panache than it's hard to beat this hallucinatory kiss off.Plus the song is perfect.

05.CHEAP THRILLS
Sia ft.Sean Paul
People have been mixing the retro with the modern for ages in music videos (remember "Weezer"?) but this one has some kind of weird magic with its perfect and silly Sia-wigged execution."What the hell am I watching?"is asked twice over from without and within the video.

04.SOOTHING
Laura Marling
What to even say about this one.Where to begin with its trance-like juxtapositions of color,texture,and humanity except that I want it injected into my eyeballs on loop.

03.HOLD UP
Beyoncé
"Formation"is the most familiar of Beyoncé's Lemonade tracks and more impressive as a full music video but this chapter is the one I find myself thinking of frequently.It's hard to know what to love most but I think it's the totally relatable dichotomy of her joyful mustard yellow slowmotion prancing and the "jealous or crazy"shit-stirring anger.At first all her angry,lyrically at least,seemed to be directed inward and to guilty parties nearby but then it turns on the audience with that final swing direct to camera.

Also,and perhaps it's a small point but god bless massive budgets when artists know how to use them with a proper team of brilliant crafstmen.Imagine the production designers and cinematographer's challenges (that underwater sequence!) and all those perfect details from the props and costume departments ( "In Memory of When I Gave a Fuck"on the shirt of the guy popping a wheelie - it's so perfect,I die.And "Hot Sauce"inscribed on the baseball bat!!!)

02.VOODOO IN MY BLOOD
Massive Attack,Young Fathers
Was Rosamund Pike a dancer in another life?The Gone Girl Oscar nominee is so precise and precarious and possessed here in this hypnotic and ultimately terrifying dance 'conversation' between woman and floating whatsit force of...evil?The closeup of Pike's icy blue eye (you know the one) is the single scariest and most exciting split second in any short film this year.

01.LAZARUS
David Bowie
Death as genius performance art.Bowie's death was so seismic for pop culture.Unfortunately this song and video was also an ill omen of the year to come when it emerged in January 2016,just days before this genius musician's departure.

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Reader Comments (18)

The Voodoo Blood one is also a great homage to another tragic '16 loss: Andrzej Zulawski.We are all Isabelle Adjani in the subway from Possession now.

December 29,2016 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I like the video for The Lumineer's Sleep on The Floor;the subtle change in frame rate and simple,poignant storyline strikes a chord with me.
Gaga's Million Reasons is also beautiful.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

I have been so sadly disappointed by Gaga's "comeback".She set it up so well too but did not capitalise.I have found both music videos very weak in comparison to the brilliance of Bad Romance and Telephone.She needs to hit the highs of the Born This away era again soon.

My Top 10


1.Lemonade - Beyoncé
2.Lazarus - David Bowie
3.Cranes in the Sky/Don't Touch My Hair - Solange
4.Lite Spots - Kaytranada
5.Gosh - Jamie Xx
6.Daydreaming - Radiohead
7.Nikes - Frank Ocean
8.Augustine - Blood Orange
9.Fade - Kanye West
10.Sleep in the Heat - Pup

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

YES!!!!!!!Lazarusis the video of the year and rightfully so.Fuck everything else!Except for the Massive Attack and Radiohead videos.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

My top video for 2016 is the one for Massive Attack's The Spoils.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered Commentervv

I would rather listen to 80's music when it was fun being a popstar and not so self concious and egotistical.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

vv - YES.With Cate Blanchett.Such a good video.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

The opening sequence of Puppet is a reference to the 1960s documentary The Queen,about a drag beauty pageant.Specifically,Alaska is playing Lil Poundcake as Crystal LaBeiga going off on what she thought was a rigged pageant."Now is not the time to show temperament"is a direct quote from the pageant host.

The video is insanity beyond that,but that reference is so Alaska.

My top videos are Solange's "Don't Touch My Hair,"Beyonce "Lemonade,"David Bowie's "Lazarus,"and Anohni's "Drone Bomb Me."

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Great List!

I also love The Avalanches 'Because I'm Me' and Danny Brown's 'When It Rain'.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPHIL

Not as one of the best songs of the year,but as one of the best videos - I think "False alarm"needs to be on the years' best list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW5oGRx9CLM

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterKrister

Just giving this props for including Alaska on this list.And I would like to say that both her song and video for "The T"is a piece of cathartic art that I didn't expect from a drag queen.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

Lemonadeisn't just the best music video of 2016,but of all time.What a legend.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

My favorite is actually OneRepublic's 360 video for Kids.When was the last time a music video really felt like the future?I know many may find it taxing and annoying and silly,but I think it's kind of incredible.

December 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

God bless Gaga.She's doing the music she wants and the passion is palpable.And can that queen rock an up ponytail.And rock.

December 31,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

A couple favorites of 2016 to add to this list:

BEST CINEMATIC
Meghan Trainor "Better"(starring Beau Bridges)

BEST MESSAGE
Andy Grammer "Fresh Eyes"

BEST DANCING
Kelly Rowland "Dumb"
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis f/Idris Elba "Dance Off"
Vivian Green "Grown Folks Music (Work)"

BEST STYLE
Keke Palmer "Hands Free"
Christina Milian "Liar"
Mary J.Blige "Thick of It"
Miguel & Kacey Musgraves "Waves"

BEST SERIES
Karmin "Leo Rising"(Couch Videos)

January 2,2017 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

The video with Rosamund Pike reminded me of the subway scene from the movie "Possession."

January 3,2017 | Unregistered CommenterMM in DC

Where is borders by mia?

January 3,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Massive Attack - The Spoils with Cate Blanchett
Massive Attack - Voodoo in my blood with Rosamund Pike

April 24,2017 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

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