Just when we thought music videos were a negligible extra, and that no one could top the audiovisual epics of 2016 that were Beyoncé’s Lemonade or Frank Ocean’s Endless, along come the best music videos of 2017. Because damn, what a crop of visuals we had to choose from when selecting the year’s finest. In a year that – for many – was a surrealist hellscape, some of our favorite artists answered the call and delivered escapist visuals that are truly not of this world. Others, meanwhile, were able to survey the chaos and clap back with pointed, measured critiques of the societal rupture around us.
To compile this list of 2017’s best music visuals, we decided to limit each artist to one entry. This is mostly to prevent Kendrick Lamar or JAY-Z from taking up a third of this top ten, as either could have easily done. However, this rule does not extend to guest spots, which is why you’ll be hearing from A$AP Rocky more than once.
Since we have limited ourselves to 10, there are literally dozens of visuals we weren’t able to include, though some deserve a special note of honorable mention for just missing the cut. They are: Kelela – “LMK,” LCD Soundsystem – “tonite,” Migos – “T-Shirt,” Perfume Genius – “Slip Away,” and Yaeji – “Last Breath.”
Now, without further ado, here are Highsnobiety Music’s 10 Best Music Videos of 2017.
10. A$AP Mob – “RAF”
Director: A$AP Rocky and Austin Winchell
We knew this day would come; it was only a matter of time before A$AP Rocky broke down any barrier between his role as a rap god and a fashion killa and merged them into one, overwhelmingly fresh whole. And “RAF” is just that – a towering ode to the brilliance of the man currently acting as creative officer at Calvin Klein. Constructed as an homage to the visual lookbook of Simons’ FW 1995/96 collection, the video finds Rocky, Quavo and Playboi Carti stunting in a dizzying array of the designer’s catalogue, some of which culled from Rocky’s personal collection. It is, simply put, opulence.
9. N.E.R.D & Rihanna – “Lemon”
Director: Todd Tourso & Scott Cudmore
You want to know what’s really subversive? Casting Rihanna in your comeback single’s video and having her appear for only 30 seconds, just to shave someone’s head. N.E.R.D’s return exceeded all expectations, and the accompanying video for “Lemon” is no exception. Showing us ‘Tutorial No. 1,’ the visual eschews all of the A-listers involved and shoehorns its gaze on the forceful choreography of its androgynous protagonist, pumping their way through a nocturnal arcade. We don’t know really know what’s going on, but why would we want to?
8. Tyler, The Creator – “Who Dat Boy” ft. A$AP Rocky
Director: Wolf Haley
The creepy synth and string arrangements on “Who Dat Boy” definitely needed a similarly terrifying visual accompaniment, and dat boy Tyler certainly delivered. In a Get Out-esque suburban horror short film, A$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. Gorey and confusing? You betcha, just like all of the Wolf Gang’s best.
7. SZA – “Love Galore” ft. Travis Scott
Two words best describe the visual to SZA’s “Love Galore:” PURE. SEX. Sure Travis Scott is set to play hubby to a daughter of America’s true first family, but the power of this video makes you start shipping a SZA/Scott union immediately, even if one of them meets a very grisly end at the hand of the other. Sure the scenes in the bedroom are titillating, but the raw beauty of this video comes when it’s just SZA, Scott and a dazzling array of monarch butterflies in the studio, the camera inching in on each breath and undulation of their smooth bodies. We’re not getting flustered, you are.
6. JAY-Z – “The Story of O.J.”
Director: Mark Romanek & JAY-Z
Among the many (many) dark images of America’s past that continue to haunt us are those of minstrelry, an aesthetic designed solely to mock and belittle African-American culture at their own expense. This imagery is more insidious and ingrained in our subconscious than we like to acknowledge – capable of appearing everywhere from our beloved Disney films to the cover of Paper Magazine. How fitting then, that JAY-Z would employ this imagery for “The Story of O.J.,” a song that bleakly – yet accurately – addresses that no matter how far African-Americans rise, they will always be ‘othered’ and shamed by American society at large.
5. 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 more arresting than anything you would find at the multiplex, let alone the bowels of YouTube.
4. Young Thug – “Wyclef Jean”
Director: Ryan Staake
There is a delightful irony in Young Thug winning his first MTV VMA for a visual in which he does not appear for a single second. Of course, that’s the whole schtick of “Wyclef Jean,” a tale of artistic disaster and subsequent transcendence. Director Ryan Staake truly triumphed over all the odds, working his way around a million dollar shoot without a star and turning in a post-modern masterpiece perfectly attuned to the meme-savvy culture from which it was born.
3. 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 vibrantly colorful alien world, it finds our Icelandic queen dressed as some sort of crystal fairy (actually a bespoke Gucci dress that took 870 hours to make IRL) playing the panpipes and generally just being magic. Needless to say, we’re enchanted.
2. Charli XCX – “Boys”
Director: Charli XCX & Sarah McColgan
As 2017 comes to a close, it initially feels odd to herald Charli XCX’s “Boys” as the second-best music video of the year. This was – by a long measure – one of the worst years in human history to celebrate men. But the genius of “Boys” lies not so much in basking in the glory of men, but breaking down our own perceptions of masculinity and shattering them forever. Not only does Charli take ownership of her female sexuality by enlisting 75 of the internet’s favorite boyfriends to serve at her pleasure, but she casts them in roles that punctuate small moments of femininity and domesticity, qualities men are so often taught to disavow. Which is all a very long-winded way of saying that Joe Jonas eating pancakes is stupidly hot, and it is indeed something worth celebrating.
1. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
Director: Dave Meyers & The Little Homies
We were immediately taken aback by “HUMBLE.” when it dropped back in March, as was the world at large. 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 Kendrick Lamar’s 3-minute manifesto of his majesty. Even with all the other music videos that have emerged in the year since, we stand by that designation. Calling a work of art ‘instantly iconic’ is a dicey enterprise, but with “HUMBLE.,” it seems the only accurate way to describe it.
Stay tuned for more year-end content. In the meantime, make your voice heard and take part in voting for the 2017 Highsnobiety Crowns.