Our picks for the best music videos of 2017 include everything from a cutting animated satire to a guerilla shoot in Times Square to a short film that won Film Craft Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. What many have in common: they are either directed or co-directed by the musicians who made the songs, giving a clarity in their vision.
Director: Jake Schreier
Big tent dance music gets slagged for lacking humanity or depth, but by exploring the personal histories of producer Cashmere Cat and vocalist Mø, this clip becomes a meditation on loneliness and what people do to keep that feeling at bay. Using the kind of declarative but poignant sentences you’ll find in the best children’s books, the video for “9 (After Coachella)” reveals the backstory behind the song and the individuals who created it. Director Jake Schreier had an impressive year, delivering light-hearted but affecting work for Haim (“Want You Back”), Chance the Rapper (“Same Drugs”) and Francis and the Lights (“May I Have This Dance”), but “9 (After Coachella)” is his best.
Director: Cole Bennett
Operating at a rate of about one new video per week, Cole Bennett has become the go-to director for the current wave of SoundCloud rap. Only in his early twenties, Bennett’s videos for young artists like Famous Dex, Lil Pump, Lil Xan and Trippie Redd have already been streamed hundreds of millions of times. Bennett may have found his muse in Ski Mask the Slump God, a charismatic and deeply weird MC out of South Florida. In “Catch Me Outside,” shot guerrilla style in New York City, Ski Mask wanders around Times Square clutching a Chucky doll, entrancing people in his path. Bennett piles on garish effects in post-production to make the video look like its digital frames are melting, but he is smart enough to keep in Ski Mask’s errant moments (a shoulder shimmy in a hotel mirror, his reacting to losing a hat after hanging out of a moving car) that show that, at his core, he is a star.
Directors: Charli XCX and Sarah McColgan
Sassy magazine ran its last Cute Band Alert way back in 1994, so we were definitely due for an update. For “Boys,” Charli XCX and co-director Sarah McColgan construct a pink pleasure center and fill it with over 70 modern crushables like Joey Bada$$, Joe Jonas, Kaytranada and Jay Park.
Directors: The Blaze
“Territory” by French duo the Blaze has probably received the highest prestige praise of any music video this year, winning the Film Craft Grand Prix award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins declared it, “THE best piece of art I’ve seen in 2017.” The group is comprised of Jonathan and Guillaume Alrics, a pair of cousins who direct their videos themselves (Jonathan is a film school graduate), inextricably linking their music and accompanying visuals. “Territory” follows a young man after his return to Algiers, where he dances on rooftops, smokes a hookah with friends and crams onto mattresses with multiple generations of family members. Tender yet brimming with energy, it offers a beautiful and stirring vision.
Directors: Ryan Staake and Young Thug
Had Young Thug’s original plans for the “Wyclef Jean” video actually come together, it probably wouldn’t have moved the needle like this viral hit. After Young Thug showed up 10 hours late to his own shoot and then didn’t even step in front of the cameras before driving off, he inadvertently set off a revealing examination of the creative process. Relying on text captions to tell a meta-narrative about what actually goes into making a music video, director Ryan Staake shows how something great can come from a fiasco when you’ve got a self-mocking sense of humor and just the right amount of bitterness.
Directed By: Joseph Kahn
In the year’s most divisive music video, Taylor Swift teamed with frequent collaborator Joseph Kahn to throw a feast of self-righteous anger and self-referential imagery. Opponents called it out-of-step for these times, supporters celebrated the unabashed pop spectacle and Swift’s willingness to tease herself. With it, Swift proudly declared herself a villain instead of a victim, embracing a new narrative. Regardless of what you think, it currently has more than 785 million streams on YouTube.
Director: Hiro Murai
After a triumphant run directing most of the first season of Atlanta, director Hiro Murai returned to the medium he started in to give A Tribe Called Quest a new look. Composed of a series of visual loops where the same characters reappear and repopulate the setting (similar to Kylie Minogue’s “Come Into My World”), it’s a worthy addition for a group with one of the most creative videographies in hip hop history. With its kinetic street shots and Busta Rhymes feature, “Dis Generation” might be the spiritual sequel to Tribe’s 1994 clip for “Oh My God.” But, like their reunion album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, the video never feels dated or mired in nostalgia.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Haim and Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson have each chronicled life in their native San Fernando Valley, and they teamed up for multiple projects in 2017. But while the short film Valentine (which included the video for “Right Now”) stayed in the recording studio, “Little of Your Love” follows the group onto the streets and into Oil Can Harry’s, a gay country bar in Studio City. The humble choreography the three sisters showed earlier this year in “Want You Back” turned out be a rehearsal for the joyous and sweaty routine they bust out under the mirror ball. Anderson captures it masterfully.
Directors: Dave Myers and The Little Homies
A rapper in red slacks hits golf balls off the roof of a hooptie parked on the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River. These days that setup would have been milked for an entire video by most artists, but in Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” it’s basically a throwaway shot. Lamar packs in iconic image after iconic image as he preaches modesty while bragging about the power of his left stroke. The Little Homies is the alias of Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment president Dave Free: They’ve breathed life into video vibes before, but by teaming with veteran director Dave Meyers – a Missy Elliott favorite – they get their super freak on.
Directors: Jay-Z and Mark Romanek
Jay-Z has often turned to director Mark Romanek for music videos that break from hip hop’s templates. In 2004, the pair went art house cinema for the neo-realistic “99 Problems,” then in 2013 they went to the literal art museum for the Marina Abramovic-assisted “Picasso Baby.” Working with the team at The Mill, the pair created a challenging video for “The Story of O.J.” that references vintage animation’s derogatory caricatures of African-Americans to comment on the United States’ institutionalized history of racism.