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Top 5 Music Videos of 2014

A handful of gems we'll actually remember in 2015.

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    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?

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    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

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    4. Perfume Genius – “Queen”

    Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas) isn’t afraid of confrontation — he’s empowered by it. In a press release sent along with the “Queen” music video, he says, “I’ve seen faces of blank terror when I walk by. Sometimes from seemingly strong, macho dudes — somehow my presence confuses and ultimately scares them.” It makes sense that, in the “Queen” music video, Hadreas would take the role of a surrealistic action hero. Teaming up alongside his female counterpart, the two storm into a building at night and proceed to wreck it. They carry baby pigs up elevators, smash monitors, and confront one-legged Elvis impersonators.

    The scenes straddle the line between unlikely heist and drug trip. Hadreas repeatedly snarls at the camera, reinforcing the fact that he is a force of destruction and will ruin anything that gets in his way. He dominates every scene he walks into. Late in the video, he trades his sequined tank top for a low-cut pantsuit as he barges in on a board meeting. He grabs the business men by their ties and flexes his muscles as they all try to protect their plates of giant shrimp.

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    Just like ‘80s metal music videos played up the testosterone with the lead singer riding motorcycles and getting the girl, “Queen” has a similar effect. Instead, however, it asserts Hadreas’ dominance with his own sexuality. There’s a powerful duality when he looks in the mirror and sees a woman striking poses instead of his own face. Yet he remains poised throughout, rising above all of the psychedelic imagery as the video’s constant figure. For those who grew up watching those metal videos thinking, “I want to be that guy!”, imagine what Hadreas can inspire in future generations. In 2014, it’s not about asserting your machismo; it’s about having confidence in whatever sexuality you possess.

    –Dusty Henry

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