- INSIDER ranked our 35 favourite music videos from 2018.
- Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” took the top spot.
- It was followed by Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Apes—“ and Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” in the top three.
In the past few years, music videos have experienced something of a renaissance.
From Beyoncé’s game-changing mini movie “Lemonade” to Kendrick Lamar’s iconographic “Humble,” musicians have recently re-embraced visual art as an important storytelling medium; in fact, Billboard called 2018 “the new golden age for music videos.”
Keep reading to see our 35 favourite music videos from this year, ranked in ascending order.
35. “Colours” by Beck
The striking visuals and choreography for “Colours” recall works by Keith Haring and Busby Berkeley. Beck’s charming awkwardness is offset in this video by bubbly, expressive actress Alison Brie (“Glow”).
“Alison really rehearsed for probably 10 hours total, and just kind of came in and aced it, totally aced it,” director Edgar Wright told Entertainment Weekly. “It was like a dream. I’ve always flirted with doing musical set-pieces and this one was a proper full-on dance number with 20 dancers.”
34. “Walk It Talk It (ft. Drake)” by Migos
Drake and Migos’ homage to “Soul Train” – complete with heart-shaped sunglasses, a Jamie Foxx cameo, and a comedic game show interlude – is simply delightful.
33. “Love It if We Made It” by The 1975
“Love It if We Made It,” a song that NME describes as “a state of the union address for a fractured planet,” invokes a growing list of modern crises. Songwriter and lead singer Matty Healy directly quotes President Donald Trump (“I moved on her like a b—-.”), recalls the police murder of Eric Garner, and condemns the Syrian refugee crisis.
It only makes sense that the song’s visuals are equally honest and assaulting. Bright colours are juxtaposed with horrific imagery and briefly interrupted by an old-school, “Thriller”-like dance break to emphasise the hopeful chorus.
32. “Reel It In” by Aminé
As he declares that he’s “tired of being humble,” Aminé indulges in rap video tropes – but it also seems distinctly tongue-in-cheek. He subverts those same tropes along the way, from a title screen reading, “sorry mum,” to Rickey Thompson’s delightful cameo.
31. “Boo’d Up” by Ella Mai
Ella Mai’s youthful, nostalgic video perfectly illustrates why Rolling Stone dubbed “Boo’d Up” the song of the summer.
“I didn’t want the video to be overly romantic,” Mai told Billboard. “I wanted it to have more of a fun feel: kind of like a date night with the person I’m talking about. There’s a story line but it’s more so about capturing different moments with friends and then just myself and my love interest.”
30. “ATM” by J. Cole
“ATM” is a cartoonish yet perturbing illustration of J. Cole’s recent concept album “KOD,” an acronym with three different meanings: “Kids On Drugs,” “King Overdose,” and “Kill Our Demons.” The rapper takes on multiple characters, all equal parts strange and dark.
29. “Feels Like Summer” by Childish Gambino
“Feels Like Summer,” featuring gorgeous illustrations and character design from Justin Richburg, presents itself as both a tribute to and critique of the current state of hip hop and rap.
28. “Dance With Me” by Beabadoobe
Beabadoobe’s low-res, homemade music video takes viewers on an intimate behind-the-scenes journey, which highlights both the warmth and unique loneliness of an 18-year-old songwriter alone in her room – the walls plastered with Tom Hanks posters – as well as the collaborative, colourful process of creating the video itself.
“This video literally shows my entire world in under five minutes,” Beabadoobe told The FADER via email. “It’s basically an introduction to everything that matters to me…from the places we filmed, to the people starring in it.”
“Each location played a huge part in my life, like the real studio I recorded in for months on end, the block of flats I lived in growing up or the lights of Winter Wonderland. I wanted someone watching this to feel as though they just stumbled upon a box of home movies from a girl’s life and watched it all in one go.”
27. “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande kicked off her record-breaking year with the soaring, optimistic “No Tears Left to Cry” – her first single since the Manchester, England bombing that took place at her concert in May 2017 – and a fittingly gorgeous visual to match.
The video employed optical illusions and impressive editing to make it appear as though Grande could fly through the night sky and walk on walls. Each scene was packed with meaning and stunning visual effects.
26. “What I Need (ft. Kehlani)” by Hayley Kiyoko
“What I Need” tells the story of a slow-burning, renegade romance between Hayley Kiyoko, whose fans call her “Lesbian Jesus,” and fellow queer singer Kehlani.
Kiyoko has become known for her self-directed love stories, which are hailed for their embrace of a realistic queer perspective that’s not often seen in mainstream media.
“There was this vision of what I’d always dreamt of seeing in a relationship between two best friends,” Kiyoko told Rolling Stone this summer. “I grew up with stories of girls killing themselves, never getting the girl. It’s very disheartening because you’re like, ‘It’s gonna suck to like girls.'”
25. “The One” by Jorja Smith
Jorja Smith stars in the emotional, cinematic video for “The One,” a soulful standout track from her debut album.
“The track really inspired me to try and visualise what it’s like to keep getting pulled back into a relationship,” director Hector Dockrill told Clash. “With the concept I wanted to leave the question: What has happened? I also felt the video should be beautifully simple to let Jorja’s incredible energy and performance drive the video, which she naturally did.”
24. “Need a Little Time” by Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett’s “Need a Little Time” seems to describe an alternating sense of alienation and freedom. Its retro, surreal video, in which everyone seems to be an otherworldly being except Barnett herself, creates the same exact mood.
“‘Need a Little Time’ has this soaring, floating feeling to it,” director Danny Cohen said in a statement. “I decided to play on the meaning of the song: Courtney needs some time away from herself (and you)… She finally has found some time alone, just Courtney and her guitar, singing in space without a care in the world.”
23. “Party for One” by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen’s video for “Party for One” sees the pop star channel Margot Tenenbaum in an evocative, joyful embrace of alone time. Clips of her celebration are interspersed with a diverse cast of characters doing the same, thriving in their own spaces, and then finding comfort in each other.
“It was a play off of rom-com cliches, like ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary,’ and Carly wanted to have the journey that you go through in your alone time,” director Bardia Zeinali told Billboard. “I started watching rom-coms, figuring out, ‘What are these cliches, and how do we flip them on their head?'”
22. “Be Careful” by Cardi B
At this point in her career, there are likely few things more satisfying for Cardi B fans than watching her marry a man and then bury him – stunting at her husband’s funeral dressed in all black and shrouded in a bejeweled veil. The video for “Be Careful” perfectly encapsulates the rapper’s ability to project vulnerability without weakness.
21. “Tints (ft. Kendrick Lamar)” by Anderson .Paak
In “Tints,” Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar, two artists with reputations for boundary-pushing artistic visions, play a variety of characters with dirty secrets and intriguing motivations. The video is confusing and sporadic, but that’s part of what makes it wonderful.
20. “Delicate” by Taylor Swift
The video is delightful simply by virtue of watching Swift shed her typically poised exterior in favour of bizarre dance moves and unselfconscious facial expressions – although it has received backlash for similarities to a 2016 Kenzo ad.
19. “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” by Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson
The video for “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” adds a new layer to the country-infused breakup ballad, allowing it to serve as socio-political commentary.
While the camera follows Miley Cyrus speeding along, trailed by the police, each clip invokes a divisive issue.As Rolling Stone writes, she “drives through a strip club, a gun range where children are using fellow children imagery as target practice, a home where a loving female couple are in a jacuzzi, and by a group of football players taking a knee.”
18. “Without Me” by Halsey
To hear Halsey tell it, “Without Me” is the artist’s first time singing as her true self as opposed to her stage personality. She has previously embraced concept albums, elaborate character work, and dramatic visuals – and so the raw footage used in “Without Me” becomes a refreshing and authentic act of truth-telling.
“Without Me” is essentially a near-direct response to the tabloid coverage of Halsey’s split from rapper G-Eazy. By the time the song had been released, the couple had reunited, but the video was released after their second (and presumably final) breakup.
Many fans immediately jumped on the similarities between G-Eazy and the male love interest in the video, but the narrative runs much deeper. “Without Me” is a masterful illustration of an addictive, toxic love, and it sees Halsey come out on top.
17. “A$AP Forever (ft. Moby)” by A$AP Rocky
The “A$AP Forever” video is ostensibly a grainy homage to New York; the vigour and zest of the city runs like an undercurrent throughout each scene. As Complex notes, the action in the video is laid-back, but “there’s an energy here that complements the song well.”
The inventive camera angles, deep colour palette, and seamless editing transitions are perfectly suited for the ebbs and flows of the track.
16. “Doesn’t Matter” by Christine and the Queens
“Doesn’t Matter” is a truly beautiful example of Christine and the Queens’ talents and allure. The minimalistic clip sees the multi-hyphenate artist writhe, bounce, embrace androgyny, explore the gender binary, and showcase her effortless stage presence in a parking lot.
15. “Sicko Mode (ft. Drake)” by Travis Scott
Travis Scott has mastered the combination of trippy and pleasing, both in his music and in his visuals. “Sicko Mode” – which features Drake and some questionable jabs at Kanye West – is the perfect example of this talent. Charles Holmes of Rolling Stone called it “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of Travis Scott music videos.”
“Not many music videos can reduce the chaos, hedonism and beauty of modern life into an undeniable banger,” Holmes wrote. “The ‘Sicko Mode’ visual is a monument to Texas, but more importantly the eclectic mind of ‘Astroworld’s’ primary citizen.”
14. “After The Storm (ft. Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins)” by Kali Uchis
Kali Uchis and Tyler, The Creator play house in this vibrant, Wes Anderson-esque video that appears to poke fun at the idea of the “American Dream.”
In answering the question, “What’s so special about this video?”Kaitlyn Tiffany writes for The Verge: “Kali’s hairdressers are birds? Her husband and children are plant people? All of the processed food in her universe has Bootsy Collins on it, and he’s singing to her? She doesn’t traipse around looking for love like some schmuck but rather, puts on a radically lemon-yellow ensemble and turns over cold hard cash for it?”
13. “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monáe
12. “God’s Plan” by Drake
“God’s Plan” opens with lines of text: “The budget for this video was $US996,631.90. We gave it all away. Don’t tell the label.”
In the uplifting video, Drake donates oversized checks and full carts of free groceries to Miami citizens. It’s one of the sweetest and most genuine gestures from a massive popstar in recent memory – and it’s perfectly on-brand for rap’s resident sentimentalist.
11. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” by The 1975
The 1975 is at its best when making art that can easily feel universal, but is elevated with self-referential tweaks.
The surreal, slightly disturbing video for “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” – stylistically inspired by concert footage from the Talking Heads – has callbacks to a previous music video for “Sincerity Is Scary” and feels most poignant when paired with the lyrical backstory of Healy’s heroin addiction. The band characteristically goes all-out, creating more of a story than a simple visual.
10. “Bloom” by Troye Sivan
Troye Sivan plays with gender norms in his sparkling, exuberant video for “Bloom.” While the clip utilises somewhat obvious flower imagery, it’s paired with more nuanced design choices and never feels recycled or contrite; each frame is bursting with colour, and Sivan’s solitary performance gives him the chance to show off his true star power.
9. “Nobody” by Mitski
As Pitchfork notes, “Nobody” is an example of Mitski’s strength in rawness: “She stares out at the world from her solitary perch, daydreaming her aloneness into Technicolor.”
The song’s accompanying video brings this sentiment to life with a collection of bizarre yet somehow relatable images, from faceless paintings to unhelpful diary entries. Each frame is carefully thought-out and connected to another, which makes the video better with every re-watch.
As the singer herself told The Cut, her team went the extra mile to place all the details in “their respective, just-right places, which will most likely go unnoticed by the viewer, but it’s all these details we don’t notice that make each shot pop.”
8. “All The Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA
While British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor is suing over one scene’s similarity to herartwork, each and every piece of imagery is striking and impactful. The video evokes an Afrofuturism that’s central to the integrity of the film and,as The Atlantic notes, “draws on the emotional power of Afrocentrism without taking its ideas at face value.”
7. “IDGAF” by Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF” – a visual feast, which sees the pop star essentially dance-battling herself – is actually an ode to self-love.
“This video is about your stronger and weaker side fighting with each other only to realise that self love is what will help you overcome any negativity that comes your way,” Lipa said,as reported by NME.
“We wanted to embody the sense of empowerment in the track, whilst going beyond the literal breakup context,” director Henry Scholfield added. “We had in mind a visual of the internal struggle, showing the two sides of Dua’s emotive state, like an argument with someone you love. The strong Dua at first berating then eventually persuading her weaker alter ego that they both don’t give a f—.”
6. “God Is a Woman” by Ariana Grande
“At the end of the day, none of us would be here without a woman. To me, Ari took this to a transcendent level with the song,” director Dave Meyers said in a behind-the-scenes video. “Each visual is a different crayon in the crayon box of womanhood. I saw the opportunity to take all my powerful female images and put it together into a powerful package.”
5. “Nice for What” by Drake
Drake hardly even appears in the video for “Nice for What,” a Murda Beatz-produced, Lauryn Hill-sampling, Big Freedia-honouring track that is what Pitchfork describes as “pure fun and star power.”
Instead, the inspired and aesthetically stunning video centres on a massive host of female talent and diverse representation; the famous women who appeared in the video include Olivia Wilde, Issa Rae, Rashida Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tiffany Haddish, Yara Shahidi,Letitia Wright, and Michelle Rodriguez.
“Yes, ‘Nice for What’ is a monumental act of pandering, but, besides being savvy, it feels sincere,” the New Yorker writes, also noting that Drake displayed excellent judgment by selecting 22-year-old female director Karena Evans to helm the project.
4. “Pynk” by Janelle Monáe
“Pynk” is a much-needed, joyous celebration of femininity, which invokes everything from vagina imagery to “Kill Bill.” The colours are sumptuous, the textures are lavish, and the chemistry between Thompson and Monáe is practically indulgent.
3. “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande
It’s rare that a music video – or any piece of art, for that matter – can live up to the hype that Grande’s “Thank U, Next” video inspired. But it didn’t disappoint.
Grande had teased the video with photos on social media, allowing her fans to know in advance that she would be paying tribute to four iconic female-focused movies: “Mean Girls,” “Legally Blonde, “13 Going on 30,” and “Bring It On.”
“We are basically recreating a bunch of my favourite scenes from classic, girly, early 2000s, ’90s movies – that have shaped and moulded so many of us into the strong and intelligent, but still playful and girly, women that we are today,” Grande said in a clip from behind the scenes.
The video received one million views on YouTube in its first 35 minutes of being released, making “Thank U, Next” the fastest video to reach that mark, ever.
The surge caused some issues for YouTube, which tweeted that comments on Grande’s video would be delayed amid the crushing onslaught of fans.
2. “Apes—” by The Carters
It’s difficult to overstate how thoroughly Beyoncé has mastered the art of artistic, meaningful, culturally relevant yet convention-defying music videos. (Jay-Z is less active, but very much present and commanding, in the only clip from their joint album, “Everything Is Love.”)
As Rolling Stone notes, “Apes—” sees the Carters dancing and posing in the Lourve museum, “seizing center stage in a high-culture palace that – like most Western art museums – historically made little room for non-white artists.”
“Beyoncé and Jay-Z set about interjecting blackness into a space that has never placed much value on it,” Elias Leight writes, “claiming one of the centerpieces of European culture with gleeful defiance.”
The world’s largest art museum even unveiled a new 1.5-hour-long self-guided tour for museum visitors, inspired by “Apes—,” that covers 17 of the “key works” featured in the video.
1. “This Is America” by Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino delivered, by far, the most provoking visual feat of the year.
“This Is America” is the alarming, impeccably filmed, aggressively nuanced video that launched one thousand thinkpieces: It has been described as “a nightmare we can’t afford to look away from” (Rolling Stone); “a beautifully dark portrait of the ultra violence and rage running through America” (Complex); and “a denunciation of the distractions that keep many Americans from noticing how the world around them is falling apart” (The Atlantic).
All these analyses seem correct but also, somehow, inadequate.
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