What makes a good music video? A big budget? An original idea? None of the above? I don’t have an answer other than the song has to be hot. The rest has to fall into place, regardless of camera work or concept or amount of money on the table. Below are my favorite music videos of the year (in no particular order), from cinematic masterpieces to independent handycam delights. A good music video is a good music video.
Tierra Whack - “Whack World”
[Dir. Thibaut Duverneix & Mathieu Leger]
This one wins. A fifteen minute music video made up of fifteen one-minute songs where every song features a different backdrop. It’s enough to hold your attention, enough to have you spin it back time and time again. One of my favorite projects of the year and certainly my favorite music video. Also, much love to Ms. Whack for the Grammy nod on her equally as strong music video for “Mumbo Jumbo”, which dropped in October of 2017 or else it’d be on this list as well.
Karen O & Michael Kiwanuka - “Yo! My Saint”
[Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour]
Two of my favorite artists joined forces for the track “Yo! My Saint”, which was featured in a short film for fashion label Kenzo’s SS18. The hallucinatory film showcases a photographer and a model intertwined in a twisted and confusing love affair. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this 5+ minute song this year.
Qari - “Pants from Japan”
[Dir. Cole Bennett]
This music video marks Qari’s largest solo release yet. The single (produced by Mulatto and directed by Cole Bennett) is a vibrant and floral-riddled video that properly compliments Qari’s bright personality. The track can be found on his 2017 EP, Space Jam, which was followed by the 2018 EP, No Time to Explain. Both are worthy of your next free afternoon.
The Marías - “Cariño”
[Dir. Ian Lipton]
Next to Tierra Whack's “Whack World”, I listened/watched “Cariño” by The Marías the most. It was their lead single off of their sophomore EP, Superclean Vol. 2, and the entire experience feels like 1970s Italy. Like an early James Bond movie if James Bond was a Spanglish songstress. This song is flawless.
James Blake – “If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead”
[Dir. Alexander Brown]
James Blake always sounds better when it's cold outside, which makes sense as to why he released an absolute slapper in January of this year. Now that it's winter again, now that it's back to being cold, press play on this one another time and feel your mind drift miles away from where your body remains.
Sen Morimoto – “Cannonball”
[Dir. Yuya Morimoto]
Chicago artist Sen Morimoto had one of the most impressive years for any of the numerous Windy City talents. He released an acclaimed solo album, Cannonball, he toured the country (twice?), he received a strong co-sign from 88 Rising, and he released numerous music videos that are all worthy of discussion. My favorite of the batch is “Cannonball”, which splits time between the mountaintops of Hawaii and the depths of a blue swimming pool. The breakdown on this song breaks my heart every time.
Valee & Pusha T - “Miami”
[Dir. Hebru Brantley]
A Chicago rapper with a music video directed by Hebru Brantley. It’s hard not to feel hometown pride when pressing play. The single “Miami” might not be Valee’s best track (as “Womp Womp” and “Awesome” might have spread more with greater success), but it was his first GOOD Music offering, complete with a Pusha T verse and an Andrew Barber cameo. Enough said.
Tyler, The Creator – “OKRA”
[Dir. Wolf Haley]
Sure, Tyler might have stolen Valee's flow on this loose track, but it still goes so damn hard. The simple yet vivid video contains three great verses and an epic amount of bass. Additionally, it splits between technicolor backdrops and blacklight. The whole thing resembles a painting that Tyler might have in his pool house. Plenty to keep you entertained for two-and-a-half electric minutes.
Saba – “LIFE”
[Dir. Danielle Derisse]
Saba's black and white music video acted as the lead single for his critically acclaimed project, Care for Me. The video is a cinematic piece of expressionism. Serious and heartbreaking while also being surreal and bizarre. Like an infestation of ladybugs on a picnic table. The zoom out scene at the end is so good.
A$AP Rocky & Moby – “A$AP Forever”
[Dir. Dexter Navy]
Rocky has one of the most consistent music video portfolios in all of hip-hop. His video “A$AP Forever” is yet another psychedelic and tripped out set of visuals worth your while. Plus, Moby's “Porcelain” gets flipped with wondrous results. Additionally, Rocky released videos for “Gunz N Butter”, “Sundress”, “Tony Tone”, and more this year.
Marlowe (L'Orange & Solemn Brigham) - “Lost Arts”
[Dir. Jon Webb]
Producer L'Orange and rapper Solemn Brigham joined forces this year to create Marlowe, a sharp sword slicing through the hip-hop underbelly. The lead video “Lost Arts” comes complete with overlaid animation that blends lyrics with dripping cartoon enhancements. The duo released two other videos following “Lost Arts” (“The Basement” and “Things We”) but this animated headtrip is a personal favorite.
Anderson .Paak - “Bubblin”
This video rules! When I first saw it back in May, I was beyond hype to hear .Paak's full-length follow-up to Malibu, only to find that this song wouldn't make the album. It's without a doubt his best song of the year and his best music video (perhaps ever). The whole piece is playfully reminiscent of Busta Rhymes in his prime. Too cool.
Gorillaz - “Humility”
[Dir. Jamie Hewlett]
I saw Gorillaz at the United Center this year and I'm still riding that high. Damon Albarn's brainchild released the full-length, The Now Now, this year that was much more stripped down and featureless than 2017's Humanz. The lead music video, “Humility”, makes for a great sing-a-long, complete with a Jack Black cover.
Armand Hammer - “Barbarians/Overseas”
I found this video through Earl Sweatshirt's Twitter account. That's all you need to know. The two-for-one video provides bright tongue twists from both billy woods and Elucid. The two do the damn thing on the coast of some nondescript beach. Beautiful and captivating while remaining simple, letting the words move you down the shore. You can find these tracks as the last two pieces on their 2017 album, Rome.
Mach-Hommy w/ Tha God Fahim - “d'Shady & d'Lamp”
[Dir. Matthew Bokor]
Mach-Hommy was one of my favorite discoveries of the year. The talented wordsmith most recently released a video for the Alchemist-produced “Floorseats”, which should also be on this list, but “d'Shady & d'Lamp” was my introduction to this rapper. It stuck inside my head like glue. The beat is so off-putting at first, but when the drums kick in as the flow maintains, it makes all of the sense in the world. Press play and rob a bank.
Dolly Ave - “Birds”
[Dir. Josh Daniel Taylor & Darren Bui]
L.A. (by way of Chicago) artist Dolly Ave can do a great deal with very little. The photographer and videographer launched her music career with the single “Birds”. In the video, she delivers a melancholic performance with brightly colored and symmetrical backdrops. Like a one-woman Wes Anderson short. She also released an all yellow, one shot video for “Stuck in the Clouds” with Appleby and Elias Abid, which you need to watch right after you finish “Birds”.
L. Martin – “Skipping Rocks”
[Dir. That'sa Beauty Productions]
This list doesn't contain enough comedy. That being said, L. Martin's music video for “Skipping Rocks” is a hilarious one man show. He plays six characters, from front man to janitor to bartender to both members of a couple on a date. It's a delight that enhances an already strong song, one that was released as part of a split single alongside “Flowers”.
Alaskan Tapes - “Places”
[Dir. Andrew De Zen]
The music video for ambient artist Alaskan Tapes' “Places” is one hell of a cinematic short film. A Vimeo 'staff pick', the five minute video is sorrowful, abstract, lost in time, and in Spanish (with subtitles). Directed by Andrew De Zen, the video was preceded by Alaskan Tapes' full-length album, You Were Always an Island.
Mick Jenkins - “Reginald”
[Dir. Jude Appleby]
When discussing L. Martin's video above, I mentioned how this list deserves more comedic material. Thankfully, Mick Jenkins recruited a bunch of his friends to recreate a vintage cop drama (paying homage to Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’) in the form of cracking down on bad weed. With performances from theMIND, Qari, Green Sllime, and plenty of other familiar Chicago faces, this is one worth your while. The standout might be Jenkins' high kicks throughout.
blu jeen - “Babe”
[Dir. Sean Cullen and Sophia Bedolla]
Back in June, blu jeen released a self-titled EP through Cosmic Compositions. The project in its entirety is worthy of many more discussions. The lovely song “Shipwreck” will be on my list of favorite singles, while the video for “Babe” remains a great introduction to an underrated artist. It's simple, it's stoned, it's crispy, and it's fun. All in under two minutes.
Khruangbin - “Cómo Te Quiero”
I had four videos to choose from for my Khruangbin inclusion. Their 2018 album, Con Todo El Mundo, was one of the best albums of the year (and perhaps the finest instrumental album). Thankfully, their music videos properly compliment the strong music. Perhaps my favorite is their animated “Cómo Te Quiero”. The illustrated video is a psychedelic fever dream that fits so nicely with the relaxed yet lifted music. While this list consists of strictly music videos, it’s worth noting the magnificence of their NPR Tiny Desk segment.
MOORS w/ Tune-Yards - “Mango”
[Dir. Lakeith Stanfield]
Is Ruff Mercy the only artist to make this list twice? Damn right. The illustrator and animator went to town over the visuals created by MOORS (aka Lakeith Stanfield) and Tune-Yards. It’s an odd homily inside of a chapel. It’s a mushroom high with a fresh bag of mangoes at your disposal.
EarthGang - “Up”
Not necessarily a music video, but this song can’t be found anywhere else and it’s worthy of inclusion. A single from EarthGang’s upcoming album, Mirrorland, this might be the most turned up Colors segment of all time. Stupid hot. Is Johnny Venus the first rapper to ever be shirtless on this series? Blast this and clean your entire house.
Thom Yorke - “Suspirium”
[Animated by Ruff Mercy]
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video. “Suspirium” was the lead single for Thom Yorke’s soundtrack to the film Suspiria (which I have yet to see). While the 25 song project is dark, haunted, experimental, and chaotic, it is also deeply beautiful. Such is the case for the stripped down piano track “Suspirium”. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year and a song made all the better by animation courtesy of Ruff Mercy.
Milo - “Galahad in Goosedown”
[Dir. Spencer Garland]
The strangest video on this list? Most certainly. Milo stands in front of a green screen and holds some grapes, some syrup, and a sword. The backdrops are maddening, abstract, and very fitting for this type of track. It all feels stuck inside of a 1995 Gateway computer. Right on.
Jon Hopkins - “Feel First Life”
[Dir. Elliot Dear]
This list is lacking in extraterrestrial content. Thankfully, ambient and electronic music Jon Hopkins comes through in the clutch. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic shows a plant turn into an astronaut and explore the remnants of our planet’s desolation. This song is from his stellar album, Singularity, which contains some of my favorite bedtime songs of the year.
Nickelus F - “I Ain’t Cried Yet”
This might be the most stripped down and simple video on this list. Nickelus F’s track, “I Ain’t Cried Yet”, is one of his finest on his stellar 2018 album, Stuck. The video is VHS quality with him appearing as a smoking silhouette, driving around town, and spitting some of the best lyrics you’ll hear all year.
JPEGMAFIA - “1539 N. Calvert”
[Dir. Audrey Gatewood]
The other day, I read on Twitter where someone said they love the JPEGMAFIA album, Veteran, but they have to listen to it in strides because it’s so intense. The music video “1539 N. Calvert” is an embodiment of that statement: high energy and excitement jam-packed into a theatrical fiesta. I played this song at the gym and broke the treadmill.
SoloSam - “Breezin & Coolin”
Note: if a music video includes a centaur, I’m going to feature it on my end-of-the-year list. Especially if it’s Chicago’s own SoloSam, who released a high quality EP, Itis, this year that he fully produced. In this video, directed by Stripmall, SoloSam takes a scooter around Humboldt Park, plays a little tennis, and yes, turns into a centaur. Other rappers: step it up.
Freddie Gibbs - “Automatic”
[Dir. Ben Lambert & Trevor Penick]
Gibbs released two of the best rap albums of the year: a collaborative project with Curren$y (Fetti) and a self-titled album (Freddie). The single “Automatic” is the second track on Freddie and is one of the hardest tracks of the year (see also: ever). The Indiana MC puts on some makeup and turns into an old man for this bass-heavy banger (props to Kenny Beats), one that shows how Gibbs is not only the toughest around but also one to not take himself too seriously.