20 Surprisingly Sweet Music Videos of 2014
From Florida Georgia Line to Nicki Minaj, these are the videos that didn't suck this year.
In 2014, the music video, a long dead art form, matters only when it delivers complex, feminist statements about body image and the male gaze and as fodder for GIFs. The future of the music video otherwise is a facillitator for brilliantly terrible special effects and very low stakes, do-whatever videos—and that is just fine. Those few videos that still pretend like narrative or even a coherent concept remain the move are admirable when done well, which is rare (it appears only twice here, in videos by Future Islands and Florida Georgia Line). These carefully crafted videos are kind of like that bar that pretends it’s a 1930s speakeasy or the beardo butchery that just came to your neighborhood, and oh man is it delicious, however douchey it may be: When done right, there is nothing wrong with being antediluvian. But even when the concepts weren't all the way there, 2014 still had plenty of surprisingly sweet music videos.
20. Nicki Minaj – "Anaconda" (directed by Colin Tilley)
Exhibit A for the music video as event but really just a facilitator of GIFs and product placement. There's no strong narrative, but whatevz. Just a series of set pieces that look incredible and owe a great deal to IRL cartoon filmmakers like Frank Tashlin (look him up, you young Noisey-readin' bbs!) and also celebrates black women's bodies, important in the year that white twerk trolling hit a tipping point. A counterpart to Nicki's "Lookin' Ass" released earlier in the year, this video invites the male gaze. The other video shoots the male gaze's leering stinking eyeballs out.
19. Shy Glizzy – "Catch a Body" (directed by Cam Kirk)
Here because of Glizzy's charisma, cool-ass T-shirts, and Robert Deniro faces.
18. Todd Terje – "Leisure Suit Preben" (directed by Espen Friberg & Emil Høgset)
An ode to porny computer game Leisure Suit Larry with nods to pervy British comedy The Benny Hill Show, Todd Terje's video houses a clever concept: It recreates the side-scrolling qualities of video games of the past by way of rear projection that seems to move while our hero stays in one place. It's visual spectacle on a budget.
17. Lil B – "Fuck KD" (directed by Lil B)
Sweet and simple like most Lil B videos: just a fish eye lens and a basketball court and a fancy-ish gym lobby will do. Feels like a throwback to the regular guy steez of Souls of Mischief's "93 Til' Infinity" and the Beastie Boys' "So What'cha Want," except with collectible Lil B crossover images and the subtext of basketball's most dangerous curse behind it.
16. Jennifer Lopez – "Booty" (directed by Hype Williams)
2014 was the year after the year of the ass, and, like Nicki's "Anaconda," this one invites the male gaze on its own terms. Though not as clever as "Anaconda," it is nonetheless important for just being pure, unadulterated ass. Hype Williams really went there, you know? And next to Lopez's "I Luh Ya Papi,” we've got an "aging" (mind the quotes) pop goddess wrestling with video exploitation in one video and mocking it in another.
15. Skeeno ft. Slick and Young Moose – "Master P"
Baltimore rapper Young Moose had his music videos, in which he can be seen holding guns and apparently cooking up crack, used against him by the Baltimore City Police. Two days after he was put on probation, this video for Skeeno's "Master P" arrived, and Moose, perhaps aware that now the police can use your art as evidence, grips a shovel instead of a pistol. Reedy charisma and cobbled-together style (them Horace Grant-like glasses) help this one out too.
14. Arca – "Thievery" (directed by Jesse Kanda)
Erotic and grotesque—which really just means really, really erotic—it is Aphex Twin and Chris Cunningham's "Windowlicker," with less LOL hip-hop crap built into it. Twerk ends here. Hip-hop irony should stop here too. The appropriative nonsense of Iggy, Taylor, and more crushed by one giant, gyrating, gender-ambiguous ass.
13. Beyoncé – "7/11" (directed by Beyonce)
Bouncing off what we were saying about "Anaconda," this is a video thinking of the GIFs that'll come out of it. And Beyoncé, who directed this thing, has a blast with her Am Appy undies-wearing friends and brings the stutter-stop-loop grammar of GIFs and Vine to the editing style here, which makes so much sense in 2014. Better than all the "Beyoncé" videos save for maybe @LilInternet's "No Angel."
12. Sturgill Simpson – "Turtles All the Way Down" (directed by Graham Uhelski)
Although this Waylon-sounding, semi-psychedelic singer is currently the hero of tasteful country, his brilliance lies in his embrace of bad taste, though it's of a different sort than Rhinestone Cowboy excess. Instead, it's the college dorm stoner screensaver sort, seen on the cover of his record, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and swirling around like CGI-DMT in this video.
11. Haim – "If I Could Change Your Mind" (directed by Warren Fu)
A celebration of regular-ass dancing and hand-waving that anybody and everybody can do that never stupidly sends up hip-hop and R&B's exploratory choreographed complexity. That's a delicate balance achieved because Haim fucking get it, man, and because there's no privileged snark here and because they hired Aaliyah collaborator Fatima Robinson to craft these Liz Lemon-esque moves.
10. Chief Keef – "How It Go" (directed by NorthStar)
Sometimes, this video is the old Chief Keef breathing his last breath, what with the dimly lit, strangely elegant street cinematography that mines he raw adolescent energy of drill auteur DGainz. The rest of the time, the video's Keef looking forward, making sense by making no sense (see recent Oneohtrix Point Never-esque tape Back from the Dead 2), animating himself and the rest of Glo Gang floating through space looking like some weird Adult Swim show that never came to fruition.
9. Florida Georgia Line – "This is How We Roll" (directed by Marc Klasfeld)
This is from the same director who brought you Juvenile's "Ha," which this stoopid video resembles in more ways that you might imagine—namely by way of charismatic regional beefcakes and an accurate enough sense of said regional beefcakes' milieu. Here it's accomplished by turning a truck into a bar/club/party zone, adding dirtbikes, fireworks, and a multitude of white working class types who all get at least one moment to mug for the camera.
8. Jennifer Lopez – "I Luh Ya Papi" (directed by Jessy Terrero)
This J. Lo video literally begins with Lopez and friends questioning music video misogyny by telling a corporate fuck (Danny Lockwood, Capitol Records' SVP of Creative and Video Production, who bravely, knowingly plays himself) that he does not know what the hell is he is talking about. So, in the sumptuous video, Lopez disassembles music video misogyny, crafting a video that objectifies men by putting them in all of the stupid arm candy roles we accept "video girls" in without question. Nicki knocked out "Lookin' Ass" and "Anaconda,” and J. Lo had this one and "Booty.”
7. Travis Porter – "The Money" (directed by rawb_q)
In July, a steer escaped from a Baltimore slaughterhouse and raced through the city for a while. It was gorgeously captured on a smartphone by Instagram user rawb_q, who, thanks to the music he was playing in his car as he shot it, ended up creating an out-there unofficial video for Travis Porter's "The Money." Of a piece with Arca's "Thievery" in terms of big ol' legs moving to brash beats.
6. Holly Herndon – "Chorus" (directed by Akihiko Taniguchi)
A wandering montage made up of glimpses of the computer experience (footage shot from Herndon's laptop; video of her messing around on her computer; and 3D renderings of home computer work spaces) makes woman and machine one in the same. It's a well-trod theme that's usually presented with the hammy fists of sci-fi but instead plays out as something eerie and ill-at-ease, which is appropriate: We're staring down the singularity, so none of this is shocking, it's just fucking weird, man. A quick shot of Herndon running with her laptop, however, is a burst of ecstatic human-ness.
5. Freddie Gibbs & G-Wiz – "On Some G Shit"
Swiping the much-ballyhooed single take from True Detective, that dumb nihilist auteurist hustle of an HBO show within days of it airing, this clever anti-video speaks for the guys Matthew McConaughey is shoving around and captures the sobering, temporal nihilism that show aimed for without all the philosophical blah blah blah that bogged it down.
4. Warpaint – "Disco Very / Keep It Healthy" (directed by Laban Pheidias)
A video that inverts the girls watching dude skateboarders, placing the skaters in the background for the first half, putting Warpaint front and center as they evilly, playfully threaten you, dressed like the coolest girls in high school and dancing like crazy. If you're having trouble nailing down Haim's moves (see number 11), start here! The second half of the video, at night, with Warpaint watching the skaters has a haunted early-Spielberg-does-suburbia quality. Combined, it captures the rage and fragility of this special, subtle band expertly.
3. Gem Club – "Polly" (directed by Matthew Salton and Charlie Engman)
This video makes a case that smeary digital video can be as haunting as the still in-vogue crackling VHS while telling the story of a romance between two people we don't expect to be love, or are two parts of a the same person, or they're ghosts maybe? An arty kind of miserablism that doesn't judge and isn't afraid to mine an aesthetic that hasn't yet been declared "cool." Stunning.
2. Future Islands – "Seasons (Waiting On You)" (directed by Jay Buim)
Yeah yeah yeah, it's all about this Baltimore band on Letterman and lead singer Sam Herring hooting and hollering and grooving and black metal groaning, but the music video for "Seasons" is a big expression of compassion for the kinds of people never seen in indie rock videos, and it's as shockingly sincere as this song. Its Red State sympathy is bold and even boldly problematic. Almost enough to make you forget these are the kinds of people that voted for Mitt Romney and probably gave to Darren Wilson's GoFundMe, fuck.
1. Nicki Minaj – "Lookin Ass" (directed by Nabil Elderkin)
An absolutely brilliant and still batshit, literal attack on the male gaze bolstered by its booty-positive, take-twerk-back B-Side music video, "Anaconda.” Still baffling that real hip-hop types and other supposedly "positive" but mostly just sexist arms of the hip-hop community saw this as some kind of pro-guns, street nonsense when it is absolutely nothing of the sort. Laura Mulvey (look her up too, readers) is 2014's biggest music video influence. How cool is that shit?
Brandon Soderberg is the music and screens editor at Baltimore City Paper. Follow him on Twitter.