In music video terms, 2013 was a tough act to follow. Far removed from the uncertain days when the internet wasn’t quite ready to deliver video on demand and cable channels were no longer interested in music video programming, 2013 was a coming of age year for an art form that had suddenly found its way again - and with renewed intensity. 2013 was a banner year for music videos, and it was up to 2014 to carry the torch.
So how’d 2014 do? Very well, if you ask us. Instead of revealing 2013 an unsustainable flash in the pan, 2014 in music videos was a strong indication that the format is here to stay.
Compiling a list of our favorite music videos of the year always seems like a daunting task at first, but after a year of watching and talking about music videos every day, the criteria becomes pretty clear. Which music videos stuck in our head? Which music videos did we come back to over and over, getting them out to watch from time to time because we just wanted the experience of seeing them again?
Below are our top 10 music videos of the year, with notes. We’ve also got a playlist of the full 50.
10. Mapei “Don’t Wait”
Describing a great music video is often a difficult task. It’s the intangibles that make a music video that stays with you - a mix of the right people at the right time, with some plain luck as well.
The video for “Don’t Wait” by Mapei has a compelling mix of things going for it: an infectious breakout track, a virtually unknown artist with a magnetic camera presence, on-point styling, and a director (Dori Oskowitz) known for his eye for subtlety. The result is weirdly moving look at of two young friends/lovers that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever felt out of place but managed to find someone who feels the same way. It’s a remarkable clip, from the styling, to the pacing, to Mapei’s understated but charming performance. Since Mapei is a new artist, we’re looking forward to seeing more from her soon.
9. Kwes "Rollerblades"
It’s hard to tell when you first watch a music video how memorable it’s going to be - sometimes the only way is to watch it and see if it sticks in your head. When we first watched “Rollerblades” by Kwes way back in January, we knew it was awesome – it’s unique, unexpected, and fun, but also a little tragic. What we didn’t know is for the next year, anytime we saw someone with roller-skates, or a wig, or sequins, that we would immediately think of this video.
Directed by Ian Pons Jewell, “Rollerblades” plays like some kind of weird stage play. It centers around Juan Tocino, a real life world champion glam skater, and a nearly emotionless Kwes who performs the song with a golden plug sticking out of his neck. As Juan gently rolls in and out of the light, he occasionally joins Kwes in syncing the lyrics, that is, until he accidently unplugs Kwes, causing him to spill out into nothing. What comes after that is equal parts melancholy and hilarious: in a show of respect to Kwes, Juan removes his wig. It’s a beautiful moment in one of the unlikeliest of music video places.
8. Action Bronson "Easy Rider"
It’s really difficult not to love Action Bronson, one of rap’s most entertaining personalities (and also its resident food critic). The majority of Bronson’s music video output has tended towards the comically absurd, such as his video for “The Symbol,” in which he plays an out of control beat cop in a ridiculous wig, prone to dressing up like Santa or launching himself onto poker tables.
So going into 2014, Action Bronson was not on our short list for turning out a video like “Easy Rider,” a sublimely ridiculous and cinematic video about a veteran’s search for his Les Paul guitar after being injured in battle.
Directed by Tom Gould and shot by Jake Burghart, the video doesn’t so much share themes with the 1969 film that Bronson’s song references as it keeps it as a cinematic reference point. The video turns out to be something beyond a genre parody or even an imitation of another style, and by the time we hit the last, bizarre shot of Bronson playing his long-lost guitar on top of a small mountain range in the desert at sunset, we’re already looking forwards to the sequel.
7. Katy Perry "This Is How We Do"
If there is anyone who knows how to steer the music video ship from the artist’s chair, it’s Katy Perry. Maybe more than any of her fellow single female pop stars that their start in the late 2000s (perhaps excluding Taylor Swift), she’s used music videos as major part of her public image, leaning on them to do the leg work in creating and maintaining her image.
Much of that success in the music video world has been the result of Perry’s ability to take risks and keep things fresh. She rarely works with the same director more than once, preferring to bring a new one to the table with each new project, and while the result has been inconsistent at times, the videos are always interesting.
“This Is How We Do” is one of the best things to come out of Perry’s penchant for trying new things with music videos: smart, colorful, and just the right amount of winking to the audience. Directed by Joel Kefali (“Royals” by Lorde), “This Is How We Do” is steady stream of pop art tableaus, dancing, costume changes, and, sometimes, a twerking cartoon ice cream cone. It’s beautifully art directed and paced, but most of all, it’s really, really fun and never runs out of things to show us. 2014 took us to a lot of unexpected places in the world of pop music videos, but “This Is How We Do” was our favorite place to go.
6. Cazzette "Sleepless"
We still can’t believe Peter Huang got to make “Sleepless” by Cazzette – and according to his director commentary, he almost wasn’t able to. The band initially rejected the dark, subtle, and violent concept, and to be honest we kinda understand why. Not only does it go places narratively that music videos don’t usually go, the video treats the song as almost background music, not introducing it until after the mood and narrative are established. Despite all that, a few weeks after saying no, the band gave Peter the green light, and the result is an incredibly tense music video that weaves the song into the narrative in a really fresh and unique way.
Featuring fantastic performances from Aaron Abrams, Anna Hopkins, and Jenny Raven – three actors with extensive film and TV experience – "Sleepless" keeps you on edge even on repeat viewings. In fact, knowing the ending actually heightens the tension, as you’re able to pick up on subtleties in the performances and visual storytelling that you wouldn’t have initially picked up on.
While the story is first introduced without the song, by the end you’re left with only the song, causing you to pay more attention to it and how it related to the video, ultimately making the song more memorable.
5. Arcade Fire "We Exist"
Arcade Fire’s music aside, they have had miraculously great taste in music videos directors in the last few years. The 2013 edition of our top 10 list featured Emily Kai Bock’s haunting video for “Afterlife,” and even though 2014 saw only one real Arcade Fire music video (I’m not acknowledging Win Butler’s self directed video for “You Already Know,” and neither should you), “We Exist” blew us away enough that they only needed one.
Directed by the David Wilson, the video features The Amazing Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield, taking a cue from fellow actors like Jake Gyllenhaal by starring in a challenging music video acting role (something that didn’t really exist even a few years ago). Garfield plays a cross-dressing man who goes alone to a country western style bar, eventually being harassed there by a group of men.
Lifted by Garfield’s fantastic acting, Ryan Heffington’s choreography, and Ari Robbins' steadicam work, “We Exist” is a strong indication of a trend we’ve hoped would start up for a while - serious, big budget film actors seeing music videos as an outlet for indie credibility.
After a surreal dance sequence, the video culminates in one of the our favorite tracking shots in a music video, making a goosebump-raising transition to Arcade Fire’s set at Coachella 2014. The effect is jarring, shying away from huge crowd shots to focus on Garfield’s trek onto the stage. It’s a symbolic meeting of the film and the music, as a character in what up until that point was a narrative video joins the band on stage, and one of our favorite music video moments of 2014.
4. Paolo Nutini "Iron Sky"
In a year dominated by dance a pop videos, “Iron Sky” was our Kubrick moment - a video that seemed to come from somewhere else - a world where budget and time constraints didn’t exist and the next shot really could be anything. Directed by Daniel Wolfe, the video feels realistic to the point where it’s not clear if you’re watching actors or real people. Presented almost like a documentary, Wolfe provides a window into the lives of his characters with beautiful and shocking images and allows the viewer to fill in the story around them.
“Iron Sky” opens on grainy, Hi-8 interview footage. The people in it talk of suffering, and of a drug called Auroa which is their only relief. As the music comes in, we switch to S35mm, but despite the increased picture quality, the images are just as gritty. The suffering comes through in every shot, and is heightened by the pain in Paolo Nutini’s voice and dark lyrics.
3. Flying Lotus Feat. Kendrick Lamar "Never Catch Me"
When talking about modern music video directors, it’s only a matter of time before Hiro Murai’s name comes up. One of directors that we can point to as one of the first real auteurs of music videos in the 2010s, Murai seems to have that rare gift of creating videos that both stand alone as art, as well as filling in a missing piece from the track itself.
Case in point is Murai’s video for “Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar. Set at the dual funeral of a black boy and girl, the two children come alive halfway through the video and dance their way out of the church. The video cleverly lets the song’s three parts dictate its flow, letting Kendrick Lamar’s spastic rap verse introduce and accompany the video’s main action.
The result is beautiful and surreal, a reminder that in the hands of a director who knows not just how to put together great visuals, but how to weave those visuals together with a song, a music video can be a hybrid form of art that's greater than its parts.
2. DJ Snake feat. Lil' Jon "Turn Down For What"
Over 2014, we heard the phrase “post ‘Turn Down For What’ world” from more than one music video director, and we’re starting to get what they mean. Daniels’ insane, violent, and profane clip took off almost immediately after it was released in March, and became so pervasive online that it almost feels like DJ Snake and Lil Jon wrote “Turn Down For What” for the video.
So how did “Turn Down For What” change the game enough for us to be living in a “post ‘Turn Down For What’” era? Daniels managed to rack up 150 million views for a club track that features a whole two sentences as its lyrics, entirely on the strength of doing something so outrageous that it had no choice but to be passed around. It’s tough to say whether or not “Turn Down For What” would have ended up as the 15th most popular track of 2014 with a bad (or worst of all, dull) video, but I seriously doubt it. The success of “Turn Down For What” is one that directors will be trying to recreate for years to come.
1. Sia “Chandelier”
No matter how commercial or produced popular music becomes, it is still the primary way people get their dose of “art” in their daily lives. Even Pitbull gets to be called an artist in our ever-evolving pop landscape, where something that has made it to your radio has been tweaked and bent not to challenge you, but to get you to want to listen again.
Music videos are something of a balancing force in pop music: they are interwoven with the music that gives them a reason to exist, but they can take things a step further. The most crowd-pleasing pop song can have a video that’s challenging or just plain weird.
The video for “Chandelier” is the bizarre embodiment of that aspiration of music videos, a green-tinted clip featuring an interpretive dance by an 11 year old girl in a dingy apartment. It’s immense (and sometimes inexplicable) popularity was one of music video’s biggest accomplishments in 2014.
It’s sometimes lost in the conversation about “Chandelier” that it really is a brilliantly conceived video. At the center of it all are the moves of 2014’s star choreographer Ryan Heffington, who seems to have really enjoyed giving dancer Maddie Ziegler playful and bizarre dance moves that only someone with the energy and unselfconsciousness of an 11 year old could pull off. Director Daniel Askill (Sia shares a co-directing credit), DP Sebastian Winterø, and steadicam operator Liam Clark all take the video in interesting and challenging directions.
The public’s embrace of “Chandelier” was something I don’t think anyone was really anticipating. Parodied at all levels, including Saturday Night Live, Heffington’s dance is maybe the first time a music video dance has really hit a cultural nerve since 2008’s "Single Ladies" video. (If we’re being honest here, though, “Chandelier” is way more fun.)
We love music videos because they’re weird, and they’re unexpected. There is no other art form out there that could drop this in everyone’s lap, be at home everywhere from daytime TV to an art house cinema. “Chandelier” embodies everything about what makes music videos such a huge force in our culture, and it’s our pick for the best music video of 2014.
Music Video SuperlativesBest performance by a musician
Best use of nudity
Best use of a jet ski
Curated Top Videos Lists
Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.
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- Jason Baum's Top 10 Music Videos of 2016
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- The Perez Brothers' Top 10 Music Videos of 2016
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