While the music video suffered an unfortunate slide in relevance over the late ’00s, as MTV and VH1 gradually cut videos from their programming and YouTube was still finding its footing as an international platform, it was pretty clear as of March 2010 that the artform would survive and thrive into the next decade.
That was the month that “Telephone” — the team-up between the artists who were then the two greatest icons of contemporary music video, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé — dropped as a headline-grabbing, attention-captivating ten-minute mini-movie, enrapturing pop fans around the globe and driving millions and millions of views. It was also just a few weeks after Justin Bieber, a rising sensation who became a teen idol on YouTube before ever having a song on the radio, had released the much simpler but equally starmaking bowling alley love story clip for “Baby” — which would cement his ascent to the A-list and quickly become the most viewed video in the platform’s history. The music video might never achieve its golden-age omnipresence again, but when done right, it could still be just as impactful.
Over the decade to follow, countless artists would follow their examples, with music videos both casual and epic that managed to cut through the Internet’s content overload and capture the national imagination like the Buzz Clips of yore. Here are 100 of the biggest reasons why the music video feels in a far healthier place moving into the 2020s than it did a decade ago — with a YouTube playlist of all 100 at the bottom. (Note: Some write-ups are taken from past Billboard video lists.)
100. Beastie Boys, “Make Some Noise” (dir. Adam Yauch, 2011)
The Beastie Boys entered their fourth decade as music video icons by pulling a move that most of the form’s greats eventually reach for if they stick around long enough: Letting younger actors (in this case, Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride) take their place in front of the camera. Of course, the BBoys doubled down on the concept by casting their own peers (Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Jack Black) as old versions of them, too, creating a hilarious dissonance and a surreal showdown that ended with the (actual) group earning their first video of the year VMA nomination in 17 years. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
99. Kiesza, “Hideaway” (dir. Ljuba Castot, Kiesza, Blayre Ellestad and Rami Samir Afuni, 2014)
Canadian-born singer-songwriter Kiesza had a sadly brief cameo in the U.S. mainstream in the mid-’10s with “Hideaway,” an undeniable dance-pop banger led by a stabbing bass line and a soaring disco vocal. The video helped tremendously in cementing the single as a hit, with Kiesza serving as a one-woman dance party while singing the song around the Williamsburg neighborhood fo Brooklyn, as backup dancers spontaneously emerge from out of nowhere behind her — a pretty decent reflection of the song’s eventual IRL impact, actually. — A.U.
98. Chance the Rapper, “Same Drugs” (dir. Jake Schreier, 2016)
The video accompaniment for Chance the Rapper’s Peter Pan-metaphorical ballad “Same Drugs” is as fantastical as the song itself — cotton candy hues, life-sized puppets and spontaneous snowfall add visual vibrancy to an already-colorful lyric. The Chicago musician, fitted in a pink shade of his signature “3” hat, is couched behind a grand piano for the majority of the video alongside a wide-eyed, Muppet-like creature. Guided by a vintage-like broadcast setup that gives the clip a childhood-esque allure, Chance’s muted enthusiasm toward shoulder leans and his ultimate abandonment of the alternate reality set aptly illustrates the separation between once-in-lockstep pals. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
97. Adele, “Hello” (dir. Xavier Dolan, 2015)
The sepia-toned video for Adele’s 2015 comeback single was an appropriate visual reflection of her melancholy, lightly nostalgic power ballad — instantly striking enough to inspire an SNL parody just a month after its debut. But the truly on-point illustration in the “Hello” video is the wind storm that sweeps through the clip’s outdoor setting near the end, an accurate representation of Adele’s immediate impact upon her long-awaited return to the music industry. — A.U.
96. Tim McGraw, “Humble and Kind” (dir. Wes Edwards, 2016)
It would have been understandably tempting for country star Tim McGraw to make a video that interpreted his ballad “Humble and Kind” as literally as songwriter Lori McKenna intended: as a message to her children. But instead, the clip — with assistance from OWN series Belief (thanks, Oprah!) and McGraw’s understated delivery — turns the tune into a grander prayer, one that celebrates our universal humanity and diversity through scenes of people from all ethnicities and religions. — MELINDA NEWMAN
95. Nicky Jam and J Balvin, “X” (dir. Jessy Terrero, 2018)
A zero-gravity “Hotline Bling,” with a little Sean Paul and Sasha mixed in for good measure. Nicky Jam and J Balvin aren’t much better dancers than Drake, but they have a similar understanding of how to let the music do most of their choreography work for them, just vibing gently and letting the thumping speakers take care of the rest. YouTube views in the 1.7 billion range would suggest that plenty of viewers have been doing the same at home along with them since the video’s 2018 release. — A.U.
94. Fidlar, “40 Oz on Repeat” (dir. Ryan Baxley, 2015)
In an era where it’s increasingly difficult for a not-world-famous band to make an iconic music video, the shortest path to virality might just be in remarking a bunch of already-iconic music videos from years past. L.A. scuzz-rockers FIDLAR understood that with their “40 Oz on Repeat” clip, which saw the band cosplaying as everyone from Suicidal Tendencies to Missy Elliott in a charmingly DIY love letter to the form’s golden years on MTV — and a reminder that those years lasted longer than the history books might have you believe. — A.U.
93. Ed Sheeran, “Castle on the Hill” (dir. George Belfield, 2017)
At the advanced age of 25, Ed Sheeran proved it’s never too early to bemoan your lost youth with the clip for nostalgia-overdosed Divide single “Castle on the Hill.” Featuring younger actor Hugo Fairbanks Weston as the teenaged Sheeran, singing in his car with his mates and meeting girls at parties, the video instilled a winning sense of timeliness to the singer-songwriter’s revelrous tales of schoolboy days gone by: “Growing up, you do live the same sort of life that we filmed in the video,” Weston told Billboard in 2017. “Because we do a lot of those things too.” — A.U.
92. Brothers Osborne, “It Ain’t My Fault” (dir. Wes Edwards and Ryan Silver, 2017)
It was Point Break meets Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead in the video for Brothers Orborne’s country radio barnstormer “It Ain’t My Fault,” when the Brothers’ pawn shop gets held up by four criminals wearing masks of our for most recent commanders-in-chiefs, in what makes for a funny and surprisingly suspenseful little action flick. Best part? When the flailing Bill Clinton robber is given an unexpected boost by an ally in a Hillary mask, embracing her in loving gratitude while she speeds them away on her motorcycle. — A.U.
91. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk!” (dir. Bruno Mars and Cameron Duddy, 2014)
While the choreography, the editing and (particularly) the costuming of “Uptown Funk!” are all impressive, the video succeeds by successfully answering a decently tough question: How do you make a studio-dwelling producer like Mark Ronson seem cool when he has to co-star with the biggest male pop triple-threat of the decade? The answer: Have him sit on a slowly-moving stretch Lincoln and tell him not to make any big facial expressions. Needless to say, it worked O.K. — A.U.
90. Marina and the Diamonds, “How to Be a Heartbreaker” (dir. Marc & Ish, 2012)
Six years ago, Marina Diamandis gave us a video with six showering Calvin Klein models juxtaposed with a clothed woman, gloriously flipping what is unfortunately still the modern standard. (Each guy is wearing a Speedo, mind you.) As she sings about her guide to breaking you-know-whats, Marina alternates between cozying up to different gentlemen, dancing in the shower, and presenting a severed, bloodied mannequin head on a platter to the camera. It’s hard to know who you’re supposed to be drooling over in this visual — Marina, or the male models? — and that’s the whole point. — GAB GINSBERG
89. Megan Thee Stallion, “Big Ole Freak” (dir. Munachi Osegbu, 2019)
It’s wild to think the “Big Ole Freak” video was initially supposed to be, well, even freakier. “It took so long to come out because I wasn’t feeling it,” Megan Thee Stallion previously told Billboard. “The first time I shot it in Houston, it was too sexual. It would’ve had to be on BET Uncut or something.” Directed by Nigerian photographer Munachi Osegbu, the final version shows Megan rubbing on herself in a foam-filled tub, twerking in latex and seductively licking on lollipops as she lures you into her adult wonderland. While it may be tamer than planned, it still walks a sexually explicit line that only someone as confident as the Houston rapper could. – BIANCA GRACIE
88. Alex G, “Gretel” (dir. Zev Magasis, 2019)
Rough and pastoral, Zev Magasis’ video for “Gretel” immediately recalls filmmaker Terrence Malick. There’s a humanism to these shots of demolition derbies and lush Appalachian fields that feels of a piece with something like Malick’s Days of Heaven, where the emphasis is always on the light, the sky, the time of day. Both Malick and Magasis understand that there’s beauty in ordinary people doing ordinary things. “Good people got something to lose,” sings Alex, while one kid gives another a friendly noogie. — WILL GOTTSEGEN
87. Todd Terje, “Delorean Dynamite” (dir. Espen Friberg, 2014)
Retro cheese has always been an essential element of the Todd Terje experience, and you can certainly smell the Velveeta in the visual for this? nu-disco roadrunner. Officially titled “Delorean Dynamite (for sale),” the clip imagines “Dynamite” as the soundtrack to an amateurish ad for the infamously dated car, and unsurprisingly the combination of cheap VHS-looking auto footage and rampaging synths is enough to give you hybrid Back to the Future and Risky Business fantasies. Nice touch with the Hotmail email address at the end, too. — A.U.
86. Bad Bunny, “Caro” (dir. Bad Bunny & Fernando Lugo, 2019)
In his co-directed video for “Caro,” Puerto Rican star Bad Bunny dove deep into his feminine side. It starts with him getting his nails done before flipping to a female gaze — a theme that feels unprecedented in the heavily masculinized Latin world. Model Jazmyne Joy plays Bunny’s female doppelgänger, encapsulating his kooky spirit and swagger. The artist also displays his LGBTQ+ allyship with a diverse selection of runway models before capping the video with a steamy make-out session between the two Bunnys — marking an in-your-face expression of self-love that challenges the genre’s status quo. – B.G.
85. Fiona Apple, “Every Single Night” (dir. Joseph Cahill, 2012)
“Every single night’s a fight with my brain,” Fiona Apple sings in her first single of the 2010s, and the video plays that battle like it is both ceaseless and extremely dull. Apple sits with an octopus stuck on her head, lies in bed with a half-beast, walks across a bridge where some huge and horrifying creature lurks in the water underneath. It’s a monster movie where the monsters don’t seem to pose any immediate peril — don’t even seem to impress our hero all that much — but never let her forget that they’re there. Yep, sounds like anxiety. — A.U.
84. Jonas Brothers, “Sucker” (dir. Anthony Mandler, 2019)
For their long-awaited comeback single, the Jonas Brothers could have just filmed themselves playing “Sucker” in a garage and fans would have been happy. What Nick, Kevin and Joe Jonas did instead was one of the most delightfully glamorous music videos of 2019: “Sucker” has all of the drama, flamboyant costumes, lavish sets and ridiculous acting that you want to see from a high-quality music video, along with starring roles for the self-dubbed “J Sisters,” Sophie Turner, Priyanka Chopra and Danielle Jonas. Go ahead, try to name a better comeback music video. We’ll wait. – STEPHEN DAW
83. Beyoncé, “Countdown” (dir. Adria Petty, 2011)
If viewers seemed to enjoy being taken to dance history class with Beyoncé’s instantly immortal “Single Ladies” video, then she had a whole lesson plan drawn up for them with her next album’s “Countdown.” Bey ran through Funny Face, Flashdance, Fame and about a dozen more rapid-fire pop culture dance touchstones in the overstuffed, finely edited clip, matching the frenetic pace and color-popping pizzazz of the single — and the similarly boundless energy of its performer, so impossibly photogenic that the vid often has to capture multiple versions of her in the same frame. — A.U.
82. Frank Ocean, “Pyramids” (dir. Nabil Elderkin, 2012)
Opening with color bars, liquor shots, and gun blasts, this Nabil-directed 8-minute odyssey follows a zonked-out Frank Ocean as he zips across the desert on a motorcycle, giggles his way through a strip club, and runs into John Mayer in the middle of nowhere for a woozy, bluesy guitar solo. Landing somewhere between Lost Highway and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “Pyramids” is a dusty, neon-drenched vision quest that’s hard to shake. – JOE LYNCH
81. Grimes, “Kill v. Maim” (dir. Claire Boucher & Mac Boucher, 2016)
Grimes made all our cyberpunk dreams come true with the “Kill v. Maim” video. The singer previously explained that the song’s inspiration was for a fictional movie that was “a mixture of Godfather and Twilight,” but the video itself transports the viewer into a wild post-apocalyptic world: Imagine if Final Fantasy took place in the Mad Max universe… but was also shot in Harajuku in the ‘90s. And what better way to end this giddy mix of cult-film homages than with an ode to Blade’s bloody rave scene? — B.G.
80. Danny Brown, “Grown Up” (dir. Greg Brunkalla, 2012)
Sometimes, it’s best not to overthink the concept behind a music video. Danny Brown abides — and subsequently succeeds — in his simplistic film treatment for “Grown Up,” calling on a then-9-year-old Dante Hoagland (The Last O.G.) to portray a childhood version of the Detroit-born rapper. Both notably fashionable and immaturely mischievous, the lip-syncing young actor captures Brown’s unmistakable haircut and, ultimately, his toothy grin following a graphic re-enactment of a bicycling accident. The Greg Brunkalla-directed clip gives way to a modern-day Danny Brown in its final seconds, but the video is Hoagland’s show through and through. — J.G.
79. Scissor Sisters, “Let’s Have a Kiki” (dir. Vern Moen, 2012)
Sometimes less is more; other times, it’s evvvverything. Giving their minimalist house banger “Let’s Have a Kiki” an equally stark DIY-style “instructional” music video, the Scissor Sisters demonstrated that a little bit of attitude outpaces a big production budget any day. Okay, make that a LOT of attitude: Between the sneer in Ana Matronic’s eyes as she stares you down and the flick in Jake Shears’ wrists, this is the crash course in confidence that young queer kids latched onto in 2012 like a lifeline. — J. Lynch
78. Solange feat. Sampha, “Don’t Touch My Hair” (dir. Solang & Alan Ferguson, 2016)
Solange’s silky but firm anthem to reclaiming respect in the face of racial microaggression is complemented by a visual that Solange co-directed with Alan Ferguson. Always a bit more esoteric than her peers, Solange’s choreography has more to do with Pina Bausch than MTV. More than 100 years ago French writer Colette wrote “There is nothing real but giving rhythm to one’s thoughts and translating them into beautiful movements” in Vagabond, and Solange’s entrancing, empowering dancing in 2016 makes a strong case that she was right. — J. Lynch
77. Avicii, “Silhouettes” (dir. David Dworsky, Niklas Johansson, & Victor Kökhler, 2012)
In 2012, the trans rights conversation had not totally entered the mainstream, but over in the wild world of dance music — itself just coming to public consciousness during this era — Swedish producer Avicii was addressing the issue head-on with the video for his effervescent and melodically enduring single “Silhouettes.” The clip (in which Avicii appears as the chef of the television cooking show), follows a young man on his path to gender reassignment surgery, at once offering a hopeful narrative about the power of staying true to one’s self, and nodding to the LGBTQ-rooted origins of dance music itself. — KATIE BAIN
76. Jenny Hval, “Conceptual Romance” (dir. Zia Anger, 2016)
Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch is about wounds and vampires, menstruation and the gothic. In the video for its centerpiece, “Conceptual Romance,” My First Film mastermind Zia Anger winds these elements into something altogether unplaceable and surreal. Women in painted skin suits pose on plinths, a red ball bounces inexplicably, and blood is inevitably purged. Towards the end, as the camera draws back and the earth rises up, we get a bird’s-eye view of Hval’s dizzying thematic universe. — W.G.
75. Lizzo, “Juice” (dir. Quinn Wilson, 2019)
Before Lizzo was going viral with about a live performance a month, she made it abundantly clear that she had the you-know-what to be a true star with the video for “Juice.” The video follows the lead of its pop-funk throwback groove by picturing the hybrid artist as a versatile icon of ’80s network TV — leading jazzercise classes, modeling and selling beauty products, even appearing as a late-night talk show guest, never looking less than magnetic while doing so. Why it still took a couple years-old singles getting rediscovered for Lizzo to actually become a matinee idol in 2019 remains a mystery. — A.U.
74. Residente feat. Soko, “Descencuentro” (dir. Residente, 2017)
Residente — and prior to him, Calle 13 — has long been known for his gritty, graphic, often violent video material. But his softer, romantic side is even more compelling, and the second video from his 2017 self-titled solo outing is drenched in love. Filmed in Paris’ iconic Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor bistro and starring Charlotte Le Bon and Edgar Ramirez, “Descencuentro” (directed by Residente himself) is a mini-film about a man and a woman whose inevitable encounter inside the restaurant is delayed by a string of happenstance that goes from accidental to comical. “I wanted to stay away from clichés, but stay close to hope, to what motivates you to keep on trying in the midst of so many setbacks,” Residente told Billboard. The end result is breathtakingly (and unexpectedly) lovely. — LEILA COBO
73. Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny, “I Like It” (dir. Elf Rivera, 2018)
“It had to feel like a street video,” director Elf Rivers said of “I LIke It” in a Genius interview, “but also pretty.” That was indeed the name of the game for Cardi’s first video following the release of her star-confirming Invasion of Privacy album, where she regally struts around Miami’s Calle Ocho neighborhood in a variety eye-popping outfits, looking simultaneously approachable and godlike (but not eight months pregnant, which she actually was). Incredibly, the video might have done even more for the largesse of collaborator Bad Bunny, wearing a Puerto Rico World Baseball Classic jersey and gripping a styrofoam cup, officially a heartthrob in any language. — A.U.
72. Janelle Monae feat. Grimes, “Pynk” (dir. Emma Westenberg, 2018)
Janelle Monáe isn’t one for subtlety. The dreamy music video for “PYNK,” her finger-snapping celebration of sexuality, finds the singer — who came out as pansexual in 2018 — flaunting intricate pants designed to look like a vagina, flipping the bird and gazing at Tessa Thompson across a gyrating sea of butts. Of course, there’s a reason everything is colored with (you guessed it) Barbie pink, from popsicles to desert cliffs to Monáe’s futuristic hovercar. It’s “the color found in the deepest and darkest nooks and crannies of humans everywhere,” the YouTube description reads, echoing the video’s message of unity. Put your middle fingers up for Monáe, who’s showing that it’s possible to be blunt about what matters, while still doing so with grace. — TATIANA CIRISANO
71. Pup, “DVP” (dir. Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, 2016)
If there’s one thing that suburban-reared 20-somethings love even more than shout-along pop-punk about making immediately regrettable decisions, it’s classic video game nostalgia. Golf clap for Canadian underground rock heroes PUP, then, as they combined the two in one immaculately conceived and executed lyric video, in which the rager’s self-destructive lyrics appear as dialogue within the Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam universes, along with dozens of others. Not helping anyone’s emotional maturity, really, but certainly a gleeful 2:29 of self-defeating self-indulgence. — A.U.
70. Charli XCX, “Boys” (dir. Charli XCX & Sarah McCoglan, 2017)
Joe Jonas feasts on pancakes, Chromeo have a pillow fight and Diplo bench-presses puppies in the millennial-pink-flooded music video for Charli XCX’s crush anthem “Boys,” which features 60 total cameos from male celebrities. But it’s more than a dreamy bro-fest: Charli’s self-directed video intentionally flips the male gaze, offering a fresh, funny critique of gender stereotypes. — T.C.
69. BTS, “Blood, Sweat and Tears” (dir. Choi Yongseek and Ko Yoojeong, 2016)
“Blood, Sweat & Tears” is the thesis for BTS as a K-pop group whose work is rich for interpretation. The grab-bag of high-art references makes this music video ripe for fan theories. Cut to a museum filled with European Renaissance replications: Michelangelo’s Pietà explodes! Van Goghian sky swirls abound! V jumps off a balcony in front of a painting of the fallen Icarus! Amid this lavish portrait of BTS at the height of their game, one thing is clear: the septet makes K-pop for the thinking fan. — CAITLIN KELLEY
68. Kendrick Lamar, “i” (dir. Alexander Moors, 2014)
If this video had come out even two years later, the dance that Kendrick rolls out throughout the visual might have spawned enough challenge/meme copies to send it all the way to the top of the charts, rather than the mere No. 39 it topped out at on the Hot 100. As it stands, the video is a clever nod to both the song’s influences — sampled artist Ronald Isley is in on the party throughout, while George Clinton makes a nonchalant cameo reading a copy of his own autobiography outside a club — and to the darker forces underlying the song’s self-love ethos. — DAN RYS
67. David Bowie, “Lazarus” (dir. Johan Renck, 2016)
Shortly after David Bowie succumbed to liver cancer on Jan. 10, 2016, his longtime producer and friend Tony Visconti wrote in a Facebook tribute, “His death was not different from his life – a work of Art.” He most certainly was referring to “Blackstar” and “Lazarus,” the haunting and bleak final two music videos that the legend left behind. Both are rich with references to Bowie canon — Major Tom, Station to Station — and optimally should be seen in tandem. But “Lazarus” delivers the bigger gut punch because it is Bowie’s acknowledgement that he is not long for this earth, a video cut with scenes of the gaunt artist writhing on what could be his deathbed, his head wrapped in a bandage with buttons for eyes. Watch the video, then venture down the rabbit hole of Bowie-ologists deconstructing the video’s meaning: The Starman may have left the building, but he did so in a way that insures his artistic immortality. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
66. Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B, “Finesse” (Remix) (dir. Bruno Mars & Florent Dechard, 2018)
Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic highlight “Finesse” is dripping in New Jack Swing influence, so it was only fair that he called upon Cardi B for a jolt of NYC authenticity on the remix — along with a video that travels to the era where the genre thrived. The Mars and Florent Dechard-directed clip pays homage to In Living Color, the popular ‘90s sketch comedy show that made stars like Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez and the Wayans Brothers household names. It’s a true blast from the past, with Cardi rocking gold doorknocker earrings and a backwards cap that could fit right in the Fresh Prince’s collection, while Mars’ old-school dance moves and colorblock outfit make it even more of a nostalgia rush. The clip’s vibrant release kicked off a year that was overflowing with ’90s visual throwbacks. — B.G.
65. SOPHIE, “It’s Okay to Cry” (dir. SOPHIE, 2017)
Stock footage of clouds, sunshine, aurora borealis and an interstellar storm roll by in the background as SOPHIE, framed in a medium close-up that doesn’t cut once until the very end, sings directly into the camera for her shimmering ode to empathy “It’s Okay to Cry.” The simplicity makes every movement – SOPHIE framing her face, tracing her Lichtenstein red lips or caressing her Greco-Roman ideal cheekbones – feel like a cosmic revelation. — J. Lynch
64. Skrillex, “First of the Year (Equinox)” (dir. Tony Truand, 2011)
Skrillex’s brand of juggernaut dubstep was dark. The video for his 2011 single “First of the Year (Equinox)” was darker. In it, a would-be pedophile preys on a young girl, only to get his due punishment in the form of a supernatural hellscape with a soundtrack to make your ears bleed, when it turns out she’s an alien-like demon with the power to thrash him around the room with her mind. An homage to the famously disturbing 1997 video for “Come to Daddy” by Aphex Twin — one of Skrillex’s favorite producers — the clip still maintains its dark allure eight years after its release. — K.B.
63. Kvelertak, “1985” (dir. Fredrik S. Hana, 2014)
A purposefully hard-to-follow narrative, the video for Norwegian metal band Kvelertak’s majestic 2014 rave-up “1985” cuts scenes of its protagonist joining his friends in boys-will-be-boys rambunctiouness and bonding, with moments of them committing horrifying gang violence and disturbing cult-like rituals. The clip suggests that the excitement of the former — which, set to the song’s exhilarating riffing, feels vey real — can lead to the evil of the latter if unchecked. “I wanted to get across the fantastic feeling of being a part of something,” director Frederik S. Hana explained, “but also the dangers of not daring to take a stand, to just swim along with the current.” Certainly as relevant in 2019 as it was in 2014, 1985, or any other year. — A.U.
62. ANOHNI, “Drone Bomb Me” (dir. Nabil Elderkin, 2016)
ANOHNI’s 2016 solo debut Hopelessness combined dazzling experimental pop with the sort of radical social activism most prominent musicians are too timid to approach. For this Hudson Mohawke- and Oneohtrix Point Never-produced song, ANOHNI sings from the perspective of a nine year-old Afghani girl whose family has just been killed by a drone bomb, her despair sending her atop a mountain to demand she be taken next. In the gripping, exquisitely produced video (bankrolled by Apple in a move ANOHNI later regretted), a teary-eyed Naomi Campbell gives a sublime performance, lip-synching and tantalizingly dancing along to the this glistening dirge while a team of dancers contorts around her. — CHRIS PAYNE
61. A$AP Rocky, “Peso” (dir. Abteen Bagheri, 2011)
The low-budget street video, shot in the artist’s neighborhood, is a hip-hop staple, and one of the best 21st century entries in the genre drops you in Harlem for an annunciation. Is there a more invigorating entrance in contemporary rap than Rocky busting through a sticker-covered bodega door wearing a black baseball cap that reads FUNERAL, while rapping, “I be that pretty motherf–ker”? The money spent shows up in the form of Rick Owens, Raf Simons and Supreme, but the swag is priceless. — R.S.
60. Mitski, “Your Best American Girl (dir. Zia Anger, 2016)
Mitski’s songwriting is often spiked with a dark, sharp sense of humor. The visual for her shrugging, contemplative Puberty 2 single “Your Best American Girl,” directed by longtime collaborator Zia Anger, brings that wit to the forefront, trapping the Japanese-American artist in a love triangle with an all-too-familiar cute white hipster and his Coachella-ready girlfriend as the song’s lyrics muse on cultural clashes and ethnic identity. It’s hard not to roll your eyes as the couple cuddles naked under an American flag (seriously, guys?), leaving our heroine to make out with her own hand like a lovesick middle-schooler, channeling rage into electric guitar. Not too much subtlety here, but the video’s almost uncomfortably on-the-nose references are exactly what make it so brilliant, with just the right dose of funny. — T.C.
59. The Carters, “Apeshit” (dir. Ricky Saiz, 2018)
It wasn’t enough that Beyoncé and Jay-Z fixed their marriage with Lemonade and 4:44. When they came back with EVERYTHING IS LOVE, they had to rent out the entire Louvre. They had to coordinate their outfits with the statues. They had to have original choreography, and dancers working on the highest level. No one else could have pulled this off: The “Apes–t” video is a flex on every level — a blown-out celebration of life, love, and the pursuit of success. — W.G.
58. Ozuna, “Se Preparo” (dir. Nuno Gomes, 2017)
Ozuna is Latin music’s current master of the video universe: The Puerto Rican reggaeton/trap star has so many great videos to his name, it’s hard to settle on a favorite. But “Se Preparo,” with its mix of whimsy and edge, is as fun as the song is compelling. Directed by Venezuelan video master Nuno Gomez, who delights in storytelling, it sets the stage for the wronged girl, who, to forget her boyfriend’s infidelities, preps for a night on the town with the girls. Except it’s actually an elaborate ruse to get even — one that keeps you watching till the hilarious end. — L.C.
57. Troye Sivan, “My My My!” (dir. Grant Singer, 2018)
We’ve been watching gay men gyrating suggestively in the background of videos for decades, but representation of same-sex lust between boys in a mainstream pop video is still a bit of a rarity — which is why watching Troye Sivan’s elegant, uninhibited dance moves (and desirous glances amidst cuts to model/porn star Brody Blomqvist) in his “My My My” video feels like a long-overdue, quiet revolution. — J. Lynch
56. Nicki Minaj, “Stupid Hoe” (dir. Hype Williams, 2012)
It was probably largely insane for Nicki Minaj to release the hyperactive, aggro, radio-unplayable “Stupid Hoe” — let alone to give it a big-budget Hype Williams video — but that was the kind of energy that Nicki Minaj was on in 2012, when she trusted just about every artistic instinct she had no matter what the playbook said about it, and ended up validated more often than not. “Stupid” was a flop as a crossover but a must as a fan favorite, and its reality-stretching Grace Jones-quoting, seizure-baiting video blew an already cartoonish jam up to near-anime proportions. Garish, confusing and utterly essential. — A.U.
55. Young Thug, “Wyclef Jean” (dir. Ryak Staake & Young Thug, 2017)
Ryan Staake’s video for “Wyclef Jean” is a 5-minute crisis report. “Hi, this is Ryan Staake,” reads the opening text. “I ‘co-directed’ this video with Young Thug.” What follows is a bitterly detailed explanation, wrapped around what should have been the clip’s core footage, of how exactly the shoot fell apart, from Thug’s being insanely late, to his momentary appearance on set, to his immediate departure, to the chaos that followed. If nothing else, the “Wyclef Jean” video is a good lesson in how to make something out of nothing — or how to essentially con your employer into letting you put out a glorified powerpoint instead of a final product, depending on how you look at it. — W.G.
54. Best Coast, “Our Deal” (dir. Drew Barrymore, 2011)
Back in the long ago of the early ’10s when beach rockers Best Coast were a big enough sensation to land star-studded, Drew Barrymore-directed videos for their albums’ third singles, they dropped this irresistible teen mini-drama about star-crossed lovers from rival gangs. The story is absurd but economically delivered, and with its winning cast (including Chloe Grace Moretz and Tyler Posey as the romantic leads, and Alia Shawkat and Donald Glover as gang members) and sighing, sentimental backing track, the video’s tragic twist is impressively close to being genuinely affecting. — A.U.
53. Halsey, “Nightmare” (dir. Hannah Lux Davis, 2019)
In which America’s newly minted radio queen, fresh off her first No. 1 hit as a lead artist, calls on the iconography of 20 years of female music video heroes to properly haunt the dreams of her male oppressors. Halsey plays as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, maybe even Tegan and/or Sara as she practically bursts out of the screen delivering her most confrontational single to date, an impressive rejoinder to anyone who thought Top 40 success had rendered her edgeless. And if that’s not enough, Debbie Harry of Blondie shows up too, as if to bless the video for being truly worthy of its pop-crossing, s–t-stirring predecessors. — A.U.
52. Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me” (dir. Hiro Murai, 2014)
In his video for “Never Catch Me,” Hiro Murai countered the jazzy freneticism of FlyLo’s sonics with a kind of existential calm. What begins as a somber funeral for two children quickly morphs into something altogether different, as the dead burst from their caskets and dance their way out of the church. It’s chilling and surreal, but there’s a sense of freedom, too, as the pair drive their own hearse into the California sunset. — W.G.
51. Jay-Z, “The Story of O.J.” (dir. Jay-Z & Mark Romanek, 2017)
A theme of Jay’s work in recent years has been taking stereotypes and tropes about the black community and forcing them right in front of his audience’s faces. Seldom has that ever been more clear than in the “O.J.” video, which lifts its inspiration from a set of racist Looney Tunes cartoons from the ’40s, casting himself and others in blackface and hammering home the message of the song’s lyrics through the visual. It’s among the best examples of this in his catalog. — D.R.
50. Juice WRLD, “Lucid Dreams” (dir. Cole Bennett, 2018)
Few might’ve expected director Cole Bennett to become the Hype Williams of the SoundCloud generation, but although he doesn’t quite have Hype’s sense of bombast (or the budgets to support it), he’s similarly adept at presenting his leads as unmistakable stars. Juice WRLD’s head poking out of a hole in the ground takes the opposite path of Missy Elliott’s garbage bag costume in “The Rain” to achieve the same result: Rather than making him look larger than life, it makes him seem small and adrift — the perfect combination with the half-conscious heartbreak of “Lucid Dreams” to make Juice an instant emo-rap icon. — A.U.
49. Rosalía, “Malamente (Cap. 1: Augurio)” (dir. Canada, 2018)
In the minimal, hand-clapping “Malamente,” Rosalía sings about a doomed relationship, and bad omens loom throughout its mesmerizing video: She gets chased by a man on an abandoned street and then swiftly struck by a car; later, a man in a typical Spanish Holy Week capirote rides a skateboard studded with nails. In between, Rosalía and her team of female dancers deliver slick, satisfying choreography in tracksuits and fur vests, a stark contrast to the bare, industrial scene they’re placed in. More visual poem than music video, “Malamente” demonstrates that art can be both delicate and abrasive, and both eerie and beautiful. — T.C.
48. Oneohtrixpointnever, “Boring Angel” (dir. John Michael Boling, 2016)
There’s a world of canned emotion in John Michael Boling’s video for “Boring Angel,” told through a series of tiny emojis centered against a white background. Neutral-face becomes sad-face with the passage of time, sad-face becomes heart-eyes after a phone call from a woman, and those heart-eyes become mutual tears, before our emoji protagonist begins to self-medicate with pills, wine and hard drugs. The song peaks in a wave of ecstatic synths as a lifetime flashes before our eyes. A whole person, condensed in the flicker of digital hieroglyphs. — W.G.
47. Beyoncé, “7/11” (dir. Beyoncé & Todd Taruso, 2014)
As we all know in 2018, The Carters love a production — but travel back with us to a Friday night in November 2014, when Beyoncé proved that she could go low-budget and still make a high-quality music video. The grainy, iPhone-looking footage of “7/11” features Beyoncé and her dancers goofing off in their underwear in various hotel-room settings. They twerk. They drink from red plastic cups. They turn hair dryers into props. Beyoncé uses someone’s butt as a surface for throwing dice. Quick-cut edits and scene jumps give the video a playful, frenetic energy, while choreography and costume changes make it pro without being overly polished. It’s safe to assume that the peak into this informal world is highly curated, but “7/11” has the intimacy of a selfie — even though it doesn’t look like anything you’ve actually ever shot on your phone. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
46. Bigbang, “Fantastic Baby” (dir. Seo Hyun-seung, 2012)
While the late ’00s gave the world some of K-pop’s early viral hits that were fueled by iconic, easy-to-dance-to choreography and earworm hooks, BIGBANG’s 2012 hit upped the ante for what it meant to be a K-pop music video in the 2010s: a bit over the top in its fashion choices, a bit of a criticism of society, and memorable with each and very shot offering up sensational optics. The music video emphasized the act’s prominence as K-pop royalty by decking them out in different interpretations of what a monarch of the future century could look like, and drew on their roots as a Korean group with the addition of a traditional lion dance known as saja-nori in the dance party of a finale. The combination of it all propelled “Fantastic Baby” internationally, and made it one of the K-pop world’s most impactful videos of all time. — TAMAR HERMAN
45. DJ Snake & Lil Jon, “Turn Down For What” (dir. Daniels, 2013)
Created by director duo the Daniels, the video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s 2013 single “Turn Down For What” was decidedly weird. In it, a highly aroused young man humps his way through the ceiling of an apartment building, kicking off a rowdy, sweaty, horny dance party as he continues dropping through the floors. It was, in fact, the perfect accompaniment to the track, itself an aggressively hyphy homage to the pleasures of partying very, very hard. The video went viral upon its release, adding fire to a phenomenon of a song that was already lighting up nightclubs clubs worldwide. — K.B.
44. fka Twigs, “Papi Pacify” (dir. Tom Beard & FKA twigs, 2013)
If a music video can leave you with one indelible image, it’s done good work. The video for “Papi Pacify” is one of the most erotic clips in recent memory, opening with a silent shot of a tall, brawny man with one hand around twigs’ throat and the other curling at her mouth. “It’s meant to ask questions of the viewer,” co-director Tom Beard told The Guardian. “Who’s got the control in this relationship? Who’s got the power?” There’s no unbraiding the sexual charge from the discomfort, just as there’s no forgetting the shot at 2:23, when twigs holds your gaze as the man takes his fingers from her mouth and pulls her into his chest as she continues to stare, looking nothing if not serene. — ROSS SCARANO
43. Rebecca Black, “Friday” (dir. Patrice Wilson & Clarence Jay, 2011)
Say what you will about Rebecca Black’s unforgettably viral ode to end-of-week celebration, but there’s no denying that it’s a classic. There are countless cringeworthy moments of teenage awkwardness on full display: the several, half-hearted fist pumps to time up with the “Yeah!” in the chorus; the disrespect for the friend on the left; middle school-aged kids dancing. But that’s everything that makes the video one of the decade’s greatest: it provides perfect visual purview into spine-shuddering pubescent discomfort. — J.G.
42. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (dir. Sam Brown, 2010)
The room full of glasses of water gently quaking to the bass drum heartbeat of “Rolling in the Deep,” like Jurassic Park to the tenth power, was appropriately foreboding for what Adele’s 21 ended up being, a commercial behemoth the likes of which was supposed to have long gone extinct. It all starts here: Director Sam Brown capturing the once-in-a-generation vocalist at simultaneously her most vulnerable and her most powerful, unclear if the wreckage surrounding her is representative of her internal turmoil, or a direct result of it. — A.U.
41. Dua Lipa, “New Rules” (dir. Henry Scholfield, 2017)
Some new new rules: 1. Launch a thousand Pinterest boards with a beachy pastel color scheme and an enviable hotel slumber party. 2. Take unlikely inspiration from the animal kingdom with head-bobbing choreography meant to evoke the fidgety movements of a pack of flamingos. (No, really!) 3. Embrace the storytelling power of repetition for a dance routine whose third-act twist still delights as much as it did the first time. Follow those steps, and you’ll earn admission to YouTube’s billion-views club — and maybe fast-track yourself to a level of international superstardom that half a dozen prior singles couldn’t snag. — NOLAN FEENEY
40. Gotye feat. Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used to Know” (dir. Natasha Pincus, 2011)
Behold one of the few instances in which a music video helped launch a previously relatively unknown act to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Gotye’s haunting “Somebody That I Used to Know” visual shows the frontman and duet partner Kimbra naked in front of a blank backdrop, then slowly painted over via stop-motion animation, a living artifact of what used to be a relationship. The design, inspired by an actual work done by Gotye’s father, Frank De Backer, took 23 hours and helped the video surpass the 1 billion-views mark on YouTube. — XANDER ZELLNER
39. Justin Bieber, “Sorry” (dir. Parris Goebel, 2015)
The Bieb brought choreography — and women — to the forefront of his “Sorry” visual, with the singer enlisting New Zealand’s all-female troupe ReQuest Dance Crew to bring his upbeat Purpose chart-topper to life. The colorful visual immediately racked up millions of views, with the wildly funky outfits inspiring Halloween costumes (just one week after the vid’s Oct. 22, 2015 release) and the ReQuest girls’ impressive moves sparking plenty of twerk-filled tributes across the Internet. Nearly three billion views later, “Sorry” proved that the heartthrob doesn’t even need to make an appearance to make one of his videos special. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
38. Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup” (dir. Michael Salomon, 2011)
These days, it might be hard for many viewers to get past the first word of the title when watching the video for Toby Keith’s highest-charting, least-resistible Hot 100 hit, especially considering the cameo-strewn close featuring fellow Red-alligned rocker Ted Nugent, among others. But the 2011 clip is such a clever and pure distillation of the forever unpartisan joys of filling your cup, lifting it up and proceeding to parrr-tayyyyyy that it’ll make you seethe with nostalgia for a time, perhaps only imagined, when a superior brand of kegger supplies was all you needed to reach across the aisle for. — A.U.
37. Drake, “Hotline Bling” (dir. Director X, 2015)
The dorky dad moves, the Sean Paul references, the pastel lighting reminiscent of artist James Turrell, the slightly passive-aggressive lyrics, the D.R.A.M. “Cha Cha” controversy, the parodies, the endless memes! There was no way that anyone could escape the pop culture phenomenon that was Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video. Helmed by Director X, the video catches you off guard by beginning with a bunch of Drizzy-approved women working at — what else — a call center. As the camera zooms into the water cooler just 20 seconds in, the dancing that sparked a thousand GIFs begins. No matter how hard you try to look away, Drake keeps you lured in with every corny salsa step, cell phone-imitating hand wiggle, and agonized facial expression. Being the cultural mastermind that he is, Drake had to have predicted the video’s outcome. And somehow that makes it all the more brilliant. — B.G.
36. Kesha, “Blow” (dir. Chris Marrs Piliero, 2011)
“She was adamant you can’t back away from the crazy,” was how director Chris Marrs Piliero summarized the Artist Formerly Known as K-Money’s approach to the “Blow” video, which sounds about right. Lasers, unicorns, muenster cheese, no-soap-radio jokes, a pre-meme James Van der Beek, and a whole lot of glitter (natch) combine in the “Blow” video for a visual of singular early-’10s lunacy. That the era’s cheekiest director and most game pop star only worked together once remains a bummer, but their sole collab remains a slice of pure lactose gold. — A.U.
35. Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake, “King’s Dead” (dir. Dave Free & Jack Begert, 2018)
An impossibly kinetic assemblage of single-shot set pieces: Our heavyweight rappers chilling high in the palm trees, playing Wolf of Crenshaw Boulevard with a dozen other less-chill traders, and surveying the city from the tops of tall buildings like a trio of kings of the pride. Like the entire Black Panther soundtrack, it’s a stunning technical achievement, but also like the entire Black Panther soundtrack, it’s a s–tload of fun — so much so that it doesn’t even feel out of place that the video ends with a credit sequence of TDE lieutenant Hollywood popping and locking for no particular reason. — A.U.
34. Carlos Vives, “La Tierra del Olvido” (dir. Carlos Vives, 2015)
This 2015 remake of Vives’ original video and recording from 1995 is an achingly beautiful love letter to Vives’ native Colombia, where he enlisted help from multiple fellow Colombian greats — including Fanny Lu, Fonesca and Maluma, each hailing from a different region in the country — for a stunning, sweeping trip through his homeland. Meanwhile, the evocative lyrics and melancholy, yet danceable melody, bring to mind memories of Gabriel García Marquez. — L.C.
33. Kanye West feat. Pusha T, “Runaway” (dir. Kanye West, 2010)
More short film than music video, the genius of “Runaway” comes from its stark simplicity, and the meaning seemingly imbued within it. After the solo repetitive piano note that opens the song summons a troupe of black-clad ballet dancers, West begins to deliver each line with an increasing look of urgency and desperation on his face, ultimately climbing on top of the white piano before giving way to Pusha T’s verse and the dancers’ graceful stoicism. After building the song to its highest intensity with almost Christ-like posture, West then cedes the floor to a ballet showcase as the song’s coda wrenches to its conclusion — ultimately ending with the rapper placing hand over heart, somber in one of the most quintessential images of his career. — D.R.
32. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe” (dir. Ben Knecktel, 2012)
Fittingly, one of the century’s most beloved No. 1 hits arrived with a timeless visual. Carly Rae flips the male gaze of voyeuristic videos past and becomes the behind-the-blinds observer snooping on a backyard hottie, her giddy enthusiasm matching the lyrical tone perfectly. She’s fanning herself from the heat of the shirtless car-washing hunk a little too vigorously, fantasizing herself into the cover of the kitschy romance novel that’s sitting on her coffee table. She eventually musters the courage to make it out of the living room and into the steamy driveway scene, where the unforgettable “here’s my number” exchange leads to one similarly expectation-subverting final plot twist. — C.P.
31. Azealia Banks, “212” (dir. Vincent Tsang, 2011)
A remarkably simple recipe for a star-making video: Azealia Banks in pigtails, wearing a Micky Mouse sweater and a smile, rapping against a brick wall in black-and-white, occasionally appearing alongside stoic producer Jacques Greene and dancing with DJ friend Lunice. Lo-octane but still surprisingly vital, a striking visual for a song unlike anything we’d heard before. Not only did it turn Banks into one of the most-hyped artists of the early decade, it even helped Greene and Lunice (the latter one half of TNGHT) expand their brand recognition — the former recently told Billboard he still gets recognized as “that kid from that one video.” — A.U.
30. Orange Caramel, “My Copycat” (dir. Digipedi, 2014)
Orange Caramel have never been bound by K-pop conventions, and “My Copycat” represents the pinnacle of the trio’s out-of-the-box thinking with its interactive game. The full visual experience requires repeat viewings to scope out all of the Easter eggs hidden in each frame, as the sweeping Where’s Waldo shots turn a simple concept into a grandiose design. So this is what Orange Caramel meant when they sang, “Play games with my heart tonight.” — C.K.
29. Perfume Genius, “Queen” (dir. Cody Critcheloe, 2014)
In case you doubted the artist born Mike Hadreas’ claims that “no family is safe when I sashay,” witness him in the board room of the “Queen” video — slamming his briefcase on the table before slithering onto it himself in a robe and heels, stuffing pencils in execs’ mouths, interrupting their dinner of one gigantic shrimp each (??!?), flexing his muscles both literally and metaphorically. Hide your kids, hide your wife, as another icon of the 2010s might say. — A.U.
28. Bobby Shmurda, “Hot N—a” (dir. MainE FeTTi, 2014)
Newton’s 3rd law dictates that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And yet when Bobby Shmurda tosses his snapback into the air at around 2:17 in the “Hot N—a” video, it doesn’t come down. It’s a perfect metaphor for the legacy of the song: bolstered by the viral appeal of the Shmoney Dance, “Hot N—a” was immediately launched into the pantheon of all-time bangers, and all-time New York anthems. Legal issues would eventually drive Bobby’s crew apart—but for a brief, shining, moment, he and GS9 were on top of the world. — W.G.
27. Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop” (dir. Diane Martel, 2013)
There’s tiptoeing into a new era, and then there’s diving in headfirst: Following her underperforming Can’t Be Tamed album, Miley Cyrus chose the latter in 2013, reinventing herself in the first video from the Bangerz campaign and boldly kickstarting her adult career. The “We Can’t Stop” video features a house party full of debauchery and twerking, but for all of the hip-hop excess Cyrus was clearly cribbing from, Diane Martel’s clip also provides several uniquely off-kilter set pieces, from the giant-teddy-bear-backpack dance sequence to the game of kick-the-french-fry-skull. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
26. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX, “Fancy” (dir. Director X, 2014)
For Iggy Azalea’s biggest pop moment, the ‘90s throwback love of the 2010s was in full swing, with the Australian rapper and her hook-slinging co-lead traveling back to the set of epochal teen comedy Clueless. Legendary scenes — the classroom debate, the house party, the near-car crash on the freeway — are reproduced with no-expense-spared flair, the cinematic set design and hordes of in-costume extras vaulting this 2014 good-life anthem straight into 1995 and all its plaid-clad pizzaz. Millennial Mean Girls babies nodding to their era’s spiritual forerunner — it’s game recognizing game in a music video that should similarly endure. — C.P.
25. Robyn, “Call Your Girlfriend” (dir. Max Vitali, 2011)
In one continuous three-and-a-half minute shot, Robyn manages to hold your attention in the music video for “Call Your Girlfriend.” The video simply shows Robyn dancing and singing in an empty soundstage, wearing a furry top and looking like her own heart has just been shattered, but it feels impossible to look away. The clip was often parodied and recreated after its release, most notably by former SNL cast member Taran Killam, in which he filmed a near-perfect recreation of the video in the show’s writers room at 4:00 a.m. — X.Z.
24. Ciara, “Body Party” (dir. Director X, 2013)
Most of “Body Party” takes place at a ’90s MTV-worthy ATL house party, fun enough for random pop-ins from Ludacris, Trinidad James and other local greats. The two most memorable scenes, though, happen outside the party, between Ciara and collaborator (and then-real-life beau) Future. One is a True Likes-like fantasy sequence, with the former performing a sexy dance for the latter as he watches from his bedroom chair. But the other is even more charged: a brief dialogue between the two by the mansion pool, in which a smooth-talking Future essentially pitches Ciara on the two of them eventually getting together. Ci’s insta-classic verdict: “He reads!” — A.U.
23. DaBaby, “BOP” (dir. Reel Goats, 2019)
Kudos to DaBaby for understanding — within his first year of hitmaking, no less — that you can’t be a true crossover superstar without making iconic music videos. “BOP” (or “BOP on Broadway,” as it’s officially titled) is instantly that, a largely one-shot clip featuring the rapper (wearing the jersey of Queen City hero Larry Johnson) leading a dance party in the middle of the street — one with such building electricity that by the time dance troupe Jabbawockeez appear near video’s end, it feels like New Edition randomly showing up to the local function. The shots of DaBaby getting chased by the cops that begin the clip add a potentially harrowing framing to the video, but also make the revelry that follows feel that much more triumpahnt. — A.U.
22. Taylor Swift, “Blank Space” (dir. Joseph Kahn, 2014)
After years of receiving criticism for writing songs about her exes, Taylor Swift stuck it to the haters with a visual portrayal of just how “insane” she seems to former suitors and critics alike. The result is the singer’s best video to date, as “Blank Space” makes a mockery of the crazy-ex persona while entrancing viewers with imagery that’s both fanciful and harrowing. The video sets up a fairytale romance with a handsome guy, a breathtaking mansion, stunning gowns, and white horses, turning the seemingly perfect relationship on its head once infidelity and jealousy strike. Swift’s acting is brilliant as she takes a knife to painted portraits of her beau, chops up his clothes, and sings with mascara streaming down her face. Whether you think she loves the drama or it loves her, Taylor Swift always makes sure her videos tell a story, and “Blank Space” could be its own damn novel. — T.W.
21. Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, “California Gurls” (dir. Matthew Cullen, 2010)
A bold, candy-colored cornucopia of delectable delights from start to finish, the 2010 Mathew Cullen-directed clip features Perry — sometimes covered only in strategically placed cotton candy, other times in a whipped-cream exploding bra, and always in a day-glo wig — as a pawn in Snoop Dogg’s Queens of Candyfornia board game, though of course she escapes Snoop’s clutches to lead a dance party on the beach. The only way the video would be better were if it were actually edible, especially Snoop Dogg’s army of bird-flipping gummy bears. — M.N.
20. Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy” (dir. Dave Meyers, 2019)
“I’m only good at being bad,” Eilish sings in her villainous pop single “Bad Guy.” Her appetite for the weird and macabre is on full display in the song’s surreal music video, which features bruised knees, bloody noses, engorged stomachs and human heads inside plastic bags. Things only get wilder as the song oozes on, with Eilish taking on the role of some kind of child tyrant in a suburban dystopia. It’s likely no mistake that she’s the only woman in the clip: With “Bad Guy,” Eilish delights in taking on a role more typically reserved for men in other genres. The whole thing feels engineered specifically to make viewers feel as uncomfortable as possible, but the effect is addicting rather than repelling. Hey, maybe there’s an appetite for the weird somewhere in all of us, too. — T.C.
19. Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next” (dir. Hannah Lux Davis, 2018)
It’s one thing to pay tribute to a classic movie, as countless artists have been doing since before the high priestess of high ponies even knew what spirit fingers were. But it’s another thing to pay tribute to four of them…and recruit some of the original cast members to reprise their roles…and to add a handful of f–kin’ sick cameos… and to wrack up more YouTube views than calories in a Kälteen Bar. To all that, Ariana Grande would probably say, “What, like it’s hard?” But not just anyone can pull off something like “thank u, next.” It takes a star at the top of her game, a singer whose personality and heartfelt subject matter shine through even as she’s dressing up as her favorite rom-com characters. The final product taught us love, the elaborate roll-out taught us patience, but nothing about it taught us pain — now that’s so amazing. — N.F.
18. Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode” (dir. Dave Meyers & Travis Scott, 2018)
he year’s most expansive rap single gets the most expansive music video: Drake and Travis co-starring in a Laffy Taffy universe where gravity shifts at a moment’s notice, graffiti comes alive like a spontaneous acid flashback, and a beat drop can cause the entire world to collapse on itself. But like all of Astroworld, the “Sicko Mode” video works because its Houston roots are so strong; for all the video’s mind-bending visual trickery, its most indelible shot might still be Travis rocking an Astros jacket while hanging with his crew in the Screwed Up Records & Tapes parking lot. — A.U.
17. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito” (dir. Carlos Peréz, 2017)
The most-watched video in YouTube history, directed by Carlos Perez, is an unabashed celebration of all things Latin, from the opening guitars and the vistas of Puerto Rico to the brightly painted homes of La Perla with their religious icons and chickens on the porch. And finally, there’s the dancing. Clichéd? Maybe, but totally real, and so expertly realized, we couldn’t help but watch. Ultimately, 5.3 billion viewers can’t be wrong. — L.C.
16. Drake, “Nice For What” (dir. Karena Evans, 2018)
Not like it’s a particularly natural reflex of Drake’s to cede center stage, but when it came to the video for “Nice For What,” he had the good sense to walk it like he talks it. Like the song it accompanies, the luminous Karena Evans-helmed “Nice” clip gave the spotlight to the ladies first — Issa Rae running the boardroom, Rashida Jones primping in the backseat, Syd looking like she just got a great idea for her next big slo-funk ballad — and included Drake merely as an appreciative spectator, seemingly gliding around on his own giddiness. They don’t need his approval — or even his platform — but if given the chance to stunt, they’re gonna stunt, dammit. — A.U.
15. Tierra Whack, “Whack World” (dir. Thibaut Duverneix and Mathieu Leger, 2018)
Tierra Whack, the audacious Philly rap artist, has never kept with the status quo. So when she released her debut album, Whack World, a 15-minute, bizarrely wonderful collection of 60-second tracks, you can bet that it came along with an album-length music video that’s equally as bizarre and wonderful. Here, Whack wanders through a funhouse of bite-sized vignettes that are at turns hilarious, disturbing and dazzling — from plucking pearls off a person’s body with chopsticks (“Hungry Hippo”) to floating in a bedazzled coffin (“Sore Loser”). “Whack World” is just that: an open invitation into Tierra’s boundlessly creative mind, and an introduction to her many characters and alter-egos, each taken to their extremes. Many artists strive for that kind of transparency, but Whack recognizes that getting a little absurd only makes her unmasking more authentic. — T.C.
14. Childish Gambino, “This Is America” (dir. Hiro Murai, 2018)
It’s hard to remember a music video quite like “This Is America” ever existing before: a mixture of dazzling design and camerawork; innovative staging and choreography; and absolutely gut-punching shock and violence. For a clip that essentially takes place on one single set, its scope is spellbinding — though despite how much is going on in any frame of the video, it’s virtually impossible to take your eyes off the star otherwise known as Donald Glover, who gives complete physical commitment to a performance as complex and demanding as any he’s ever given. That “This Is America” happened at all feels important, that it became the most talked-about, analyzed, and even (not unfairly) criticized music video in recent memory makes it essential. — A.U.
13. Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda” (dir. Colin Tilley, 2014)
Look, if you’re gonna take another swipe at “Baby Got Back,” you gotta commit to going all the way with it. Luckily no one ever accused Nicki Minaj of being a half-stepper, and she did what it took to honor Sir Mix-a-Lot’s lasting legacy with music video’s ultimate totem of twerking, as booty-centric a display as you’re likely ever to see on video without having to click a disclaimer first. The whole thing is obviously iconic, but the most unforgettable part remains Nicki dancing solo for Young Money labelmate Drake — then walking away with a hairflip, leaving him to contemplate how he’s possibly going to live the rest of his life from here. — A.U.
12. Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers” (dir. Wolf Haley, 2011)
Tyler, the Creator had a vision: “‘I’m sitting on a chair rapping, I’m playing with a bug, I eat it, I throw it up, my eyes go black, and I hang myself.’ That was his treatment,” explained director Anthony Mandler (Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied,” Rihanna’s “Man Down”) in a 2011 interview. Mandler, along with director of photography Luis “Panch” Perez, gave Tyler the guidance and equipment he needed to self-direct the black-and-white, tilt-shifted video for “Yonkers.” In the breakout clip, Tyler does exactly what he outlined: He sits in a chair, lets a giant cockroach crawl over his hands, appears to take a bite, pukes, blacks out his eyes, and hangs himself. Effective enough to make stomachs the world over turn — and earn Tyler one of the all-time least-likely nods for a Video of the Year VMA. — C.W.
11. Lana Del Rey, “National Anthem” (dir. Anthony Mandler, 2012)
All of Lana Del Rey’s music videos are cinematic — it’s kind of her thing — but “National Anthem” has a movie-quality plot to boot. Del Rey stars first as Marilyn Monroe in a reimagined staging of the icon’s 1962 performance of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” then as Jackie Kennedy alongside A$AP Rocky’s suave, handsy JFK. Through Del Rey’s eyes, we see familial scenes unfold between one of the most fascinating couples in American history, culminating in a re-enactment of the Kennedy assassination. When Del Rey’s castle crumbles, you feel it in your chest, too, and her monologue at the end never fails to bring chills. — G.G.
10. Sia, “Chandelier” (dir. Sia & Daniel Askill)
Exhilarating, unsettling, bewitching and totally singular, “Chandelier” made Sia the biggest music video star of the ’10s who never once appeared in her own videos. She had proxy Maddie Ziegler of Dance Moms fame for that, as the wigged tyke danced around an empty apartment to the strains of the singer/songwriter’s towering mezzo-soprano, looking like she was making a much grander personal artistic statement than anyone of her years should have the capacity to make. It felt like “Chandelier,” and like nothing else we’d ever seen on MTV or YouTube. — A.U.
9. 21 Savage feat .J. Cole, “A Lot” (dir. Aisultan Seitov, 2019)
A lovingly photographed family reunion, in which the joy of breaking bread and sharing memories with loved ones is undercut by (imagined? predictive?) visions of the sad ends that so many of its members will meet. “A Lot” is indeed a great deal to take in, a jumble of some of the warmest imagery captured in music video this decade with some of the most heart-rending implications — featuring 21 Savage and J. Cole at their non-judgmental center, not even commenting on the action so much as shrugging at the precious little they can do to affect it. Music videos simply aren’t supposed to be this soulful in 2019, but “A Lot” is a much-needed reminder that they still can be. — A.U.
8. Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta” (dir. Director X, 2015)
Kendrick Lamar videos tend toward the stylized and conceptual. Think of the “God Is Gangsta” short film for “u” and “For Sale?,” a baptism in fire and whiskey—or the “For Free?” visual, which turned political metaphor into avant slapstick. None of that would have worked for “King Kunta,” which sets the stage for the loose poetic narrative of To Pimp a Butterfly. Picking up where good kid, m.A.A.d. city left off, it’s the pride before for the fall to come; the tapes have been rewound, the “Control” verse is out, and Kendrick is king.
The “King Kunta” video marks our hero’s triumphant return to Compton, where he’s literally sitting on a golden throne, swaggering through convenience stores, and strutting on top of the Compton swap meet (which closed down just after this video was shot). His triumph is the community’s, and joy radiates from every pixel. Working with Director X, who in 2015 was maybe the single most recognizable name in the world hip-hop music videos, Kendrick dedicated this one to the city.
On the third verse of “Momma,” Kendrick describes feeling newly alienated from his city, and from the kids he grew up around. And on “u,” he regrets having left Compton “for profit.” But on “King Kunta,” he’s not quite there yet. The video is a celebration of home, and a consummate victory lap from the single most important hip-hop artist of the decade. — W.G.
7. Psy, “Gangnam Style” (dir. Cho Soo-Hyun, 2012)
It’s hard to believe that it’s been well over half a decade since the satirical dance track “Gangnam Style” took the world by storm to become the first-ever video to be viewed over 1 billion times. With its over-the-top antics aimed at mocking the denizens of Seoul’s Gangnam neighborhood, numerous cameos from local comedians and pop stars, and its easy-to-learn equine choreography, PSY’s video became a surprise global sensation that turned all eyes to South Korea’s music industry. Though it’s no longer the world’s most-viewed music video, the legacy of “Gangnam Style” remains. — T.H.
6. Drake, “HYFR (Hell Ya F–king Rich)” (dir. Director X, 2012)
More than any of us Jewish kids would have ever dared daydream about during Hebrew School: the biggest rapper in the world documenting his own adult Bar Mitzvah, replete with the requisite torah reading, hora dancing, and ever so many popped bottles of Manischewitz. Did three-and-a-half minutes of Drake and Lil Wayne going HAM — err, going smoked salmon — on the former’s special day do more to get kids to their local congregations on Saturday morning than every rabbinical sermon this decade combined? Impossible to say for sure, but chances are the JTS wouldn’t wanna see the box score of that showdown. — A.U.
5. Lady Gaga feat. Beyoncé, “Telephone” (dir. Jonas Akerlund, 2010)
What happens when you pair up two of the most influential female pop stars in recent history for a music video? That would be “Telephone,” the gloriously ridiculous, nine-and-a-half-minute spectacle from director Jonas Åkerlund that involves a women’s prison, Beyoncé (ahem, “Honeybee”) feeding Lady Gaga a pastry, a murder at a diner, a poison sandwich-making tutorial, Quentin Tarantino references aplenty, and a dance sequence that has spawned dozens of YouTube tutorials. If all that’s not enough to make “Telephone” an instant classic, consider that the video is actually a continuation of Gaga’s “Paparazzi” video from the year prior, with the same director — which ends with Gaga in the can — and let your mind be blown. Could a third installment be in our future? We can only hope. — T.C.
4. Kanye West & Jay-Z feat. Otis Redding, “Otis” (dir. Spike Jonze, 2011)
What part of 2011’s impossibly joyful video for “Otis” feels the least likely at decade’s end? That it had a world premiere on MTV (like, MTV the cable television channel), with a rebroadcast on MTV2 a couple hours later? That the most controversial thing about it — the thing that necessitated a disclaimer at the end — was that the needless deconstruction of the vehicle used for the clip’s joyriding would be seen as financially irresponsible? That the big celebrity cameo comes from a silent Aziz Ansari? That Kanye appears to be having an absolute blast? That Jay and Kanye act like they genuinely love each other? Or is it that there’s a gigantic American flag plastered on the wall behind the duo, with no message seemingly attached to it except to ask, “How could you not love a country where we get to do s–t like this?” At the time, the point felt like a strong one. — A.U.
3. Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris, “We Found Love” (dir. Melina Matsoukas, 2011)
Anyone who wondered if pop stars had lost their ability to excite, to surprise, to unnerve with their music videos had to feel the “We Found Love” clip like a bolt of lightning to the chest. Melina Matsoukas’ dizzying visual for Rihanna’s career-recalibrating smash Calvin Harris collab was a tale of a toxic relationship starring RiRi and a pouty, peroxide-blond gentleman who looks a lot like oh-take-a-guess, edited like a light-speed four-minute relationship montage that recreates the shock all music videos must’ve delivered to fans of classic Hollywood back in ’81. Like ’90s heroin dramedy Trainspotting, what makes “We Found Love” really frightening is how palpably electric the highs are, enough to make it plausible that its star would do what it took to feed her addiction initially. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still breathe a sigh of relief when she decides to choose life at the end instead. — A.U.
2. M.I.A., “Bad Girls” (dir. Romain Gavras, 2012)
M.I.A. and director Romain Gavras had already proven that they could make an unforgettable video with 2010’s highly controversial “Born Free” — and two years later, they did it again with “Bad Girls.” Shot in Morocco, the video depicts Saudi drifting, where cars ride on their sides on only two wheels. Scenes of stunt men and women sitting on the outside of the tilted rides are juxtaposed with shots of M.I.A. and a glam posse of women covered in animal prints and metallic fabrics. Not one to be a bystander, M.I.A. even gets in on the drifting action, as she’s filmed lounging on the passenger door of a white BMW, filing her nails as the car cruises along sideways. How could the duo top that? “The next video needs to be shot on the moon,” Gavras mused in a behind-the-scenes video. “With hookers.” — C.W.
1. Beyoncé, “Formation” (dir. Melina Matsoukas, 2016)
Beyoncé stopped the world for the umpteenth time when she dropped the explosive song and video for “Formation,” just a day before performing the anthem at Super Bowl 50. Frequent collaborator Melina Matsoukas may have shot the video in Los Angeles, but every second is deeply rooted in Louisiana and its Creole background — the ancestral origin of Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles Lawson.
The historical references are overwhelming: the Antebellum-style houses, Beyoncé’s Victorian hoop skirts and petticoats, the now-legendary wide-brimmed hat suitable for American Horror Story: Coven, Blue Ivy happily rocking her fluffy afro, the singer being submerged underwater while on top of a police car as a nod to Hurricane Katrina , the inclusion of New Orleans stars Big Freedia and the late Messy Mya. At one point in the video, a young boy is seen dancing in front of a line of gun-clad officers, who respond by putting their hands up.
In a time where racial tensions were climbing to new, uncomfortable heights, “Formation” served as an active reminder that black people could not be silenced. And to top it all off, the “Formation” video dropped just a few months before the singer’s second Super Bowl halftime performance, which further shoved its urgent socio-political message in the face of America. — B.G.