8 favorite music videos of 2018
written December 19, 2018
Music videos are works of love and art. Short films collaborated upon by artist and director set to convey what the song is about, either slapping you in the face with a performance piece turned up to ten or creating a narrative world so rich you feel as if you’re inhabiting every lyric, note or beat right alongside the actors.
Like all artistic expressions, music videos can’t help but be informed by personal experiences. More and more artists and directors flock to the medium because they recognize the inherent freedom within it to create on one’s own terms, to tell one’s own story.
The internet, the changing landscape of music, how it’s consumed, and the advent of more portable and affordable camera technology has impacted how music videos are made. From big budget to DIY, the industry has become more diverse, more accessible, lending itself to more ambitious creativity without the need to be packaged solely as a marketing piece.
In 2017 we saw some greats rise into the music video hall of fame, like The Blaze’s “Territory” and Kendrick Lamar’s “ELEMENT” and “HUMBLE.” Visuals that dove deep into the cultures and inner lives of their respective auteurs. For 2018 we dive even deeper into personal landscapes but with a little more emphasis on portraying the social anxiety and political conflict felt in our increasingly chaotic world.
8. Alaskan Tapes | “Places”
Directed by Andrew De Zen
Speaking of personal landscapes this music video paints them vividly. It feels more like a short film as we see a man get transported from a lush forest to a home thick with nostalgia to an eighties television set showing the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding. Which ones are the memories? Is there a place of return?
Whatever these visuals truly mean to the director, whether they’re private memories or not, I don’t know. I can only guess his intention was catharsis, to release this story and imagery out into the world. To give us some spiritual medicine. To slow us down. To share his visions so that we might understand our own.
7. Beach House | “Black Car”
Directed by Alistair Legrand
Simple is best. Take the title of the song and turn that into the protagonist for the music video. I never said simple was easy though. It takes a lot to imbue meaning into a lifeless black car. But it’s abundantly achieved throughout.
We get taken on a ride in a black car with no driver. We’re part of the ride, sitting in the back seat, or even embodying the car itself, feeling it all with no control as to where we’re headed in a dark city.
It’s apocalyptic. It’s haunting. But it’s not that scary kind of haunting. It’s more like that feeling you get when you’re trying to dig for memories in the dark corners of your mind but you only get pieces here and there making it impossible to put the whole memory puzzle back together. It pains you. It’s unsettling.
6. Kelly Lee Owens | “Throwing Lines”
Directed by Käsper Haggstrom
It takes talent to go meta. You know, that mode of filmmaking where you talk about the making of the film itself. It also takes a delicate form of boldness to poke fun at yourself as well as the generation of DIY music video makers where you probably have some roots. But it works and it’s good.
We get a third-person perspective of a man following another man around with a DSLR camera, stabilizer and a drone as he dances his way through a cold landscape. At various points they chat about the making of the film and the fact that the artist herself doesn’t know it’s being made. But they make it for the hell of it anyway or maybe for the perceived glory, opining in the middle that, “Nobody turns down a free music video.” It’s irreverent. It’s meta. Just watch it.
5. Choir Boy | “Sunday Light”
Directed by Jordan Utley and Josh Fletcher
Hailing from my home state of Utah, both the band, Choir Boy, and the directors Jordan Utley and Josh Fletcher, seem to really understand the weight of the LDS church and how much it shapes the culture here. Heavy on symbolism, at one point, it shows a man tarred and feathered walking zombielike through the streets of Salt Lake City. At another we see the vocalist holding a lamb while sheep walk behind him and singing, “You are one of us, one of us, one of us, you are one of us.”
It allows those unfamiliar with the religion to gain a glimpse of the rituals and practices that take place behind the scenes, how not following the predominant faith can make you feel ostracized and how even if you subscribe to the church that doesn't mean morality follows. Uniquely told and wonderfully shot, its darkness and moodiness throughout suggests a feeling of isolation. And that we all have a cross to bear.
4. Rosalía | “Pienso En Tu Mirá”
Directed by CANADA
Told with all the complexities of love in mind from feminine and masculine perspectives this music video is a visual powerhouse hitting you with one compelling image after another. Hooded figures dressed in black adorn Rosalía with endless gold jewelry as she sits still like a china doll, later on she’s surrounded by a crowd of men who try to hold her back with guns, bats and a machete at her throat, but she stands her ground. And men’s chests are slowly bloodied by bullethole wounds throughout.
Relationships require a lot of vulnerability and trust. And when either is betrayed it can feel like a bullet to the chest with each person involved lashing out and creating turmoil. This is all imagery that is suggestive of tumultuous relationships and what we have to do to protect ourselves from the corresponding pain. At the end we see her standing tall on top of an overturned box truck. Perhaps it’s the wreckage of a past relationship or a story about all relationships.
3. Young Fathers | “Holy Ghost”
Directed by Oscar Hudson
This music video was shot with an Ultra Long Range Military Grade Thermal Surveillance Camera and the equipment choice and meaning of it is not lost on the director whatsoever. We see dead bodies dug up at a distance of 300m while the Young Fathers convulse and spit their potent lyrics decrying blind nationalism, bankrupt faith and the fallout of bureaucratic border control. Mass-manufactured fear leads to dehumanizing “others” which ultimately erode away at our own humanity. This video shows us a glimpse of what that erosion looks like.
2. BADBADNOTGOOD | “I Don’t Know”
Directed by Will Mayer
What does grief feel like for you? Does it feel like struggling to keep your head above water, like you’re about to drown and if you did, maybe you’re okay with it? Well, you can relate to the character in this music video then.
Affected by some past pain we follow a man experiencing grief, from isolation all the way to acceptance. Water unforgivingly fills the frame tossing the man about. He surrenders at first only to start fighting back. He fights for his life. He fights to overcome his grief. And it’s a fight we all understand, one that we have to face at some point in our lives only to find warmth in the journey, solace in enduring.
1. Childish Gambino | “This is America”
Directed by Hiro Murai
We’re living in a strange world right now where it feels like every single day the media is yelling at us. And all we want to do is yell right back. This is what this music video does, it yells back, shining a light on the complacency and willful ignorance that exists with racism and gun violence in America.
It gives me chills every time I watch it because I see this otherworldly dystopia in front of me. And a few moments into it, after the first gunshot, I realize I’m living in this dystopia. Inequality and violence rain upon America but the prevailing gears keep turning regardless.
The brilliant direction of Hiro Murai, the attention-grabbing dance moves of Donald Glover, the expert DP work of Larkin Seiple (who broke it down into six seamless Steadicam shots) and all the purposeful meaning in the set design, this video is worth a dozen watches.