It's time to take music videos seriously.
As you may know, we here at No Film School do something a little different for our end of the year lists. Acknowledging the fact that taste is a supremely subjective matter, there's really no point in ranking the "best" music videos of 2018. Instead, we put together a playlist of our favorites that when played in order, runs through similar themes and techniques that ultimately end up forming a narrative of its own.
It was a great year for both music and film and we truly see a crossover of sorts in the artists represented on this list. Appearances from Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, Hiro Murai, Spike Jonze, and even Rian Johnson could cause you to look twice and realize just how important music videos have become in today's art world. Some of these videos have accumulated hundreds of millions of views over the course of the year, while others have run largely unseen but demonstrate complex techniques through brilliant exercises of low budget filmmaking.
It's been a long year for the world and you can really feel it in the music videos on this list. They highlight two of the medium's greatest opposing powers, an artist's ability to meld images into a reflection of reality or an escape from it. So once again, for your viewing pleasure, you can either sit back and let this playlist ride or you check out our highlights from 2018 in any order you'd like.
Childish Gambino - This is America
Director - Hiro Murai
Perhaps the most unsurprising choice on the entire list, Donald Glover had himself a hell of a year in 2018. From being Lando Calrissian to somehow making Atlanta's second season even better than its first, Glover and longtime collaborator Hiro Murai were also able to squeeze out this little piece of social commentary somewhere along the line.
This man is an artist at his peak and one of the most important voices in today's entertainment industry. Glover has the unique ability to provide layered satire at an accessible and entertaining level in all of his work, but the music video for This is America may demonstrate this skill at its best. When the video dropped back in May, it launched a seemingly endless amount of blogs and vlogs analyzing each and every frame, which was a little confusing considering the message is clearly visible for all to see. It's in its title, after all.
The Carters - Apeshit
Director - Ricky Saiz
Want to see what it's like to have a lot of money? The Carters rented out the Louvre to shoot this music video. The Louvre. This puts Mr. Carter and Ms. Knowles up there with the likes of Bertolucci, Scorsese and The Motherf***** Da Vinci Code!
It seems, however, that self-taught director and Co-head designer for Supreme, Ricky Saiz may have had significantly more time to pull off his beautifully complex choreography then Godard did with Band of Outsiders back in 1969. According to Racked, about 500 shoots take place at the Louvre each year, and their policy states that to shoot a short film or music video, the cost for both interior and exterior shots would be just €4,500, or about $5,200.
Kikagaku Moyo - Nazo Nazo
Director - Elliott Arndt
Call me a sucker for this lo-fi super 8 aesthetic, and it's true that much of this music video may be nothing more than a collection of out of focus images, but for some reason, these images conjure a sense of calm and beauty that we simply don't have enough of in today's dumpster fire of a world. Bands like Japan's Kikagaku Moyo don't have the budget to be putting together epic films like some of the others on this list, but what they do have is ingenuity.
It all comes down to art direction. Director Elliot Arndt makes every prop and every set dressing count. Everyday objects are cobbled together against fantastically colored backgrounds and costumes that just seem slightly off to form a cohesive whole. This video somehow simultaneously makes no sense and all the sense in the world. Nazo Nazo is Wabi-sabi.
GUM - Couldn't See Past My Ego
Director - Sam Kristofski
Continuing on that film kick, this very well may be my favorite video of 2018. At this point, Sam Kristofski is perhaps Australia's most prolific music video director (aside from King Gizzard's Jason Galea but he's basically the eighth member of the band) working with artists like Pond, Babe Rainbow, Conan Mockasin and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. He's simply nailed that French new wave feel.
This video is all about simplicity. Beautiful landscapes, understated humor, and how about those manual zooms? I've spent hours arguing with friends whether or not those moves were pulled off in camera or not. And we've come to the expert conclusion that they must be.
Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake - King's Dead
Directors - Dave Free (of the little homies) & Jack Begert
Speaking of long zooms, this video features the year's best: Kendrick Lamar sitting in a palm tree, chilling whilst eating an elote. The little homies had a big year last year making videos for Lamar's fantastic Damn. so we're glad to see him spreading the love in 2018.
We're glad the king didn't actually die while making this video. It looks like the opportunities were ripe, whether it be death by falling off a building mid boogie or playing in traffic. There are some truly incredible shots in this music video, even if they did have a little help from a robotic zoom to pull it off.
A$AP Rocky - A$AP Forever
Director - Dexter Navy
And you thought New York City-centric music videos were played out? A$AP Rocky's delirious love letter to his hometown gives us a view at the city unlike any we've ever seen before. While the concept was most likely laid down by director Dexter Navy, much of the credit ought to be given to the editor here.
He pulls off some simply brilliant after VFX work and we'd love to know what software he did it in. The kaleidoscopic pacing kind of gives us those rolling transition Atlanta ad vibes, which we broke down in a how-to article earlier this year.
Tyler the Creator featuring Kali Uchis - See You Again
Director - Tyler the Creator
A$AP also has a brief cameo in another one of the year's best videos from the man who can seemingly do it all: Tyler the Creator. He's got a knack for just about everything, but his knowledge of color and framing are what I'm most impressed by as he continues to gain confidence in his abilities as a director.
Another trademark that we see in this video is Tyler's affinity towards the surreal epilogue. In this case, dancing around as some sort of ghost that explodes into a swarm of bees.
Anderson .Paak - ’Til It’s Over
Director - Spike Jonze
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=305ryPvU6A8
Ok so this one isn't "officially" a music video, I guess. But c'mon... if Spike Jonze makes any piece of media set to music as visually stunning as this Apple ad turned out, we're all over it. It also brings up an interesting conversation about what qualifies as branded content these days and what is simply a music video.
Would Anderson .Paak have been able to secure the greatest music video director in the world if Apple wasn't involved? Would the final product have been as technically marvelous as what Jonze unleashed upon the world? Who exactly got paid for what here and how much?
The landscape of music video is continuing to shape and evolve. Paak probably saw significant more exposure with a release like this than he would've with an "official" music video as the ad played seemingly everywhere earlier this year. You'd see it on your TV, in front of other music video's on YouTube and even on subway platforms, and we all know the most valuable currency for any artist is exposure. Sounds like a pretty good deal.
Melody's Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage Suite
Director - Dr D Foothead
If you glanced over last year's slate of music videos, you'll see a few directors come up again on this year's edition. There's Kristofski, Tyler, the Creator and one of the trippiest animators in the game: Dr D Foothead.
Melody Prochet, the woman behind weirdo psych-pop outfit Melody's Echo Chamber suffered a near-death accident prior to the release of her latest album Bon Voyage, which left her with a severe brain aneurysm and broken vertebrae. As a result, the album is a meditation on her experience stuck somewhere in the limbo between life and death. Foothead's series of videos based on her singles "Breathe in, Breathe Out", "Desert Horse" and "Cross My Heart" give us a peek at what she may have been seeing.
Foothead has always been gifted with sci-fi visuals, but here we see shades of René Laloux's Fantastic Planet as a young man traverses through time and space to make a connection with some sort of omniscient hyper-dimensional being. It's good stuff.
YACHT - Hard World
Director - Mike Hollingsworth
Moving from a series of videos directed by a guy named Foothead to a single video featuring multiple footheads, Mike Hollingsworth's animated short for Hard World is one that may have slipped under your radar this year. The animation style harkens back to the days of newspaper comic strips and Roy Lichtenstein. But... ou know. With feet,
Despite its low play count on YouTube, however, Thrillist named this one it's #1 video for 2018. They claim "this YACHT video took the legend of Sunset Boulevard's rotating Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign, which purportedly portends what kind of day you'll have depending on which side you see, and turns it into -- wait for it -- a vision of the hellscape that is modern life."
How dark can a video about footheads living in a foothead world really be? You're gonna have to watch and find out.
oh baby - LCD Soundsystem
Director - Rian Johnson
I feel like Rian Johnson had a concept for a feature with his video for LCD Soundsystem's "oh baby" but maybe no one wanted to make it? In any case, the narrative in this video is so clean, I would love to see a full-length sci-fi film with Sissy Spacek and David Straitharn once he's done making Star Wars movies.
That's not to say that this piece isn't suited beautifully for the music video format. It's full-on heartbreak in five-minute form that sums up what seems to be a major theme in many of the videos on this list: is there something better out there lurking somewhere in between?