When Jasper from The Simpsons unthaws from days being stuck in the Kwik-E-Mart freezer thinking he’s been cryogenically frozen, he discovers the sugary bread snack Moon Pie and utters, “What a time to be alive.” The internet has now plastered that saying everywhere as a meme, but really, that concept goes deep in 2016, a year that saw social unrest, political wrestling matches, and an obnoxious number of hard-hitting deaths in the entertainment world.
These events and others were highlighted and captured on camera in more than the ten videos we list here, but these ten transcended the gluttony of trending videos and emerged as our favorites. They punched us in all the feels, while at the same time serving as epic and rewarding visual experiences. Our picks for the Top Ten Music Videos of 2016 are below.
#10: James Blake ft. Bon Iver – “I Need A Forest Fire”
Directed by United Visual Artists, “I Need A Forest Fire” explores the interplay between light and shadow. Using geometric, natural, and human subjects, the symbiotic relationship between the two is examined along with how they work in tandem to create illusions that both reveal and obscure details. As the video progresses, things gradually become increasingly more surreal, culminating in a stunning final shot of a drove of butterflies breaking free and taking flight in front of the sun. – Lesley Park
#9: DJ Shadow ft. Run the Jewels – “Nobody Speak”
Late this summer, with America deep into a contentious presidential election campaign season, DJ Shadow teamed up with arguably the hardest-hitting duo in hip hop to release a video that made literal the metaphorical slugfest that’s come to define American politics. According to DJ Shadow, “We wanted to make a positive, life-affirming video that captures politicians at their election-year best. We got this instead.” If you’ve ever wanted to see an old white guy in a suit mouth the words, “I’m a bag of dicks,” just moments before throwing some punches, this one’s for you. – Kristin Houser
#8: Common – “Black America Again”
Sometimes a simple music video isn’t a grand enough canvas to truly portray the message and intent of a song. Like the album that it shares its title with, Common’s “Black America Again” serves as a jarringly accurate snapshot of our current turbulent times (even moreso in the days after our presidential election). And so Chicago’s favorite emcee gave this song, which features vocals from Stevie Wonder, the full-blown short film treatment, resulting in a 21-minute clip directed by Selma cinematographer Bradford Young. Moving, relevant, and absolutely necessary viewing. – Sean Kramer
#7: Radiohead – “Daydreaming”
Radiohead, the musical masterminds and puzzlers that they are, teased us with hints of a new album this year by dropping a startling stop-motion animated music video for the track “Burn The Witch,” which eventually appeared on A Moon Shaped Pool. Heaps of praise for the record followed (expectedly), but the music video for the second track, “Daydreaming,” is what most people were talking about in the days after the album’s release (unexpectedly).
Teaming up once again with director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice), Thom Yorke leads us on a mostly unsung illusory trip that taps into the lush trance the track evokes. The video’s natural color gives it a realistic grounding, contrasting with the surrealistic concept of walking through doors to multiple different locales, which sweeps us up in wonder. We’re not sure where Yorke is going or why we’re following him, but that’s the idea of daydreams — they take us anywhere we want to go — and this music video gets that part so right. – David Fisch
#6: Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
Their eyes meet from across the bare room. He give her a shy glance up from beneath lowered eyelids. She waves. He winks. Moments later, they’re making out — he with a thin blonde, and she with her own hand. The breakout single from Mitski’s stunning album Puberty 2 got an appropriately awkward video treatment this year courtesy of director Zia Anger, and the songstress’s commitment to her love scene alone is enough to earn the clip a spot on this list, nevermind her shredding guitar solo later in the track. – Kristin Houser
#5: Aesop Rock – “Kirby”
Has there ever been a mightier anthem dedicated to a domesticated feline? Aesop Rock has always had a way with words, but this stand-out cut from his excellent album The Impossible Kid shows that the man truly has the ability to rap about anything. “Kirby” just might be the most entertainingly fitting music video in his career. If you’re a fan of cats or puppets, you definitely need to check this one out. – Sean Kramer
#4″ Grimes – “Kill V. Maim”
Grimes is a multifaceted visual artist, which is why at least one of her music videos always ends up on our list of the best of the year. She just knows what the camera wants, and she wears her inspirations proudly. The killer track “Kill V. Maim” is literally killer. Given the same treatment as the album from which it stems, Art Angels, the video for this song has a decidedly Manga aesthetic and flair, featuring post-apocalyptic characters with sharp, polished edges in one big rave.
The editing is quick, but the characters and set blocking are quicker, utilizing every bit of space the screen has, and when an area isn’t occupied by something practical, an animated graphic covers it (even bleeding into the widescreen bars). “Kill V. Maim” is just ridiculously fun, and it’s most certainly visceral, decked out in bliss and ready for fire. – David Fisch
#3: Coldplay – “Hymm For The Weekend”
The colors in this music video exemplify the beauty of India, and I’m impressed by Coldplay’s decision to make the video there. This song, off their seventh studio album, Head Full Of Dreams, is sonic perfection. The whole world loves it, but seeing the video takes it to another level.
Ben Mor directed the video, and it showcases Chris Martin taking taxis and being followed by children. Beyonce shows up for the end (of course) and sounds amazing, while “Coldplay” shows up on the screen in Hindi. This video has been criticized by some because of the “fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation” debate, but I can’t help but love it. – Anthony Marks
#2: Beyoncé – “Hold Up”
When Beyoncé released her visual album for her unprecedented record, Lemonade, the world took notice. It’s captivating and indulgent beyond the simple audio tracks, visually stunning, and thought provoking. “Hold Up” represents one slice of the greater story. It takes no prisoners in this forceful, ball-busting visual reflection of Beyoncé’s reaction to Jay-Z’s alleged cheating ways. But this video is more than a generous fantasy scene of total destruction that we have all felt at one point or another. It celebrates freedom of expression. – Christine Perez
#1: David Bowie – “Lazarus”
The year’s best video was also the hardest to watch. It was an aesthetic sequel to the knockout video for the title track of Blackstar, and it was revealed to the world just days before the tragic death of David Bowie.
Trying to divorce the video from its context is both futile and beside the point. Bowie knew this would be his final farewell, and he chose a suitably unique vision to bow out on. His retreat into the wardrobe at the end of the video is, in retrospect, one of the defining images in music this year.
Sadly, he was not the only legend we lost, but at least we got to see him leave us on his terms, in his own inimitable way. He turned his death into an enduring work of art to share with the world, and for that, we should feel humbled and privileged. – Jay Chirinos