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10 Best Country Videos of 2016

From Chris Stapleton’s poignant “Fire Away” to Jonny Fritz’s naked “Stadium Inn”

Miranda Lambert, Vice

Miranda Lambert's "Vice" featured the artist emerging from the wreckage of a car crash.

A nonviolent battle with an animated sea monster. A joyride down a stylized, Reagan-era highway. A horny tribute to women who strip and smoke. A stark, serious warning about the dangers of depression. 2016 found the heavyweights of Americana and country music leaving behind the Entourage-worthy beach parties and bro-approved tailgates of years past, focusing instead on videos that packed a more lasting punch.

Some artists went for laughs. Others tugged at the heartstrings. From Robert Ellis' cinematic "California" to Miranda Lambert's big-budget "Vice," here are Rolling Stone Country's favorite clips of the year, presented in no particular order. 

Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton, “Fire Away”

An off-duty cop walks into a bar, his shirt collar splattered with blood and orders a shot. Then another. Then another. As the song progresses, we see clips of his wife, whose struggle with depression deepens and darkens until the final moments, where we find out to whom those bloodstains really belong. Stapleton, fully committed to the story, is barely on-screen, choosing instead to hide in the shadows as the bartender.

Maren Morris

Maren Morris, “’80s Mercedes”

Morris hits the animated blacktop in this clip, which splashes the singer and her titular ride against a green-screened backdrop of neon skies and comic-book cityscapes. The video's real star, though, is director Alon Isocianu, who treats the project like a long-lost sequence from Jem and the Holograms

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson, “In Bloom”

Released in 1992, Nirvana's video for "In Bloom" spoofed the PG-rated cheese of old variety shows like Ed Sullivan. Nearly 25 years later, Simpson and director Matt Mahurin take a different approach with their own treatment, whose animated sequence shows a boy rowing across haunted waters, a cannon for a head. When a sea creature threatens to capsize his boat, though, the kid saves himself not by taking aim, but by radiating love.

Jonny Fritz

Jonny Fritz, “Stadium Inn”

The real-life Stadium Inn still stands in East Nashville, looming high over I-65 like a grimy, one-star reminder of the city's pre-gentrification past. Filmed on location, this video finds Fritz running around the hotel in various stages of undress. It's equal parts campy and poignant, much like the former Mr. Corndawg himself. 

Margo Price

Margo Price, “Hands of Time”

Price goes home in this visual memoir, which retraces her path from Midwestern anonymity to indie-country stardom. Along the way, we see clips of family members, water towers, high-school football fields and wood-paneled living rooms, which piece together the backstory of one of 2016's breakout artists.

Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert, “Vice”

After rolling her car on a state route, a dolled-up Lambert hikes into town, finds the nearest bar and trades her earrings for a whiskey shot. By the video's end, she's on the road once again, sitting in the backseat of a black sedan while the driverless vehicle rolls toward the horizon. 

Brothers Osborne

Brothers Osborne, “21 Summer”

Who said young love was innocent? Intercut with performance footage of the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, this clip finds a young barroom employee falling in love with a prostitute. Some of the sequences are sweetly nostalgic: a shared cigarette, an aimless drive around town, a heated hookup in the backseat. Others are more haunting, particularly the clip's climax, where our protagonist finds his girlfriend sharing that backseat with someone else.

Aaron Lee Tasjan

Aaron Lee Tasjan, “Little Movies”

East Nashville's own cosmic cowboy wanders around Middle America in stoned slow motion, wearing a mirrorball suit borrowed from U2's Zoo TV Tour and staring intensely at a string of blue-collar workers. The filming locations may be ordinary – a smoky pool hall, a fast-food restaurant, a parking lot – but director Daniel Henry treats them like Hollywood sets, finding beauty in the things often overlooked.

Frankie Ballard

Frankie Ballard, “Cigarette”

A stripper lights up, takes a drag and heads back to work, where she spends the evening dancing beneath blue lights. Meanwhile, Ballard and company run through their song in a warehouse. Simple, swaggering and seedy, the video pays tribute to the vices that steer us, from nicotine to sex to rock & roll.

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis, “California”

This breakup story unfolds like a film whose reels have been spliced out of sequence. Pulling double duty as the video's co-director (with Cullen Kelly) and female lead, Erika Alexandrea Silverman gives us a non-linear swirl of memories – a Texas rodeo, a makeout session in the kitchen, a heated argument, an adorable toddler – and demands the viewer place them in order.