While many music videos are merely slick, soulless promos for potential hit singles, occasionally a video comes out that transcends crass commercialism and actually stands alone as a work of visual art. Happily, quite a few such artworks hit TV screens and computer monitors for three or so minutes at a time this year, and when we here at Yahoo Music added all those minutes together… well, we realized we spent much of 2014 enjoying some truly awesome music videos.
So here, in ascending order of awesomeness, are our picks for the top 20 videos of the year.
20. Jenny Lewis, “Just One of the Guys”
Yes, it’s amazing that the former Rilo Kiley frontwoman convinced Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart, and Brie Larson to dress up in male drag for this. But we’re more impressed by the Gram Parsons-inspired, custom-airbrushed rainbow tuxedo that Jenny is wearing.
19. Hammered Satin, “Foxy Dude”
Move over, George Clooney. See ya later, Brad Pitt. And sorry, Most Interesting Man in the World, but there’s a guy out there who’s a lot more interesting than you. We’re talking about Noah Wallace, the foxiest, most fabulous rock ‘n’ roll frontman to fill out a unitard since the Darkness’s Justin Hawkins. The Hollywood rocker is perfectly cast in the titular role in this absolutely hilarious glam-rock romp.
18. OK Go, “The Writing’s on the Wall”
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The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is… well, it’s become downright expected that OK Go will always make dazzling, groundbreaking music videos. After years of wildly creative clips featuring treadmills, trained dogs, the Muppets, marching bands, and Rube Goldberg Machines, they’ve almost run out of ideas. ALMOST. This one, shot in a single take and packed with all sorts of in-camera optical illusions (nothing done in post), proves they’ve still got more than a few cool tricks up their colorful sleeves.
17. Kiesza, “Hideaway”
One of the breakout artists of 2014, the Canadian pop singer and former trained ballerina brings back the thrill of dance-filled ’80s music videos (think Madonna, Janet) in this one-take frolic through trendy Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
16. Ed Sheeran, “Don’t”
Humble troubadour Ed usually prefers not to be the main focus of his music videos. But that’s fine. There’s no way Ed could have ever upstaged triple-jointed, rubber-limbed So You Think You Can Dance hip-hop star Phillip Chbeeb, who stars here.
15. Spoon, “Do You”
Hiro Murai (St. Vincent, Earl Sweatshirt) directs this darkly futuristic tour de force, which casts venerable Spoon frontman Britt Daniel as a grizzled taxi driver cruising through an apocalyptic cityscape overrun by radioactive Godzilla-children. It was clearly the role Britt was born to play.
14. Little Boots, “Taste It”
Rocking a triangular Debbie Harry haircut and some serious power-suit shoulderpads, Little Boots (aka avant British electropop goddess Victoria Hesketh) takes the viewer on colorful conveyor-belt ride througha wild ’80s-retro landscape of botched nip-tucks, cocaine curly-straws, Diet Coke IVs, this-is-your-brain-on-drugs fried eggs, and dismembered body parts straight out of American Psycho. We’re not sure what it all means, but we know we can’t look away… even when that crazy-eyed supermodel starts gnawing on a raw lobster carcass like Daryl Hannah in Splash.
13. Perfume Genius, “Queen”
[STEFON VOICE] This video has everything: pigs, one-legged Elvis impersonators, street hustlers, death-rock cheerleaders, E-waste, giant shrimp cocktails, and more. Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, is apparently a video genius, too.
12. Blake Lewis, “Retro Romance”
And the ’80s theme continues with this charmingly neon-bright clip from the Season 6 American Idol runner-up. Over the course of six minutes, the beatboxing boy wonder (who once wowed with his radical remake of Bon Jovi’s 1986 classic “You Give Love a Bad Name”) transforms into Faith-era George Michael, the Incredible Hulk, and Max Headroom to impress an ’80s babe and become “the cowboy in her Bon Jovi dreams.” There’s even a Mr. Belding cameo! It all climaxes with an epic light saber/Atari 2600/Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots battle between Blake and the girl’s Biff-like boyfriend (played by Step Up 3D actor Rick Malambri)… and, spoiler alert, Blake gets a much happier ending than poor Duckie got in Pretty in Pink. Totally awesome!
11. Basement Jaxx, “Never Say Never”
J.Lo’s “Booty,” Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” got all the attention this year, but the animatronic, anatomically correct booties in this trippy clip really know how to shake it, shake it, like they’re supposed to do. This brings new meaning to the phase “junk in the trunk”!
10. Self, “Runaway”
Like a glorious Cat Fancy-meets-Rolling Stone pictorial sprung to life, this fur-flying video features some seriously fierce felines, who jam on musical instruments, bust out synchronized dance moves, drive muscle cars, and generally rock out to the catchy comeback track by ’90s studio wizard Matt Mahaffey, aka Self. This just might be the best musical kitty video to hit the Interweb since Keyboard Cat first clawed his way onto YouTube seven years ago.
9. Neon Trees, “Sleeping With a Friend”
We can’t decide who has the more amazing Technicolor dreamsuit — Jenny Lewis in “Just One of the Guys,” or Neon Trees frontman Tyler Glenn, who rocks an array of retina-scaldingly-bright suits here. The attention to ’80s detail in this video is really remarkable, from Tyler’s Miami Vice wardrobe to the Pee-wee’s Playhouse cardboard sets to the elfin New Order dancers and dancing shark. But there’s no shark-jumping here. Everything is new — and totally rad — again in this colorful clip.
8. Gerard Way, “Millions”
Welcome to the black parade… of mimes! Yes, the former My Chemical Romance frontman goes from emo to Marcel Marceau in this bizarre, lower-than-lo-fi clip. One viewing has left us speechless.
7. Ingrid Michelson, “Girls Chase Boys”
Robert Palmer’s model-minded music video series, which comprises some of the most memorable imagery in MTV history, has been spoofed many times over the years. But the best Palmer parody came along in 2014, when songstress Ingrid Michaelson gender-flipped “Simply Irresistible” for this hilarious viral video. Ingrid’s clip matches Palmer’s 1988 original almost frame-for-frame, with one major exception: This time, it’s male models sporting ruby lips, stilettos, and tight pink Lycra. We’re addicted to watching this.
6. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”
Hey, Mark and Bruno, Morris Day & The Time called… and they don’t want their video back, because you’ve carried on their funky-fresh-to-death tradition so well. Hot damn.
5. Sia, “Chandelier”
2014 was a big year for dance videos. And the best of the bunch was this phenomenal, Grammy-nominated masterwork starring 12-year-old Dance Moms prodigy Maddie Ziegler. This is another oft-parodied video (Lena Dunham and SNL have given it a go), but no one can touch the brilliance of the unhinged original.
4. DJ Snake feat. Lil Jon, “Turn Down for What”
If there was ever a music video that captured its song’s energy as perfectly as this, we don’t remember it. This is pure madness, pure energy, pure fun, turnt all the way up. The only thing that could improve upon this tour de force of bopping body parts better would be if the android derrieres from that Basement Jaxx video joined in.
3. Iggy Azalea, “Fancy”
Yes, this breakthrough video was so overplayed in 2014, it has lost most of its impact by now. Oh, come on, now… as if! Actually, this lovingly faithful homage to Clueless, with a schoolgirl-skirted Iggy in the Alicia Silverstone role, still rules the school.
2. Arcade Fire, “We Exist”
If Oscars were handed out for music videos, this one would take top 2014 honors. It’s truly cinematic, starring Spider-Man movie star Andrew Garfield as a young man struggling with gender identity, and its dark plot is reminiscent of Boys Don’t Cry (albeit with a much happier ending, on the Coachella festival main stage). Hopefully this video will win in the Best Short-Form Music Video category at the Grammys next February.
1. Klaxons, “Show Me a Miracle”
[STEFON VOICE] This video also has everything: tin hats, alien makeout scenes, teleportation pods, extraterrestrials riding mopeds through outer space, keytars, bad CGI. It’s just epic. The Klaxons have apparently split up to pursue other ventures, but man, whatta way to go out, with a Big Bang, space-guns blazing.