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The Best Music Videos of the Decade

From elaborately crafted high concepts to striking portraits of a nation's legacy, these videos made their mark on an already rich art form.

Best Music Videos of the Decade

14. Janelle Monáe — “I Like That” (dir. Lacey Duke)

Janelle Monáe seems like the perfect music video artist: a creator who seamlessly weaves her way through various personae, transcending simple characterization. That came into even clearer focus with her 2018 album “Dirty Computer,” which eventually birthed a flurry of videos that helped take advantage of all the creative energy she brings to her music. “PYNK,” “Make Me Feel,” and “Django Jane” were striking odes in their own ways. “I Like That” stands out in this unofficial quartet in showing the power of Monáe’s stillness. Just by existing in the world, whether lounging in a tub or watching from the stands in all her various forms, the adorning flamingos and peacocks only underline the fact that she’s still a force of nature. —SG

13. The Avalanches — “Because I’m Me” (dir. Greg Brunkalla)

Shot over the course of eight hours at the Fordham stop in The Bronx and captured beautifully by DP Max Goldman using vintage anamorphic lenses, the video for “Because I’m Me” is the perfect distillation of The Avalanches’ aesthetic, mixing equal parts 1970s AM Gold, modern hip-hop, and humorous non-sequiturs. Director Greg Brunkalla, whose previous work includes the Emmy-nominated New York Times series “Screen Tests,” but more importantly, Danny Brown’s “Grown Up,” is wise to not overly complicate the proceedings, focusing on our earnest protagonist, the object of his affection, and guardian angel Sonny Cheeba, before wrapping the video up in a literally deflating coda. —LG

12. M.I.A. — “Bad Girls” (dir. Romain Gavras)

The video for “Bad Girls” could be described as ‘one part male-centric rap video subversion, one part extreme automotive stunts, and one part political commentary,’ with the last aspect being tied to the now-successful The Women to Drive Movement in Saudi Arabia (implemented six years after the video’s release). As for the stunts, Noisey’s behind-the-scenes featurette is almost as entertaining as the music video itself, showcasing the stunt people tasked with Tafheet, or “Saudi Drifting.” But the real star of the show is M.I.A., described this way by director Romain Gavras: “A lot of pop stars claim to be crazy, but it’s fake craze. Her, on the other hand, she’s crazy.” She’d have to be, as one stunt required her to sing into camera while cars performed doughnuts on wet roads a mere 10 feet away. —LG


11. Run the Jewels (feat. Zack de la Rocha) — “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” (dir. A.G. Rojas)

If only one video could be included in a time capsule to future generations to encapsulate what this decade was like, you could do worse than to send “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”, which features Shea Whigham as Cop and LaKeith Stanfield as Kid embroiled in an increasingly fatigued and clumsy altercation. Tasked with making something that expressed the senseless violence perpetrated by police on civilians, director A.G. Rojas was keen on crafting a story that didn’t play into stereotypes. “They’re people—complex, real people,” Rojas wrote in a statement, “The film begins and it feels like they have been fighting for days, they’re exhausted, not a single punch is thrown…our goal was to highlight the futility of the violence, not celebrate it.” —LG

10. Passion Pit — “Cry Like A Ghost” (dir. DANIELS)

To make a list of the best music videos of the decade and omit the directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert would be criminal. From Lil’ John’s “Turn Down For What” to Manchester Orchestra’s “Simple Math” to the The Shins’ “Simple Song,” DANIELS established their own house style, a mix of practical and computer-generated effects, speed ramping, and, well, damage and destruction. “Cry Like A Ghost” may be the most restrained product of the “Swiss Army Man” duo’s music video oeuvre, with a treatment that reads like a visual translation of the lyrics as the song’s heroine, Sylvia (played/choreographed by Tallie Medel), dances herself through all her past romances in the surrealist woodland setting. Which is not to say that it’s not effective, as watching all her relationships blur together in a violent dance might be the best analogy for dating in the modern age. Also, Interesting Ball. —LG

9. Bonobo — “Kerala” (dir. Bison)

A meteor (or something like it) plummeting to the ground, as the camera settles on Gemma Arterton’s unnamed Cassandra-like protagonist, eyes shut: so begins Bison’s video for Bonobo’s “Kerala.” That prelude is one of only two moments of respite in the entirety of the video, which deploys an intense syncopated editing style, incredibly reminiscent of Martin Arnold ’s experimental films, where seemingly repetitive cuts actually move slightly forward in time. The result: viewers are given the opportunity to examine more of the frame when it repeats, allowing for levitating rocks, rotating buildings, and floating people to steal focus from the background. It’s a neat trick and one that more than doubles a mere 1:44 of footage once the cuts have been removed. —LG

8. Young Thug — “Wyclef Jean” (dir. Ryan Staake)

The history of filmmaking is filled with happy accidents born from unforeseen circumstances. That Ryan Staake and his team managed to take Young Thug’s absence and still deliver a video to the rapper’s specifications is not only an excuse to build a wild visual playground, it’s a fascinating commentary on who retains ownership throughout the video-making process. “Wyclef Jean” still remains a legitimate attempt to fulfill a hired role, even if you can sense the hours of exasperation that probably came along with it. Using Young Thug’s own video and audio footage (and Cheeto snacking) as supplemental materials, the video takes full advantage of expectations and peppers in plenty of on-screen curveballs. May all videos find such satisfying JUXTAPOSITION. —SG

7. Kendrick Lamar — “HUMBLE.” (dir. Dave Meyers)

Joseph Kahn, he of every Taylor Swift video in recent memory and the feature film “Torque,” has been quoted as saying that there are two types of music videos, “the big entertainment-style videos that, quite frankly, a lot of directors may not really respect, and the artsy videos that only other art students like.” The work of Dave Meyers resides firmly in the former camp, but in a video like “Humble” the lines between those two camps blur. It feels like every few seconds with each new set-up, the viewer is given what likely could’ve constituted the entire video concept: Kendrick as pope, Kendrick as Steve Jobs, Kendrick as Jesus as The Last Supper. Combined with innovative camera techniques (robot camera arm, stereoscopic back-and-forth, and a 360-degree camera manipulated in post), it makes for a remarkable technical achievement as well as a memorable artistic one. —LG

6. LCD Soundsystem — “oh baby” (dir. Rian Johnson)

The opening seconds of the song “oh baby” play out like a digital clock ticking towards an unseen future. It’s only fitting that Rian Johnson’s visual spin plays with that idea of uncertainty, told through the lens of a pair of mathematicians trying to transcend time and space. The camera glides across complex theoretical equations before the story’s trajectory takes a characteristically sharp turn. Like the song itself, the video evolves, into a life-or-death struggle as the pair face the unknown together, possibly for the last time. Superbly played by Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, it’s the perfect kind of sci-fi tale: one that gives you zero answers, and that’s somehow still enough. —SG

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