From the porcelain minimalism of his St Vincent Cheerleader video to the hauntingly beautiful tale of wounded love for David Guetta and Sia, Hiro Murai’s music videos with their brilliant mix of natural visuals and digital design poetry always transcend anything we’ve ever seen. Here the Tokyo-born, LA-based director, pictured above, has a hard job selecting only six stunners from this year’s roll of genius music videos. View them all in Related Content.
Hiro: Having seen a lot of music video lists in the past week, my first thought in putting together this list was to avoid videos that are obvious favorites on every other list. Videos like Romain Gravas’ MIA video and AG Rojas’ 16 Saltines video are inarguably some of the best / most creatively influential videos of the year. But, here, I’ve decided to omit them in favor of some less circulated videos. Apparently I liked a lot of videos this year, since I had a really hard time narrowing it down to six. But here it goes.
2 Chainz ft Kanye West “Birthday Song” by Andreas Nilsson
I never expected the names “2 Chainz” and “Andreas Nilsson” to be uttered in the same sentence. But for whatever reason, the universe willed this video into being. This is one of those videos where its mere existence is worth something. The idea that a mainstream Hip-Hop video, which has historically been the least experimental in the medium, can be this awkward and weirdly subversive is in itself a victory.
There’s something about the combination of the overly dramatic horror-rap instrumental and the mid-day backyard birthday party backdrop that makes this video nauseatingly hypnotic. Also, it features an old man in a wool sweater and speedos dancing with a bowling ball.
Hammock “Cold Front” by David Altobelli
The thing I admire the most about this video is David’s incredibly keen eye for detail. The video is almost entirely built out of tonally engrossing, small, fleeting moments. There’s little logic to what is shown, yet it feels completely cohesive because of its deliberate pacing that focuses on tone, rather than narrative. Watching this video feels like recounting a fragmented dream.
These types of videos are really difficult to pitch, and even harder to execute. A video that’s almost entirely dependent on on-set moments of spontaneity is difficult to explain in words. And there’s no guarantee that these moments will actually occur once you do get on set. On paper, a two-minute shot of a girl sitting in the backseat of a car sounds dreadfully boring. But in the final product, it’s absolutely captivating. So much so that it acts as the finale to the whole video. It’s a bold way to make a video, and in David’s case, completely pays off.
Foster the People “Houdini” by Daniels
The Daniels have had an amazing run of videos for the past two years, but this one is my personal favorite. As with many of their videos, they manage to cram an insane amount of plot and visual trickery into three minutes. I’m always in awe of how they make their videos feel surgically precise and recklessly chaotic at the same time. But what makes this particular video work so well for me is the slightly dark and morbid story that’s shuffled underneath the joyous pop track.
This is also one of the only videos I can remember that uses a “music video visual gimmick” – in this case Kuroko puppetry – as a plot device. It’s bizarre, self-reflexive, and very “inside baseball,” but it’s completely unique and executed beautifully.
Connan Mockasin “Faking Jazz Together” by Fleur & Manu
Fleur & Manu’s M83 videos have been really great, in particular the most recent “Wait.” But the video that has stuck with me the most is their video for Connan Mockasin.
What’s most effective about this beautifully restrained one shot video is how it lets the music breathe in all of the right places. It’s not in a particular hurry to get anywhere, it gives you time to really soak in the visuals with the music. The floating bodies play perfectly with the woozy discordant tone of the track, and the unassuming handheld photography really grounds the video in the surreal world they’ve created. I also have no idea how they did the floating effects.
Grimes “Oblivion” by Emily Kai Bock
I know I said I’m going to omit videos that are going to be topping other music video lists. Emily Kai Bock’s Grimes video definitely belongs in that category, but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve watched this video a dozen times this year.
This video is conceptually and aesthetically perfect for the song and artist in the most surprising way. The ethereal synth-pop track somehow works perfectly over the naturalistic shots of dirt bike races and shirtless bro mosh-pits. And Grimes’ pink hair bouncing in the hazy blue hues of the stadium is the most unexpectedly iconic image of any music video I’ve seen this year.
Flying Lotus “Until the Quiet Comes” by Kahlil Joseph
Flying Lotus commissioned some of the most interesting visuals that came out this year. But this video, or short film, directed by Kahlil Joseph is my absolute favorite. Khalil had previously done two videos I had seen for Shabazz Palaces, which were both brilliant, but this one completely floored me.
Along with the Grimes video, this video really makes a great case for still shooting on film (rather than digital). Every shot in this video is beautifully full of life. The second half of the video, where the gunned down body picks himself up and starts twisting and twirling under the fluttering street lights, is one of the most beautifully surreal images I’ve ever seen. It’s a film that made me rethink what a “music video” could be. It truly feels like a mutual collaboration between a musician and a filmmaker.