2016 Staff Picks: Favorite Music Videos
Beyoncé’s groundbreaking visual album, David Bowie’s final masterpiece, the poignant return of A Tribe Called Quest, an abandoned Chinese city, a good, old fashioned political beat down and more.December 19, 2016
Just like you guys, we here at Vevo watch A LOT of music videos.
From A-list superstars to the most underground DIY acts, we check out hundreds each week – so picking favorites is no small task. We understand that great music videos come in many forms. Some have a powerful message, others are built on stunning visuals; some make you turn up, while others hit you on a deeply personal level.
Gone are the days when music videos were just companion pieces to their tracks. Now they are essential components of an artist’s repertoire, pushing creative boundaries year after year.
We hope you enjoy some of our favorites. You can check out all of our staff picks here.
It is impossible to consider Top Videos of 2016 without mentioning Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade.’ This visual monster of an album was not only groundbreaking in delivery, the rich and stunning visuals accompanied a storyline that had us all captivated. It was a social and cultural moment where we collectively held our breath, watching the drama unfold in what publicly seemed to correlate to the artist’s real life. Ordinarily a private artist, Beyonce invited us into her personal space to see that everything isn’t as perfect as we imagine. And it wasn’t just about her story, but of so many others who needed a platform, like the mothers holding pictures of their slain sons, and the specific attention paid to the black female image. It is both hugely global and intimately personal. It was provocative, brave, and absolutely important to the history of music video. – Parul Chokshi
David Bowie “Lazarus”
Released just 3 days before the legend passed, “Lazarus” is the definition of a “tragedy” – a highly creative mind trapped inside a dying vessel. The bedridden character, with the bandaged, button eyes, deals with the absolute vulnerability and fear as he faces his own mortality, while the character in the black bodysuit (that’s actually the outfit from the back cover of ‘Station To Station’) looks as vibrant and inspired as ever. When you watch the video and listen to the ‘Blackstar’ album, it’s clear that even though the drugs made his “brain whirl,” creatively, he remained unmatched. ‘Blackstar’ opened a window into a dying genius’ final exit, and visually “Lazarus” is heartbreakingly beautiful. Thankfully Bowie was able to fully realize his final masterpiece and share it with the world, and in true Bowie fashion, he did not conform – instead he reinvented himself one last time, turning uncomfortable topics like cancer and death into some of the most striking and impactful work of his career. The Wizard had pulled back the curtain, and let us in on his most personal secret. Of course he did it on his terms. – Matt Erman
DJ Shadow ft. Run The Jewels “Nobody Speak”
No video better reflects 2016 than this DJ Shadow/Run The Jewels collab. Not only is the video brilliant, but it’s definitely one of the best tracks of the year. From the opening notes, the DJ Shadow-produced beat hooks you, and Killer Mike and El-P’s rhymes command your attention. The video perfectly complements the lyrics, bringing to life how we all feel about what’s been going on in Washington this year. The absurdity of it all captivates you from the beginning to the end. I listened to few songs as much this year as this one, and watched few videos as many times. If this is your first time watching it, you’re welcome.
Can you spot Shadow, Mike, and El-P amongst the government officials? – Jordan Glickson
A Tribe Called Quest “We The People…”
It’s a bittersweet return for the Native Toungue’rs with their first new music video in 18 years. Even without the presence of Phife Dawg, its vision and message still comes across clear and complete. Despite the election result, we (the REAL people) still won with this one. Thank You, 1nce Again, For Your Service Tip, Ali… and sometimes Jarobi. – Justin Prager
Lucius “Gone Insane”
Lucius’ video for “Gone Insane” hits the trifecta for me — a stunning technological achievement, a perfect thematic companion to the song, and a standout track from one of my favorite albums of the year — and that’s why it’s my top video of 2016.
More than 3,000 photographs stitched together into seamlessly enough to feel like a video, but disjointed enough to be unsettling – even haunting. Deceivingly simple, engrossing, beautiful, and terrifying all at once. – David McTiernan
D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty – “Broccoli”
A white piano on a flatbed truck. No! No! A white piano in the middle of a creek! Plus video girls dancing in that creek! And I want my dog in it! This is the kind of video you make when you’re HAF off that broccoli. “Formation” is the best song and video of 2016 but this was the most fun. – Joseph Patel
Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”
Not only did Solange come out with one of my favorite albums of the year, but she completely blew me away with the music video for “Cranes in the Sky”. As a video producer and filmmaker, I immediately fell in love with the stunning visuals and expressive choreography in the video. I especially love how they took a road trip across the country to make the video and capture such amazing visuals, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. This video leaves me with some overall good vibes, and I can’t help but listen to this song on repeat… constantly. – Lori Schmon
“Seat at the Table” was one of the most important albums of 2016 that few saw coming. Solange perfectly encapsulated the thoughts, emotions, and experiences conjured up in what was a very challenging year for black people in America. “Cranes in the Sky”, is a beautiful video filled with an array of textured environments and soothing pastels. It’s a masterclass in minimalism and landscape cinematography that pairs effortlessly with the vibe of the track. – Jamaal Orr
Fifth Harmony – “That’s My Girl”
Girl bosses supporting each other, sticking together and helping others – all in full hair and make-up! I’m IN! – Cookie Zito
Mitski “Your Best American Girl”
Feeling alone, feeling separated, feeling like it’s impossible to fit in even though you gave it your best shot – it all comes to head in this fuzz guitar opus from Mitski’s ‘Puberty 2’ album. It’s a song with a deeply forlorn vocal to match its wounded lyrics of tried-and-failed romance, a reportedly true tale from Ms. Miyawaki’s life. A relationship blossoms but never reaches its peak, subsiding due to cultural differences between the Brooklyn-based Japanese native and a former lover. Director Zia Anger amplifies the ache by capturing the singer waving goodbye to her beau, and watching him make out with another woman – a gleaming couple so wholly Americanized that they look like they’re cut from a 4th of July GAP ad. As they dry hump wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, Mitski caresses herself, passionately tongues her own hand, and grabs that guitar to blast away the confusion. When the dust settles, our alleged melting pot has been stirred a bit, and a lesson arises: planting a flag for your sense of self is usually worth the pain it creates. – Jim Macnie
Jamie XX “Gosh”
In China there is an abandoned city called Tianducheng that’s notable for being a recreation of Paris, Eiffel Tower and all. With director Romain Gavras and the help of a hundred student extras, the electronica producer uses the discarded, Xeroxed city to create a video that’s strikingly beautiful and original, just like how he uses the forgotten scraps and bits of records of yesteryear to create a sound that’s entirely 2016. So while the debate between “sample” and “ripoff” will undoubtedly continue well into the future, we’ll just bask in whatever this artist keeps shining down on us. – James Mecker
Fall Out Boy ft. Demi Lovato “Irresistible”
Great creative taking an older popular video done two decades earlier by NSYNC and updating it with a fresh new approach. Even having members from NSYNC Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick join in on the fun guest star. Videos are sometimes too serious and this one was just fun to watch. Wayne Isham the godfather of music videos directed the piece! – Sammy Choi
G-Eazy “Calm Down”
G-Eazy shows us why the Bay Area is home to the hyphy in his video, “Calm Down.” Quintessential images of Dolores Park, Haight-Ashbury, the Bay Bridge and even E-40 himself help G-Eazy paint a picture of his beloved hometown. This black & white video shows us that Gerald has definitely not forgotten his North Cal roots. Mac Dre would be proud. – Gabby Prisciandaro
Chris Stapleton “Fire Away”
This is a VERY heavy video, and releasing it was a risky move. Mental health is a topic that gets swept under the rug for the most part – it’s not safe, it makes you uncomfortable, and yet it affects so many of us. The reality of this video grips viewers. Chris himself takes a backseat in the video to truly showcase the story of a young couple in love getting torn apart due to depression. The video points viewers to www.changedirection.org, a campaign that encourages people to pay attention to their emotional well-being. Fire Away is a truly heartbreaking video, with such a strong message, and is actually the only official music video that has been released as of yet by Stapleton. With over 18M views, and counting, hopefully that message is getting through. – Jenn Tressler
Kings Of Leon “Walls”
I work in production and I’m still not sure how they made this. Does he really go outside? Is it a green screen? Is Caleb Followill as magical as his voice? – Alyssa Ahrens
David Bowie “Blackstar”
If the track wasn’t dark and morbid enough, the video for “Blackstar” seals the deal. I don’t pretend to get all the symbolism but only Bowie can take the last months of living and turn it into a beautiful meditation on death, employing the visual and dramatic to full effect. Watching it for the first time after his death, the video takes on even greater significance, placing a final exclamation mark on the great musical life of an artist who lived as full in his darkest days as he did in his brightest. – Jeremy Fader
OK Go “Upside Down & Inside Out”
Ok Go continued their streak of making groundbreaking music videos in 2016. Even though it came out in February, the video for “Upside Down & Inside Out” sticks in my head as one of the best of the entire year. The band brought their coordinated dances to new heights (literally) in a Russian zero gravity plane. They spent three weeks overseas preparing, rehearsing and trying not to puke during each weightless flight, and the result was a fun and impeccably choreographed three minute floating dance routine. – Annie Shapiro
Yelawolf – “Daylight”
Yelawolf’s music video for “Daylight” is gritty, raw and fearless – all qualities that make him a quintessential artist. The video for “Daylight” is simple but so personal and affecting, instantly relatable to the lost souls who consider the bottle their best friend. – Dan Nastro