The 17 Best Music Videos of 2017
From a new kind of trapping to rap's young pope, this is what we were watching this year
Every video on this list captures the purposeful art of the music video in some shape or form. They elevate the song experience, providing an added layer of substance to their themes and ideas. Some are hilarious viral hits that showcase a song in a new light. Most took the track to a brand new level of artistic expression. All of them are just flat out cool to watch.
17. N*E*R*D f/ Rihanna, “Lemon”
Directors: Todd Tourso and Scott Cudmore
It’s hard to tell who is badder: Rihanna or Mette Towley, the dancer whose head Rihanna shaves at the start of N*E*RD’s video for “Lemon.” Towley soon takes control of the spotlight, bouncing around over Rihanna’s incredibly cool rap verse. It’s a furious, fierce, hypnotizing, and powerful depiction of a woman absolutely killing it in 2017.
16. Tyler, the Creator f/ ASAP Rocky, “Who Dat Boy”
Director: Wolf Haley
“Who Dat Boy” was the first public taste of Tyler, the Creator’s magnum opus Flower Boy, and an explosive one at that. As an eerie synth lead and tense strings introduce the track, we see Tyler blow off half of his face and stumble into the outside world. A$AP Rocky plays doctor and reconstructs Tyler with the plastered-on visage of a white man, which is kind of like a reverse Get Out. “Who Dat Boy” is the type of gory, oddball return that Tyler fans have been waiting on for years.
15. Migos, “T-Shirt”
Directors: DAPS and Quavo
Hot off the incredible hype of “Bad and Boujee,” Migos premiered the video for “T-Shirt” in the first week of 2017. In it, the trio come draped in animal fur and walk around a mountain near Lake Tahoe. That’s a pretty goofy yet incredible image on its own, but when the snow/cocaine visual jokes come in, it makes way more sense. There’s lots of ways to be a trapper.
14. Vince Staples, “Big Fish”
Director: David M. Helman
Staples is at a point in his career where money isn’t as much of a concern (plus he has a good credit score), but that doesn’t stop the paranoia that he has about others. His fears, his occasional depression, they’re all apparent in his work—especially in the video for “Big Fish.” The metaphors are pretty straight up: Staples raps alone on a sinking boat, surrounded by sharks waiting for him to submerge in the water. Will they make a meal out him, or will he drown first? Either fate seems inevitable. And then there’s the terribly small fishbowl at the beginning of the video, so you can tell what type of trap Staples is now most worried about.
13. PUP, “Old Wounds”
Director: Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux
Toronto punk band PUP’s choose your own adventure video for “Old Wounds” seems like it took forever to film and edit. It also feels nearly impossible to win, no matter what difficulty setting you play on. Viewers assume the role of a tour manager whose job is to accompany one of the four members of PUP through a night of hijinks. You can choose to trip on shrooms or simply catch the Raptors game. You can also see a ton of aliens, if you pick the right path. With 28 different ways to die and only four ways to victory, “Old Wounds” makes for one of the most challenging videos of the year.
12. Mike WiLL Made-It f/
Kendrick Lamar, Gucci Mane, Rae Sremmurd, “Perfect Pint”
“Perfect Pint” features some of hip hop’s most interesting figures, all teaming up for one trippy-ass video. As Kendrick Lamar, Slim Jxmmi, and Gucci Mane connect on a Mike WiLL Made-It beat, Swae Lee croons the hook’s love letter to lean. The images match that haze, as Mike WiLL and Rae Sremmurd enter a portal to another dimension. This is Bat Country for the purple drinkers, full of giants, spiders, Kendrick in a flying car and an astronaut Guap.
11. Danny Brown, “Lost”
Director: Matilda Finn
Nothing captures the anxiety and terror that Danny Brown displayed on 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition quite like the video for “Lost.” Director Matilda Finn teamed up with Brown for a gritty clip driven by paranoia. Brown is stuck in a small room, cooking up product, sweating bullets and shooting dodgy eyes whenever he hears a knock on the door. Furrowed brows of nameless characters are seen in grainy black and white footage, as Brown seemingly experiences a bad comedown from a terrible high. It’s mercifully short, but undeniably compelling.
10. D.R.A.M. f/ A$AP Rocky & Juicy J, “Gilligan”
Director: Nadia Lee Cohen
D.R.A.M. is no stranger to hilarious music videos, but “Gilligan” may be his greatest achievement yet. Despite a darkish trap beat, nearly every person in it seems to be rapping or singing through a giant smile. It’s a bit eerie, but director Nadia Lee Cohen does an amazing job of adding brighter, stranger, creepier, and more hilarious elements to the original track.
9. King Krule, “Dum Surfer”
Director: Brother Willis
There’s something haunting and weird, yet very charming, about the video for “Dum Surfer,” King Krule’s dully sang call-and-response track. It begins with Archy Marshall rolling down a hill on a stretcher before ending up in a depressing bar. King Krule arises to sing, backed by a band full of zombies, on what looks to be a stage meant for karaoke. It’s then revealed that a bar full of undead patrons and weirdos have been waiting, with pale faces and warped facial features galore. Suddenly we’re lost in a blur of jazz guitars and cool croons as the lights get blurrier and the grim party is documented through VHS-filtered visuals. This is nightmare worth staying in.
8. Young Thug, “Wyclef Jean”
Directors: Ryan Staake and Young Thugh
Director Ryan Staake of Pomp&Clout managed to turn his disaster video shoot for Young Thug’s “Wyclef Jean” into one of the coolest viral videos of the year. While Young Thug had ideas for this clip he was going to “co-direct”—girls driving around in “kiddie cars” and children destroying a police cruiser—he never totally showed up. Staake had a contract to fulfill, so even if Thugger wasn’t in the shot, a video had to be made and the budget had to be spent. Comprised of b-roll footage and a tiny bit of material that Thug sent in of him rapping in front of a private plane and eating Cheetohs, the video is Frankenstein-ed together with bits of commentary in the style VH1’s Pop-Up Video.
7. Gorillaz f/ Popcaan, “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)”
Director: Jamie Hewlett
The “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” video is the closest we can get to the Gorillaz without actually living in their animated universe. Gorillaz artist and co-founder Jamie Hewlett created this illustrated visual for 360-degree viewing, meaning you can stream the video and guide yourself around a haunted house with your favorite cartoon pop stars. It’s basically VR without the glasses. Join Murdoc, 2D, Russel and Noodle as they venture through an Amityville-styled space full of singing pizza, dirty bathtubs and passageways to outerspace.
6. Flying Lotus, “Post Requisite”
Director: Winston Hacking
This Flying Lotus loosie is absolutely mesmerizing. A combination of montage, puppetry, stop-motion animation, and flawless editing are all utilized in this striking video. And given that it’s FlyLo, there’s plenty of brains, guts, fluids, and body horror. The collage of ideas works well with Lotus’ short, chilled out electronic beat, which feels born out of his Cosmogramma era more than his more recent You’re Dead! At just over two-minutes in length, “Post Requisite” and its video leaves you wanting more.
5. Kamasi Washington, “Truth”
Director: AG Rojas
The 14-minute piece for Kamasi Washington’s “Truth” isn’t a traditional music video, but rather a handful of vignettes laced together to celebrate the genuine love we feel in life. The collection of visuals that director AG Rojas and Washington capture feel authentic and beautiful in their own right. The scope of diversity we’re shown perfectly matches the wonders of Washington’s breath-taking composition.
4. JAY-Z, “4:44”
Never before have we seen a mainstream rapper show such vulnerability to a massive audience as JAY-Z did with his album 4:44. The video for its title track, however, adds much more to that cathartic confession. A young boy starts the video off by singing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” a song of transition that announces Hov’s ultimate message: I’m a changed man.
3. Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”
Directors: Dave Meyers & The Little Homies
It’s hard not to watch “Humble” in total awe. Every few seconds of this video is gif-worthy, nearly every frame is its own photograph. This video’s very essence is 2017.
2. Jay-Z, “The Story of O.J.”
Director: Mark Romanek
“The Story of O.J.” directly references the thick-lips and exaggerated facial features that were used by white animators when depicting black people during the first half of the 20th century. Director Mark Romanek and the animators at The Mill definitely did their homework, as the clip pulls from now controversial cartoons like “Scrub Me Mamma With a Boogie Beat” and “Jungle Jitters.” But the most troubling part of it all is that the debate around these types of cartoons and questions about how other cultures are depicted within popular culture still resonate so strongly today.
1. Kendrick Lamar “Element”
Directors: Jonas Lindstroem and The Little Homies
“Element” serves as an homage to Belgium director Jonas Lindstroem’s short film Truth or Dare and is a tribute to the work of photojournalist Gordon Parks during the Civil Rights Era. Through various scopes, we see violence in all forms, erupting out of the stand-still of life. By combining ideas presented with Parks’ photographs and Lindstroem’s direction, Lamar showcases an aggressively violent lifestyle many are either too afraid, sheltered or privileged to witness themselves. Once again, Lamar succeeds in painting a realistic portrait of the conditioning that violence births.