Refugees. Hoverboards. Shia Labeouf in a cage. A fat A$AP Rocky. These are just some of the many visuals we were blessed with in 2016. We saw hip-hop’s savior Kendrick Lamar deliver one of the most incredible videos of the year, making hip-hop look good again, and we got the polar opposite of a conscious message with Drizzy’s meme-y dance moves. To each his own though, right? At the end of the day, what makes a video compelling are 3 factors: Can I sit through the entire thing without getting bored? Is there a bigger picture here? Is it visually next level? If it passes two of those, it’s pretty much a winner in my book. If you’re wondering what Drizzy’s higher message is, it’s obviously “YOLO.” Here are 2015’s most fire videos.
Alright – Kendrick Lamar
Chills. That’s what you get from watching this video. It’s film noir mixed with social commentary at its best. The opening montage mainly wins for its reference to “Cartoons & Cereal”, a generally slept on song with an even more slept on Gunplay verse. It’s at once uplifting and truthful to the current state of America—showcasing police violence, gang violence, poverty, depression, and everything in between. Kendrick floats atop his city in a God-like fashion, preaching his message of hopefulness and positivity with that unbelievably adorable smile. Kids are running to the top of hills pointing, as if their cities savior has returned, blessing them with his message. He’s a miracle of sorts. But that cinematic, dream-like state ends abruptly with a simple shot—not by a gun, but by a finger—perhaps showcasing the ease with which cops shoot their targets, almost like a game. It makes sense that this song was chanted by #BlackLivesMatter protestors; the best part is, they probably could have projected the video as they marched as well.
MIA – Borders
Bow Down. M.I.A. just shit on everyone’s half-assed hashtag activism social media posts with what I consider the most powerful and impactful video of the year. She beautifully touches on the refugee crisis through stunning visuals, inquisitive lyrics ,and a controversial storyline that only makes sense when you REALLY dissect it. At first glance haters will say, “Why only boys, and why only black boys at that?” But that’s exactly the point! She’s showing that to the Western world (which is also a word she emphasizes in the hook, “This is North, South, East, and Western”) all refugees look the same, they’re all male, intimidating, nameless, and faceless (fun fact, 75% of refugees are male). By putting herself in the center of it as a female, she shows a beautiful juxtaposition. This a story about refugees, told by a Sri Lankan refugee. It’s not just a European or Middle Eastern story—it’s a questioning of global values and stereotypes. She leaves the answers up to you.
Flying Lotus – Coronus, The Terminator
If you want to see death personified, this video does it hauntingly well. The video shows a man on his deathbed, with “death” literally inviting him into the afterlife, where he is terrified of going. Three ghostly men who are guardians of the afterlife creepily pop up in his living room, contorting their bodies and leading this man into his fate. It’s a fascinating and unsettling study of death. The use of baby powder to ghosts is genius in its simplicity. It’s reminiscent of his short film, “Until the Quiet Comes,” with the dancing and dream-like scenarios. Flylo can basically do no wrong.
Missy Elliott – WTF (Where they From)
Missy’s back!!! And she remains better than all your self-proclaimed “Queens” i.e. Beyonce and Nicki. We know Elliott’s formula—infectiously danceable songs with videos to match that energy. There’s a million things are are incredible about this video. For starters, her classic out-of-this-world dancers. Not only does she have the Les Twins, but she has dancers breakdancing on hoverboards. Yes—breakdancing. I can’t decide what my favorite part is: Missy’s crazy Disco Ball outfit with matching lips, the Pharrell marionette, or her pop art look. In any case, the song is amazing, and the video is even better. We’re so glad you’re back Missy! Never leave again.
Drake – Hotline Bling
This is probably the most unforgettable video of the year. There’s too many amazing moments to mention in this video. From the strangely cute and infectious Drizzy dance moves, to cozily laying on his dance partner’s butt cheeks like a baby, to the turtleneck game, to the light boxes that remind of you Sean Paul & Sasha, it’s very hard not to love this video. Drake knows the “how to become a meme” formula better than anyone else, but of course he does, he’s Drake.
Lean On – Major Lazer
Positive Vibes. That’s what you feel instantly when you listen to the song, and that’s exactly what the video does too. It recently became the most streamed song of 2015 on Spotify, and over 890 million views on the video isn’t bad either. The group went to India to shoot their summer hit, and even dressed up in the right clothes and did the right dances. Unlike Iggy Azelea’s and Selena Gomez’s cheap shots at Indian-themed videos, this one actually feels authentic. They capture the good vibes perfectly. It really showcases the best parts of the country: vibrant colors, extravagant designs, and warm people. It’s not deep, but it’s the perfect video for arguably the biggest hit of the year. Peace really is the mission.
Mark Ronson ft. Mystikal – Feel Right
Can we talk about how Mystikal James Brown’d the shit out of this song? My first wish was to see him perform something like this, but that’s exactly why this video is awesome. The video showcases a hilarious elementary school talent show, with a chubby and sassy boy giving a performance of a lifetime. Accompanied by a funk band, he delivers on the James Brown funk. The most hilarious part? When the school principal announces the band saying, “This performance is dedicated to all the player-hating teachers that won’t let a little gangsta shine,” she reads from Uptown Special’s introductory note. “I don’t know what that means.” The video ends with Ronson, Mystikal, and Bruno Mars as judges of the talent show all giving a thumbs up to the performance. A video that lets the underdog shine, even though it’s a hit created by 3 veterans of the game. A win.
A$AP Rocky – Everyday
I know what you’re thinking: “Nah, the ‘L$D’ video was way better!” Even though it was a rip-off of Enter The Void. Visually, yes, “L$D” may have been more satisfying, but conceptually, “Everyday” wins. Rocky has really been stepping his game up. He’s performing well, his stage set up is on point, and even the other members of the mob are putting in their weight. Everyday features Miguel and Rod Stewart, who surprisingly make their own appearances in the video, only to add the storyline of Rocky as a washed up, fat celebrity. He tackles the downsides of fame, shown in flashback motion with the opening scene being Rocky’s dead body afloat in a pool. He’s struggling to stay relevant but only feels emptier. Maybe this is an ode to the late A$AP Yams, showcasing how drugs, partying, and fame can lead to destruction. Either way, hats off to Rocky for making a conceptually and visually strong video.
Sia – Elastic Heart
It’s impossible to hate on Shia LeBouf. It’s even harder to hate when he’s half naked inside a cage doing interpretive dance. A powerful song, accompanied by equally powerful visuals, “Elastic Heart” has it all. Sia nailed her branding and has stuck to it, both in her live performances and her visuals. Maddie Ziegle steals the show though, and she manages to not overdo the concept from the “Chandelier” video perfectly.
Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better
You can always expect a satisfying video from Tame Impala. They had no shortage of them this year, releasing several visuals for Currents. Of the three that have come out this year, “The Less I Know the Better” stands out as the winner. The Canada-directed video shows a high school basketball player watching his cheerleader crush get taken from under his arm by the school mascot, Trevor, who happens to be a gorilla. It definitely alludes to some King of Kong themes, showing his lover getting swept left and right in the high school locker room and gymnasium. The visuals are hallucinatory and stunning, and also a little NSFW. A good match to Baauer’s GoGo! video, but this one made the final cut.