The Best Music Videos of 2017 (So Far)
There was a time after MTV started playing reality shows and before the rise of YouTube when the music video seemed dead. While the music video was in between homes, artists started putting less and less effort into the medium. But the Internet has saved the medium, and it's becoming for than just an accessory to a recorded track for some of the year's leading artists.
The music video is the second life of the song. It carries with it a message and plays an integral part of the overall album cycle. Music videos are anticipated, shared, memed, and devoured. They have millions of views that are just as valuable as any Spotify play. These are the best of 2017 (so far).
Jay-Z - "The Story of O.J."
This certainly wasn't what anyone was expecting from Jay-Z's new album—an animated video in the style of classic Mickey Mouse. Using old school, family friendly imagery, Jay touches on Disney's racist past as he raps about race and money over a sample of Nina Simone's "Four Women."
Charli XCX - "Boys"
What is there to say about Charli XCX's infinitely fun "Boys" video other than share a few highlights? Joe Jonas's milk mustache. Ezra Koenig brushing his teeth. Stormzy eating cereal. Riz Ahmed with a teddy bear. Mac DeMarco licking a guitar. Even the cats nearly make Diplo somewhat bearable to look at. Anyway, it's truly genius—a collection of shareable scenes that people have been using in GIF form since the video was released.
Kesha - "Praying"
Kesha's return after four-year hiatus and a messy legal battle with Dr. Luke became one of the most exciting moments in pop history this year. "You brought the flames and you put me through hell / I had to learn how to fight for myself," she sings on the track—making such a powerful statement (and hitting such a spine-tingling note) that it began a viral trend of reaction videos. This is the highest reaches of what a music video can and should do, on the same level as what Beyoncé did with her visual album last year.
DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna - "Wild Thoughts"
It's still unclear why DJ Khaled's name is on this song and his presence is in this music video, but if you are able to tune him out, this becomes another really stylish Rihanna video. Think of it as Rihanna showing up to a Santana concert, livening it up with her general presence, then throwing a massive party. But if you can take your eyes of Rihanna, the colors and backdrops on display (the clip was filmed in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood) are so vivid.
HAIM - "Right Now"
The story behind Haim's video for "Right Now," which they used to announce their long-anticipated album, is almost as good as the video itself. When the Haim sisters' mom was just starting out as a teacher, she had this brilliant young student named Paul. As kids, the Haim sisters would turn on the TV, see Boogie Nights, and their mom would say, "Oh, that's Paul's movie." Fast-forward to 2017: Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most revered directors in Hollywood, and Haim is prepping a follow-up to their stunning debut. They're in the studio, they call up their mom's old student, he swings by and says, "Why don't I just record a video right now?" Only Paul Thomas Anderson could, on the spot, create such an immaculately executed music video—nearly a single take, which pans in time perfectly to the music, focusing on each of the musicians as their part comes in. It's like he's introducing again for the first time.
Lorde - "Green Light"
Because Lorde's music plays so often in the Mixolydian mode, it's hard to really pinpoint if she's happy or sad. Even something as upbeat as her pop-focused "Green Light" falls into that uneasy space that isn't exactly a major or minor melody. The same goes for the "Green Light" video. This is a triumphant moment for Lorde—her return to take the reigns of a promising career as a pop star. Yet, even walking through a club and hanging out a car window, the closest thing she gets to a smile is best described as a not-frown. She's intense, thoughtful, and serious—but never necessarily happy or sad. Her voice and her demeanor juxtaposed with the huge pop chorus is what makes her such a fascinating musician.
Kendrick Lamar - "Humble"
Complete with camera wizardry and dense symbolism, the video for Kendrick Lamar's "Humble" is one of the best we've seen in years. It even included small shareable moments—the Grey Poupon reference, the golf swing, the burning heads—that immediately went viral. This video shows the stunning depth of Lamar's art, which at every turn is trying to pack meaning into every bar and every scene. He can pivot from dense social commentary, to jokes, to self-aware critiques of his own golf ability ("My left stroke just went viral"), which shows the stunning interconnectivity of his visuals and lyrics.
Lana Del Rey - "Love"
In the booming ominous drums, there seems to be something bad coming in Lana Del Rey's "Love." She's singing, "It's enough to be young and in love," but when prefaced with the lyrics, "Look at you kids, you know you're the coolest / The world is yours and you keep refusing / Seen so much, you could get the blues, but / That don't mean that you should abuse it" this is more of a warning. We scenes of kids getting into cars, getting dressed, holding hands and smiling, but they have the nostalgic vibe of a movie's rise just before the conflict.
Young Thug - "Wyclef Jean"
Young Thug's reluctance to conform is reminiscent of the greatest punk rockers of all time and music's most infamous divas. When so much of hip-hop is about cultivating a persona, the best way to up the ante is to sabotage one's own music video shoot—then give the director permission to release it anyway. At first this music video, when it was released in early January, seemed too good to be true. But Pitchfork later confirmed that Young Thug really didn't show up to film the video, and, yes, he actually sent the director video of himself eating Cheetos in front of a plane. What Young Thug understands best is the internet, and there's a reason this video had more than 23 million views by mid-April.
Blood Orange - "With Him / Best to You / Better Numb"
This is less a music video and more a dreamlike montage that provides brief glimpses into the lives of people from different regions, cultures, and backgrounds. Throughout we hear three Blood Orange songs—most prominently "Best to You," which is set to an arresting black and white scene of a couple embracing. We see dozens of faces that tell mini stories. It all ends with Blood Orange's Dev Hynes dancing to a live version of "Better Numb." It's a tranquil and beautiful conclusion filmed intimately with a shaky hand-held camera.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.