Top Five Music Videos of 2014 (so far)

Music videos are an art and in some cases, better than the song.

For example, Pharrell’s video to “Happy” instilled the song’s upbeat message even more. When an artist takes advantage of the medium, a great visual product can emerge. Even with lyric videos, many musicians are stepping up their game and putting in the effort to produce a video that’s not viewed as an afterthought. With music videos no longer being aired as much on basic cable channels like MTV, the internet has stepped in as the platform for artists to premiere their work. Artists like Lady Gaga and Vampire Weekend have helped set the precedent for others to provide music videos with intensely creative productions. When a music video is truly remarkable it does more than generate views, it generates conversation; one of the greatest modern pop culture controversies occurred due to Kanye West claiming that Beyoncé had one of the greatest videos of all time.

Since generating views and conversation are both beneficial to the music industry because it raises the artist’s profile, more musicians should make the effort to push the boundaries on what a music video is. There’s the risk of alienating fans if an artist expands past music video tropes where rappers are framed by women dancing on money, country artists sing on porches, pop stars are substituted with fan videos, and alternative musicians use surreal images. However there are also gains in stepping outside of these tropes, and that’s why the following five artists have the most fun music videos of 2014 so far.

Reminder: these artists were chosen based on the quality of their video, not their song. The videos were judged based on their creativity regarding theme, style, and execution as well as originality and overall enjoyment.

5. Lolawolf – “Jimmy Franco”

LOLAWOLF – Jimmy Franco (Official Video ftr A$AP Rocky)

Lolawolf is the project of Zoe Kravitz along with Jimmy Giannopoulous and James Levy from Reputante. The trio’s video features Zoe Kravitz and rapper A$AP Rocky dancing in a room full of televisions. It is entertaining because of its simplicity. It does not rely on multiple wardrobe changes, fancy camera angles, or even an outstanding location. Instead the video looks like Kravitz turned on a camera and some strobe lights in an art studio that she and A$AP have been holed up in for days.

The video is cheeky with the pair obviously enjoying the other’s company as they steal each other’s cigarettes and sunglasses. The entire portrayal of the relationship is different from other music videos as Kravitz and A$AP play with sexual tension rather than provide explicit sexual images like in Justin Timberlake’s “TKO.” The entire video has an air of spontaneity juxtaposed with clearly placed neon lights making for a playful twist on the electronic pop music video. Where the usual trope of electronic videos is to show large crowds dancing, Lolawolf boils down this concept to create an intimate portrait of a couple dancing together.

4. The Front Bottoms – “Backflip”

The Front Bottoms "Backflip" Official Music Video ft. Chris Gethard, Kevin Devine & Sal Vulcano

What makes the video to “Backflip” great is its humor. The video plays out like a student’s bad art film where friends are deliberately killed off. One is impaled with a pole to the stomach while another dies when the band members intentionally serve him peanuts and then proceed to play hot potato with his EpiPen as his allergies swell up. The perpetrators/remaining members react to these deaths with laughter and dumbfounded faces that are superbly overacted: lead singer Brian Sella’s face looks like he’s silently channeling Steve Urkel’s “Did I do that?” The stunts where members are flying through the air or being set on fire are replaced by blowup dummies that look like the band members. The falseness of these stunts are explicitly highlighted and the music video relishes in its amateurish quality.

The overall tone of the video is silly with the band participating in childlike activities like jumping on a trampoline, eating pizza, and spraying silly string. These are things adolescents would do with their friends, but The Front Bottoms take it a step further by mixing in fatalities. Yet even the deaths of the friends are portrayed in undeniably amusing ways as the video takes the dark theme of murder and makes it downright fun. Initially it may seem that the video does not relate to the song at all, but it does. The video to “Backflip” is upbeat with a darker undercurrent just as the song is fast paced and sounds light but the lyrics too have darker elements. The Front Bottoms succeed in making a video that both correlates and differentiates from the title song.

3. Jennifer Lopez – “I Luh Ya Papi”

Jennifer Lopez – I Luh Ya Papi (Explicit) ft. French Montana

Jennifer Lopez certainly isn’t the first female artist to sexualize men in her videos. Nicki Minaj did it in “Super Bass” and Keri Hilson did it in “Turnin Me On,” but Jennifer Lopez directly confronts the topic more so than the others. The video opens with Lopez deciding on storylines for what her music video should be about. The suggestions range from filming at a carnival to a zoo, all of which are unsatisfactory to Lopez and her friends as they state if Lopez “was a guy we wouldn’t be having this conversation…if she was a dude they would seriously have her up in a mansion…or even on a yacht.” The video then cuts to Lopez in a mansion and on a yacht as she’s surrounded by hunky men.

The video acknowledges the unfair treatment of women in videos as they’re overtly sexualized by the music industry. She makes a statement by rejecting the objectification of women like in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and makes the men do ridiculous things like wash a car with their butt. While it looks abnormal for a man to be doing this, it serves to highlight how women washing cars in a sexual fashion is common. Lopez reverses the role of older men objectifying women by being an older woman who objectifies young men. Not only does Lopez address this controversial issue, she pokes fun at flipping the gender roles. She puts on gold chains like a rapper would, she wears an outfit that pays homage to her famous Grammy dress in 2000, and the men are half-naked throughout the video while having their butts smacked by the women. All of this makes Lopez’s video entertaining because it succeeds at being both serious and lighthearted.

2. Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX – “Fancy”

Iggy Azalea – Fancy (Explicit) ft. Charli XCX

With an almost scene-for-scene imitation of the film Clueless, it’s impossible not to acknowledge Iggy Azalea’s music video for “Fancy.” If nothing else, the dedication to accurately recreating Clueless is worth admiring. Living in an age of nostalgia, particularly for the 1990s, the concept of “Fancy” came out at the right time. The video recognizes its target audience and taps into the viewer’s fondness for reminiscing on one of pop culture’s favorite. Iggy’s video is enticing because she pays homage to something classic while also putting her own new, fresh twist on it. Iggy pays homage by wearing an exact replica of Cher’s infamous yellow, plaid outfit yet adds more hip-hop to the mix with choreographed dance numbers on the tennis court.

In one scene, Iggy reenacts Cher Horowitz’s classroom debate scene. Cher confidently argues a mundane point in class, and it suits Iggy to recreate this scene in her video because rappers too depict this confident image. Iggy’s song personifies characteristics of Cher, just spoken in a different vernacular, and so it makes sense for her to embody Cher and the Clueless setting. The entire video is a look back and worshipping of Clueless, while also providing a new output. “Fancy” sets the bar for female hip-hop videos with it’s fresh twist while also showing how to succeed at remakes.

1. John Wizards – “Muizenberg”

John Wizards – Muizenberg

The video to “Muizenberg” flashes Sebastian Borckenhagen’s colorful, animated drawings at rapid speed. One can feel the flickers lighting up their eyes as the images bounce with the tempo of the song. Circles and zigzags jump along like a pulse as a physical representation of the beat; it looks like it could be the opening title sequence for an episode of Broad City. The concept is simple yet it doesn’t take long to feel like a psychedelic trip is taking place.

With the lyrics, a face appears but quickly changes shape as eyebrows float around and form a smile. The video ties in the idea of music and people being one as the stick figures and faces transform into the animation that makes up the video. The drawings are minimalist but the actions are recognizable. In a world where realistic CGI rules, it’s refreshing to see an animation in it’s most basic form. The stick figures are just the bare bones as three lines are all that is needed to make the figures swim or walk. It’s not until the beat picks up that the animation becomes more complicated. The drawings remain simple, but the placement and pace become complex: one cannot immediately identify all the visual combinations as they pass by rapidly like a slideshow.

At one point, the images appear in black and white before switching to a day in the life of one of these figures as it shows the person eating with their family, consuming the media, going to work, and swimming at the beach. Themes of swimming, dancing, and sunshine are clearly prominent in this video to go along with the happy beat of the song. Yet what makes the video fun is that it could be interpreted many different ways by viewers. Does the video have a purpose, or is it just a serious of images? The answer is up to the viewer as they’re forced to become interactive with the art.

These five videos made the list because they were each creative, original and amusing. These artists put creativity at the forefront to produce videos that didn’t adhere to the norms of other videos in their genre. Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea aren’t props in their videos, and John Wizards aren’t even featured in their video.   Most importantly, the music videos weren’t picked because they were serious but because they were pure fun. “Jimmy Franco” showed the happiness of being in a couple, “Backflip” showed friends playing like kids, “I Luh Ya Papi” reversed gender roles,”Fancy” time-traveled to the 1990s, and “Muizenberg” played with art. The success of these five music videos are that they provide a visually pleasing, artistic accompaniment to the artist’s song. One is likely to watch these music videos multiple times or share them with their friends.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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25 Comments

  1. The Notwist “Kong” is my fav of 2014

  2. As bad as this sounds, I like the video for Confident by Justin Beiber and Chance The Rapper. My main reason is because of how pathetic Beiber looks and how much Chance appears to be having. Your list was interesting. I usually don’t follow music videos as they seem to be relics of a past era but it was a nice piece.

    • Nate Océan

      “Relics of a past era” lol. I agree! I’m definitely not going to sit around and watch a countdown of the “Top 20 Videos this Week.”

  3. Jemarc Axinto

    I’m going to drop a bit of a controversy bomb and say that I appreciated Chris Brown’s video for Fine China (of course this came out last year). I do not approve of him as an artist, but I enjoyed the fact that it had a story-line and broke away for dance segments. It definitely captured the MJ feel he seemed to be going for with that song.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would love to see more videos that focus on dancing again. Although I guess, as a dancer I am biased. An example I have of this is Tori Kelly’s “Paper Hearts” which came out in Feb. It features Ian Eastwood as well as a “romance” story of sorts.

    Overall great article though =]. I love that you mention J-Lo’s video on your list. Especially because it came out not too long after Blurred Lines (within a year or so as opposed to a decade).

  4. Jesse Munoz

    I grew up with MTV and it is interesting to note the evolution of music videos from its early days on the channel. I remember Sting remarking in an interview that the Police strictly limited their videos to variations of a band performance because of the fear that the visuals, rather than the song itself, would become the permanent memory in the mind of the viewer/listener (although I seem to recall several Police videos that contradict this assertion). And so we now find ourselves focusing on the visual, with the song becoming a secondary concern.

    Jesse Munoz

  5. Mary Awad

    I like music videos that tell stories. Lately, music videos are just performances or have nothing to do with the song. Originality’s important and the video should mean something. One of the best recent videos I’ve seen is Mirrors by Justin Timberlake, very sentimental and it really makes us -feel- something. Great list! I hope to see more good videos this year

  6. Well, you’ve created a good list of reasons why I do not listen to American Music. Sorry, I’m not trying to be negative, I’m trying to be honest. I’ve never hear a rap song I liked. I consider the above music videos repulsive. Woody Allen once made a joke where he said “Imagine the mind of someone who watches professional wrestling”. I’m reacting to this list in the same.

    It speaks to you, that is fine. Music is one of the most subjective things we can experience. I’m going to hold out for art and beauty.

  7. Zones Opensky is a great contender. It reminds me of the lo-fi digital excursions of Vinyl Williams.

  8. For me, sometimes music videos are the way I’m introduced to a song and I feel like I can’t build my own mental story with the music anymore. Example: I caught John Newman’s “Love Me Again” once in the car, had ideas and related to the lyrics, and now I just see the people from the video dancing (some badly) in my head.

  9. For me, I’m not really a fan of looking up music videos because I feel like sometimes it can totally kill the song for me. I get the whole artistic perspective from a non-musical standpoint. I don’t necessarily have a favorite music video though. I do enjoy how some music videos tell a story that may or may not relate to the song. I think music videos today aren’t the same as it was in the early 2000s though because of the advancements in technology.

  10. drcruz

    I love to see a more feminist perspective from a Latina artist like Jennifer Lopez!

  11. Interesting. I hadn’t thought of music videos that way. However, I think that music videos should have something to do with the song. This is just my opinion, but I’ve seen too many music videos that in no way relate to the song being sung. I would personally prefer more relevance, but overall this article made me think about how music videos are made.

  12. Mette Marie Kowalski

    Very cool article, music videos is one of the most interesting art forms in my opinion. Something truly magical can happen at best, or something really unnecessary at worst. My favorite here is the #1 but I love Jimmy Franco more for the music.

  13. Artscotthoch

    i haven’t even heard of most of these people! as an 18 year old aren’t i the target audience for “popular music videos” i will admit that the videos were all well directed, but only a couple really challenged us visually and intellectually. music videos are a great outlet for creative expression, and i love to see people pushing the envelop

  14. While this is a very diverse list, I really appreciated Trey Songz “Na Na.” It showed a bit of versatility, from the usual type of music videos we’ve seen this year.

  15. I love this list! There have been many good videos to pick from this year and you picked a couple of my favorites including The Front Bottoms and Iggy Azalea.

  16. This is an interesting list, what kind of music do you regularly listen to? I liked that you included more than one genre of music. If I were to create a list of the best music videos this year, I would definitely include Backflip. I like music videos that tell a story and don’t just show the artist performing the song- that’s what concerts are for.

    • (If concert-esque performances are available online, less people will feel the impulse to attend live concerts, and aside from major label record bands, live concerts is where the majority of income comes from for musicians.)

  17. Jennifer Lopez is always doing her thing but I have to say that I think Pharrell’s “Happy” song is incredible. A lot of people want to hate that song because it is so repetitive, but at the same time, Pharrell is just on top of the entire world right now. He really is doing his thing and I think that music video is fantastic.

  18. Nate Océan

    Strange how there hasn’t been another video like Gangam Style that blows up and becomes the most-watched Youtube video. Music Videos certainly have to innovate, as you said, in order to catch people’s attention these days.

  19. Helen Parshall

    I very rarely watch music videos for some reason, thanks for this article and bringing these into my life! Excellent piece!

  20. Megan Kelly
    Megan Kelly
    0

    I too think the “Fancy” video is truly one of the best this year! Iggy’s perfect replication really was perfect timing with the resurge of 90s nostalgia coming around various aspects anymore: fashion, music, etc all have notes of the not too long ago era.

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