You may have grown up feeling like MTV (and/or YouTube) was your gateway to a different, more exciting world, but in 2020, just about any world outside of your own four walls was exciting enough. Some of the best videos of 2020 were properly transportive, taking us to a different place and time, while some of them were just sufficiently distracting from our less-than-ideal current trappings. Either way, they were something to watch, and this year that was not something to be taken for granted.
Here were our 25 favorites, with a playlist of all 25 at the bottom of the list.
25. Larray, “Cancelled” (dir. Jake the Shooter)
Shortly after Billboard canceled the Comedy Digital Track Sales chart, TikTok/YouTube star Larray — a veteran of that tally — graduated to the Hot 100 thanks to “Cancelled.” The video finds him enacting a hostile takeover of a classroom at Cancel University to teach a deliciously petty crash course in the dizzying drama of Content Creation 101. Even if the insider references to influencer culture mean nothing to you, Larray’s effervescent impudence makes this lesson unforgettable. — JOE LYNCH
24. Pop Smoke feat. Quavo, “Aim For the Moon” (dir. Oliver Cannon)
As both a loving homage to the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Sky’s The Limit” video and a lavish tribute to Pop Smoke’s outlandish party tracks, the “Aim For the Moon” clip features a child avatar for the late rapper (played by NYC hip-hop artist Bouba Savage) enjoying the luxuries that he now sadly cannot. Watching a kid ride his bike around a mansion, happily float on a pool tube and toss dollar bills at the camera makes for a charming (if somewhat inevitably bittersweet) experience that synchs up with the song’s ethos. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
23. Karol G, “Bichota” (dir. Colin Tilley)
Karol G shows up on horseback at the beginning of this Colin Tilley-helmed video, as if to suggest that there’s a new “Bichota” in town. The rest of the video goes on to prove it, as the rising star leads board meetings and dance numbers in about a dozen different outfits that each threaten to become a signature look, letting anyone who dares get in her way know that the charts aren’t big enough for the both of ’em. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
22. Dua Lipa, “Break My Heart” (dir. Henry Scholfield)
“I’ve always been the one to say the first goodbye,” Dua Lipa laments at the top of “Break My Heart,” and the video fittingly finds her slipping in and out of various scenes, Inception-style, without breaking a sweat. We see her plummeting through the pink-purple sky until an airplane constructs itself around her; dropping into a bubble bath only to reappear floating in a fizzy cocktail; and dominating a dancefloor until the camera pulls back, revealing it was just one small dot on a domino – which another Dua Lipa, naturally, knocks over. — J. Lynch
21. BENEE, “Kool” (dir. Alan Bibby & Michelle Walshe)
For BENEE’s cheeky “Kool” video, an attractive entry alongside the alt-pop singer-songwriter’s “Supalonely” and “Snail” clips, the good folks over at The Sims helped transform the New Zealander into her very own character — the meta twist being that BENEE is both the player and the Sim. She gets to show off her sense of humor as her Sim changes outfits, tries out new expressions, and comically reacts to IRL BENEE messing with the physics of the game. — GAB GINSBERG
20. Blackpink, “How You Like That” (Dance Version) (dir. ?)
K-pop labels have budgets akin to a small nation’s GDP, but strip away the bells and whistles and capybaras of Blackpink’s usual event-level videos and you’ll still find something endlessly watchable (and meme-able): four pros who treat every single second as a battle for your attention, with enough body rolls and synchronized hair flips to qualify for an Olympic sport. — NOLAN FEENEY
19. DJ Khaled feat. Drake, “Popstar” (dir. Director X)
As brilliantly simple as you could ask from a high-concept music video in 2020: Get one of the two biggest Canadian pop stars of the 20th century (and most successful DJ Khaled collaborators) to cosplay as the other, largely so that the song’s one throwaway line about Scooter Braun can be met with a gifable two-second clip of the mega-manager doing a little shimmy. Still, can bet The Weeknd stays furious that he didn’t get the call first. — A.U.
18. Haim, “I Know Alone” (dir. Jake Schreier)
Of all the beloved dance-focused videos Haim has made, none offer a better marriage of moves and subject matter than the accidental quarantine anthem “I Know Alone,” written about by pre-COVID depression and isolation. With co-choreographer Francis and the Lights, the sisters created a routine that’s both strikingly literal — standing six feet apart, they mime aimlessly swiping on through their phones — and subtly layered: Este, Danielle and Alana give a performance about going through the motions of life without actually going through the motions on camera. The fact that the sisters never interact despite their proximity also gives the video a surreal feeling, as if they could have been spliced together in post-production — simultaneously together and apart, like all of us in 2020. — N.F.
17. Bebe Rexha feat. Doja Cat, “Baby I’m Jealous” (dir. Hannah Lux Davis)
There’s a lot to unpack in the “Baby I’m Jealous” video: The visual kicks off with an amusing sketch featuring Bebe and Doja at dinner with Internet starlets Nikita Dragun, Charli D’Amelio and Avani Gregg — if you blink, you might miss the reference to Doja Cat’s Twitter cancellation earlier this year — and events escalate from there. “Jealous” is a colorful explosion of eye-catching choreography, Freaky Friday-style hijinks, and time traveling (along with era-specific fashion, of course), all delivered with genuine heart and humor. — G.G.
16. Machine Gun Kelly, “Bloody Valentine” (dir. Michael Garcia)
Sometimes the concept of a music video can be “famous people having fun” and still be entertaining — such is the case with Machine Gun Kelly’s clip for “Bloody Valentine,” in which real-life girlfriend Megan Fox wakes up next to him, covers his mouth with pink duct tape and spends the rest of the video lip-syncing and goofing around to the bad-love anthem. If the Travis Barker-produced single harkens back to pop-punk’s glory days, it’s only fitting that “Bloody Valentine” gets a video that would have been all over TRL had it been released 20 years earlier. — J. Lipshutz
15. Perfume Genius, “Describe” (dir. Mike Hadreas)
“Can you describe them for me?” When it comes to Perfume Genius’ self-directed music videos, the answer is never accurately or really appropriately — they manage to be moving and tactile and memory-searing without ever cooperating with easy summarization. The “Describe” visual feels part barn-raise, part cult ritual, part theatrical workshop, but more importantly, it feels as earthy, sensual and poetic as the grunge-pop lurcher it accompanies, a world entirely of its own making. — A.U.
14. Missy Elliott, “Cool Off” (dir. Daniel Russell)
Missy Elliott’s groundbreaking music videos for the last three decades have all been works of art, so it’s fitting that her exuberant dance party for 2019’s “Cool Off” takes place in a museum. Statues come jerking to life, and dancers twerk and bounce in neon spandex, showing off fiery moves that sparked the viral #CoolOffChallenge. Meanwhile, Missy teeters in the center in a shiny ensemble with a round bottom that makes her look like a Weeble, wobbling but not falling down. Teyana Taylor makes a cameo, telling a young dancer in a red Adidas tracksuit to go follow her dreams — and she follows the advice, crushing the closing minute with a routine that would make Alyson Stoner proud. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
13. The Strokes, “The Adults Are Talking” (dir. Roman Coppola)
The Strokes playing a slow-motion, dramatically heated game of baseball against a team of Terminator-like robots — possibly for the fate of the free world, possibly just as a Beer League scrimmage? Sure, why not: Like every other successful move The Strokes have made in their middle age as a band, the “Adults Are Talking” video follows its own logic and just goes for it, making sense sheerly through the group’s singular brand of try-not-that-hard self-confidence. Patterning their uniforms after the Houston Astros instead of their (maybe?) beloved Mets is one decision they’re gonna have to answer for back home, though. — A.U.
12. Selena Gomez, “Boyfriend” (dir. Matty Peacock)
Alex Russo lives! Selena Gomez harkens back to her Wizards of Waverly Place days in the video for this cut from the deluxe edition of Rare, using a magic potion to turn all of her boring dates into frogs. As Gomez goes about subverting the fairy tale trope, don’t be surprised when the track’s low-key but hypnotic beat quietly hops its way into your head. — G.G.
11. Drake feat. Lil Durk, “Laugh Now Cry Later” (dir. Dave Meyers)
The “Toosie Slide” video, which featured a masked Drake wandering solo around his TO mansion before setting off rooftop fireworks by his lonesome, was maybe a tad too on-the-nose for These Isolated Times. So in next clip “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” he enlisted sports superstar pals like Kevin Durant and Odell Beckham, Jr. (and co-rapper Lil Durk) for a late-night trip to the Nike offices — still feeling distanced from society in general, but not quite the “ghost town” of the song’s chorus — for a series of gleeful snapshot memes to give the Drakeverse a long-overdue sense of normalcy. The crying could wait, we needed the laughter this summer. — A.U.
10. Christine & The Queens, La vita nuova (dir. Colin Solal Cardo)
Héloïse Letissier surprised fans back in February with a brand-new Christine & the Queens EP and a cinematic short film of the same name, La vita nuova, soundtracked by the project’s six songs. The nearly 14-minute video, directed by Colin Solal Cardo, was shot at the iconic Paris opera house Palais Garnier, and Letissier treats the entire building as her theatrical canvas, moving from the roof to a rehearsal space to the actual stage. Throughout the film, Letissier is followed by a blood-thirsty, lustful, horned creature called “The Fauna,” whose spirit invades Letissier after the Fauna meets his demise, and sends her chasing after guest star Caroline Polachek. The narrative threads throughout the film, but Letissier’s magnetic dancing is the real driving force behind La vita nuova’s success, as she melds modern dance, ballet and her own instinctive, expressive movements to fill in the blanks of the story. — C.W.
9. Billie Eilish, “Therefore I Am” (dir. Billie Eilish)
The video for “Therefore I Am” carries a special resonance in our pandemic-addled 2020 — footage of Billie Eilish running around an empty mall concourse makes a little more sense during a year in which everything is closed down. Yet the concept also neatly captures the exuberance of an 18-year-old who has taken over the pop world in a short amount of time, who sings about being comfortable with herself instead of keeping fake friends around, and who will chomp on an oversized soft pretzel if she damn well pleases. Eilish’s biggest hit of 2020 is dripping with nonchalance, and its video matches it beat for beat. — J. Lipshutz
8. Kehlani, “F&MU” (dir. Hyphy Williams)
In this quarantine-appropriate clip, Kehlani works hard to make the kitchen look like a hotter hookup spot than the club. Whether the R&B singer-songwriter is stroking a countertop or her man is giving face in the doorway, this Hyphy Williams-directed clip reminds us that home is where much more than just the heart is. There’s not a speck of grime visible on Kehlani’s floor, and yet the kitchen has never looked dirtier than in the “FM&U” video. — J. Lynch
7. Rina Sawayama, “XS” (dir. Ali Kurr)
Japanese-British force Rina Sawayama blessed us with her debut album this year, and one of the highlights was obviously “XS.” (Or rather, “excess.” Get it?) The video is huge in scope, as Sawayama appears on an HSN-style network and hawks “RINA Water” products over slammin’ guitars, all between exaggerated choreography. But things start to deteriorate when we get a look at the factory workers bottling a product that just might be toxic — and which is extracted from a pitiful jailed creature — and Sawayama’s shiny television personality malfunctions. It’s entirely over the top, and a clever commentary on glitzy consumerism to boot. Oh me, oh my! — G.G.
6. Ariana Grande, “Positions” (dir. Dave Meyers)
Less than two weeks before Election Day, Ariana Grande allowed us to fantasize about a new, incredibly well-dressed regime in the White House in her scene-switching music video for “Positions,” the first super-smooth, pop-R&B single from her album of the same name. Grande reunited with director Dave Meyers (“No Tears Left to Cry,” “God Is a Woman”) for a video that takes her from the Situation Room to the kitchen, the Oval Office to the bedroom. But whether she’s swilling rosé and blowing flour kisses or holding press conferences and handling matters of state, Grande takes charge and shows strength in every setting. — C.W.
5. Bad Bunny, “Yo Perreo Sola”(dir. Bad Bunny & Stillz)
If you’re an everyday pop hitmaker, you get a bunch of hot dancers to shake and shimmy around you in your music video. If you’re a true pop superstar, you simply become the hot dancer yourself. Bad Bunny is undoubtedly the latter, and displayed as much in the headline-grabbing clip for YHLQMDLG highlight “Yo Perreo Sola,” playing both the leading man and his series of video vixens. But he’s not gender-bending for a cheap chuckle — rather, to express solidarity with the strong women he sings about in the soundtracking banger, while also (according to co-director Stillz) “tak[ing] a message to the reggaetón community that usually is not as open to speak about the LGBTQ community.” Inspiring and iconic, like all great videos should be. — A.U.
4. Lady Gaga, “911” (dir. Tarsem Singh)
The most conceptual video of the Chromatica era so far is a feat of COVID-era filmmaking — nothing about Gaga’s or director Tarsem Singh’s vision feels compromised by the realities of the pandemic. And what a vision it is: The “911” video resembles a turducken of metaphors, telling the story of a mental health crisis through the story of a car crash and the imagery of the 1969 Soviet Armenian film The Color of Pomegranates. Like Gaga’s best videos, there’s a certain je-ne-sais-WTF element, at least until the big reveal. But like any good psychological thriller, the “911” video more than earns its twist. Gaga and Singh create a world so rich with symbolism that decoding it doesn’t feel like the end — it’s an invitation to dive back in. — N.F.
3. Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion, “WAP” (dir. Colin Tilley)
Welcome to WAP Manor! You’re a guest of The Lady B, I trust, or perhaps her co-host for this soiree, Madame Thee Stallion? If you are athirst, you’ll find fresh water spouting forth from gold-plated chests and derrieres in our halls. Yes, the walls and angles are a bit peculiar here – the designer was a rapper, I believe, a certain MC Escher. Are you the first to arrive? No, I should say not! The guest list is a veritable who’s who of the jet-set elite: Normani, Rosalía and Rubi Rose performing marvels – marvels, I say! — the likes of which you’ve never seen. Oh, one last thing — mind the damp floor. I’m afraid to say the Lady B’s basement has flooded. — J. Lynch
2. Future feat. Drake, “Life Is Good” (dir. Director X)
Future and Drake, two of the biggest rappers in the world, opening the music video for a collaboration titled “Life Is Good” as… two garbagemen, grinning from ear to ear while loading bags of trash into the back of a truck? It’s a curveball, to be sure, but the idea of depicting the What a Time to Be Alive duo as ordinary joes in different odd jobs made for one of the most memorable fish-out-of-water clips in years. The video gets into meta territory in its second half, as Future and Drake’s characters plot a hip-hop project together, but the real joy of “Life Is Good” comes from the image of Future flipping a burger as a fast-food worker at “Hotlanta’s,” or Mechanic Drake figuring out what’s wrong with a prop car. “Life Is Good” persisted near the top of the Hot 100 chart for months on end, and the over 1.3 billion views suggests that a large part of that success has to be chalked up to fans checking in with Relateable Future and Drake on YouTube every now and again. — J. Lipshutz
1. Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar” (dir. Bradley & Pablo)
“This video is dedicated to touching: May 18, 2020.” Given the circumstances, the message that precedes the video for Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” could be seen as downright taunting: Styles no doubt already engages in physical contact beyond the average person’s wildest dreams in a normal year, but to release a video of him doing so on a beautiful beach somewhere at a time when most of us had to wear gloves just to accept a UPS package… “Sugar” could’ve easily struck a sour note. But the tactile joy of the sun-soaked Bradley & Pablo video instead was so infectious that it felt not like a boast but an invitation — an irresistible wish-you-were-here postcard from a happier place and time, and a reminder that it was worth doing what was needed to get back to it some day. Clearly, a nerve was touched: propelled by its video’s instant virality, “Watermelon Sugar” eventually oozed its way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — a high that neither Styles solo nor even his old group One Direction had ever tasted before. — A.U.