2013 felt like the year in which the music video completed its shift from a four-minute commercial into a fully-immersive art experience. Videos have been more than just marketing tools for record labels to boost their album sales for a long time, but artists this year joyously pushed the idea of what makes a successful music video while bringing the medium into the Internet age.
This year, we saw interactive videos come to the forefront. Arcade Fire once again dazzled with a technologically advanced video that allowed their fans to control the effects of the scenes, and rock legend Bob Dylan created a world of interactive simulated TV stations for his nearly 50-year-old classic "Like A Rolling Stone." One of our favorites of the year, "Happy," by Pharrell Williams, lasts for 24 straight hours.
Below are twelve videos that were some of our favorites of 2013. Many of them feature a touch of the surreal, a sense of cinematic discovery, and some of them have an undercurrent of an unsettling nature. There's a lot of dance and movement (which is just fun to watch), and even the one featured video that seems homespun and simplistic (Keaton Henson's "Lying To You") sneaks in elements of a theatrical performance.
Our Favorite Music Videos Of 2013
Atoms For Peace, "Ingenue" (dir. Garth Jennings)
Radiohead fans have long celebrated Thom Yorke's emotive bursts of dance while performing, but in the video for "Ingenue", by his Atoms for Peace supergroup, Yorke explores the languid choreography of the Royal Ballet's Wayne McGregor with esteemed contemporary dancer Fukiko Takase. As Yorke matches Takase's every bend, jump and extension (while lip synching perfectly to each note of the song, natch), it seems like he's having an absolute blast winking at his reputation for interpretive, freeform dance.
Beach House, "Wishes" (dir. Eric Wareheim)
Even more Lynchian than the video David Lynch actually directed this year, "Wishes" finds director Eric Wareheim's oddball humor in a surrealist pep rally, beautifully-realized. Perhaps he had a dream one night after falling asleep to this Twin Peaks scene, because the inclusion of Ray Wise, whose performance contains multitudes of goofy, creepy and earnest, was a stroke of absurd genius.
Beyonce, "***Flawless" (dir. Jake Nava)
Along with her new album, Queen Beybestowed upon us 17 new videos, so picking favorites isn't easy. Among the standouts, there's "Blow," a neon, candy-colored nostalgia trip that recalls hormonal skating parties at the roller rink. But "***Flawless" gives us the hand-dance that everyone will be doing from now to eternity. The whole video isn't up on YouTube yet, but even in the short clip here you get the picture: It's sweaty and there's lots of skin, but it feels radical. B is at her best on film when she's clearly feeling her music: You can see it in her sneer.
Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas, "Instant Crush" (dir. Warren Fu)
Two museum mannequins have a brief and, ahem, fiery love affair in this emotional video directed by Warren Fu. As the wax figures hold their poses during the day (and yet ... at night), a certain tension begins to set in, hinting to the viewer that this unrequited affection may be too good to be true. Be sure to have a tissue ready for the ending.
David Bowie, "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" (dir. Floria Sigismundi)
It's tough to determine what's creepier — the idea of David Bowie being stalked by a pair of celebrities in the suburbs ... or David Bowie living in the suburbs? Director Floria Sigismondi is the master of eerie-chic music videos, and here, she gives a knowing nod to Bowie's androgynous past by pairing him with his contemporary doppelganger, the wonderous Tilda Swinton.
Advisory: This video contains nudity
Drake, "Started From The Bottom" (dir. Director X)
Bowling never looked so extreme. The Canadian boy wonder works his way up from night manager at a drug store to host of drunken parties at his beachfront compound, much to the delight of his friends. Isn't this exactly the video you'd make if you were Drake? Everything is excess: Even clothes and billboards bear the song's title. He's not allowed to fly his own private jet, though, because you have to draw the line somewhere.
Advisory: This video contains profanity
Duke Dumont, "Need U (100%)" (dir. Ian Robertson)
A simple, yet compelling premise, executed perfectly. Its charm fires on all levels: the unbridled dancing, actor Rique's constant look of exasperation and details such as his use of an extra Walkman for a jog. I wonder how many times he's had to endure "Need U (100%)" by the time the story builds to its logical conclusion.
FKA Twigs, "Water Me" (dir. Jesse Kanda)
London's FKA Twigs twists classic emoting-into-the-camera, Sinead-style (seen elsewhere this year by Miley and Lorde), into a grotesque, robotic display: Her features blow up into baby doll eyes, pouty rouged lips, a cartoon crystalline tear. It's disturbing, yet you'd hate to look away. When it comes to her image, Twigs is in control.
Keaton Henson, "Lying To You" (dir. Autumn de Wilde)
It's amazing how a simple walk around the neighborhood can evoke such startling melancholia. The awkward fearlessness of teenage girls is front and center in this simple video. At one point, our protagonist strides confidently over a parked car, but then also stares into space, maybe pondering the rather adult intimacy issues touched upon in Henson's poetic lyrics. Oh, and the tampon pin is like whoa levels of badass.
Laura Mvula, "That's Alright" (dir. Wendy Morgan)
It's hard not to want to join Laura Mvula in cutting a rug after watching her gothic-tinged video for "That's Alright." An anthem of self-celebration, Mvula tells mainstream beauty peddlers to piss off, brings the haute glamour in a brilliant red gown and figuratively dances out her hang-ups to a New Orleans-style second line drum beat.
Pharrell Williams, "Happy" (dir. We Are From L.A.)
How do you pick a favorite moment in a 24-hour music video? There are cameos by Jamie Foxx, Odd Future, Steve Carell, Magic Johnson and some Despicable Me minions, sure, but just as exciting is watching hundreds of other people dance with genuine exuberance down the streets of Los Angeles. Pharrell himself appears every hour on the hour, in a grocery store (8 p.m.), bowling alley (11 p.m.) or in a church with a gospel choir (3 p.m.), to name a few. This video could be sent to aliens as the sole visual representation of its titular state of being, and I'm confident it would be understood perfectly.
Solange, "Lovers In The Parking Lot" (dir. Solange, Peter J. Brant and Emily Kai Bock)
Solange returns to her hometown to host an after-hours dance party for one in this colorful and poppy video. Filmed in Houston's Kings Flea Market, Solange rocks a number of killer outfits, dances among an impressive array of rims and car accessories, summons balloons to fall randomly in food courts and even gets hip-hop icons Mannie Fresh and Bun B to two-step a bit during their cameos.