Her Minajesty and Queen Bey ruled, Mykki Blanco stabbed an octopus and FKA twigs electrified us all
20. WENCH – “GALVANIZE”
Earlier this year saw two of this generation’s most exhilarating artists – Venuzualian producer Arca and Hood By Air label boss Shayne Oliver – join forces for a new musical project, dubbed ‘Wench’, a collab which resulted in the sounds of Cher, t.A.T.u, Crystal Castles and Fatboy Slim cut, spliced and stuck back together for one beautifully intense track “Galvanize”. Add visual artist Jesse Kanda into the mix and you get this mind-blowing, 15-minute video. In it, explosions are played back and forth in slow motion so they take on an almost otherworldly, hypnotic power and at one point, what looks like a lorry shattering into grey debris turns out to be a flock of flying birds.
19. A$AP ROCKY – “L$D”
For some of us, taking copious amounts of lsd might result in huddling in a dark corner, tumbling through an intense, occasionally frightening, crisis about the meaning of life. But for A$AP Rocky, his drug use seems to be much more relaxing. “It helps me cope with life,” he once commented, “It's trippy. My art, my visuals. Very trippy.” In this Dexter Navy-directed, Grammy Award-winning video for “L$D”, these psychedelic inspirations come into actuality, with the Harlem rapper exploring the city at night, becoming completely enamoured by the neon-sheened warped colours and effervescent shop lights. Both beautifully hypnotic and opulent, “L$D” makes us want to drop a tab right here, right now.
18. AUTRE NE VEUT – “WORLD WAR PT. 2”
Let’s be real – Autre Ne Veut’s flesh-filled body horror for electro-soul track “World War Pt. 2” is absolutely rank. But disturbing as it might be, it’s also both incredible and endlessly intriguing. Featuring a bald, alien-like naked person clinging onto singer Arthur Ashin like a human leech is probably a metaphor, but what for? An unhealthy relationship? Our hopes and fears? The burdens that cling onto us in life? Whatever it means, it’ll give you really trippy nightmares and probably an existential crisis as well.
17. DESTINY – “SOUL TRAIN”
It’s hard not to fall completely head-over-heels for this uplifting, sun-splashed creation from one of NYC’s most eclectic artists Destiny Frasqueri (formerly known as Princess Nokia). In the dreamy, 70s-style video for “Soul Train” she celebrates her heritage in the most fun and freeing way possible: dancing. “To me, this is a video of Black revolution,” Destiny explained to Dazed. “In a time of racism, it’s for the Black and Latino communities in America, and it was created to honour the lifestyles that cultivated our culture and the positive and artistic outlets that healed us in hard times.” And if you wondered what that dance they’re doing, it’s the ‘Latin Hustle’, “a popular dance the neighbourhood kids used to be into at that time.”
16. THE WEEKND – “IN THE NIGHT”
Starring LA model and social media icon Bella Hadid, R&B king The Weeknd’s blood-splattered, gangster-style video for “In the Night” is a pure lesson in aesthetic innovation, thanks to BRTHR’s direction, which merges cult film references with the hazy surrealism of a drug-hazed dream. “The film Taxi Driver was a huge inspiration in terms of the bloodshed and prostitution narrative, but also the New York feel that the film has,” the directorial duo told Dazed. “Other directors we are always inspired by are Wong Kar-wai, Harmony Korine, Guy Ritchie, Gaspar Noé and Quentin Tarantino. Last but not least, we were obviously inspired by Prince and Michael Jackson vids. We wanted to bring back the feel of those grand-scale music videos.”
15. KALI UCHIS – “LONER”
This year was the year that Kali Uchis became our new music obsession, and at the forefront of that obsession was this dreamy, neon-sheened video for “Loner” – a video that sees her dance by the jukebox, sip candy-coloured milkshakes and sing beneath the pink-tinged lights of an abandoned drive-in. “I wanted this music video to portray a strong sense of being very grown, content alone and feeling yourself,” the Colombian-born, East Coast-based pop singer told Dazed about the stylish visual, which was directed by herself and Andy Hines. “I was inspired by mermaids, call-girls, the actress Mia Farrow, the film Scarface and the director Quentin Tarantino”
14. ARIEL PINK – “DAYZED INN DAYDREAMS”
The orange-haired, razor-cheeked, glam punk protagonist of Ariel Pink’s “Dayzed Inn Daydreams” is visually striking, but that’s not the only reason this video rules. Directed by frequent Pink collaborator Grant Singer, the 5-minute clip follows the life of an atypical Hollywood character – played by Rick Wilder, former frontman of cult L.A. band the Mau-Mau’s – as he rides a bus, plays a game of pool, works in a supermarket, visits a nursing home and then thrashes about on stage in a glitter-covered jacket and snakeskin trousers. It makes for immersive viewing and strikes a magical balance between weird, dark and romantic.
13. FLORENCE + THE MACHINE – “WHAT KIND OF MAN”
Sometimes, going through a difficult relationship breakdown can feel just as emotionally draining and traumatic as the grief following a death. In Florence + the Machine’s Vincent Haycock-directed video for soaring, triumphant comeback track “What Kind of Man”, Florence Welch uses her body to act out and work through the tumultuous emotions she went through following a break up. “You can't fake it with your body,” she told Dazed, speaking about the raw, intense choreography by Ryan Heffington. “So I think it was quite important for me to do it as a way of exorcising feeling.” The result is this beautifully honest and affecting visual masterpiece. Have a peek behind the scenes in this exclusive video for Dazed.
12. MYKKI BLANCO – “COKE WHITE STARLIGHT”
This gorgeously shot video from NYC’s most formidable punk-rap riot grrrl Mykki Blanco sees her get drugged up in a seedy hotel room, stab an (already dead) octopus and swim through the clear-blue seas of Greece like a nature-bound wild child. “I felt like setting Mykki against the birthplace of western civilization was a potentially interesting juxtaposition,” director Tristan Patterson told Dazed. “I arrived in Athens with no plan, no agenda. We’d shoot all day and talk all night and somehow through this intense, insane creative process, we made a film together that I think captures this really personal experience we shared in such a crazy, cinematic way.” The result is a dark, beautiful and fearless visual creation.
11. M.I.A. – “BORDERS”
“Politics, what’s up with that? Police shots, what’s up with that? Identities, what’s up with that?” M.I.A. raps in “Borders”, posing a long line of purposefully simplistic rhetorical questions aimed squarely at the Western world like a poisoned dart. The video itself is equally as politically charged and powerful, and sees the Sri-Lankan rapper join a group of refugees as they try and climb wire over fences, huddle up on tiny boats, and travel across the sea to an unknown fate.
10. DRAKE – “ENERGY”
In one of the most surreal clips of the year, everybody’s favourite meme-generating Canadian rapper Drake injected himself into a long line of major American pop culture moments and magically implanted his face onto a handful of celebrities. Moving from Oprah Winfrey in that infamous Tom Cruise interview to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in “Bound 2”, Miley Cyrus in “Wrecking Ball” and a monochrome, muscle-bound Justin Bieber in that Calvin Klein advert, Drake cleverly takes moments that already seemed weird and makes them, somehow, even weirder.
9. KENDRICK LAMAR – “ALRIGHT”
Kendrick Lamar’s music videos have always blown the others out the water, from the old skool church feels of "Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” to the dark, spilled-out street party in “I” and the classic rap throwback set-up of “King Kunta”. However, it was this beautifully dreamlike, black and white visual “Alright”, directed by Colin Tilley, that really took our breath away. In it, cars go up in white flames, Kendrick floats through the stark, monochrome city of the Bay Area to LA, before eventually getting shot by the fingers of a policeman, tumbling in slow-motion to his death.
8. ARCA – “SAD BITCH”
Last year, we placed Jesse Kanda’s freaky, mind-fuck of a video for Arca’s track “Thievery” on our ‘Top 20 music videos of 2014’, and this year the duo have gone one step further for “Sad Bitch”, a slow-building, ice-filled electronic track from last year’s standout debut Xen. Featuring the same gender-ambiguous, digitally-rendered dancing character as before, but this time covered in neon red blisters and looking slightly less twerk-ready, the video is a perfect example of the pair’s ability to find beauty in ugliness, the grotesqueness in the everyday. “I’m more interested in what’s perceived to be repulsive when there really is no reason for it,” Kanda told us last year. “The inside of our body is much more beautiful than the skin that coats it, yet we’re afraid of it”
7. JAMIE XX – “GOSH”
Looking at the planet and its surroundings from the outside in isn’t something we get to do often, but it’s inherently beautiful when we do. In this visually stunning, literally star-studded clip from production mastermind Jamie XX and space-obsessed digital artist Erik Wernquist, we take a tumble around the cosmos via real high-res deep-space footage from sources like NASA. The immersive clip invites us to imagine what it might be like to move to another planet, floating through the dark recesses of the universe like a single, lonely satellite, before tumbling back down to earth. Oh my gosh, indeed.
6. MISSY ELLIOTT – “WTF (FT. PHARRELL WILLIAMS)”
I mean… where do we even start? Missy Elliott’s comeback track and video “WTF (ft. Pharrell Williams)” was even more perfect than what we expected from the long-reigning queen of hip hop. Harking back to her iconic, early-00s, heavily choreographed videos with Hype Williams (“She's a B*tch”) and Dave Myers (“Work It”) – the latter having co-directed this video too – Elliott enlists a cast of dancers including Les Twins and herself in puppet form to throw shapes around various New York City locations. Read our outfit-by-outfit rundown of all her best “WTF” looks here, including her stint as a human disco ball at 0:50.
5. SIA – “ELASTIC HEART”
Sia’s beautifully potent visual for soaring pop track “Elastic Heart” garnered a lot of attention this year, and not always for the right reasons, with some saying it could trigger survivors of past sexual abuse. “I apologize to those who feel triggered by #ElasticHeart,” Sia explained on Twitter. “My intention was to create some emotional content, not to upset anybody.” Whatever your thoughts, it’s hard to deny that the physically intense dance-off between Shia LaBeouf and Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler makes for powerful viewing. Intended to represent Sia’s two “warring self states”, the pair bite, climb and drag their way around a claustrophobic cage before metaphorically fighting for their freedom.
4. NICKI MINAJ – “FEELING MYSELF (FT. BEYONCE)”
Nicki Minaj’s Beyoncé collab for self-love anthem “Feeling Myself” was pure perfection, and not just because of squad goals. Crammed with a never-ending wheel of now-iconic fashion moments, from Nicki’s incredible “pervert” tee and Moschino swimsuit to Beyoncé’s black-and-white “warrior” shirt, the video was as feel good and fierce as you’d expect from the two pop culture juggernauts. “I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap, who is the queen and things of that,” raps Nicki, cementing those exact claims in her 100mph delivery.
3. BJORK – “STONEMILKER”
Björk’s video for Vulnicura album opener “Stonemilker” wasn’t just visually stunning, but innovative too. Created using a 360° camera, and filmed in the exact same spot the song was written (in Reykjavik, Iceland) the virtual reality masterpiece showcased the artist’s predication for crafting a fully immersive experience. “Intimacy was the goal of this project, giving Björk the open, unrestricted stage on which to perform,” director Andrew Thomas Huang told Dazed. “The shoot was spontaneous, decided in a late-night conversation between me and Björk while we had VR gear with us in Iceland… It was liberating – I knew we were in for amazing surprises when we finally got to see the footage.”
2. RIHANNA – “BITCH BETTER HAVE MY MONEY”
When Rihanna dropped “Bitch Better Have My Money”, her explosive, blood-soaked, Tarantino-style revenge thriller of a music video, we barely had enough time to catch our breath. And after dissecting every cult film reference, killer outfit choice and her uber-cool Desi femme fatale sidekick, we came to the conclusion that it was one of the most insane and stylish we’d seen all year. “It’s just a story in a music video for entertainment,” co-director Megaforce told Dazed, after we probed him about what exactly Ri-Ri was trying to tell us. “There aren’t any political or moralistic ideas in there at all.” Apart from maybe ‘don’t fuck over Rihanna or she’ll kill you’, that is.
1. FKA TWIGS – “M3LL155X”
This might be cheating because FKA twigs’ M3LL155X isn’t technically one music video but five of them, sewn together to form an entire 16-minute audio-visual creation, but who cares? It’s beyond breath-taking. In it, the Dazed cover star alumnus gives birth to multi-coloured paint, renders her head onto a sex doll and elicits some strikingly fierce, vogue-heavy choreography. With its defiant subversion of sexual politics and powerful, ice-clear assertion of her own art and autonomy, M3LL155X marked her strongest feminist statement to date, and reinforced her reputation as an artist rewriting the sound and look of modern pop music.