The 10 best music videos of 2017, from Kendrick Lamar to Haim

The year provided a range of visually daring, often audacious videos that were also able to provide powerful social commentary. Here’s our pick of the 10 best

“Videos now provide a consciousness and a need to stand out, where in the past they didn’t as much,” said Dave Meyers, one of 2017’s most acclaimed music video directors, earlier this year. “They sort of were spectacles. Now, they carry a truth with them.”

Meyers, who worked with artists like Kendrick Lamar and SZA to create some of 2017’s most inspired videos, leads this year’s class of music videos that helped elevate, illuminate, and inform their accompany songs, from the powerful social commentary in Jay-Z’s animated The Story of OJ to the gender role reversals in Charli XCX’s cameo-filled Boys.

Meanwhile, this year witnessed artists like Björk and Grimes continue to stretch the creative and imaginative possibilities of the video format with visually arresting works that continue to push the medium forward. But some of this year’s best videos were also simple visual statements – sometimes just a single shot – that deepened the story the artists were trying to tell in their music.

Jay-Z – The Story of OJ

Directed by visionary film-maker Mark Romanek, Jay-Z’s The Story of OJ was one of the most stylistically ambitious videos of the year. Via animation, it highlights an entire 20th century of racist American minstrel cartoon caricature, supporting a song, which samples Nina Simone, about “who we are and how do you maintain the sense of self while pushing it forward and holding us to have a responsibility for our actions,” as the rapper explained last month. The end result amounts to one of the most potent political commentaries of the rapper’s storied career.

Haim – Want You Back

For the lead single to the band’s second album, a single tracking shot of the band dancing and strolling down a deserted street, the Haim sisters knew they wanted to pay tribute to Los Angeles’ Ventura Boulevard, the site of some of their favorite music videos. But after a test run of an early idea that involved elaborate car stunts resulted in a crash after a trial run, the band decided to try something a bit more simple. “After a week of being like, ‘So, that didn’t work, [we thought] ‘What is a safer thing we could do?” Alana Haim explained. “We could walk!” Fourteen takes later, the group had come up with one of the year’s most memorable videos.

Kelela – LMK

The first single from Kelela’s debut LP Take Me Apart was an “ode to all the ladies who aren’t trying to go that deep but also still want to have respectful interactions,” according to the singer. “The point of this song is to give us an anthem to sing in that space.” For the futuristic video, which finds the singer donning a series of wigs as she moves through a series of narrow hallways in a club, Kelela enlisted Björk collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang. “The message of this video is empowerment,” the director said. “It’s for the girls, for anyone whose heart has been trampled on and deserves to go out and feel good about themselves.”

Kendrick Lamar – Humble

Over the past several years, Kendrick Lamar has consistently made some of the most innovative and engaging music videos out there. For his lead single to Damn, Lamar enlisted Dave Meyers, who would also go on to direct the rapper’s Loyalty. The frenetic video, which runs through a series of scenes including Lamar recreating Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, would go on to win the VMA for Video of the Year. “The initial idea was to go off one of my favorite words: contradiction,” Lamar explained of the video. “Everything is symbolism based off contradiction. When you listen to the actual lyrics and you see the visuals behind it, you know they fight against each other. That’s what makes it unique to me.”

Torres – Skim

The first glimpse of Torres’ new electronic-leaning sound on her third album Three Futures came in the form of Skim, a thumping meditation on longing and sexuality. For the striking video, the Georgia-bred singer enlisted noted indie rock director Ashley Connor (Mitski, Angel Olsen) for a visual exploration that encapsulated many of the themes the singer wrestles with on her new album. “The video - and the song itself - is about desire,” Torres said. “It’s basically about exploring all the dark corners of the mind and of the subconscious, and making sure that you’re not fooling yourself, you’re not hiding from yourself.”

Charli XCX – Boys

The video for Boys - a sparse, straightforward pop song about boy crushes - was one of the year’s most star-studded videos. The dozens of men featured in the gender-role-reversing video, co-directed by Charli XCX herself, included Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, Joe Jonas, Mark Ronson,, Riz Ahmed, and Ezra Koenig. “They’re basically doing all the sexy things that girls usually do in videos,” said the singer. “I just want to flip the male gaze on its head and have you guys do the sexy stuff.”

Dua Lipa – New Rules

The viral single from Dua Lipa proved that, even in 2017, music videos can still provide key breakthroughs for new artists. For New Rules, the singer enlisted the director Henry Scholfield for her portrayal of post-breakup female companionship. “We worked to bring that narrative of togetherness and empowerment into our choreography,” said the director. Much of the success of the New Rules video can be chalked up to the way Dua Lipa sought out a video that so perfectly matched the song’s message. “I loved the idea of girls looking after each other,” said the singer, “holding each other, that sense of humility, that sense of strength.”

The National – Dark Side of the Gym

For the National’s doo-wop flavored, high-school prom slow-dance ballad Dark Side of the Gym, the quintet enlisted the ballet choreographer Justin Peck to direct. The video features an ornate, elegant four-minute choreographed routine from Peck and ballet dancer Patricia Delgado, who dance alone in a balloon-filled gymnasium, before ending on a powerful closing shot of Delgado’s face. “We decided that ‘Patricia] could tell the whole story in thirty seconds,” said the video’s producer, Ezra Hurwitz, “just by looking into the camera.”

SZA – Drew Barrymore

“We wanted something bold, brown grunge,” SZA said of the lead single to her breakthrough album Ctrl, “1990s films, sad scenes, and thoughts.” For the melancholy Drew Barrymore, the singer enlisted noted director Dave Meyers (Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, OutKast), who helped come up with the video’s setting. In a series of hungover morning-after scenes in New York, SZA and her friends go sledding, get pizza, and hang out on a freezing rooftop. At one point, Drew Barrymore herself even makes a cameo.

Young Thug – Wyclef Jean

When the Atlanta rapper teamed up with director Ryan Staake (Lil Wayne, Schoolboy Q) to film the video for his second single to Jeffery, the rapper did not know that his video would end up becoming a humorous meta commentary on music video excess and outsized major label ambition. But when Young Thug ended up being a no-show for his own video shoot despite providing the director with a series of idiosyncratic set choices, Staake decided to turn the disastrous situation into an opportunity for a comedic video with a series of narrated subtitles outlining the director’s mishaps. “As annoyed as I was on set,” explained Staake, “in the end, [Young Thug’s] creative broad stroke of simply not showing up made this video.”


Jon Bernstein

The GuardianTramp

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