In 2014, music videos became increasingly prominent, not just on YouTube (where the most popular entry on our list has nearly 400 million views) and television (where a handful of networks keep them in rotation) but in the world at large, integrated into advertisements, social media and live events. Artists like Taylor Swift and Will.i.am pushed the boundaries of the form, creating apps where viewers could inhabit or interact with their work, and Beyoncé set the tone for the year by surprise releasing 17 clips at once in December of 2013. Looking back, here are our picks for the 10 best of the year.
Directed by Chino Moya
As calm and controlled as St. Vincent herself, the video for "Digital Witness" contains totalitarian-level attention to detail. Director Chino Moya applies his love of claustrophobia-inducing spaces to Annie Clark's pastel world, where (as in most of her songs) an eggshell's layer of beauty hides something anxious and strained. The result is a calmly neurotic clip that's somehow threatening and soothing at the same time. If you're not convinced by St. Vincent's lyrical indictment of internet-driven celebrity obsession, this video makes the case even more forcefully.
Directed by Goldrush
With NYC duo Goldrush directing, the barely-there song gets an equally tense and tight clip. Twitchy editing and psychedelic visual effects turn Maco's braggy rapping and post-show hotel freak-out into something eerie and foreboding. This is what an afterparty at the Overlook Hotel would feel like — minus the cops telling everyone to clear the halls.
Directed by Steven Klein
Mixing tropes of exploitation flicks and film noir, Brooke Candy's "Opulence" is at once decadent and trashy. Director Steven Klein has previously worked on videos with Madonna and Lady Gaga, and it shows in the bondage pleather, McQueen-esque jeweled face masks and platinum blonde hair. The opening scene, where Candy snaps the neck of a skinhead bruiser who owes her money then spits on his corpse, might actually be the least disturbing part of the whole clip. It's fun to imagine Candy's life is actually like this — nothing but leather orgies, bedazzled nipple clips and Lynchian night-driving.
Directed by Emile Sornin
A bad boss makes it harder to do your job. The manager in "Grab Her" makes work impossible. Director Emile Sornin turns Disclosure's single into a workplace comedy where a Gervais-ian manager takes on a particularly evil edge, sexually harassing his employees, cracking horrendous jokes, pissing on an underling's head and making the office supplies levitate to the ceiling. Meanwhile, the video's vaguely sickening neutral palette communicates the boredom and anxiety that permeate the worst of the white-collar world.
Directed by Ssion/Cody Critcheloe
Perfume Genius' Mike Hadreas wrote "Queen" about "gay panic," and so the accompanying video features Hadreas taking every fear to its outrageous conclusion. In just four minutes, he struts in heels on a conference table, turns an office full of papers and computer monitors into a Christmas-y dance party and has a bathroom encounter with a one-legged Elvis. This parody of the anxieties surrounding queer sexuality manages to drive home a political point without losing any sense of fun or edge.
Hyuna's K-pop hit is a schizophrenic mess, switching from trap and hip-hop to bubbly pop and slinky Middle Eastern electro. The video does its best to keep up: While rapid scene shifts follow the song's structure, wild images bring its lyrics to life. "A monkey's butt is red," goes the chorus, and on screen, a monkey with a bright red butt appears. "My lipstick is red…" and just like that, Hyuna's wiggling on a pair of giant lips. The part where Hyuna's about to cry? That's when she's singing about being lonely. Some major Korean broadcasters thought the original video was too hot for TV, which means it might just right for an American crossover.
Directed by Joseph Kahn
Taylor Swift casts herself as the "Blank Space" villain and revels in every gossip mag rumor about her — the claims that she's a maneater, a perpetually insecure and jealous girlfriend, and a general handful. Swift's great trick is turning bad behavior into a virtue, and here her crazy-girl windshield-smashing and unapologetic love for old-money luxury somehow makes the villainy attractive.
Directed by Melina Matsoukas
Both Rihanna and Katy Perry turned down "Pretty Hurts" before Beyoncé snatched the song, using it to view her beauty pageant past through feminist eyes. The seven-minute video, shot in a Brooklyn high school, is totally straight-forward, a near-documentary in a video album of fantasy, and this feel is reinforced by the closing footage of the young singer competing at an event in Houston. The song and the video both display one of Beyoncé's many gifts: her ability to mine the deeply personal for mass appeal.
Directed by Daniels
The directing duo Daniels (one member drops through the ceiling), said they just wanted to make something as wonderfully dumb as the song — and this wonderfully bonkers clip achieves that goal via twerking, daggering and a Brazilian dance called "surra de bunda." Translation: punishment by ass.
Directed by Sia and Daniel Askill
It's easy to see why the notoriously stage-shy Sia was a fan of 11-year-old reality star Maddie Ziegler. Here, the Dance Moms alum's crisp moves and theatrical mugging were a great fit for Ryan Heffington's imaginative choreography. But it's not only Ziegler's charisma that makes this video mesmerizing: Her dancing makes your memory tingle, with every gesture recalling ordinary activities that you can't exactly place. Each familiar movement is repeated until it becomes grotesque and threatening.