Just when we thought music videos were a negligible extra and that, regardless, no one could top the audiovisual epics of 2016 that were Beyoncé’s Lemonade or Frank Ocean’s Endless, Kendrick Lamar high-key blew our minds with his video for “HUMBLE.” at the end of March. K.Dot set the bar insanely high, and then proceeded to release yet another gem with “DNA.,” introducing us to his Kung Fu Kenny persona with the help of Don Cheadle. Aside from the Compton rapper’s reign, there have been plenty of other eye-catching clips in 2017 so far.
Young Thug didn’t even have to appear in his “Wyclef Jean” music video to make our list, as director Ryan Staake turned his frustration surrounding the rapper’s absence into an award-winning meta-masterpiece. One of the weirdest and greatest creative minds of our generation, Tyler, The Creator, starred in a hilariously horrifying video for his Flower Boy song “Who Dat Boy,” featuring A$AP Rocky as a questionable surgeon. Two of our favorite freaks Arca and Björk also made the cut, and Kesha returned triumphantly this year, thanks in part to a stunning video by veteran director Jonas Åkerlund. Bust out the popcorn and tune in below to our picks for best music videos of 2017 (so far).
Arca – “Reverie”
Director: Jesse Kanda
From the moment those warped strings kick in and we see a flailing hand against a hot pink backdrop, you know shit’s going to get real. But it seems impossible to think anyone could have been prepared for just how real “Reverie” gets. Arca, an artist whose visual components are just as essential as the musical ones, has truly outdone himself here. The ornate torero jacket, the hoof-like stilts and the horrifying body mutation that follows are instantly iconic.
Björk – “The Gate”
Director: Andrew Thomas Huang
Björk makes jaw-dropping music videos, it’s kind of her thing. It’s one of the reasons why her career thus far was highlighted in the damn Museum of Modern Art. Even with all that in mind, “The Gate” is seriously something. Taking place in a colorful alien world, it finds our Icelandic queen dressed as some sort of crystal fairy (a custom Gucci dress that took 870 hours to make IRL) playing the panpipes and generally just being magic. Needless to say, we’re enchanted.
Charli XCX – “Boys”
Director: Charli XCX & Sarah McColgan
Charli has been responsible for some of our favorite music moments of the year, namely the entirety of her Number 1 Angel mixtape in all its collaborative glory. We audibly screeched when she surprised us a few months back with this insane self-directed music video featuring all of our favorite boys ever doing impossibly cute things. The concept of the visual is fairly simple, but gathering 75 boys and figuring out what to do with them is no small task.
JAY-Z – “Moonlight”
Director: Alan Yang
JAY-Z is giving his wife a run for her money with his music video game. While he’s no Beyoncé, the accompanying visuals for his fourteenth studio album 4:44 have been on point. The meta sitcom spoof that is “Moonlight” is a layered gem, commenting on everything from white supremacy to this year’s notorious Best Picture slip up at The Oscars under the guise of a remake of Friends with an all-black cast.
Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”
Director: Nabil & The Little Homies
To introduce the world to the visualization of his DAMN. persona ‘Kung Fu Kenny,’ Kendrick needed something seriously cinematic. Hiring Academy Award-nominee Don Cheadle (who learned his rap in under two days, btw) was a good start. But his ultimate power play was reigning himself in and relying on what he does best: rapping. The final moments, in which the camera manically follows Kendrick spitting bars in black-and-white close-up, truly send shivers down the spine. This is what being at the top of your game looks like.
Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
Director: Dave Meyers & The Little Homies
We were immediately taken aback by “HUMBLE.” when it dropped back in March. Positioning himself as a humble pope, as Jesus Christ at a re-imagined Last Supper and in the middle of a chorus of bald headed men à la Being John Malkovich, we couldn’t help but call it a 3-minute manifesto of his majesty. Even with all the other music and videos that have emerged in the six months since then, we still stand by that designation.
Kesha – “Praying”
Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Kesha’s first audiovisual manifestation this year was “Praying,” marking the beginning of what is quite possibly the comeback of the year. Kesha is reborn from her past, emerging triumphant, wandering through the trippy environs of Salvation Mountain in Niland, California donning equally psychedelic garb. As a prelude to her triumphant return on Rainbow or on its own, “Praying” is a standout video from this year.
LCD Soundsystem – “tonite”
Director: Joel Kefali
The fact that LCD Soundsystem – the world’s most referential, retro-oriented band ever – would make a referential, retro-oriented visual for their grand return to music videos is a duh, no-brainer. Even so, the simplicity of tossing the band onto a revolving platform with antiquated equipment for the duration of the song produces the same kind of warm, nostalgic joy that listening to their albums does. And bonus points for James Murphy’s flawless facial expressions.
M.I.A. – “P.O.W.A.”
It is actually pretty astounding to see what M.I.A. was able to come up with out of only a few disparate elements in this self-directed visual surprise-released at the beginning of the year. It’s mostly her standing on rocks in a sportswear-sari, laying in a flatbed of flowers, and a group of choreographed dancers. But what makes it all work is the sheer scale of it all; breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”
Director: Andrew Thomas Huang
You could not possibly have envisioned a more accurate visual representation for the world of Perfume Genius than the video for “Slip Away,” the lead single to his superb, queer fantasia of an album No Shape. Calling to mind lush ’80s cult-fantasy films like Legend, the clip combines delicate, Rococo-esque aesthetics with an underlying sense of darkness, namely those weird trolls with magic peaches. Nothing will ever quite match the colossal crash of the percussion of this song, but the video comes very, very close.
Tyler, The Creator – “Who Dat Boy”
Director: Wolf Haley
The creepy synth and string arrangements on “Who Dat Boy” definitely needed a similarly terrifying visual accompaniment, and dat boy Tyler certainly delivered. In a Get Out-esque suburban horror short film, A$AP Rocky plays the swaggiest surgeon we’ve ever seen, expertly grafting a new face onto The Creator himself. And before the gore becomes entirely too much, Tyler softens things up with an adorable ’90s boy band-style epilogue.
Young Thug – “Wyclef Jean”
Director: Ryan Staake
In case you missed this year’s MTV VMA’s, “Wyclef Jean” is Young Thug’s first award-winning video, despite the fact that he is nowhere to be seen in it. The meta music video went viral as soon as it was released in January, with director Ryan Staake explaining how the whole thing fell apart, interspersed with audio clips of Young Thug outlining his directorial vision. A post-postmodern masterpiece in its own right.
If you haven’t already, check out our list of the best albums of 2017 so far right here.
- Text: Jake Boyer & Bianca Giulione