From a groundbreaking visual album, to explosive videos that garnered up to 450 million views, this year produced some seriously wild music video content.
Whether having million-dollar budgets or getting access to shoot in some of the most safeguarded institutions in the world, artists have leveraged their cultural power and influence to create awe-inspiring visuals to go with their tracks.
This curated list contains music videos from different musical genres that have pushed boundaries, in terms of thematic content as well as the visual medium itself.
1. “This is America” – Childish Gambino (Directed by Hiro Murai)
For a music video that is deeply embedded in exploring what it means to be Black in America, it may come as a surprise that the mind behind the provocative visuals for Childish Gambino’s music video “This is America,” is a Japanese-American director, Hiro Murai.
Yet, Murai — a long-time artistic collaborator with Glover — made an explosive statement on race in America through the music video. His minstrel-like smiles, body movement, and topless dancing take primary focus despite the chaos and violence that explodes behind him.
In doing so, Glover is presenting the way in which black suffering is normalized and highlights the exploitation of black cultural production at the expense of white leisure and entertainment.
2. “APES**T” – The Carters (Directed by Ricky Saiz)
Saiz’s collaboration with The Carters to direct the music video for their track “Apeshit,” may come as a surprise given Saiz is somewhat of a mystery and yet, ended up teaming with the ultimate celebrity power couple.
With the whole of the Louvre at their disposal, the actual museums’ space and the art that resides in it, are continually employed throughout the video. The positioning of both Jay-Z and Beyonce in front of the Mona Lisa is emblematic of the way that their black bodies throughout the video physically intervene in a space that is dedicated to preserving and heralding Western art and culture.
In short, the end result is a powerful piece that affirms blackness’ place in a historically white space. But I guess we wouldn’t expect anything less than Black excellence from The Carters.
3. “FUN!” – Vince Staples (Directed by Calmatic)
Simulating the Google Earth camera, the video for “FUN!,” zooms in, whizzes past, and retracts around the suburban streets of Long Beach, CA, documenting Staples and other local young residents.
The presence of the police in the video draws attention to the issue of anti-Black policing and the way in which black residents, whether in inner-city or suburban settings, are liable to institutional surveillance and violence.
With the video concluding with a shot of a white kid observing the footage on his laptop, Staples powerfully conveys the way whiteness interacts, consumes and commodifies Black cultural production.
4. “Bubblin'” – Anderson .Paak (Directed by Calmatic)
Watching an ATM endlessly dispense cash on a wild and lucrative journey across the cityscape of Los Angeles with Anderson .Paak, prompts one to question, who exactly is the creative mind behind the dope visuals for the music video, “Bubblin?”
The answer is, Calmatic; a Los Angeles born filmmaker and artist.If you do a quick Google search, you will find that Calmatic has an impressive and long list of collaborations with artists.
Calmatic, however, got his start through producing his own music. After acquiring his first video camera, Calmatic was able to marry his love of music with visuals. The music video director is embedded in the West Coast rap scene.
5. “Hostage” – Billie Eilish (Directed by Henry Scholfield)
Billie Eilish is a serious talent. Not only is her voice stunning, but the haunting tonality in which she delivers each lyric line would suggest she is drawing from years of life experience. Shockingly though, Eilish only turned 17-years-old this week.
Dressed in all-white Eilish is trapped in a large white room. In a beautifully choreographed piece, Eilish and her partner dance and move through space until it begins to blanket her. Speaking on the video, Eilish applauded her creative team, stating how they,
“captured the feeling of trying to be so close to someone that you can end up suffocating them and destroying the very thing that you wanted so much. I think it is something everyone can relate to. Loving someone so much that it hurts. That it becomes overwhelming and unhealthy.
6. “SICKO MODE” – Travis Scott ft. Drake (Directed by Dave Meyers and Travis Scott)
From drone shots, shots embedded with Nintendo-like animation, neon lights, to visual glitches and sonic breaks, and so much more, this video has just about everything.
The color coding is highly saturated as we move through the cityscape of Houston. At one point, Drake is carpeted by red smoke and the next, a close up of the rap superstar’s face is fragmented like a shattered mirror.
It’s said that the concept behind Scott’s album, Astroworld, was to be a sonic journey back to the rapper’s home of Houston.
7. “Tints” – Anderson.Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar (Directed by Colin Tilley)
Paak. and Lamar team up for a prolific video to explore what it means “to live in an unmasked world,” — where everything is transparent, where there are no filters, shades, and “tints” to skew reality and hide our daily vices.
Hailing from Berkley, California, Colin Tilley is directing some of the most influential and biggest artists of the industry right now. Tilley has been able to collaborate with some pretty damn famous names; from RiRi, Kendrick Lamar, Selena Gomez, DJ Khaled & Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, DJ Snake, and Nicki Minaj to name a few.
8. “Whack World” – Tierra Whack (Directed by Thibaut Duverneix and Mathieu Léger)
The Philadelphia artist has garnered a lot of attention as her flow got nods from the likes of A$AP Rocky and Meek Mill.
The 15-minute long audiovisual album, Whack World, offers a perfect surrealist aesthetic to go alongside the experimental sounds and tracks of the rapper, singer and songwriter.
The self-released debut album is composed of a series of 1-minute long vignettes that leave a big impression on listeners.
9. “Make Me Feel” – Janelle Monae (Directed by Alan Ferguson)
Earlier this year, Janelle Monáe released the sci-fi and Afrofuturist time-space that is her newly released visual album, Dirty Computer. To be a ‘Dirty Computer’ in Monáe’s future time-space is to be the ‘Other;’ a marginalized body.
“Make Me Feel” is one of the songs to be featured in the visually dazzling album. Plus, the song has a guitar riff that echoes the groovy funk sounds of Monáe’s musical mentor, Prince.
In the video, the fluidity of Monáe’s sexuality is on full display and is representative of how Monáe, throughout the visual album, refuses to present gender identity and sexuality as fixed or static. Her conscious lyrics elevate and herald the idea of being who you are and how you chose to identify.
10. “All The Stars” – Kendrick Lamar, SZA (Directed by Dave Meyers and the Little Homies)
Continuing on the Afrofuturist theme, Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s track “All The Stars,” was not only another incredible collaboration between the two labelmates but it was the first song to be released ahead of the smash Marvel hit, Black Panther.
In the video, viewers watch SZA dance amongst a galaxy of stars, that when zoomed out, shape into the continent of Africa. When we zoom in, viewers observe Lamar on a voyage throughout the continent, dishing out conscious lyrics and moving through spaces laden with African imagery and iconography.
Lamar ended up co-producing the entire soundtrack to Black Panther in collaboration with Top Dawg Entertainment president Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and the film’s director, Ryan Coogler.
11. “Tongue” – MNEK (Directed by Bradley and Pablo)
The music video for MNEK’s “Tongue,” by the directing duo Bradley & Pablo, presents a total subversion of the gaze, more specifically, the straight white cis-male gaze. In a series of shot-reverse-shots, the camera conveys the sexual tension between MNEK and his love interest in the narrative of the video.
The song’s lyrics convey the coded language typical in queer erotic interaction. In short, there is some serious eye-fucking going on!
12. “Bloom” – Troye Sivan (Directed by Bardia Zeinali)
It’s fitting that the video is directed by frequent Vogue contributor Bardia Zeinali since a lot of the shots in the video resemble an editorial shoot.
Sivan’s music video is loaded with queer references and imagery that will have every queer person screaming “YAAAS.” For example, the opening 20 seconds of the video are a series of still life shots of flowers that make a historical reference to the artist, Robert Mapplethorpe. The artist was known for intertwining the eroticism of the male body with flowers and was famous for his portraits of the gay S&M community of 1970s New York.
13. “Tony Tone” – A$AP Rocky (Directed by HIDJI FILMS)
A$AP continues his insane run of music videos with “Tony Tone.” While the video begins at a birthday party, the video transitions to viewers following Rocky and his crew cruising on their bikes through the streets of New York City.
The shots of the group riding through the streets are intercut with Rocky and a group of Black men dressed in all-white, standing stoically in front of a judging panel of white folk. At one point, the music stops, and Rocky makes a direct address to the audience — but you will have to peep to see what he has to say!
13. “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)” – A$AP Rocky Ft. Skepta (Directed by Dexter Navy)
The director employs a split screen to not only set up the different storylines of Rocky and Skepta, and settings of New York and London. Rather, this visual effect shows these environments and their experiences as analogous, as being a young Black man in both of these locales leaves one to be subject to surveillance and policing.
Talking to Genius about the record, Rocky described that the track was created via taking hallucinogens, recalling how both rappers “did the rhymes tripping balls.” Braze.
15. “King’s Dead” – Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake (Directed by Dave Free and Jack Begert)
From the opening shot of this video, viewers know that they are in for a wild ride. I mean, Kendrick Lamar is straight up eating corn up in the canopy of a palm tree.
Transitioning through long camera zooms, we follow each of the artists in different settings, from a corporate office that resembles the chaos of a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street to building rooftops, confetti field barber shops, and so much more.
In discussing the video, the directing duo was committed to using visual effects as little as possible. The song was released fresh off Lamar’s soundtrack album for Black Panther.
16. “A$AP Forever” – A$AP Rocky ft. Moby (Directed by Dexter Navy)
Capturing daily life in Harlem, the video transitions through a seemingly endless spiral of frames that fold into one another. The fast pacing and movement between the shots produce some trippy visuals that borderlines on a feeling of vertigo, as we move between street corners, apartment complexes, the pier, elevated rail lines and more.
A$AP Rocky’s creative team have produced some of the dopest visuals of the year that definitely require more than one viewing. Sampling Moby’s song, “Porcelain,” the track appears of A$AP Rocky’s third studio album, Testing.
17. “God’s Plan” – Drake (Directed by Karena Evans)
Moving through the ranks as an intern for big-name music video director, Director X at his production company Popp Rok, Karena Evans has recently made waves in the industry by landing the opportunity to direct Drake’s music videos for the tracks “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What.”
In “God’s Plan,” viewers are set up with the preface of Drake having a million dollar budget to shoot the music video. Evans, however, ends up following the rap star around the city of Miami and we watch as Drake redistributes the money for the video shoot instead to those in need.
18. “Proud” – 2 Chainz ft. YG, Offset (Directed by 2 Chainz and Howard Ross)
If there was ever a video that is a visual shout-out and celebration to the unconditional love mothers show us, it is 2 Chainz’s music video to his track “Proud.”
Each of the featured rapper’s mother’s star in the video and lip-sync the lyrics as the rappers dish out their flow. The track appears on 2 Chainz’s new EP, The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It.
19. “Mo Bamba” – Sheck Wes (Directed by Tyler Ross, Nick Walker, & Sheck Wes)
Harlem Rapper, Sheck Wes, took the internet by storm after releasing the video for his track, “Mo Bamba” earlier this year. Making the video in 20 minutes and in one take, the set for the music video was the streets of Harlem.
The release of the video has been a serious moment in the young rapper’s career –moving from relative obscurity to taking the stage at a Drake concert.
Though the song isn’t an industry endorsed rap anthem, nevertheless, you’re bound to see people turn up this song at every party. The video proves that you don’t have to have a million-dollar budget to produce a successful video to accompany your track.
20. “After the Storm” Kali Uchis ft. Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins (Directed by Nadia Lee Cohen)
With Nadia Lee Cohen’s videos lending the feeling of viewers being transported into a bizarre surrealist dream, the artist certainly knows how to make a statement.
Her vibrant visuals are steeped in color and produce a level of eccentricity that just exudes out of the screen. The British artist pairs Kali Uchis’ funky and soulful track to a series of stunning and bold tableaus that reimagine 1950’s suburbia.
Using her artistic license to the utmost degree to create a crazy set design, Cohen has Bootsy Collins appear as an animated logo on a cereal box, vegetable soup can, and hot sauce bottle.
Plus, since Tyler, the Creator is known for his daringness in his own music videos, I am sure the rapper was game to emerge out of the yard to ultimately be a part of Uchis’ nuclear family unit.