It was a big year for music, and with it came some extravagant, show-stopping music videos
By ANGIE CUMMINGS — email@example.com
While they can often go overlooked, music videos are a huge part of an artist’s brand, helping them solidify themselves as entertainers and creatives for all their fans (not just the ones who get to see them perform live). There was a definite dip in music video quality over the past few years, but over the course of 2021, it has become clear that many artists are dedicating themselves to raising the music video bar. Because there was such a plethora of videos to choose from this year, and since so many of them are vastly different from each other, this list is randomly ordered and in no way entirely comprehensive.
- “Wild Side” by Normani (feat. Cardi B)
Everything Normani does is just pure art, and this entire music video is no exception. The song being only one of her first couple singles since going solo really just solidifies her future as a superstar. This music video pulls out all the stops, from the top-tier wardrobe and set design to incredible camera work and choreography. I realize I said this ranking is not in any particular order but this music video is definitely one of the top 3 of the year.
- “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” by Lil Nas X
There is no list of top music videos without Lil Nas X’s extraordinarily controversial video full of biblical references alongside explicit lap dances. Of course, this was met with quite a lot of outrage from the conservative Christian community, prompting many to say Nas X is a follower of the devil and is intentionally “corrupting children.” While it is obvious that this video was purposely made to be controversial, the use of Christian imagery to visualize queer experiences in dating, hookups and love is a powerful tool that Nas X has wielded perfectly since coming out in 2019. This wonderfully campy and primarily CGI music video is one of the most unforgettable releases of this year.
- “good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo
What made this music video an instant hit was undoubtedly the director, Petra Collins, who has been a verified “it girl” since the mid-2010s (mainly on Tumblr) for her notable dreamy and feminine-oriented visuals. This music video is the perfect visual homage to teen-girl angst and the “badassery” possible when that angst is unleashed. Complete with a reference to the cult classic “Jennifer’s Body,” this music video tells a twisted story with Rodrigo front and center deviously smiling right at you for most of the song. This is just a great music video regardless of your opinion on Rodrigo, or pop music at all, since its production value feels much more akin to that of an experimental indie movie.
- “Thot Shit” by Megan Thee Stallion
This music video is one of those amazing short films reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s iconic “Telephone” video. Every video Megan has released this year could have easily made this list, but this passionate embrace of doing “thot shit” takes the cake for many reasons. Not only is it thoroughly visually appealing (it’s Megan, she always looks amazing) but the whole narrative of her essentially tormenting a misogynistic old politician is just an incredibly fun way to take a jab at all the people like him who attack Megan (and many other women) for immodesty, or just being hot and having fun.
- “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat (ft. SZA)
This song and music video are still one of the great collaborations of the whole year — a perfect introduction into the magic of “Planet Her” (Doja’s album that was released a few months later) and the level of amazing visuals we have come to expect from Doja. The premise of the video is giant alien versions of SZA and Doja Cat dancing in silks and flowers as they trap a human man in one of their test tubes — there’s just no way this couldn’t be a great video. The looks are amazing, the story is fun and the song is still so incredibly catchy.
- “Family Ties” by Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar
It might be more appropriate to deem this a piece of video art than simply a music video because watching it is such a powerful experience. Every single aspect of its creative direction, editing and choreography is absolutely sublime. It has been a long-accepted fact that Lamar is a rap legend, so it is only fitting that his first feature in over a year has a legendary visual. There are countless beautiful technical aspects in the video, from beat-aligned layering to amazing camerawork and fine art level compositional balance in many scenes. If you’re into the visual arts and video editing, or just cool music videos, I would highly suggest checking this one out.
- “All Too Well” (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift
I feel the need to preface this by saying that I am not a Swiftie, but I still consider this music video/short film to be one of the most important pop culture events of the entire year. As everyone has probably heard ten times over, this song is (rumored to be) about Swift’s relationship with the (now hated) actor Jake Gyllenhaal when she was 20 and he was 29 years old — and this video depicts that in all its utter creepiness and heartbreak. It’s pretty common to be enthralled from the first second to the very end of this 15-minute long video, and while this might only loosely count as a music video, every part of its narrative and visual qualities make it deserving to be on this (extremely important) list.
- “Need to Know” Doja Cat
Apologies, I couldn’t keep myself from including two Doja Cat videos in this list (I easily could have added more), so I’ll keep this one brief. This video depicts five alien ladies (including Doja Cat and Grimes) having a night out and meeting some cool blue-haired alien-boy. Just like “Kiss Me More,” there is simply no denying that this is an awesome concept for a music video regardless of its other positive aspects. Perhaps Doja Cat is simply the reigning queen of music video concepts? Hard to say, but if she keeps dropping videos on par with those from “Planet Her,” she will definitely be a top contender.
- “Transparent Soul” by Willow Smith (ft. Travis Barker)
Willow Smith’s mastery of the entire pop-punk genre of music was made clear with the release of this song, and when she dropped the music video in April it was set in stone that she belongs in the grunge hall of fame. In the video, we follow Willow into a dark and grunge-y concert where none other than Willow (now with shorter hair and red face paint) is performing. We are then greeted with a mysterious silver being that Willow (version one) tries to escape. It should be clear by now that the actual premise of the video doesn’t really make sense but I do believe that is part of its appeal. You’re left guessing as to what’s going on and what might happen next, and the only things that are for certain is that Willow looks cool while freaking out in the club’s bathroom and that we would all be lucky to be in the crowd of that show.
10.“LUMBERJACK” by Tyler The Creator
At this point, some people might know Tyler more for his visuals (including his clothing line) than his music. With the release of his album from this summer came five top-tier music videos, and while this might be one of the shortest videos of the entire list, it is the most powerful. Even though the video is just a little over one minute long, the fantastical world we see and outfits donned by Tyler make this one of those music videos you can return to again and again just to be reminded of its beauty. I honestly could have easily included any of the music videos from “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST” for all the same reasons, but this one just seems to stand out.
- “Working for the Knife” by Mitski
I’ll admit it — this one might be a slightly personal addition, but Mitski is in no way an underground artist (if you have never heard of her, sorry). Not only is the first fifth of this whole video full of references to her previous albums, but contains some of Mitski’s iconic interpretive dancing (interpretive movement is perhaps a better description). As the queen of sad indie music’s first single in three years, a symbol-filled expression of her struggle with being in the spotlight is the perfect way to announce her next album. It’s confusing, and it’s slightly uncomfortable to watch all the way through… which is the whole point.
- “Ungodly Hour” Chloe x Halle
Last, but certainly, not least is the long-awaited music video to the title track of Chloe x Halle’s flawless 2020 album. The music video was released in February of this year, and 100% did this incredible song justice. In line with their other videos, there are several breathtaking looks throughout the video, along with choreography that makes you think that is exactly how you should dance to their song. This sister duo never disappoints with their visuals, and if this list was ranked in an actual order, best believe this video would be incredibly high up.
Written by: Angie Cummings — firstname.lastname@example.org