Music videos accomplish what has never been done before in the history of media: They make experimentation a commercial enterprise. They afford musicians, filmmakers, and multimedia artists the chance to have their craziest ideas not only produced, but shown to a large audience. What’s more, in the age of Internet video, indie productions are now on equal footing with million-dollar productions. There’s no visual medium more diverse or creative than music videos. Thirty years after the launch of MTV, the format is not only alive and well, but it’s matured, expanded, and become a part of our global culture. When The Beatles, and later Mike Nesmith, laid the foundation for what we’d come to know as a music video, could they possibly have known how big this concept would become?
The prevalence of online video has changed the way we watch movies, television… everything really. It’s not just the revolution that’s televised, but cute animals, skate tricks, accidents, celebrations, millions of memes in the making, and amidst all this chaos, brilliant, fun, and mind-altering visual art. On 1/11/11, we unveiled Cluster 1, a sister site to Consequence of Sound dedicated to filtering out the schlock and giving you only the best short films, animation, docs, and since we’re CoS, a ton of amazing music videos. In just under a year, we’ve posted over 1,000 of them, all handpicked.
Now, it comes to the task of choosing 25 of the best videos we’ve seen all year. These aren’t just the ones that moved us, blew our minds, or made us lol, but a selection embodying the year in videos. Fancy dancin’ Thom Yorke memed his way across the internet, Beyoncé changed outfits like a kerjillion times, Gaga became a man and a fish and then checked into a fashionable mental institution, and while those mega-stars shook the world at large, countless others were wowing the small screen, trending through Tumblr, and becoming secret sensations. We’ve got indie sci-fi from Russia, the most awe-inspiring NSFW video you’ve ever seen, demonic puppets, ’90s sitcom parodies, and so, so, so much more. This was a good year.
Each and every one of these videos is incredible. We hope you’re prepared. Just click forward. An audiovisual onslaught awaits you.
Art Director/Executive Producer, Cluster 1
25. Gentlemen Drivers – “Valdor”
Catchy songs aren’t a problem for French electropop collective Gentlemen Drivers; party-thumping single “Valdor” certainly fits into that category. Its video, however, is a different
breed beast. Think Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, only set within a fake sitcom and featuring a Thanksgiving turkey that mutilates humans. Over the years, the Internet has stripped “bizarre” of its power. But sometimes, and this is rare, its true meaning bleeds through – literally and metaphorically, come to think of it. Here’s one such example. -Ted Maider
Director: Allen Cordell
24. Battles feat. Gary Numan – “My Machines”
The Creators Project is a high-concept art initiative that’s been turning heads in the industry. So, when they decided to take on the music video for Battles’ “My Machines” and include guest vocalist Gary Numan, it was guaranteed to be an event. They didn’t disappoint. The video takes a thoughtless everyday activity (a man heads up an escalator with groceries) and combines it with an all-too-human fear of machines. Just what happens when an on/off switch doesn’t work? Who or what are we at the mercy of? As the horrific eye candy proceeds, the electronically driven rock of Battles adds to the impact and drama. With its slick look and clinical, high-contrast shooting style, “My Machines” leaves the viewer with a sense of unease and one incorrigible thought: Perhaps machines have more of an upper hand than we’d like to give them credit for. Creepy. -Karina Halle
23. Skrillex – “First of the Year (Equinox)”
There’s a skill in building up and destroying atmospheres. For Skrillex, it’s commonplace. In the Tony Truand-directed video for “First of the Year (Equinox)”, a similar feat is accomplished. What starts out as a creepy snapshot of pedophilia ends with something else entirely. As the dubstep artist shakes up the track, the music video does the same, reversing everything you thought might happen in seconds. In a word: sinister. In two words: very fitting. -Joe Marvilli
Director: Tony Truand
22. Com Truise – “Brokendate”
Will Joines directs this Blade Runner-esque film for Com Truise’s “Brokendate”, setting Seth Haley’s relentless, pulsating analog synths into Joines’s dystopian futurescape. This clip is dripping in nostalgia. In five minutes, Joines references a number of cinematic legacies from decades past—80s trench coat heroes, TRON-like retro-futurism, and VHS aesthetics—in his own neon-soaked noir, which casts the New Jersey producer as a shades-wearing, cigar-smoking, villainous mastermind. Cyber babes in dark lipstick wielding (quasi) threatening laser guns, glowing, wireframe pyramids on massive mainframes, dead bodies left to rot on the sidewalk—seems like the perfect visual corollary to Com Truise’s hazy synth odyssey. -Lainna Fader
Director: Will Joines
21. Rammstein – “Mein Land”
Industrial metal isn’t exactly a genre known for its sense of humor. Rammstein is the rare exception. For the release of their greatest hits LP, Made in Germany 1995-2011, the band members shuffled their cards once again, showing their playful side in “Mein Land”. The party kicks off in 1964 with the group engaging in a hilarious Beach Boys parody. There’s surfing, dancing, and even a Baywatch moment for singer Till Lindemann. Hands down the best juxtaposition of the year. -Joe Marvilli
Director: Jonas Ã…kerlund
20. Biting Elbows – “The Stampede”
Music videos don’t always have to be rich with meaning (or girls with large posteriors). Sometimes, they can be silly and meaningless and still make an impact. Biting Elbows’ clip for “The Stampede”, simply titled “Insane Office Escape”, gained global attention for its minimalistic, yet genius, plot: Dude steals something from work, kicks heaps of ass to get out of said office, and finally makes his escape by, drumroll, magic. It’s stocked with over-the-top action, bad karate, and tongue-in-cheek humor galore. It’s the kind of fun, goofball clip that undoubtedly got some of us into music videos in the first place. Plus, who wouldn’t want to dropkick their boss in the neck some day? -Chris Coplan
Director: Ilya Naishuller
19. Polinski feat. Big Black Delta – “Stitches”
65daysofstatic’s Paul Wolinski knows how to make a splash with a solo record. As Polinski, his first solo record, Labyrinths, was preempted by one hell of a video for “Stitches”. Directed by Caspar and Josiah Newbolt with pixel art by John DeLucca, “Stitches” is an homage to the text-based video game adventures of yore… with a little bit of David Lynch thrown in, maybe even some Cronenberg. It’s a sci-fi detective story told in moody pixelated images and scrolling text. But “Stitches” doesn’t just take you into an old-school computer game; it takes you into the living room with Polinski. The entire video is framed in a television set, and the entire time, oh so very subtly, you can see Polinski playing the game in the reflection of the screen. It doesn’t get much cooler than this; it was our pleasure to unleash this video on the world. -Cap Blackard
Directors: Caspar Newbolt and Josiah Newbolt
18. Kate Bush – “Deeper Understanding”
At first glance, Kate Bush’s video for “Deeper Understanding” is rather off-putting. Why would someone with her profound wit shoot a near-literal interpretation of the track’s lyrics? Simple, to ease the viewer in. Bush directs this intimate, voyeuristic affair, working with sly camera work and quasi-realistic tones that offer this artificial, detached aesthetic. Themes of loneliness and connectivity run rampant here, focusing directly on the crossroads of technology and social interaction. Perhaps this video is so affecting because there’s so much to empathize with here. Pretty timely stuff. -Chris Coplan
Director: Kate Bush
17. Radiohead – “Lotus Flower”
People expect any new Radiohead album to be a game changer. We are to listen and contemplate Radiohead; we must understand the music. Yet, in the video for “Lotus Flower”, Thom Yorke reminds us that rock music is Dionysian rather than Apollonian, that he wants us to dance to his music. No longer the introverted auteur, Yorke shows a different side in a wild, unbridled, completely un-self-conscious celebration of the body. To all the young and hip kids who stand at a rock club leg-locked, take Yorke’s advice: It’s OK to dance. “Lotus Flower” also reinforces a frequent criticism of The King of Limbs: It sounds too much like a Yorke solo album. There is no band in this video. But Yorke has clearly amassed enough cultural capital to make a black-and-white video of him dancing in a warehouse, and it’s one of the year’s best. -Jake Cohen
Director: Garth Jennings