The Best Music Videos of 2016

The Best Music Videos of 2016

Artists stepped up their visual game and made music videos more important than ever this year. See our picks for the best of 2016.

Artists stepped up their visual game and made music videos more important than ever this year. See our picks for the best of 2016.

Text: Jake Viswanath

To anyone who thinks that music videos are a dying art form, this year proved that today’s best artists still have the guts to take the medium to a new level. In a year full of multiple fears and anxieties about our future, musicians got more political than ever, refusing to censor or sugarcoat their mission. Other artists gave us four minutes of escapism, providing different worlds in which we could take solace in something or simply dance our stress away. Regardless of intent, the best videos this year still breathed new life into great tracks and signaled creative highs for artists across the board.

Below, our picks for the best music videos released this year.

Kanye West—“Fade”

Watching the clip premiere at the VMAs was an out-of-body experience in itself with all sorts of reactions, but it has somehow held up as one of the most fascinating videos of the year. We still don’t know how Teyana Taylor manages to move and pop like that in her seamless performance, but she sells it like no other. And her family portrait dressed as cats and surrounded by sheep makes for one of the year’s most absurd and powerful visuals.

Betsy—“Wanted More”

V104 digital cover star Betsy made her mark with one of the most unapologetically camp videos of the year. The clip elevates the experiences of an emotionally deserted girlfriend as the British bombshell gains the strength to ditch her man and her gussied-up trailer park, but she can’t help but leave in a grand fashion —pillow feathers on the floor and a chicken in tow. As much as it resonates for people in emotionally void relationships, it’s also necessary to applaud her sheer unabated glamour in the worst of situations.

Lady Gaga—"Million Reasons"

For anyone who didn't understand Mother Monster's nascent transformation into Joanne, the music video for "Million Reasons" is a clear detailing of the artist's healing journey in overcoming her trauma. A continuation of the "Perfect Illusion" video, which saw Gaga thrown into a mosh pit, the sequel shows how she was rehabilitated with the care of her team and family—a touching, personal tribute to those who pull the strings backstage in Gaga's life.

Rihanna—“Work (feat. Drake)”

How can one make their video stand out from other great videos? By creating two visually stunning clips for the same song. Rihanna celebrates her island roots in the first clip before luring Drake into a neon-lit room. The rapper may be eternally lusting over her, but she remains in control throughout, refusing to give us the typical romantic ending we all want for Robyn and Aubrey. She’ll keep us guessing forever.

Jamie xx - “Gosh”

Jamie xx has previously instilled a sense of communion in his videos, but “Gosh” takes that mission to its most grandiose level yet. The video, filmed in the town of Tianducheng, China, see a large group of citizens gathering around the town’s Eiffel Tower replica in a synchronized formation that rivals the Olympics ceremonies. No trickery was used, and every single move in the clip is done in perfect harmony. By the end, the only thought in your head is “How?”

Grimes—“Kill v. Maim”

Always count on on V104 cover star Grimes to deliver the absolute most. The producer-singer-songwriter goes balls-to-the-wall insane and gives us an expert example of maximalism at its best. Grimes and her crew create their own rules, taking over abandoned subway stations, wrestling matches, and a dingy pink car to wreck havoc on a dreamlike metropolis. In Grimes’s world, anything goes and nothing is barred.

Frank Ocean—“Nikes” 

After 84 centuries of waiting (ok, not that long), the enigmatic artist finally gave us another peek into his mystical wonderland for “Nikes,” the visual introduction to Blonde. His world of glitter booties, rapping chihuahuas, and excessive eyeliner is utterly spellbinding. But it is the image of a man burning alive that resonates the most, firemen barely saving the man from death, reminding us of the harrowing but hopeful times that lie ahead.

Solange—“Cranes in the Sky”

With “Cranes In the Sky,” Solange steers away from rapid editing and provocative visuals in exchange for simple calmness. Yet her allowance of a little peace and quiet makes the video no less significant. Solange lets the rhythm dictate the video, crafting subtle movements only when necessary and pushing people and places to the forefront. Her luxurious clothing and striking portraits of black women speak for themselves. In a celebration of black pride, silent contributions will not go unnoticed.

Mitski - “Your Best American Girl”

Mitski expertly depicts how it feels to not fit within the typical straight and white mold in America. The rock chick begins to flirt with a cute fuckboy at a photoshoot before your average Coachella groupie comes in to ruin their fun. But instead of moping in her loss, she shows love to herself in the most intensely bizarre manner imaginable. As mind-boggling as the clip is, it portrays a scarily accurate experience for people who come from underwritten and frequently fetishized cultures.

Anohni—“Drone Bomb Me”

Naomi Campbell steps in for one of today’s most important political artists and gives the performance of her career as a young woman whose family was killed by drone bombs. Campbell adds enormous depth to what is already one of the year’s most devastating tracks, never holding back on emotion or fear against a troop of beautifully menacing dancers. It’s a subtle showcase of the oft-ignored victims of warfare, and a needed reminder that we can do more to help.

M.I.A. - “Borders”

In the aftermath of Brexit and Trump’s impending presidency, this video has never been more important than it is right now. M.I.A. joins together with bands of refugees and immigrants to question today’s forms of borders and migration. The images of them joining together to sail on boats and jump fences are utterly chilling, representative of the hurdles immigrants must go through for safety. The fences won’t get any looser in the next few years, but we cannot let the permanent walls get built.

Britney Spears—“Slumber Party (feat. Tinashe)”

This was the moment that proved Britney was truly back. Director Chris Tilley created a world of raunchy debauchery and just let Britney do her thing. The choreography is some of her best, her romps with Tinashe are absolutely delightful, and the milk licking is one of her most provocative moments in the last decade. The iconic songstress has never been more confident or at ease in a video, and for most pop music fans, it is so gratifying to watch.

David Bowie—“Lazarus”

In Starman’s final video, things look bleak, but he was never one to give up at the first sign of weakness. The clip serves as his final act of tenacity and optimism in the face of a harsh reality, with Bowie refusing to give his last breath in a dark place. There’s likely much more still to be uncovered nearly a year after its release, but it wouldn’t be a Bowie video without that. True to form, Bowie takes his final curtain call by giving his most haunting performance, leaving us with multiple questions and nothing but sheer awe.

The Weeknd—“Starboy”

Nothing said "I'm back" quite like Abel Tesfaye's music video for "Starboy," the first single off of his recently-released album of the same name. Or rather, perhaps "I'm back" isn't the right phrase—seeing as the clip finds Tesfaye murdering his former self, introducing the world to Starboy (and his new haircut). Throw in a black panther, a neon cross, and a cameo from Daft Punk and you have one of the musician's most iconic videos to date.

Beyoncé—“Formation”

Frankly, what more can be said about this video? Along with the accompanying Super Bowl performance, it is simply one of the most important statements of black pride in recent memory. Beyoncé claims her own spaces, literally getting in formation with her fellow women wherever she damn pleases. No visuals were as profound this year as that little boy proudly demanding police officers to not shoot, or Beyoncé sinking into a flooded street atop a police car. 2016 was the year when Beyoncé got raw and unhinged, and “Formation” was the pinnacle, completely self-assured and utterly impactful.

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