2015: Favorite Music Videos

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” video racked up over one billion views in just 184 days, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” is closing in on that same number, and Adele’s “Hello” is already on its way not even two months since its release. In a year when music videos put up disgustingly huge numbers, we here at TMT got enough cheesy sunrises, dramatic rainfalls, and nipple clamps IRL to give a shit. Sure, many of the videos we loved in 2015 were much humbler in their view counts — Toxe’s “Determina” has received a little over 3,000, Macula Dog’s “Purchase Power-Station” is at just over 2,000 — but who wouldn’t want to see an orange jelly head spit out a purple gummy dog? Or a dead body dancing? Or teens larping? Or a big virtual dick wagging around on a hidden camera?

Of course, not every video we loved made the cut, so first: big shout-outs to videos by Arca, Future, clipping., Sub Sandwich, Dr. Yen Lo, Diplo/CL/RiFF RAFF/OG Maco, Young Thug, Life Sim, Quicksails, waterfont dining, Boogie, Drake, Ty Dolla $ign, Autre Ne Veut, Death Grips, Tamaryn, FKA twigs, and of course Björk.

And now, without further ado, we present our first-annual Favorite Music Videos list. Props to Michael Green for sandwiching it for us.


OMGv6.0

“SELF DOUBT”

Director: Michael Green

The Sims came out at the height of the nü metal years. Quickly bored with the life-simulation aspects of the game, I’d download Mudvayne skins and subjected my characters to extreme levels of debasement, not letting them eat, sleep, socialize, or use the bathroom until they collapsed in tears over a pool of their own excretions. Can an avatar have a nervous breakdown? Now that the psycho-electronic uncanny valley has been traversed, it seem entirely possible. Just ask anyone involved in the Ashely Madison hoopla. I saw it happen to sPaG in my old Pentium Deschutes. Michael Green is going through one himself; or rather OFFICIALMICHAELGREENV6.0, his Second Life avatar. Originally part of a year-long project where Green would document the daily life of his avatar, the pair had a falling out over some shower footage Green shared on PornHub. OFFICIALMICHAELGREENV6.0 went rogue in retaliation and is now living in a rundown motel, making music as a way to count down to his New Year deactivation date, destitute and fending off the attacks of mutant helldogs. This is precisely what we see in the “SELF DOUBT” video: the digital mementoes flickering in front of an avatar’s eyes second before meeting his maker.


Panda Bear

“Tropic of Cancer”

Director: Dave Portner

“Psychedelic grief” isn’t exactly a common vibe (it sounds like a mixtape we’d run), but it’s here and it’s stunning in Panda Bear’s video for “Tropic of Cancer.” Directed by Animal Collective bandmate Dave Portner (Avey Tare), the somber PBVSGR track is visualized with bright, oversaturated colors and extreme, texture-focused close-ups. We watch the slow-motion procession of a family in strange, silky panda suits (art direction by the mega-talented Abigail Portner) that are at once alien and adorable. The surreal speed and imagery cast everything through a child-like lens, which allows us to experience Panda Bear’s song about illness and how we view it with receptive eyes and a dizzy brain. A perfect mindset for the piece.


Why Be

“Whalin (Kyselina OST)”

Director: ECCO2K

When the human body contorts, we get poetry. In the video for “Whalin (Kyselina OST),” a highlight off Why Be’s Snipestreet EP, director ECCO2K uncovers poetry at a motorcycle race. Here, the body is transformed into a series of spatial relationships, with arms flailing about like loose meat, faces obscured, knees gently fucking the pavement, leaning into new shapes, new forms, new articulations. The pebbles swirl, the drizzle float skyward, and the body? The body doesn’t know what to do, and technology is failing it. So with plastic as its armor and the corporate brand as its religious iconography, it slides, it bends, it levitates. And it’s all so fucking beautiful.


D∆WN

“Billie Jean x Dance”

Director: Monty Marsh

Restless, breathless, and senseless in a flashing mesh of red, black, and white, D∆WN (f.k.a. Dawn Richard, whose suite-laced Blackheart is one of 2015’s best) is in control. She is dom queen (laid back), floored lover (with her hand around his neck), diamond-faced doll (flipping off the gaze), punk, godmother, and eye of the storm. The storm is director Monty Marsh’s fever dream of rapid-fire cuts and crash zooms, a litany of references (zig-zagging Black Lodge carpet, American Beauty petals, Michael’s “Billie Jean” brick walls), and relentless eye contact with its only constant: D∆WN, herself. When “Billie Jean” falls forward into “Dance,” as the character is always falling into another version of D∆WN (she mouths her own distorted voice), the video flashes in a hyperactive vision: group choreography, pounding like a heartbeat, every pore alive and forgetting. In an out-of-control world, in an out-of-control video, D∆WN cuts a charged-up, multitudinous figure like a diamond, ever-refracted and dancing on me.


Oneohtrix Point Never

“Sticky Drama”

Director: Jon Rafman & Daniel Lopatin

It seemed like we were going to lose Daniel Lopatin to the academics for a few years there. Sure, he’s been busy building replicas and excavating inside worlds, but when was the last time he stepped outside? Weren’t there whole space quadrants out there, whispered about in the operatic balladry of Rifts, just waiting to be conquered? “Sticky Drama” is a forceful return to the fantastical side of Lopatin, a fitting paradox of the real vs. the imagined featuring the first LIVE ACTION footage from the 0PN mainframe: teenyboppers entrenched in medieval pissing contests, hemorrhaging blobs spreading cybernetic infection, loss of innocence all around. We can draw connections between the images laid before us, but who’s going to clean up all this goop? As much as they may wax poetic on their work, Lopatin and Rafman are firmly in the business of disorientation, and “Sticky Drama” is plenty evidence that their foam longswords haven’t lost their edge.


Toxe

“Determina”

Director: Toxe

In a field of sports- and activity-related videos this year — e.g., Why Be’s “Whalin (Kyselina OST)” via ECCO2k or Kablam’s “Close(d)” via PWR Studio — the self-produced video for “Determina” from 18-year-old Swedish artist Toxe pitted the others’ respective motorcycle and archery displays against the spectacle of caving. Within an area of overlap between recreational pursuit and scientific study, the content mirrors the tension between pleasure and skill at play in Toxe’s music. Just as untouched cave systems constitute unchartered earthbound territory, her video represents exploration — a pursuit of the exotic in a treacherous scene. As a direct metaphor, the cavers’ headlamps — leading the way through damp, obscure stone — perhaps symbolize a necessary light in a well-saturated, underground space.


Joanna Newsom

“Sapokanikan”

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson’s arc as a music video director strikingly parallels that of his feature filmmaking: always people-centric, with the visual trademarks slowly growing less self-parodic, eventually letting the subjects simply exist within their appointed environments. It is as evident in this year’s doc Junun as it is in “Sapokanikan,” his first in a pair of videos featuring Joanna Newsom. The simple concept — Newsom skipping/twirling throughout Greenwich Village — is shot through even barer-bones vérité cinematography, with plenty of shaky focus adjustment intact. It’s a stark opposite to the later “Divers,” which envisions a nymph-like Newsom dwarfing the clouds and mountains around her, recalling the visual language of her eccentric harp-driven pop. The freewheeling, amateurish nature of “Sapokanikan” — all the way down to the imperfect lip-syncing — features both Anderson and Newsom, daunting in their respective crafts, becoming grounded and approachable.


Vince Staples

“Señorita”

Director: Ian Pons Jewell

It took more than a few sittings to fully unpack Vince Staples’s high-concept adventure through low-income America. The giant turrets looming in the background and the subtle security bribe kick off the symbolism parade, but when a trench coat contains a black hole instead of illicit wares, we’re in full-on PSA territory. Where many videos would fall apart at this point, the concept actually works well on “Señorita,” mainly due to the gorgeous cinematography and solid direction from Ian Pons Jewell. The pacing is nearly perfect, even with half the scenes in slow motion. The final few seconds offer a nice parting shot to the white, middle-class fans who enjoy Staples’s music from a safe distance, treating the serious material as a fun romp.


Spinee

“Hell Hound”

Director: Sam Lyon

No question PC Music-affiliate Spinee loves her Dogs. Soundcloud avatar: Dog. Twitter avatar: same drooling Dog. Insta avatar: fewer Dogs. Songs with Dog barks: “Hell Hound.” The video for “Hell Hound”: hella Dogs. What kind of Dogs though? Jelly Gummy Dogs, the kind Scotland’s Sam Lyon of Jelly Gummies fame creates. And oh boy are those gummy Dogs “a day at the park,” surrounded by spinning treats that a dude wearing all black with loose green dreads would hand out in a warehouse outside of town. Feeling a little uneasy after watching the moist, wrinkled Dogs dance and morph in “Hell Hound”? Good, check out this dolphin thing. The lumpy animations of Sam Lyon in “Hell Hound” are part of a larger world of 3D renderings, sharing a hypothetical loft with Activia Benz and this Vine account. He’s building a soft-bellied militia that’ll one day become a super-uncomfortable Sunday morning kids show.


Macula Dog

“Purchase Power-Station”

Director: Macula Dog

The idea that profit dominates the majority of popular viewing experiences is a turnoff, so why not turn off everyone with the unpopular viewing experiences you can control? Macula Dog get this. They subvert scope and ideals through cheaply-gnawed color swirls cutting into grainy surveillance footage and frosted-glass bathroom performances. Your life is being watched at some point during your day, everyday. Might as well make it worth watching for the “wrong” reasons. Macula Dog’s real faces are masked as equally as the mannequin faces sitting on their shoulders, each set ignoring public ignominy. Off-kilter, ill-lit, disgustingly-colored framed windows are presented just the same as the multiple computer and TV screens you choose to view, including the ones chosen for you to view. Purchasing power is never left to the ones who can’t control the station, so turn the channel.


Girl Band

“Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage”

Director: Bob Gallagher

Together with director Bob Gallagher, Girl Band has cranked out video after video in 2015 brimming over with style and demented humor, and the best of them all was for the group’s cover of Blawan’s “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage.” The premise — a dead body, in the process of being embalmed, is revived by a particularly bangin’ mix tape and begins to dance — is simplicity itself, but the meticulous (not to mention grisly) detail with which it’s executed sets it apart as something special. Veteran character-actor Brendan Conroy deserves recognition for infusing his mortician with an endearing fussiness while still committing to his awkward dance routine with verve and gusto. Graphic footage of incisions and organ removal sits next to raucously busted moves to create a narrative that’s simultaneously charming, unsettling, and, in its final climactic moments, perhaps even a little moving.


Beat Detectives

“Three Pointer”

Director: Michael Green

Michael Greene v6.0 on the double-dribble contortionist vibe as “Three Pointer” video maker, transferring the slime that Beat Detectives bring from Climate Change on the spin for listeners: the oddly glossy production riddled with intentional error/spam, patient vocals for the right drop (only to drift out without trace), and eerily reflective shimmer glaring off self-chopped-and-screwed lyrics. It’s as if their 2015 game plan had always been to trick listeners before taking a fadeaway “Three Pointer,” while it’s all just about inner healing, stretching yin-and-yang, club precocity, and sleuthing the right rhythm. Beat Detectives continue to slay on a slew of labels, and you should be scoping what they’re shoveling. The shine is worth their slick sounds, and “Three Pointer” is just another example of how well the trio networks without paying for it.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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