2015 was a weird year for music videos in that many of the technological advancements that recent years saw, largely interactive pieces via The Creators Project, seemed to cease. And indeed, where the most exciting music videos of recent years witnessed viewers getting more involved than ever, this year the best clips came via familiar tactics. Celebrity cameos, nostalgia, cinematic direction, political messages, and, maybe most importantly, dancing all found familiar places in our hearts, proving that it isn’t the shiniest, new innovations in music videos that always make the biggest impact. This year was more about endearing and enduring.
05. Carly Rae Jepsen – “I Really Really Like You”
Let’s get this straight: Tom Hanks is the most charming actor of his generation. This is indisputable. Meanwhile, while other pop stars may have more bombastic presences, Carly Rae Jepsen seems like the most likable and approachable of the bunch. So, the fact that Hanks wakes up with the voice of CRJ in the video for “I Really Really Like You” isn’t as crazy as it seems. Think about Kevin Bacon lip syncing to a Katy Perry song, or George Clooney going about his day through a Beyonce track. While both sound like a crash that I’d be unable to look away from, neither would feel as absolutely sincere and lovable as T. Hanks and CRJ swapping emojis or leading a choreographed dance crew through a Hollywood backlot.
The concept of the video is simple: Hanks slaps his alarm at 5 a.m. and immediately begins mouthing the words to the EMOTION highlight. We’ve all been there, too; Jepsen’s pop gems are the kind of earworms that stick in your head and soundtrack your day. But for Hanks, it’s literal. He makes his way to meet with the pop star, nervously riding in the back of the car, stopping to sign autographs, and meeting with the director, only missing words when he needs to gargle. The two lead the dance troupe at the song’s finale, huge grins plastered across their faces. They are having fun! The song is fun! They like each other! Really really! And all the fun and charm is entirely infectious, radiating from the screen via two of the most genuinely warm stars in the current pop landscape.
Oh, and also Justin Bieber is there. But whatever.
04. Rihanna – “Bitch Better Have My Money”
If you’re only going to put out a few minutes of music in a year, you’d better make up for it with some Tarantino-worthy visuals. Rihanna mostly kept things quiet in 2015 (so far), but when she spoke up, she spoke loud. The girl gang revenge fantasy that accompanies her extended cut of the slamming “Bitch Better Have My Money” holds nothing back. Rih is out for blood, and she won’t sleep until she’s dripping with it.
Co-directed with MegaForce, the “BBHMM” video details the dial-up to a bloodbath with a slew of trippy camerawork and immediately iconic shots (who didn’t lose their mind when Rihanna threw her phone off that yacht and then shot it out of the air with a handgun?). The lens lingers on the often uncomfortable specifics of Rihanna and her cronies abducting and torturing her ex-accountant’s trophy wife, but it’s hard not to cheer for the singer as she hones in on the dude who screwed her over. Nobody crosses Rihanna and gets away with it — and it’s refreshing as ever to see her indulge tropes of cinematic violence with abandon.
03. FIDLAR – “40oz on Repeat”
FIDLAR partnered “40oz on Repeat”, the first single off Too, with one of the most creative and comical music videos of the year. However, if you close your eyes and focus on lead singer Zac Carper’s lyrics, you’ll soon realize that you’ve been busting a gut while a fellow human being pleads and wallows at absolute rock bottom. Carper’s tragic past and ongoing battles with heroin and meth addiction have become a major part of FIDLAR’s narrative this year. Maybe that makes it all the more understandable that the band needed a good laugh – one that hopefully suggests better days to come.
The video itself, directed by Carper’s brother-in-law, Ryan Baxley, plays out like an episode of TRL meets one of those magical childhood afternoons when your parents gave you a giant box from a new refrigerator or washing machine. With some cardboard, markers, and a budget-busting supply of wigs, Carper and band re-create snippets from 15 iconic music videos ranging from Missy Elliott’s “Supa Dupa Fly” to Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” and stitch them together almost seamlessly.
Is all of this a sign that Carper is doing better? As he twirls a pigtail and sneaks a giggle in full Britney Spears schoolgirl attire, I like to think so.
02. Drake – “Hotline Bling”
As I write this, the music video for Drake’s unlikely hit “Hotline Bling” stands at 163,729,242 views. That’s more than a 100 million more hits than his only other video this year, “Energy”, which also featured a Drake loose and eager to show he could clown himself better than anyone else. But that staggering number still doesn’t take into account all the memes, Vines, and spin-offs this video has spawned. Perhaps with the exception of “Hello” by Adele, no other music video this year has become cultural currency the way “Hotline Bling” has.
And there’s still more to the video than the goofy grandpa dance moves. It opens with a shot of a water cooler as beautiful call center workers attend conscientiously to male thirst (the first line of the video: “I’ve played with feet before!”). With its coolly luminous colors, the video is both an introduction to the aesthetic of artist James Turrell and a throwback to old Apple commercials. And finally there’s Drake himself, puffy-jacketed and turtleneck-clad, dancing mostly by himself and entirely for himself, luxuriating in a state of corny comfort that comes with knowing he is an essential part of our cultural zeitgeist.
01. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
When Kendrick Lamar was eight years old, he first saw Tupac on a video shoot for “California Love”. “Full of joy and eagerness,” Lamar recalled in an open letter to Tupac, “twenty years later, I understand exactly what that feeling was. INSPIRED.” Tupac was a hero to him. Fast-forward many years later, and Kendrick has now become Compton’s homecoming hero with To Pimp a Butterfly.
Released shortly after Lamar’s BET Awards performance atop a cop car, the music video for “Alright” would soon become emblematic of the black experience in America in all its nuances and complexities. Directed by Colin Tilley, the video’s beautiful cinematic moments — when Kendrick is carried, like a king, in a car on cops’ shoulders, or when he’s sitting atop streetlights across Los Angeles — serve as a stark antithesis to the more traumatic images while offering a message of hope. Even the dancers move beyond their constrained spaces, celebrating and imagining new ways for the black body to move freely and deny constriction.
The video works as a microcosm of the sad and wretched state of many cities: crooked cops, burning cars, abandoned buildings, and bleak backdrops of an urban sprawl. It’s powerful, harrowing, bleak, and hopeful all at once.