In today’s visual culture, a music video can make a career. This year we were blessed with clips that were not just captivating but also controversial. While some artists opted for futuristic visuals, others indulged in nostalgia; some went for conventional releases while others played with the form. Here are ten videos that everyone was talking about this year.
Bruno Mars, “Finesse (Remix)” featuring Cardi B
Mere days after we rang in 2018, Bruno Mars dropped the colorful, fun-loving blessing that was the music video for Cardi B’s remix of “Finesse.” Directed by Bruno himself and Florent Dechard, the clip was a vibrant homage to the ’90s sketch comedy show In Living Color, and is a masterclass in how to pay tribute to culture touchstones without sinking into mushy nostalgia or sacrificing one’s own vision.
The Carters, “Apeshit”
Like every statement Beyoncé makes, the release of “Apeshit” was a globe-stopping event. Once you got over the sheer scale of the whole production—Bey and Jay booked and cleared the Louvre just for the six-minute clip—you had to marvel at the choreography, the dialogue with the Western art canon, the arresting cinematography and of course, the general boldness and badassery of it all.
Charli XCX, “1999” featuring Troye Sivan
Nineties nostalgia is thoroughly overplayed, but Charli XCX’s video with Troye Sivan for “1999” somehow manages to indulge in a fresh way. A dizzying compendium of iconic scenes from our nascent media age, the clip strings together reference after reference, from a stern, idiosyncratic Steve Jobs to dancing Sims to a Baby-G commercial. The pop stars gamely re-enact everything, which is key to the video’s appeal: By the end of it, you’ll be missing the ’90s, but also laughing at how corny, ridiculous and strangely innocent that age was.
Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”
If Charli XCX’s “1999” video is a nod to the quirky (and sometimes absurd) moments from the early 2000s, then Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” is a throwback to the movies that defined the noughties: Chick flicks. The pop star channels her inner Regina George and Elle Woods to recreate iconic scenes from films like Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring it On and 13 Going on 30. But the clip doesn’t just simply feature Ari and her BFFs reenacting the bend ’n’ snap or performing “Jingle Bell Rock,” it also brought many of the original actors back, making it a real treat for fans who grew up on the movies. Jennifer Coolidge reprised her role as Paulette Bonafonté from Legally Blonde, while Johnathan Bennett returned as Mean Girls heartthrob Aaron Samuels.
Drake, “Nice For What”
For this video, the self-proclaimed international ladies man finally put his connections to good use: Drake’s “Nice for What” MV is a stylish celebration of female empowerment, featuring 20 fabulous and famous women at the top of their game. From actresses to models to dancers, the Karena Evans-directed visual stars Olivia Wilde, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Misty Copeland, Letitia Wright, Syd, Michelle Rodriguez, Tiffany Haddish and Emma Roberts, among others. There’s just so much awesome girl power going on in the clip that it’s totally fine if you missed out on the 6 God’s appearance.
Childish Gambino, “This is America”
Of course, a year-end video roundup wouldn’t be complete without Childish Gambino’s video for “This is America.” It was by far one of the hottest topics of 2018, and for plenty of reasons. Steeped in metaphors for racism and America’s gun violence epidemic, the clip shocked the world with its unabashed honesty and brutality. It all starts out innocently at first: Donald Glover enters the scene and begins dancing to the Afrobeat melody, before pulling out a gun and shooting a black man in the head.
Janelle Monáe, “Pynk” featuring Grimes
This year, Janelle Monáe’s Afrofuturist, black feminist vision reached its most sophisticated peak thus far in the form of Dirty Computer, and the music video for “Pynk” was only one facet of it. But what a facet it was: From the loud ’n’ proud celebration of female friendship to the heartwarming depictions of skin-to-skin intimacy to the incredible vulva pants, this clip will go down in history as one of Monáe’s most striking and heartwarming visuals.
Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars” featuring SZA
It’s a no-brainer that when Kendrick Lamar and SZA decided to unveil the accompanying video for “All the Stars,” their song for the Black Panther soundtrack, it was going to be a vibrant tribute to African culture. Directed by Dave Meyers, alongside Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment’s president Dave Free (who bill themselves as The Little Homies), the clip is a stunning visual masterpiece inspired by and centered on Afrofuturism. It opens with Lamar arriving in Africa on an ark and charts his journey through the continent. The MV ends in an Egyptian tomb, where the pair meet four giant goddesses.
Tierra Whack, Whack World
Tierra Whack has always prided herself on arresting visuals, but the rising Philly rapper really outdid herself with her 15-minute visual for Whack World. For this project, Whack strategized a unique synthesis between audio, video and social media: Whack World is an album of 15 songs, each a minute long. Each track got its own short clip, which Whack uploaded to Instagram—the perfect platform to showcase the project, given its one-minute video length limit. Stitched together with seamless, canny transitions, the videos coalesce into an oddball short film that you need to watch immediately if you haven’t.
Travis Scott, “Sicko Mode” featuring Drake
Already considered one of Travis Scott’s career-defining songs, the Drake-assisted “Sicko Mode” has earned the Houston rapper two Grammy nominations (Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song) and his first-ever number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. To match the insane beat switches that made the song an absolute hit, La Flame teamed up with award-winning director Dave Meyers (who also helmed “All the Stars”). The visual, to keep it brief, is a five-minute acid trip: Scott rides through town on a stallion and sits on a throne surrounded by half-naked women, while Drake blasts himself into space.
Did your favorite make the cut? What music video did you like best this year? Check out our list of honorable mentions below and let us know!