The end of 2014 also meant the end of the first half of the 2010s, a decade in which the music video expanded as an art form to include eye-popping visuals, epic running times, audience participation and a certain horse-style dance. The past five years have included lots of stellar music videos, but these 20 were the visuals from the past half-decade that we’ll never forget.
Check out what the Billboard.com staff chose as the 20 best music videos of the 2010s so far, and be sure to look at our lists of the 20 Best Songs, 10 Worst Songs and 20 Best Albums of the half-decade as well!
20. Skrillex, “Bangarang”
Never underestimate kids’ capacity for mayhem. Skrillex’s video involves a group of finely-trained child commandos executing an Ocean’s 11-style heist on a heavily-mustachio’d ice cream truck driver. Do these young hoodlums grow up to become fine, upstanding members of society? Definitely not. But like modern-day Robin Hoods, they find a way to compensate the hapless ice cream man years later.
19. Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”
Adele went minimal for the music video for “Rolling in the Deep.” For the video to her 21 hit, Adele belts the song in a room of an abandoned building, while in other rooms there’s activity taking place: such as a mysterious person dancing in flour and glasses full of water trembling to the beat of the song. Simple, yet unforgettable.
18. Grimes, “Genesis”
Grimes’ video for her bubbly Visions single is easily one of the lowest-budget entries on this list and was entirely self-produced by Claire Boucher. But therein lies its appeal: coming out during the summer of 2012 just as Visions was starting to makes waves, the “Genesis” clip introduced Grimes’ artistic vision — D.I.Y.-friendly, boundary-pushing, and yet not forgetting to be lighthearted and playful. Here she brandishes a ninja’s sword in the desert, cuddles with an albino python, wears a hat emblazoned with “PUSSY,” and enlists rapper Brooke Candy in her badass crew.
17. DJ Snake & Lil Jon, “Turn Down For What”
No video released this decade offers a better depiction of “going viral” than this one. The clip for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s kinetic hit is hilarious, ridiculous, explosive, and highly sexualized. Best of all, its relentless energy created the same crazed phenomenon the video satirized, earning over 166 million views.
16. Ciara, “Body Party”
Ciara is known to deliver videos that make men drool and ladies take notes; Ciara’s video for “Body Party” is no exception. After the singer-songwriter meets her on-screen lover, played by rapper, father to her baby and rumored ex-boyfriend, Future, at a house party, she leads him to a bedroom where she gives him the ultimate lap dance.
15. Beastie Boys, “Make Some Noise”
The Beasties’ MCA was sadly too sick to help promote the group’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two album, but the iconic rap group received some terrific stand-in with Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood and Danny McBride in the video for “Make Some Noise.” For Beastie Boys fans and general music lovers, the star-studded “Make Some Noise” clip was less of a viral video than a loving tribute.
14. Kanye West, “Runaway”
It wouldn’t be a Kanye West video if it wasn’t a movie, and “Runaway” is his ultimate feature film. The 35-minute spectacle — which was premiered in screening across cities — is a peak into the way ‘Ye’s mind works, and features a sequence of scenes that strengthen the song’s story.
13. Gotye ft. Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used to Know”
?Gotye’s video for his leftfield No. 1 “Somebody That I Used to Know” is an unforgettable exercise in minimalism on its own merits. But more importantly, it was super easy to parody. From Star Wars to school lunch to a meta-clip that parodied Gotye parody videos, this easy-to-imitate clip spawned one of the iconic memes of the 2010s.
12. Sia, “Chandelier”?
Sia had been writing songs for other artists for years, but for her own big moment in the spotlight, she – as is her prerogative – opted to remain mysterious, handing over the video spotlight to incredible tween dancer Maddie Ziegler. The “Chandelier” video is held together by complicated, gorgeously shot, technically incredible dancing, as well as a three-part chorus move that was easy enough for even the most movement-challenged fans to catch on to.
11. Arcade Fire, “We Used to Wait”
Most interactive music videos are better in concept than execution. That wasn’t the case with Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait.” Enter the address of your childhood home into TheWildnernessDowntown.com and watch a Google Street View-supported montage of the surroundings you grew up in — all set to the melancholy nostalgic music the group mined on The Suburbs.
10. Jay Z & Kanye West, “Otis”
Kanye West famously sampled Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” to make the “Otis” beat. Try a little tenderness for the music video? Not so much — this Spike Jonze-directed clip opens with Jay Z and Kanye carrying some nasty-looking power tools which they use to dismantle a car for an afternoon of joyriding in a parking lot. You end up with more questions than answers: Why buy a convertible when you can make your own? Why is Aziz Ansari in this? Who cares?
9. PSY, “Gangnam Style”
PSY’s cultural ubiquity didn’t last, but admit it — you’re never going to forget its video. The horsey dance and other nonsensical theatrics sparked a viral sensation of epic proportions, one that grew so big it literally broke YouTube. And yeah, it has over two billion views to date.
8. Lana Del Rey, “National Anthem”
Lots of girls wish they were Jackie O, and lots of guys wouldn’t mind being J.F.K. Hell, being Lana Del Rey or A$AP Rocky wouldn’t be too bad, either. Reality is harsh, but hey, watching Lana and A$AP act out those fantasies in director Anthony Mandler’s music video for seven and a half minutes was a pretty good compromise.
7. Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”
This is a black-and-white clip of one man rapping into a camera, presented as a continuous shot. Exciting, huh? Actually, it’s impossible to look away from. By virtue of his intense yet disturbingly real persona, Tyler captured everyone’s attention with his breakthrough “Yonkers” video. But then again, who wouldn’t love a video with roach eating, vomiting and suicide-by-rope?
6. Beyonce, “Countdown”
Beyonce routinely makes the impossible look effortless, and the technicolor majesty of the “Countdown” video turns the heavy-winking, highly manicured style of 1950s cinema into a seamless showcase for a rollicking dance track. Her 2013 self-titled record might have been her “visual album,” but “Countdown” stands as one of Bey’s strongest visual achievements to date.
First thing’s first: If you’re going to channel Clueless, you’ve got some big (name brand) stilettos to fill. Luckily, Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX were more than up to the challenge, nailing both the iconic clothing, and, perhaps more importantly, the “we’ve arrived” attitude. Who doesn’t want to party with the two coolest girls in school?
4. Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”?
Deceptively simple and instantly memorable, this video was an ideal showcase for Miley 2.0. From the opening seconds of the ballad with gorgeous close-ups of her face to the iconic shots of a nude Miley on top of a steel ball, the vid was a perfect marriage of emotional – pause for the single tear! — and physical nakedness.
3. Drake, “H.Y.F.R.”
If any rapper can successfully pull off a video based around a “re-Bar Mitzvah,” mixing footage of a adolescent version of himself and DJ Khaled solemnly nodding in a synagogue, it’s Aubrey Graham. Drake’s wildly fun “H.Y.F.R.” clip took a totally unexpected concept and turned it into a classic.
Once we got past the initial chatter of “Whoa, that guy looks a LOT like Chris Brown,” we collectively realized that Rihanna’s “We Found Love” was the stark, piercingly dramatic kaleidoscope we never knew such a fun song needed. A broken relationship is wholly captured and fully felt, with kinetic drug footage more cinematically effective than all of Requiem For a Dream.
1. Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce, “Telephone”
The craziest detail of Lady Gaga’s nine-and-a-half minute “Telephone” video is that it arrived mere months after the brain-busting “Bad Romance” clip, which helped remold pop at the end of the 2000s. With the assistance of Beyonce and director Jonas Åkerlund, Gaga started off the 2010s with a massive budget, insane outfits and daring vision; she picks up a call from Queen Bey with Diet Coke cans as curlers, and the prison madness multiplies from there. By the time the two pop superstars ride off into the sunset in their Pussy Wagon, it was clear that Gaga had triumphed again, and that this decade was off to a spectacular start.
Text by Jason Lipshutz, Erika Ramirez, Joe Lynch, Chris Payne, Erin Strecker and Elias Leight.