1. Ghost-“He Is”
This makes references to Michael Jackson and Jim Jones, but its director Zev Deans directly based its parody of evangelical Christianity on disgraced pedophile preacher Tony Alamo. However, the surface creepiness of the video, which comes from the fact that it shows Ghost singer Tobias Forge conducting a church service in corpse paint and the song is a power ballad offering praise to Lucifer, conceals the fact that its depiction of cult-like devotion (especially among young women offering themselves to an older man) and people giving money to a church (where some of it gets pocketed by the collector) barely hides the fact that this eerie aura also applies to genuine Christian fundamentalism. There’s really nothing here that couldn’t take place at a real church service.
2. Vince Staples-“Big Fish”
Staples’ song is an ambivalent celebration of his rise from a gun-riddled neighborhood to minor success in the film industry, set to a chilled-out house music beat. The video, in which he performs it from a sinking boat surrounded by sharks, takes the paranoid vibe implicit in the lyrics all the way from subtext to text. Staples seems to be represented by a goldfish in the video’s opening shot; the video returns to the goldfish bowl in its closing shot and suggests something far darker.
3. St. Vincent-“Pills”
A song that offers a critical perspective on medical and recreational prescription drug abuse gets a video that takes the central metaphor of THE STEPFORD WIVES very literally. I am still not sure whether it ever depicts real women’s bodies or consists of stop-motion animation of female mannequins. I do know that the robotic vibe perfectly matches the early ‘80s Devo feel of the song’s first half.
4. Buy Muy Drugs-“MZKFT”
Seemingly made for a budget around $2,000, “MZKFT” turns the celebrations of coke dealing from rappers like Jeezy and Rick Ross into something nightmarish. Part of an Afro-futurist concept album about a new drug as addictive as crack that turns out to be a metaphor for the cruelty of capitalism, the video alternates between showing MC Denmark Vessey cooking up powder on his stove and brief inserts of sci-fi imagery (including John Carpenter’s classic pulp agitprop THEY LIVE.) The sinister feel of the beat and samples are matched by the grittiness of the video.
5. Spoon-“I Ain’t the One”
For a long time, performance clips were the bane of rock videos. The blue-tinted cinematography and moody lighting take “I Ain’t the One” as close to film noir as one can get without a narrative, just showing Spoon playing the song near an elevator.
Algiers’ other video of 2017, “The Underside of Power,” attacked the FBI while paying tribute to Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. “Cleveland” goes for an even more ferocious attack on racism, seamlessly integrating footage of the band’s singer Franklin James Fisher with images of the KKK and protests from the ‘60s to the present, while mourning African-Americans who have been killed by the police in on-screen text.
7. U. S. Girls-“Velvet 4 Sale”
Here, U. S. Girls singer Meg Remy plays a cop who reminisces about her ineffective confrontations with abusive men while walking through Toronto. The song’s lyrics consist of a dialogue between two women about gun ownership. Out of uniform, Remy finally manages to drive her nemesis to recognize the harm he has done, sending him to suicide off a cliff in the video’s final moments.
8. Charli XCX-“Boys”
If you’ve watched many music videos in the past few years, you’ve seen plenty set in strip clubs or consisting of fully dressed male vocalists surrounded by women in bikinis. “Boys” turns the tables in a way that’s genuinely fun and playful, not just a feminist statement. The video films men like actor/rapper Riz Ahmed and producer Diplo (and many, many more) in sensual situations, obviously reflecting Charli XCX’s libido but with a sense of humor throughout.
9. Kendrick Lamar-“D.N.A.,”
10. Kendrick Lamar featuring Rhianna-“Loyalty”
11. Kendrick Lamar-“Humble”
At this point, Lamar’s album DAMN, which made it to #1 on almost every music critic’s 2017 top 10 list, is a bit overrated. Nevertheless, it’s a very thoughtful engagement with his own capacity for cruelty and violence and the difficulty of maintaining faith in such a dark world. These themes are illustrated in these videos. In “Loyalty,” he plays a gangster who beats up a man in front of his car and then orders Rhianna to suffocate another man with a plastic bag. However, if one pays closer attention, the second man is actually Lamar himself, wearing a white jacket and a black shirt, while the violent version of Lamar wears a black jacket and white shirt. The theme of doppelgangers continues in a more subtle form in his extremely celebrated “D.N.A.” video, which begins with Don Cheadle playing a cop starting to interrogate Lamar but lip-synching the song’s first few lines instead. Then the video completely changes course halfway through as the song’s beat shifts and ends with Lamar’s crew member Schoolboy Q punching out the camera. “Humble” is the video equivalent of prog-rock, with religious symbolism galore and so many locations and extras that it looks like it took several weeks and a $400,000 budget to shoot.
12. The National-“The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”
This might be the most experimental video on the list, consisting of jumpy images of buildings taken from a drone and jarringly edited. There’s nothing approaching a narrative, and none of the band members appear in it. Nor does it add up to the political statement implied by the song’s title. However, it conveys the eerie quality of the credits sequence of many horror movies; it would work well if the National layered the spoken word text about the death of facts and consensus reality credited to Karl Rove and used on their song “Walk It Back” here.
13. Childish Gambino-“Redbone”
Despite ”Redbone” becoming a huge hit, Childish Gambino seems to have never made an official music video for his falsetto soul ballad. The production company Outfitted stepped in with an extremely slick unofficial one that evokes ‘90s neo-noir. Three criminals decide to kill one of their partners, and the main portion of the video shows one of them, now tortured with regret, lip-synching “Redbone” in the back seat of a car as a man dies while tied up in the trunk behind him. The video perfectly captures the paranoid mood of “Redbone,” which Jordan Peele played twice in his film GET OUT.
14, Lil Uzi Vert featuring Nicki Minaj-“The Way Life Goes”:
“The Way Life Goes” suggested that emo-inspired “SoundCloud rap” might lead to a new masculine persona in hip-hop after all; while Minaj seems full of life confidently rapping in a cabin, Uzi lip-syncs his part of the song tied to a tree with his eyes closed most of the time, next to an open grave, and winds up eventually killed by a woman. One could read this as a misogynist metaphor for a breakup, but the way life goes for all of us ends in a graveyard and way too many people live as though they may as well be tied up and half-asleep.
15. Yaeji-“Drink I’m Sippin On”
Korean-American singer/rapper/producer Yaeji’s video consists of her riding a bike and walking around Seoul, and having an innocent good night out that matches this song’s exceedingly mellow mood. There’s a matter-of-fact quality to the video that suits her music’s relaxed quality, and I appreciate the facts that she makes no attempt to sexualize herself or pretend she has any direct connection to “the streets,” despite the fact that she raps her way through “Drink I’m Sippin On” in Korean.
The year’s low point: Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar,” in which they massacre dozens of Asian people, with buckets of blood, in a setting obviously inspired by samurai movies. So it’s OK to borrow from Asian culture while killing off faceless Asians outside of any narrative context or justification? Imagine the outcry if Malone had teamed up with Korean boyband BTS for a video in which they shoot African-Americans filled with tropes lifted from blaxploitation films.
p.s. Hey. Today the honourable Steve Erickson would like to share his top 15 music videos of the year with you. You are hereby kindly requested to watch and listen to what all of his fuss is about then give your opinions perhaps, counter with your favorites perhaps, or have some other response that you alone can devise. In any case, please let Steve know you care in your comments today, thank you. And thank you, Steve, for considering this place its home. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Welcome back! Nice Xmas you had there, food-wise and reading-wise. Yes, ‘The Sarah Book’ was great, right? My Xmas was very sort of nothing much other than the part where I ate some buche, which was very delicious and chocolatey, and I still have a third of it left to go. Like almost any other day, but quieter. Only two more job days to go! You can do it, Dóra! Ha ha. Me, I have a bunch of of work I need to do that I’m really not in the mood to do, so I’ll keep trying to get in the right mood to do that, hopefully today. Working on the new film script, which is what I should not be distracting myself by doing, but I can’t seem to help myself. Pretty lowkey otherwise. Did your second to last day of work have any highlights? ** Wolf, Wolfie!!!! Oh, shit, far better late than never. Damn my weirdly behaving blog. I didn’t have a Xmas tree either although the concierge put a little teeny fake one on top of our building’s mailboxes, so that was kind of nice. Other than part of a delicious buche cooked up by Hotel Shangri-La, I ate the same tofu-hotdogs, etc., I always eat. I didn’t mind. I thought ‘Wonder Woman’ was dark, or rather it made me feel dark that a mediocre superhero movie helmed by a female director was novel enough to have caused such a celebration. I’m good, working hard on stuff, or trying to. Paris is prettier than fuck. No complaints that I can think of. Yes, I do know of that Snow/Ice Festival. I did a post about it, but, whoa, like 8 years ago or something. It is absolutely due another, you’re right. Thank you! Dude, it’s awesomeness incarnate to get to see you! Love that explodes the word galore, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Mm, I hope you’re right about ‘not much longer’. I remain unconvinced of that for now. Congratulations on your Jon Swift Award! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thank you personally for this glorious day here. Thank you for noting the Link post. Do I know Moonshake? I can’t remember. I’ll go find out. ** Sypha, Well, you can’t get well without slogging through the mucus filled purgatory, I guess. Your book list is epic. It could be published as an experimental novel, and I would make a post about it probably. You must be the only person in the world who would have both Skullflower and Kesha on your best music list. Well, except for possibly Philip Best. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Oh, even instant slush snow sounds good to me. Ha ha, only because I couldn’t find a shot of link in a snowy landscape wherein he radiated loneliness, which is interesting, isn’t it? Nice Xmas haul, duh. ** Kinkton, Hey, man. I loved your Xmas gift. It was my favourite Xmas gift. Word. Plus your Xmas kind of wins my Best Xmas of 2017 Contest that I just decided to hold based on your Xmas’s greatness. See me in Paris? Sweet. What kind of trouble? ** Misanthrope, Hi. Oh, my post got love! And from you no less! It’s pretty rare that a post wherein I actually use my personal creativity gets much love around here, so accept a gaze from my slightly teary eyes. Oh, okay, your cube is a pure cube. Or almost except for that disruptive book. No, that’s good, like the flaw in a Persian rug kind of good. Aww, really, awwwww about that twin. Such sweetness. ** Right. The post has been introduced. You have been urged to comment in its regard. We’re all ship-shape here for today. See you tomorrow.