Our picks for best music video of 2018 include a 15-minute art-rap funhouse, some K-pop maximalism and two of the world’s biggest music stars taking over the Louvre.
Director: Zev Deans
In the video for St. Vincent’s “Fast Slow Disco,” the pop rework of a Masseduction ballad soundtracks a chaotic rock show that resolves with a communal sexual experience, an orgy characterized by sensuality and warmth, not abject horniness. Among this collision of male bodies is a glowing Annie Clark, taking pleasure from what’s happening around her, but not dictating the action or hogging the affection. To accomplish this vision, director Zev Deans filled the Brooklyn metal bar Saint Vitus with 50 leather-clad twinks and bears who were mostly cast using gay dating and hookup apps. Fittingly, several actual relationships started on set that day. E.D.
Director: Nick Roney
Washington D.C. post-punkers Flasher interrupt their own song in “Material,” exploring the way media is, well, mediated in the YouTube era. The clip comes complete with meta-references to buffering, pop-up ads, algorithms, autoplays, annotations and frame-rate skipping. Though some of the more spoofier elements are a little like the internet version of The Kentucky Fried Movie – goofs on viral a capellas, “popping” videos and fail compilations – it still resonates once you contend with the fact that indie rock musicians like Flasher are forced to compete for space with them. C.W.
Director: Seo Hyun Seung
Blackpink is the first all-female group that YG Entertainment has put out since megastars 2NE1 debuted in 2009. Anticipation for them in South Korea was high even before they released their first song in 2016. “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” is the lead single from their second EP, Square Up, and with 36.2 million plays, it became the second-most-viewed video in a 24-hour period in YouTube history, following only Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” The clip’s director Seo Hyun Seung is known for pulling off pop spectacles on the level of Katy Perry or Nicki Minaj’s work, and with “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” he goes all out. (For a broader look at his style, check out iPartynauseous’ top ten Seo Hyun Seung videos primer.) “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” is a feat of bonkers, maximalist creativity that includes the best use of a tank in a music video since Master P’s “Make ’Em Say Uhh.”
Director: Thibaut Duverneix
An ever-morphing accompaniment to Tierra Whack’s mini-album, this surreal, R&B-on-‘shrooms epic — sprinting through 15 songs in as many minutes — drops the 22-year-old Philly rapper into a variety of scenarios: a graveyard of crooning muppets, a candy-colored nail salon, a living room, a death-shrouded funeral, a diner straight out of a Wong Kar-wai movie. Scenes switch as quickly as Whack’s flows; one second she’s balancing red carpet glitz with melancholy blue moods, the next she’s popping red balloons while declaring “I hope your ass/Breaks out in a rash” in a thick hillbilly accent. Director Thibault Duverneix keep upping the going-going-Gondry pace, though the best bombshell juxtaposition is the first one, when the artist drops her Cubist-face hoodie to reveal someone who looks a victim of domestic abuse. “It’s crazy, it’s calm,” she told the New York Times when they asked about the place she calls Whack World. “It’s scary, it feels good, it doesn’t.” D.F.
Director: Karena Evans
“God’s Plan” features rap superstar Drake traveling around Miami, giving away the video’s nearly million dollar “budget” to struggling families, grocery store shoppers, kids in need of scholarships and women’s centers. Other artists have purposefully blown their budgets in videos before, like Mansun and Roman Coppola making chaos in a London tube station for “Taxloss” and Blink 182 getting into juvenile hijinks for “Rock Show,” but “God’s Plan” is by far the most money spent and the most charitably natured. It’s also Drake’s first collaboration with 23-year-old Karena Evans, a director who has emerged as one of this year’s top talents. The pair have subsequently re-teamed for standouts “Nice For What,” “I’m Upset” and “In My Feelings,” but “God’s Plan” is the only one currently closing in on a billion YouTube views. You can’t do that on your own. E.D.
Director: Dave Free and Jack Begert
From treetops to Wall Street, tourist to purist — the video for this three-the-hard-way hit from Jay Rock’s Redemption (and the all-star Black Panther soundtrack) gets as hot-shit freaky as its verses. Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Future trade tales of money, a royal ménage-à-trois and “putting a Rolls Royce on my wrist” in stock-trading boiler rooms and confetti-filled barbershops; an eerie James Blake sample plays over surveillance footage and first-person POV shots of a beatdown. Then they literally shout it out from the rooftops while King Kendrick dodges traffic. Call it “La-Di-Da-Di-Da: The Movie.” D.F.
Director: Kristian Mercado Figueroa
After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, there was destruction and an ensuing humanitarian crisis, claiming the lives of an estimated 2,975 people (a Harvard study put the figure closer to 5,000). Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra and director Kristian Mercado Figueroa were both looking for a way to express their emotions about it. The two were put in touch with each other and they came up with the concept for “Pa’Lante.” The video follows an estranged couple played by Mela Murder and Kareem Savinon, separated by over 1,600 miles and suffering a wound that remains unhealed, even once that distance is closed. Figueroa was raised in Puerto Rico off and on for 10 years and when he returned to the island to shoot the video, it was the first time he’d been back since Maria. What he saw and created amidst it can be emotionally overwhelming, far more affecting than a litany of statistics. “Pa’Lante” emerges as an beautiful piece about neglect, resilience and the heartbreak we should all be carrying with us about what happened and is still happening. E.D.
Director: Spike Jonze
Sure, “Welcome Home” is technically a four-minute ad for Apple’s HomePod but who do think funded the video for “Hotline Bling?” Directed by music video veteran Spike Jonze and featuring an Anderson. Paak song in its entirety, “Welcome Home” is a throwback to the Nineties era of big concepts and practical effects. FKA Twigs stretches her apartment into gorgeous lines of color recalling the geometric wonderlands of Michel Gondry or the room choreography of Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity.” C.W.
Director: Hiro Murai
Rapper/actor/auteur/firebrand Donald Glover and Atlanta director Hiro Murai used their formidable skills to concoct a bloody protest piece that captivated the world. “America” visualized the America that Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ice Cube, Chuck D and Kendrick Lamar rapped about, using imagery the way rappers use wordplay — as one example, note someone riding a pale horse in the background, possibly a reference to the Milton William Cooper book embraced in rap circles. People have interpreted Glover’s dancing among the chaos as a statement on everything from gun violence to police brutality to capitalism’s relationship with Black America. “Yeah, that video is a really crazy confluence of tone changes – that’s the premise of the whole video and the song, in a way,” Murai told The New York Times. “Even the violence, though it’s harrowing, there’s a part of it that also feels cartoony. There’s ‘Looney Tunes’ logic in there somewhere. Obviously we’re dealing with very provocative images, so it’s a total tightrope walk.” C.W.
Director: Ricky Saiz
In 2016, Beyoncé released an entire visual album for Lemonade. In 2017, Jay-Z put out a video for nearly every song from 4:44. For the couple’s collaborative album, Everything is Love, they only released a single video, but “Apeshit” on its own is packed with enough meaning for an entire art history dissertation about representation. In fact, in the days after its release, multiple art historians tried to unpack the significance behind the specific pieces that were highlighted in the video in which the pair take over the Louvre and fill the monument to white European art with black music, black movement and black voices. There are levels upon levels to Beyoncé doing the Migos flow about financial equity in front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture while wearing Stephane Rolland and Alexis Mabille coutre. But while the deep dives and brief GIFs may leave you with a Mona Lisa smile, there’s something to be said for just letting the totality of “Apeshit” overtake you like you’re standing at the entrance of the Galerie d’Apollon. The video’s concept was one of the biggest flexes of the year — but it was one of its most impressive artistic statements, too. E.D.