Each year, music videos are swept further into obscurity. They exist on the fringe, where they’re occasionally visited by the die-hard fan looking to satiate their pop culture appetite in ways an album on Spotify could never fulfill. And unless they’re lensed by a cult director or issued by a mainstream artist, more often than not they’re virtually ignored.
We only have ourselves to blame — or our attention spans.
Last year, we rhetorically asked our readers if they could recall the last time they actually sat through an entire music video. We concluded that it was likely a rarity for many, namely because we’re so desensitized in knowing that we can watch anything whenever and wherever. Nothing has changed in 2014; we’re still as distracted as we were 365 days ago. And that’s part of the reason why our news team has actually covered the medium even less in recent months.
Still, that didn’t stop us from naming our favorites. This time, however, we shaved off the excessive 20 entries and stuck with a solid and essential five. In addition to the traditional qualifications of ingenuity, direction, and theme, we expanded our focus to select those we’ll actually remember. But hey, who really knows? Given the half-life of most artifacts in pop culture, does anyone recall anything even two months later? Do we even remember who we were two months ago? Does anything matter?
Sigh. Just watch the videos.
5. St. Vincent – “Digital Witness”
At the halfway point of 2014, St. Vincent was one of the clear-cut contenders for artist of the year. She was inescapable; Pitchfork here, NPR there, national TV a few times, and everyone seemed to talk about the gray-haired phenom that is Ms. Clark (this website was certainly not exempt). A fine portion of America was introduced to St. Vincent after seeing her on Saturday Night Live and watching the mixed reaction that followed; the hot takes and gut reactions were easy to spot whether you were on Twitter or not. It seemed to me that anyone who had been paying attention to St. Vincent would only further feel the way they already felt, as that polarizing performance with its staged choreography was just a tamer live version of the robotic dances found in the “Digital Witness” video.
With an Orwellian atmosphere and plain-stated colors, the video is one of the most distinct looks at a time when videos are increasingly uninteresting marketing tools. Watch the background — are those pyramids? Did someone paint a skyline onto a building in the skyline? Why are those odd buildings shaped like Tetris pieces? The unusual backgrounds only strengthen the quirky foreground: uniformed marchers and hand-holding coffee drinkers all leading the dances no one thought to dance before — moving just the hand, some slow, high-knee walking, the blinks, my God, the blinks. The Rubik’s Cube dances blend with the odd guitar riff and that strange rhythm that sounds like “California Love” on some ’80s synth tuba rather than a piano, helping remind what St. Vincent was here to remind us: Yes, music is art. Yes, there is a visual element. No, she doesn’t care what you think. Yes, the “Digital Witness” video, like the album the song comes from, is one of 2014’s best.
— Dan Bogosian