Sunday, December 27, 2020

Music Videos of the Year

Music videos -some might say- are a dying art. Millennials will reminisce over Thom Yorke’s impressionistic dancing in the video for ‘Lotus Flower’, wondering how Cardi B twerking compares in any way but unfavourably. Boomers will scorn at Yorke and hark back to the odyssey dramas of Michael Jackson, Prince and David Bowie. However, we only need to look at the extraordinary success and artistic achievement of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble’ or Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ to realise that music videos are still the site of great art, even if the musical genres that produce them have shifted. In this article we’re checking out five of the most engaging music videos of 2020.


Haim: I Know Alone (dir. Jake Schreier)

Say what you want, you won’t change my mind: HAIM are so damn cool. I was desperate to include one of their videos in this list and thanks to Jake Schreier’s bold video for I know Alone, I can. This video epitomises the genius of single shot simplicity. Music videos of such whimsical brilliance are few and far between. The locked-off camera stares at the three-piece girl band who stand on an old basketball court. The girls -barely moving from their spots- perform a hypnotic, repetitive and understated dance routine. Applause is due for choreographer Francis and the Lights, whose coordinated piece takes on a mesmeric, musical beauty. This video was shot during lockdown - all roles are credited as ‘remotely’. The global state of affairs has certainly damaged the arts industry; however, it has not damaged people’s creativity, their ability to create something powerful out of very little… very little indeed.

Phoebe Bridgers: Saviour Complex (dir. Phoebe Waller-Bridge)

Paul Mescal has appeared in two music videos since the release of the storming success that was Normal People. However, while his work for the Stones is certainly a cultural moment, the video for Phoebe Bridgers’ Saviour Complex triumphs. Shot in stunning monochrome, Mescal attempts to escape from a small chihuahua… with -of course- a twist (Bridgers herself makes an appearance.) There is an awful lot to admire about this video. I have chosen it largely due to its structure. Wholly different to I know Alone, this piece plays out like a short film complete with a beginning, middle and end – not something music videos are always totally au fait with! Phoebe Waller-Bridge directs Mescal and Bridgers in what is certainly a collaboration of the zeitgeist. The video demands a second, third and forth watch. Any music video with that command over one’s attention deserves a place on this list.


Kelly Lee Owens: Corner of my Sky (dir. Kasper Häggström)

Norwegian director Kasper Häggström delivers a piece of comic existentialism in this glorious video for Kelly Lee Owen’s Corner of my Sky. A toaster makes bread disappear… that’s it. A wild idea wonderfully executed. National Treasure (of Wales and the UK!) Michael Sheen plays the discombobulated protagonist in a video sure to garner plenty of attention. Like Waller-Bridge’s piece, this video plays like a short film and is all the richer for it – even stopping for a few lines of dialogue at the midway point. With a muted colour palette and a simple idea, this video lacks the visual pomposity of many others; however, as a piece of art it is right up there with the best work of the year. Häggström has created a little gem and music lovers should rightly be excited to see what he does next.


Arca: Nonbinary

And now… for something completely different. Frederik Heyman’s somatic nightmare is truly extraordinary… and incredibly disturbing. The video is a highly impressionistic portrayal of a body becoming -biologically- nonbinary. Venezuelan artist Arca lies propped on a hospital bed while creatures seemingly out of Westworld re-instrument the body’s organs. In a later scene Arca appears out of an oyster shell – when it comes to music videos, Arca truly is a pearl. Many of the shots look like works by Salvador Dali for the technological age. A nightmare or a dream? You decide, but make sure you watch this piece of wonder for its creative flair and unflinching direction.


The Weekend: Blinding Lights

As opening shots go, Anton Tammi’s visceral image of The Weekend bleeding profusely from the mouth is right up there. This song cemented The Weekend as the king of hardcore synth-pop-come-RnB, and it needed a video to match. By far the most expensive of all five on the list (at one point… he flies), Tammi creates a visually arresting world of neon and strobe to enliven the epic track.

Roddy Ricch’s The Box may also have a nightmarish boy-racer broom-broom sequence. However, The Weekend’s video for ‘Blinding Lights’ certainly stands out from the crowd of music videos featuring fast cars. There is something reassuring about this piece. It is easy to think that true creativity and artistic endeavour is reserved for indie creators working in the subtle, unseen districts of production; however, Tammi’s big-budget video for a global icon proves that it’s not all Cardi B twerking at the top of the charts. There’s great work out there at all levels: long may it last.


Honourable Mentions:

Distilling a year’s worth of work was always going to be an impossible task; I’ve barely scratched the surface. So here are a few honourable mentions I desperately wanted to include.

Flyte: Easy Tiger

Bicep: Apricots

Real Estate: Paper Cup

Jessie Ware: Step into my Life

Sufjan Stevens: Sugar

Christine and the Queens: La Vita Nuova

Phoebe Bridgers: I know the End

Billie Eilish: Everything I wanted

The Rolling Stones: Scarlet

Fred Kelly

Twitter: fred8kelly

Image: Phoebe Bridgers: Saviour Complex Music Video


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