Music videos were banished from MTV eons ago and it might've been the best thing that’s happened to the artform since the golden age of Duran Duran. This year was loaded with excellent, innovative and groundbreaking reasons to go through the inconvenience of hitting "FULL SCREEN" on your laptop – from Justin Timberlake’s simply elegant "Suit & Tie" to Beach House’s lushly, creepily surrealist "Wishes" to Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus' brazen challenges to workplace safety standards. Even Bob Dylan got in the action. Here are the top ten clips in a very good year for zoning out while rocking out. BY JON DOLAN
Any time you get to share a meal with the charming indie-pop geniuses of Vampire Weekend and some of their closest hipster friends is night to savor and remember — even if the feast in question is a last supper. The frantic, hilarious video for "Diane Young" was a visual riff on Leonardo Da Vinci's historic religious painting, packed with guests like Sky Ferreira, Santigold and David Longstreth from Dirty Projectors. Not since Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" video has a rock & roll dinner party gone this crazily; whoever brought the saxophone full of pot is welcome at our house any time. Just leave the guy in the balaclava at home — seems like kind of a buzzkill.
The brutally frenetic black and white interactive clip allowed you to speed up and slow down Ye's bouncing, menacing avatar, which often seemed like it might bust through your computer and bust you one in the chops – the ideal visual accompaniment for a song about control, power and rebellion in an America made sick by racism and corporate manipulation. Try moving along with Kanye at home and you've got yourself an excellent four-minute workout – perfect for the raging genius on a busy schedule.
"Can't Hold Us" is the Dr. Zhivago of over-the-top inanity – an epic video journey to end all epic video journeys that featured more different kinds of weather than any other video this year. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis spoof the idea of high budget hip-hop promo tours by carrying an actual flag emblazoned with the title of their album The Heist as they party their way around the globe – over snowcapped mountains and exotic beaches, on a pirate ship, through busy city streets (via camel), finally winding up in their native Seattle. It's a hilarious metaphor for their DIY success story.
Produced by Eric Wareheim (of Tim and Eric) and starring Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Robocop, Mad Men), this clip by synthy indie-pop duo Beach House was where Friday Night Lights met David Lynch. Wise pretends to sings the song on a stage during what appears to be a high school football halftime show that turns into a kind of pagan pep rally – complete with boys dressed as Roman soldiers, self-spanking, cartwheel spinning cheerleaders and the vague suggestions that the whole thing might end with a raffle to determine which lucky fan will be sacrificed to some sort of locally recognized horse deity after the game. At the end, Wise mounts a white stallion to sing the aching ballad's final chorus and the crowd goes wild. It's just your average small town sports night in Anywhereville, America.
Having shown off his dance moves in the video for Radiohead's 2012 single "Lotus Flower," Thom Yorke gave us another example of his spaced-out body rockin' in the clip for Atoms For Peace's crinkle-grooved "Ingenue." On an empty soundstage, joined only by contemporary dancer Fukiko Takase, he demonstrated a wide array of hot moves – the "despondent kung fu master," the "being blown backwards by forces beyond your control," the "weeee, I'm a pretty bird," the "slap fight with your demons." The results were disconcertingly funky.
All the 14-year-old boys of all the other generations in human history really need to band together and file a class action suit against all the fourteen-year-old boys of 2013 because it's just not fair any one iteration of adolescent male should be allowed to have this golden age of video nudity all to itself. From Ciara's "Body Party" to Foals' "Late Night" to Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Sacrilege" it was a veritable perv's banquet out there. Amidst this gold rush of skin, "Blurred Lines" was pretty much the Star Wars of the NSFW era, the standard by which all screen-oriented workplace hazards shall now be judged. Director Diane Martel, who also created Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" video, threw in all sorts of winks and nods to let us know how self-aware we've become as a species since the primordial days of Duran Duran's "Girls on Film," back when a boob was just a boob. Now, it's a whoopee cushion. And this was as fun as the song itself, and twice as line-blurring.
Forty-eight years after it was written, "Like a Rolling Stone" inspired one of the year's most captivating videos. In the clip, directed by 27-year-old Vania Heymann, the viewer flips between sixteen channels – a home shopping show, a tennis match a romantic comedy, a financial news network, an episode of The Price Is Right – in which everyone appears to be lipsyncing Dylan's classic song. The fake TV personalities (which include rapper Danny Brown, Drew Carey and comedian Marc Maron) join in their own condemnation as they repeat Dylan's excoriating lyrics, and the song spins into a massive rolling satire of everything shallow and fake about mass media. When we finally end up on footage of Dylan singing the song in the Sixties, it's like finding a guide to finally get us out of this hell, even if it's probably where we deserve to spend all eternity.
This year was lousy with high–concept cinematic videos but this one was all about the simple pleasures of music, talent and charisma. Directed by David Fincher and filmed in clean, classy black and white, "Suit & Tie" was a throwback to watershed Fincher videos like Madonna's "Vogue," which also managed to feel both vintage and forward-looking by combining a mid-century notion of sophistication and innovative filming (plus a lot of stripping). Whether dancing, singing or just hanging out wearing the hell out of some fine clothes, JT gave us the best up close and personal video performance of the year.
Arcade Fire have always been on the cutting edge of interactive video technology, and the first of two videos that accompanied "Reflektor" was another hype–worthy breakthrough. Viewers got the awesome experience of using the device of their choice to co-direct Vincent Morisset's beautifully filmed video, while also using their camera to enter into its story of a woman straddling physical and spiritual worlds. Filmed in Haiti, it was a brilliant commentary on the relationship between artists and audiences (we were, literally, "the reflector"), the blurred lines between cultures, and the role of technology itself in the way we consume art.
"It's like a giant, fucked up selfie," director Diane Martel told Rolling Stone about this jawdropping masterpiece of what-the-freaking-freak trash compactor surrealism. "We Can't Stop" was chalk full of images to send your eyes to the burn ward – the French-fried skeleton, the people rolling around in bread, the severed hand in the kitchen bleeding bubblegum blood, the dude eating a money sandwich, the alphabet soup that spelled TWERK, Miley lady-wrestling, Miley sticking a grill on her front teeth, Miley making out with a doll, Miley slapping ass, Miley grinding ass. When we're all 80, we'll still be waking up in the middle of the night sweating buckets and shrieking "DANCING BEARS! DANCING MOTHERFUCKING BEARS!" In other words, a masterpiece for the ages.