The best music videos of 2015 confronted both society's big problems and the everyday struggles of individuals. They also revealed what would happen if you danced like no one was watching in the middle of a James Turrell exhibition.
Director: Xavier Reyé
Stromae's album Racine Carrée was released back in the summer of 2013, but 2015 saw the push to finally break the Belgian star in the United States. Over the past two years there have been seven videos for songs off the album, more than half of the tracklist. "Quand C'est?" was not only the final clip, but the best at showcasing Stromae's talent for communicating emotional drama. Set in a decaying theater with him alone onstage, the performance feels more like a modern dance piece, albeit one aided by the CGI effects of a mid-budget science fiction film. While "Tous Les Mêmes," Stromae's previous standout, played to his androgynous looks, "Quand C'est?" takes advantage of his slight, skinny frame — a brave move in the narcissistic world of pop.
Director: Beomjin J
Red Velvet is relatively new in the world of K-pop, but their video for "Dumb Dumb" stands out with a distinct aesthetic and muted palate. Any of the dozens of the setups packed into it could appear in the pages of your favorite oversized, overpriced lookbook — though it's probably not advisable to try their jorts in the front/jeans in the back look. Of course, if you like your K-pop clips more over-the-top, nothing from this year really beats the explosive grandiosity of "Bang Bang Bang" from genre legends Bigbang.
Director: Austin Peters
How strange and refreshing to watch something about being a teenager that doesn't revolve around conflict. In Chvrches's video about a group of young goths' trip to a South Florida water park, director Austin Peters doesn't dwell on opposition. (If it happens at all, it's from a few side-eyes on the edges of the frame.) Instead Peters focuses on feelings of kinship, with a humanistic approach that's never cloying. Starring 16-year-old high school student and photographer Riley Buttery (who got a reprieve from being grounded during filming) and several other locals, "Empty Threat" isn't about being out of step, it's about finding your footing.
Director: Parris Goebel
Forget lyric videos as the quick fix when labels need to fill the content hole after a single drops; "Sorry" proves that what we really need more of are official dance videos. The numbers don't lie: As of this writing, the "dance version" of "Sorry" has more than 269 million more views on Bieber's YouTube channel than the lyric one that followed. Filmed on an empty white set, New Zealand-based choreographer Parris Goebel and her all-female ReQuest Dance Crew deliver a twitchy, Caribbean-inflected routine to Justin Bieber's tropical-pop hit. Outfitted in stunna shades and thrifted Nineties gear, the members of ReQuest are both boisterous and sensual, the perfect accompaniment to a song that obviously wants to make you move more than read.
Directors: Colin Tilley and the Little Homies
Through his twenties, prolific director Colin Tilley has specialized in glossy hip-hop videos like Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" and DJ Khaled's "No New Friends." For Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," he creates a starker experience befitting one of the most ambitious albums by a major artist in recent history. In the nearly seven-minute piece, Lamar emerges as a charismatic but vulnerable superhero, flying through the city and doing donuts in a parking lot as a kid gleefully sits shotgun. While the video for "Alright" owes some debt to filmmaker (and previous Lamar collaborator) Khalil Joseph in its editing, sound design and imagery, Tilley rises to the challenge of matching Lamar's beautifully complex and conflicted vision.
Director: Brantley Gutierrez
In the video for "Anna" by Arcade Fire member Will Butler, the concept of Fatboy Slim and Spike Jonze's "Weapon of Choice" gets a 2015 update with Emma Stone, the Queen Mary, beefcake sailors and the genius choreography of Ryan Heffington. Best known for his work with dancer Maddie Ziegler on Sia's video trilogy, Heffington gives his take on old school Hollywood song and dance productions and plays up the over-eager madness simmering below most performers. It's also incredibly funny, with Stone maniacally banging away on an imaginary piano and stuffing dollar bills into her mouth as the ship sways. It's great to see a bona fide star throw her inhibitions overboard.
Director: Nicos Livesey
Since 2013, director Nicos Livesey has made one intensive animated music video per year, and this time he revisits classic stop-motion Claymation for hard-rock trio Radkey. The most obvious antecedent is Green Jelly's "Three Little Pigs" from 1993, but "Glore" pushes the form farther with frantic pacing, kooky humor and blacklight visions. Along the way it buzzsaws through a greatest hits collection of Eighties and Nineties pop culture touchstones. But even with its lowbrow subject matter, "Glore" takes a complex approach to technical work.
Director: Director X
What a weird video for a weird song. Director X has been behind all of Drake's best clips, and for "Hotline Bling" he combines his skill for creating striking graphic sets with Drake's dancing — not exactly Paula Abdul moves, but self-aware enough to subvert whatever criticism you might have about them.
Directors: Spike Jordan and Vince Staples
In the video for "Norf Norf," Vince Staples practically rolls his eyes through a hectic trip that takes him from the back of a police car, to central booking, to an interrogation room and to a jail cell. While there were several videos this year with artsy treatments that addressed the maddening state of race relations in America — from Kendrick Lamar's aforementioned "Alright," to Run the Jewels' "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)," to Staples's own "Señorita" — the comparatively restrained "Norf Norf" may be the most powerful. Staple's performance shows just how normalized and commonplace brutality, intimidation and harassment are for people who must endure them everyday.
Director: David Meyers
A legend returns through the medium that helped us first recognize her greatness. The video for "WTF (Where They From)" proves that Elliott can still be the bold innovator that most of the world learned about nearly 20 years ago with her debut video, "The Rain." Teaming with director David Meyers, this time Elliott leaves behind the hyper-real settings she famously inhabited for songs like "Get Ur Freak On" and "Lose Control," and instead appears in more grounded locations like city streets and Metro stops. Still, she looks like a visitor from the future, sent to reflect the possibilities of boundless creativity.