And no, it’s not just the full tracklist of Lemonade
1. “Formation” — Beyoncé
First point of order: To keep a level playing field, there are no repeat artists and no longform music videos on this list. It was extremely difficult to not include “Hold Up” or any of the other Lemonade videos for songs released as singles. Lemonade is best viewed as a cohesive unit; “Formation,” on the other hand, is a music video that stands best on its own.
It beautifully and succinctly represents all the themes of Beyoncé’s album: It’s as hard-hitting as it is joyous; a Southern Gothic fashion film that also manages to be a love letter to a New Orleans (still healing from Hurricane Katrina); and deeply researched, utilizing footage from The B.E.A.T. and samples from NOLA personalities Big Freedia and Messy Mya. Plus, lyrics about baby hair paired with a little black boy in a hoodie dancing in front of graffiti that says “Stop Shooting Us” is a perfect example of how the video shows a full portrait of black love, black life, and black loss. Sans higher meaning, it’s still thrilling to see Bey and a team of dancers decked out in Gucci sweatsuits perform a dance number in an empty pool.
Beyoncé / Via youtube.com
2. “Lazarus” — David Bowie
Even in a vacuum, this video deserves to be on the list; considering the context of how Bowie used it to say goodbye to his adoring fans prior to his passing is further evidence of his creative genius. What a rare chance for an artist to have control over how they say farewell, especially when we have lost so many greats so unexpectedly in recent years. The metaphors within the video were a bit overlooked when it was first released — like the personification of death — but Bowie’s giving his performance all the energy he had left is the only thing the audience can see.
3. “Fade” — Kanye West
This planet didn’t need another homage to Flashdance, but Kanye still insisted, and it pays off. Teyana Taylor — with a exquisitely sculpted body to launch a thousands of gym memberships — exhibits charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent with each dance move. The actor/artist and Iman Shumpert, her husband, glisten as they embrace in the shower in a scene that feels almost too intimate, but the tension is quickly cut with Taylor’s WTF moment as she poses as a cat woman surrounded by lambs, holding on to her man and baby Junie. Even when he isn’t starring in them, Kanye’s videos continue to pleasantly surprise.
4. “Kill V. Maim” — Grimes
The title credits in the style of Law and Order: SVU. The cyberpunk fashions. The doodles popping up onscreen. The blood rave straight out of Blade. There are so many things to love about this video from Grimes, an artist who gives way more consideration than most to her visuals, often directing or co-directing the best of them. The frenetic energy is infectious — quite the headbanging departure from Grimes’ airy breakout single “Oblivion.” There’s something new to notices upon each viewing.