In 2018, music videos were more at the center of the cultural conversation than they’ve been since the original TRL was still on the air. From Migos and Drake invoking the swag of generations past to Childish Gambino shocking the world late on a Saturday night to Ariana Grande recreating her own TBS marathon of cable comedy classics, music videos drove discussion and powered hit singles all year, as pop’s biggest artists once again seemed to wield the full power of the medium.
The superstars weren’t the only ones who brought their A-games to the video realm this year, though — a new crop of exciting young directors also worked with some of music’s most interesting newer artists to help make it an exciting year for the form both on and off YouTube’s Top Trending list. Recognizing both the videos we spent all year talking about and the ones we wished more people had gotten the chance to watch on heavy rotation, here are the Billboard staff’s 50 favorite videos of 2018.
50. Doja Cat, “Moo” (Dir. Doja Cat)
Make your own “milkshake cow” puns here as warranted, certainly, but for at least a couple of weeks, Doja Cat was a dream example of music video virality in 2018: an artist who deserved more attention than she was getting and made a music video bizarre, creative and captivating enough that it was all but ensured to get it for her. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
49. 2 Chainz feat. Drake & Quavo, “Bigger Than You” (dir. Nathan R. Smith)
Casting kid versions of rap stars has been a bulletproof music video concept for at least 20 years already, but “Bigger Than You” does well not to try to recreate the IRL universe of three of rap’s biggest names. Instead, it just lets their teen doppelgangers swag out at study hall for a couple minutes. The invocations feel authentic; even mini-Drake has the combination of light external awkwardness but unmistakable internal resolve that undoubtedly still made the real Young Aubrey one of the popular kids at an early age. — A.U.
48. Phoebe Bridgers, “Scott Street” (dir. Alex Lill)
Phoebe Bridgers’ poised and wistful indie-folk music doesn’t have much in common with Sia’s anthemic pop songs, but the two do share one thing in common: instantly recognizable platinum-blonde hair. Like Sia before her in videos like “Chandelier” and “Cheap Thrills,” Bridgers crafts a winking response to her trademark look in “Scott Street,” this time with a whole posse of wigged imitators. There’s something beautifully surreal about watching 20 Phoebe Bridgers running across a trampoline floor or hitting a piñata (also shaped like Phoebe Bridgers), so much so that you might forget to look for Bridgers herself among her doppelgangers. — CLAIRE SHAFFER
47. Reik feat. Ozuna, “Me Niego” (dir. Nuno Gomes)
The first time I saw Reik’s music video for “Me Niego” featuring Ozuna and Wisin, I cried my eyes out. Director Nuno Gomes is a storyteller, and here, he pulls at your heartstrings with this tale of a man who gets in a serious car crash and has flashbacks of his relationship with his ex girlfriend, who ultimately witnesses his death at the hospital. The five-and-a-half minute long music video is powerful and emotional, and it became one of YouTube’s 10 most-viewed music videos globally in 2018. — JESSICA ROIZ
46. Morgan Evans, “Kiss Somebody” (dir. Jeff Venable)
At first It seems like it’s gonna be just like the great majority of nostalgic, wistful country music videos — a young Morgan Evans proxy fails to risk attempting a goodbye smooch with the young girl he just bade farewell and is racked with immediate regret. But as he doubles back to correct his error (in Chariots of Fire slo-mo), all of a sudden the rest of his small town helps in the effort — throwing him flowers and handing him water and even allowing him to do a hood slide on the way to belatedly performing the titular action. A clever and winning spin on a tried and true country happy ending. — A.U.
45. Lump, “Curse of the Commentary” (dir. Esteban Diacono)
This year, the imposingly talented Laura Marling and Mercury Music Prize-winning producer Mike Lindsay teamed up to form LUMP, whose haunting “Curse of the Contemporary” gave us one of 2018’s weirdest psych-folk delights – and the video is even kookier. While the strangely syncopated tune plays out, a faceless creature covered in shaggy fur shimmies and shakes inside a studio warehouse as various backdrops rotate in and out. Thanks to director Esteban Diacono, we now know would happen if Spike Jonze helmed a video starring Gritty’s bizarro-world twin. — JOE LYNCH
44. Juice WRLD, “Lucid Dreams” (dir. Cole Bennett)
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.
43. Nina Nesbitt, “Loyal to Me” (dir. Debbie Scanlan)
What Dua Lipa hath wrought: talented pop singer-songwriters putting extra coordination effort into every aspect of their music videos, from the costuming to the concept to the casting to the choreo. “Loyal to Me” might not’ve gotten “New Rules” big, exactly, but for the rest of her career, Nia Nesbitt can show up anywhere in those “A”-“B”-“C”-“D” sheer pants, and her own loyalists will instantly know that it’s on. — A.U.
42. Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse” (dir. Hannah Lux Davis)
It would’ve been hard to top the vaporwave-inspired lyric video for Kacey Musgraves’ country-disco track “High Horse,” but director Hannah Lux Davis managed to pull it off. Musgraves’ 9 to 5-inspired office takedown of a skeezy bossman transitions into a neon-and-rhinestone karaoke scene — matching the song’s own fusion of genres — and her campy outfits throughout the video (including a shimmering, Rosie Assoulin-designed “rainbow” dress) would make Dolly Parton proud. — C.S.
41. Daddy Yankee, “Dura” (dir. Carlos Perez)
Daddy Yankee’s “Dura” sparked thousands of challenges worldwide, thanks in no small part to the Carlos Perez-directed video, bursting with color and dance moves. While Perez is known for grandiosity and scale in his videos, what jumps out here is the gritty-chic aesthetic, the urban warehouses painted with neon graffiti and the multicultural cadre of dancers wearing a rainbow of outfits. Yankee’s nerdy glasses in one scene also add an unexpected touch of whimsy. — LEILA COBO
40. Dua Lipa, “IDGAF” (dir. Henry Scholfield)
The trend of music videos looking more and more like sponsored Instagram posts (blocks of colors, soft pastel or “neon” lighting, dance routines that emphasize tableau and still frames for screenshots) has largely yielded uninspiring results. Among the few notable exceptions is Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF” video, which takes self-confrontation to a whole new, Adidas-wearing level. Even with green screen technology, it’s still unclear how they managed to show Dua Lipa kissing her own forehead. — C.S.
39. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Party For One” (dir. Bardia Zeinali)
A great pop song can be an act of healing. Carly Rae Jepsen understands that as well as any pop star, and she visualizes that process of making the private pain public with her grown-up “Party For One” video. Instead of setting the clip in a club or a night out — a natural environment for the kind of “crying-while-dancing” tunes she and her peers revere — Jepsen and director Bardia Zeinali chose a dingy hotel, but the effect is the same: It’s a place where loneliness and fear of rejection can turn into liberation and rebellion, a spot where we’re entirely in our own zone but surrounded by people in every direction. A more literal treatment couldn’t have better conveyed what the video’s power-outage plot twist makes clear: Through pop songs like Jepsen’s, we create our own worlds. — NOLAN FEENEY
38. J. Cole, “Kevin’s Heart” (dir. J. Cole & Scott Lazer)
An imaginative and surprisingly resonant — and yes, Kevin Hart-starring — reflection on the idea that when you’re out in the world and get that feeling that everyone around you is looking at you and silently judging you, if you’re a celebrity, it might actually be true. Few music video moments in 2018 will catch you as off guard as when a stranger confronts a besieged Hart in a restaurant bathroom to advise him, “Nobody’s perfect, and you’re only human. Learn from it, brother.” He was referencing Hart’s 2017 cheating scandal; given more recent headlines involving the comedian, maybe he should’ve taken those words a little more closely to heart. — A.U.
37. RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3, “Kitty Girl”
Trixie Mattel, the winner of season of three of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, once equated the increased mainstream visibility of drag with a growing understanding of the work involved: “I’ve been on shows where real celebrities show up with a team of 15 people and everyone does everything for them: hair, makeup, going through jokes, telling them what to say. We show up carrying suitcases and put ourselves in drag.” The one-take video for “Kitty Girl,” featuring Mattel and the other season three finalists, is a brown-cow-stunning tribute to the work behind the spectacle: It snakes its way through the set’s behind-the-scenes spaces and lets each queen showcase her distinct but jack-of-all-trades showmanship without relying on camera cuts to up the fierceness quotient. It’s all in illusion, but it’s totally real. — N.F.
36. Billie Eillish, “When the Party’s Over” (dir. Carlos Lopez Estrada)
Emerging alt-pop savant Billie Eillish has oft expressed her admiration for the work of rapper Tyler, the Creator, and watching the “When the Party’s Over” video, it’s not difficult to connect the two: Few other artists merge traditional body horror with the psychological torture of social anxiety as fluidly as either of them. “Call me when the party’s over,” Billie pleads here in a sterile white environment while bleeding black oil from her eyes. In her increasingly singular universe, it seems like a fair visual representation of an average Saturday night. — A.U.
35. Mereba, “Black Truck” (dir. Durimel)
If you want a great music video in 2018, hire James Laxton. Barry Jenkins’s cinematographer of choice, Laxton was behind the camera for Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, and together the pair capture black people in motion pictures with stunning clarity and respect. Mereba’s “Black Truck,” shot by Laxton, speaks to the reward when this difficult work is undertaken. The song, produced by 9th Wonder, is about Mereba’s come-up and the matte black truck she wants as a signifier of success. The video, though, directed by Durimel, is a multi-location journey from a beach to a swamp to a workshop of sorts, each scene populated by luminous black folks: Mereba’s past, present and future. — ROSS SCARANO
34. Taylor Swift feat. Future & Ed Sheeran, “End Game” (dir. Joseph Kahn)
In case you still thought Taylor Swift was the girl who did the surprised face at every award show, witness her mixing drinks with Future on a luxury liner in Miami, riding motorbikes with Ed Sheeran in Tokyo and ordering room service to her London penthouse for all her not-as-famous friends on New Year’s Eve. “End Game” is the perfect representation of a pop icon who’s already won the entire world and no longer feels the need to act shocked about any of it. — A.U.
33. Joyce Manor, “Think I’m Still in Love With You” (dir. Christopher Good)
A visually elastic and emotionally intricate portrait of a relationship in flux, with director Christopher Good combining Michel Gondry’s aptitude at creating reality-blurring universes and Spike Jonze’s brilliance at presenting bands as the most likeable versions of themselves. A quarter-century ago, it would’ve made Joyce Manor stars of the MTV buzz bin; in 2018, cracking six figures on YouTube will have to do for the cult rock heroes. — A.U.
32. Charli XCX feat. Troye Sivan, “1999” (dir. Charli XCX & Ryan Staake)
Charli XCX is a next-level pop star, but she is also — and the two are probably not unrelated — a marketing genius. In an interview with Billboard earlier this year, the singer said the music videos she makes are the ones she can convince her label to pay for, which might suggest a least-common-denominator approach. And, sure, her recent output has hit on a few key tenets of virality: shirtless men, puppies, nostalgia. But Charli doesn’t just recreate turn-of-the-millennium pop-culture touchtones in “1999,” she also recontextualizes them: going in meme-worthy Steve Jobs drag to poke fun at his own simple but carefully constructed image, teaming up with Troye Sivan to reclaim figures of straight masculinity like Eminem and Justin Timberlake as queer canon. Charli may not have traditional chart-topping hits like her tourmates Camila Cabello and Taylor Swift, but she knows how to create an event-level moment worthy of the internet’s attention — and “1999” will live beyond 2018. — N.F.
31. SiR, “D’Evils” (dir. Karena Evans)
A rare non-Drake video helmed by the prodigious Karena Evans in 2018, “D’Evils” sees TDE crooner SiR living it up in in an idyllic vision of Jamaica, all tranquil waters and vibrant dancehalls, its hazy and somewhat grainy footage making it already look like a fading memory of itself. One spliff a day may keep the evils away, but you might not even need that much after catching the contact high from this clip. — A.U.
30. Vince Staples, “FUN!” (dir. Calmatic)
Making people feel comfortable has never been Vince Staples’ M.O., and his brilliant sense of humor continues in his video for FM’s “FUN!” Directed by Calmatic, it is a Google Maps journey through Staples’ native Long Beach. There is a “WORLDSTARRR!!”-worthy fight moment, a candlelight vigil, kids showing off the new dance moves and cops making arrests. These are everyday moments for the folks in the neighborhood — but not so much for the white suburban teen who’s probably watching this all go down from his bedroom (which features a “Free Kodak” poster, no less). That unexpected ending is another look at how technology can be a voyeuristic bridge between two different cultures. — BIANCA GRACIE
29. Cher, “S.O.S.” (dir. Jake Wilson)
Cher’s third-act appearance was the best part of the already enjoyably silly Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and it’s tough to say which of her ABBA covers this year is the standout hit. But the video for “S.O.S.” remains strange, fixating and instantly memorable in its centering of women, even as they’re all lip-syncing about pining for a lover. Yes, it’s partially a visual homage to the original 1975 video, but that one didn’t feature Trace Lysette, Betty Who, Rumer Willis, Sabrina Jalees, Vella Lovell and a dozen other women wrapping their arms around each other in a powerful kind of pop solidarity. — C.S.
28. Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up” (dir. Nick Walker)
The most quietly viral video of 2018, without even a major hook or .gifable moment to propel it: just your soon-to-be-new-favorite R&B singer-songwriter getting Ja Rule & Ashanti levels of cute at the arcade and mini-golf course alongside said boo. It’s surprising to see already-overbooked R&B hitmaker Khalid show up for a few seconds of go-karting with Ella & Co., but the video’s universe is such an enchanting place of pure good feeling that you’d probably make the time, too. — A.U.
27. Bad Bunny feat. Drake, “MIA” (dir. Fernando Lugo)
The fact alone that Drake sings in Spanish is enough to watch this Fernando Lugo video for a track that celebrates not a crossover so much as the inextricable multicultural mix that we are today. But this down-home street party also captures the essence of being Latin in Miami in a single locale, with Bad Bunny and Drake playing dominos in the street, the neighbors (of all ages) dancing, drinking and smoking hookah in just your run-of-the-mill multigeneration celebration. — L.C.
26. Ciara, “Level Up” (dir. Parris Goebel (Parri$))
No shade to Beyoncé, Ariana, or any other current pop royalty, but when it comes to dance videos (not just the dance routines themselves), Ciara is still at the top of the game. Where “Body Party” was hypnotizing and “Ride” was a solo flex, “Level Up” is an ensemble display of craft, a masterclass in how to sync routine, camera motion, editing and sheer charisma of its star into one complete package. Try pressing “play” without watching it the whole way through. — C.S.
25. Hayley Kiyoko, “Curious” (dir. Hayley Kiyoko)
Like the dance-pop banger itself, the video for Hayley Kiyoko’s “Curious” smolders with just-barely-suppressed sexual longing that’s expertly conveyed by the clip’s director — who, of course, also happens to be Kiyoko herself. The video finds Lesbian Jesus running into her ex at a party and making a series of subtle, simmering passes at each other until the explosive, surreptitious climax in the bathroom. The chemistry here is palpable, making it abundantly clear that Kiyoko is as comfortable behind the camera as the mic. — J.L.
24. Mitski, “Geyser” (dir. Zia Anger)
Sometimes pure simplicity does the trick. Opening on an abrasively red screen, Mitski’s “Geyser” fades into a single-take shot on a beach that, much like all the tracks on this year’s Be the Cowboy, manages to convey a startling range of longing, detachment and ennui in just over two minutes. Coupled with her very different but equally mesmerizing video for “Nobody,” Mitski proved herself to be a more than capable performer, and one of 2018’s most cherished musical storytellers. — C.S.
23. A$AP Rocky & Tyler the Creator, “Potato Salad” (dir. AWGE)
Rocky and Tyler are in Paris, looking fashionable (heavy chains and satchels, no purses), and they’re really glad about it. That’s the whole premise for the video for “Potato Salad”: The guys goof off with each other and with the viewer, letting you feel like you’re in on the friendship too. (“That’s hot and horny,” Tyler says at the video’s opening — the camera pans up to Rocky, rubbing the bridge of his nose and looking weary with a reply on his lips he’s undoubtedly used with his friend before: “Don’t say shit like that.”) Cut to the pair in front of a long green lawn leading up to the Eiffel Tower as the beat for Monica’s “Knock Knock” starts playing. They smile and crow, and Rocky waves a yellow bandana, and both of them hop around, and really, isn’t this enough? If you had a better means of imbibing joy in 2018, you had better share that shit. — R.S.
22. 5 Seconds of Summer, “Youngblood” (dir. Frank Borin)
One of the biggest video surprises this year came from Australian pop-punk boy band 5 Seconds of Summer, who produced a heartwarming and exhilarating look at Tokyo’s rockabilly subculture. Rather than turning its stars into a joke or giving an unneeded Westernized explanation for their existence, “Youngblood” simply presents the greasers as they are, all while telling the year’s best video love story. — C.S.
21. Red Velvet, “Power Up”
Anytime you see a video that starts with an amp cable being plugged into a pineapple, you know you’re probably in for a good time. “Power Up” is the logical K-pop extreme of Diane Martel’s vision of a world where typical household objects are rarely what they seem; in girl group Red Velvet’s case, the “ba-na-na” chants of the chorus extend to a universe where fruit is the mother earth’s lifeblood, powering everything from plant growth to Wham! LPs. The injection of Vitamin C is practically incapacitating . — A.U.
20. Years & Years, “Sanctify/Palo Santo/All for You” (dir. Fred Rowson)
While Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer “emotion picture” received a lot of hype this year for being both the next great visual album and the next great Blade Runner, the same could be said for Years & Years’ sci-fi romance trio of videos. The narrative arc that is threaded across the short film Palo Santo and its two auxiliary installments (“Sanctify” was the first of the three to be released, “All for You” was the last) may be non-linear and a bit convoluted. But its themes of AI servitude and singularity connected to queerness are nevertheless compelling, and the dancing and production design throughout the project are both impeccable. — C.S.
19. Sheck Wes, “Mo Bamba” (dir. White Trash Tyler, Nick Walker & Sheck Wes)
It’s New York the way it used to be presented in the best hip-hop videos: austere, unpredictable, and blisteringly vital. Filmed on a Harlem basketball court, the black-and-white energy of “Mo Bamba” is so out of control that the presence of Sheck Wes in both a walking boot and a power chair needs no further explanation: You wouldn’t really trust a version of the video in which he makes it through without some injury to eventually land him on the DL. — A.U.
18. Flasher, “Material” (dir. Nick Roney)
If you didn’t realize that music videos had a fourth wall still worth breaking in 2018, allow D.C. punks Flasher to smack you through one of your 23 open Firefox tabs. The group reinvents their own “Material” video in just about every YouTube way possible, clicking from a typical lyric video to a viral meme clip to an Illuminati conspiracy video, while providing their own buffering issues, recommended next plays and pre-video ads to make you wince with recognition. They say kids don’t have the attention span to watch full music videos anymore without drifting away to something else, so good on Flasher for figuring out a way to beat them to the punch. — A.U.
17. The Internet, “Come Over” (dir. Syd)
We always want to believe that our favorite bands actually live in a big house and are continuously getting into misadventures. “Come Over” lives out that fantasy for us, as The Internet’s members attempt individual color-coded romantic hijinks in the same big house (in between garage rehearsals, natch). Bassist Patrick Paige II may get annoyed at guitarist Steve Lacy’s guitar-solo seductions a couple rooms over, but it’s all love by the end, when the entire family gathers to watch TV together in the living room. Give them all their own ’80s sitcom already. — A.U.
16. Cardi B, J Balvin & Bad Bunny, “I Like It” (dir. Elf Riviera)
A personal anecdote about the “I Like It” video: This summer and fall, I went to a number of “music video parties” that involved projecting a YouTube playlist of visuals onto the wall at a bar or someone’s apartment. And whenever Bad Bunny appeared onscreen in the “I Like It” video, without fail, the entire party would stop dancing for a moment and swoon over him like he was JT circa 1999 and we were all teenage girls. Such is the power and energy of “I Like It.” Use sparingly. — C.S.
15. The 1975, “Sincerity Is Scary” (dir. Warren Fu)
It’s easy (and mostly fair) to be very skeptical of musical-inspired music videos that aren’t directed by Spike Jonze or Paul Thomas Anderson. But this one is very fun and, like much of The 1975’s work, just self-aware enough to not be unbelievably corny or self-righteous, and just memorable enough to even earn a quick universe-crossover in the band’s next music video. The whole thing is very New-York-brownstone-by-way-of-Hollywood-backlot. Matt Healy wears a striped shirt with holes in it and a ridiculous hat. There’s a marching band and a choir! — C.S.
14. Nicky Jam x J Balvin, “X” (dir. Jessy Terrero)
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 billion-and-a-half range would suggest that plenty of viewers have been doing the same at home along with them in 2018. — A.U.
13. Janelle Monáe feat. Grimes, “PYNK” (dir. Emma Westenberg)
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 this year — 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
12. Migos feat. Drake, “Walk It Talk It” (dir. Daps & Quavo)
They could’ve just built a set, got in cartoonish costume and called it a day, but Migos, Drake and director Daps’ faithful Soul Train revival straps on in its platform shoes and really walks it like it talks it. The rap trio fully embraces the bygone era’s drip, complete with authentic dance moves, soft ’70s lighting and an inspired cameo from Jamie Foxx as a slightly confused Don Cornelius. By the time Drake shows up in a sopping wet Jheri curl to do his best MJ moves, you’re already mentally plotting the Club MTV-set sequel: Cardi B as Downtown Julie Brown? — A.U.
11. Kali Uchis feat. Bootsy Collins & Tyler the Creator, “After the Storm” (dir. Nadia Lee Cohen)
A worthy successor to Soundgarden’s Alternative Nation-era nightmare “Black Hole Sun” in its surrealist depiction of suburbia, “After the Storm” is far less apocalyptic but no less engaging. The hair design, in particular, is quite spectacular — who knew Tyler, the Creator would look great as a Chia Pet? — and Uchis’ off-kilter smooth funk goes well with the video’s skewed depiction of the changing seasons. Just don’t expect to see any of this in a Home Depot commercial. — C.S.
10. Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B, “Finesse” (Remix)
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 for 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. It’s safe to say its vibrant release kicked off a year that was overflowing with ’90s visual throwbacks. — B.G.
9. Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next” (dir. Hannah Lux Davis)
It’s one thing to pay tribute to an iconic 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 fuckin’ 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.
8. Rosalía, “Malamente (Cap. 1: Augurio)” (dir. Canada)
High drama, haunting vignettes, an infusion of Spanish history into commercial pop — if this is what makes up the Rosalía project, then the “Malamente” video could be considered a statement of purpose. The trained flamenco singer rides motorcycles frozen in tableau and dances on the back of a semi truck that’s framed like a diorama, but somehow she is never trapped, always firmly in control of the cultural lens we’re gazing through. There’s a shot in “Malamente” involving a forklift that mirrors a religious ascension; as a complete work, it feels as though Rosalia is elevating the medium on her own terms. — C.S.
7. The Carters, “APESHIT” (dir. Ricky Saiz)
“Rewriting white history.” “Every frame a work of art.” “They shut down the Louvre.” By now we’ve exhausted all possible cliches in discussing “APESHIT,” including labeling the video “cinematic” ad nauseum to describe its stellar photography and gravitas. But “APESHIT” isn’t a movie, and it doesn’t have to be — at just over six minutes, the video is a stadium-wide declaration of a repaired marriage through regained capitalistic power. It’s tempting to reach for the art history textbook, picking apart each picture-perfect composition and exquisite gesture, as members of the Beyhive already have, but by and large, the images speak unambiguously for themselves. — C.S.
6. Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode” (dir. Dave Meyers & Travis Scott)
The 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.
5. Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake, “King’s Dead” (dir. Dave Free & Jack Begert)
An impossibly kinetic assemblage of single-shot set pieces: Our star 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 shitload 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.
4. Troye Sivan, “My My My!” (dir. Grant Singer)
The history of queer desire has been one of glances. When verbal expression meant severe consequences for all involved, a look was the only way to properly convey lust in a society that sometimes couldn’t even fathom its existence. Troye Sivan’s “My My My!” is built upon the art of the gaze, and while it’s received much attention for its casting of male models and porn stars, the real seduction is happening between Sivan’s eyes and the camera. Director Grant Singer — who also helmed Lorde’s “Green Light,” a video that similarly used direct address towards the audience — gives “My My My!” a perfect balance of sultriness without sleaze, enough to rival Madonna’s “Justify My Love” without anyone even taking their clothes off. — C.S.
3. Childish Gambino, “This Is America” (dir. Hiro Murai)
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.
2. Tierra Whack, “Whack World” (dir. Thibaut Duverneix & Mathieu Leger)
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.
1. Drake, “Nice for What” (dir. Karena Evans)
For Drake, 2018 should’ve been a year of embarrassment. But in a year of some tough headlines, the good news for rap’s biggest star was that he had Karena Evans on his side. The young and startlingly talented director swaddled the Scorpion release cycle in a blanket of charming, well-made, often women-centric videos, and “Nice for What” is her crowning achievement. But even without the “Aubrey Graham redemption tour” aura surrounding the visual — or in spite of it — “Nice for What” is already a classic, and a perfect time capsule of women in the spotlight in 2018. Doesn’t hurt that the song is a bop, too.
Evans, to her credit, doesn’t try and film the dozens of women celebrities in the video solely within the box of their public personas. Tiffany Haddish isn’t made to do anything goofy; we hardly see Misty Copeland dancing at all. Instead, they smile and stunt and vape and drive go-karts and generally look amazing for the camera, without going through any of the motions you’d expect women in a music video to go through when trying to appeal as eye candy. In a weird way, it’s reminiscent of George Michael’s classic “Freedom ‘90,” in how it transfers the song’s power and message into new, more-than-capable hands. So many pop videos each year set out to create icons, and very few of them succeed, let alone with faces who don’t belong to the artist on the billing. In this way, the “Nice for What” video is its own triumph. — C.S.