The variety of music videos from 2013 can be summed up with two extremes: a space station and a wrecking ball. On one hand, you’ve got Miley Cyrus, making waves by riding demolition gear to the top of the heap. On the other you’ve got super-astronaut Chris Hadfield making waves by covering Bowie in a charmingly understated and totally perfect manner from the top of the world. So what does that tell us about 2013? The creative spectrum is wider, more diverse, and more interesting than ever.
If there’s a common thread to be found, a hallmark of 2013, it’s probably experimentation. How stories are told, the devices they play out on, the craft that went into making them, and the places in which they’re created are all points of interest for this year’s group of videos. We’ve got the first 24-hour music video and the first video from space. Arcade Fire brought mobile phones into their interactive music experience, while Beck collaborated with a car brand to create a visually and aurally 360-degree experience. Even Bob Dylan, the list’s granddaddy of rock-and-rollers, wowed us with an unexpected digital delight.
Then, of course, this being the epoch of YouTube, there are the videos that won the world’s popularity contest: the most viewed, the most shared, and, of course, the most parodied. Like Kanye West, who in a year of newsmaking, set the stage for us to have answered the question: what would it look like if James Franco and Seth Rogen rode off into the sunset together?
Check out Co.Create’s top 15 music videos of the year in the slide show above. Read more about them below.
1. Chris Hadfield “Space Oddity”
Dir. Chris Hadfield
Chris Hadfield is a hero. A boss. The real deal. Not simply because he was Commander of the International Space Station, but for what he did while up there. Not content with being just “an astronaut,” he assumed the role of rock-star spaceman, conducting regular science-experiment videos from space, answering questions like, “What happens to tears in space?” Then, he gave us this: the first video from space. Watching Hadfield’s rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while orbiting the Earth is nothing short of sublime. Mr. Hadfield, you win 2013.
2. Bob Dylan “Like a Rolling Stone”
Dir. Vania Heymann
To promote his 47-CD box set, the iconic rock legend did something decidedly unexpected, and totally awesome. He released a multi-channel interactive video for his 1967 song “Like a Rolling Stone.” Compulsively flip through the 16 channels and watch TV personalities such as the guys from Pawn Stars, Drew Carrey from The Price is Right, and comedian Marc Maron lip-sync the song in perfect time. Bonus game: find all the great little ironies when such vapid images meet Dylan’s lyrics.
3. Phoenix “Trying To Be Cool”
There’s nothing like a little pressure to inspire an exciting performance. In this video from Spanish duo CANADA, Phoenix are literally in a race against the clock. Shot entirely live in full takes, the band were tasked with hitting a number of tightly choreographed cues as their shot clocks count down in the background. At first, it looks like a one-take which is impressive enough. But then you realize the video is jumping between two cameras and the band’s cues involve increasingly elaborate setups, at which point you become suitably impressed.
4. Beck “Sound and Vision”
Dir. Chris Milk
Early in 2013, Beck partnered with Lincoln and director Chris Milk to create a thoroughly unique video experience. While Beck covered David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision,” Milk re-imagined the interactive music video experience by placing a 160-plus-piece orchestra in a ring around the audience and filmed an interactive concert that not only allows people to control what they’re seeing by moving their head, but also serves up an astounding 360-degree binarual audio experience that makes it feel as if you’ve been dropped right in the middle of the action.
5. Pharrell Williams “24 Hours of Happy”
Dir. We Are From LA
In a year that was full of Pharrell Williams collabs (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), it was a song from a kids movie that yielded the best Pharrell video of the year. To mark the release of the film Despicable Me 2, for which Pharrell created the soundtrack, Universal Home Video and Pharrell created a world’s-first, 24-hour music video. And it’s just what the song suggests: happy. Load the video and choose any time of day and you’ll be met with unbridled, joyous dancing. Full of random people, famous people, the movie’s Minions, and many moments with Pharrell himself, the whole experience is just a wonderful, delightful pleasure.
6. Mumford & Sons “Hopeless Wanderer”
Dir. Sam Jones
Old timey-bros Mumford & Sons have very successfully barnstormed their way into the hearts of fans with their jangly, banjo-y sound. Equally loved and loathed, Mumf and his sons have reached the point where they’re comfortable with self-parody. And for this, we’re happy. Largely because the band enlisted very funny men Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, and Will Forte to give their interpretation of a day in the life of a mega-folk band.
7. Arcade Fire “Reflektor” (interactive)
Dir. Vincent Morriset
Pioneers of the interactive video, Arcade Fire were back at it this year with the release of their Reflektor album. Tying nicely into the title of the song, the interactive vid for “Reflektor” requires you to hold your cell phone facing your computer’s web cam. Moving your phone directs the visual effects and at one point the video reflects your image into the scene, which, too, is controlled by the phone’s movements, upping the interactive ante with its synced-device treatment. Though, for those more drawn to filmic narratives, check out Arcade Fire’s most excellent mini-film for “Afterlife” from Emily Kai Bock.
8. Django Django “Wor”
Dir. Jim Demuth
The hallmark of a great video is when the visuals match the track’s tune so well that it’s hard to imagine the two in isolation. Django Django’s harrowing docu-style video featuring the INSANE antics of the Well of Death riders in Allahabad, India is an absolute perfect match for the British band’s surf-psych-rock track. As daredevil riders with apparently no regard for their lives (or how their wives feel about the their death-defying hobby) spin around the vertical walls of the silodrome to the handclappy, guitar-heavy song, you’d think the pairing was always so.
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Sacrilege” (NSFW)
In life, not everything is as it seems, and this video from French collective Megaforce challenges initial perceptions with a narrative told in reverse. As the story begins (or rather ends) with a couple being persecuted by irate townspeople, the first emotion to hit is confusion, fear for their well being, and anger against the assailants. As the looping narrative unfolds, a web of lies and intertwined events are exposed, culminating in a surprise punch line. The story’s so rich, it bears repeat viewings.
10. Just Blaze & Baauer feat. Jay Z “Higher” (NSFW)
One of the most delicious aspects of the Internet (cats and food instagrams aside) is the return of narrative video. Unfettered by the time or content restrictions of broadcast, online, music videos can be mini-movies. One of the best, and most aggressive of the year is “Higher” a collaboration between “Harlem Shake”-maker Baauer, frequent Jay Z producer Just Blaze and Jay Z himself. Directed by rising-star director Nabil, the story of young swordsmen out for revenge is utterly unsettling and captivating.
11. Beach House “Wishes”
Dir. Eric Wareheim
With “Wishes” Beach House let us imagine what a high school football game would look like through the eyes of Eric Wareheim, half of notoriously off-beat comedy duo Tim & Eric. The answer to that question is: weird. And wonderful. And led by a pseudo-deity coach played by actor Ray Wise (of Twin Peaks fame). This is what happen when dreamy pop meets an oddball sensibility in the most perfect way possible.
12. Janelle Monae “Q.U.E.E.N”
Dir. Alan Ferguson
What happens to the fierce female artists in the future, the legendary rebels that broke with the status quo of buxom poplets baring all? They’re preserved in suspended animation in a Living Museum of music’s radicals. This is the beguiling concept of Janelle Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N,” which itself is an anthem for the ostracized and marginalized. Thankfully, Monae and Erykah Badu are rattled out of their motionless state to deliver some badass, soulful rhymes in this whimsical and inspired video.
13. Justin Timberlake “Suit & Tie”
Dir. David Fincher
Justin Timberlake is universally popular for the same reason that James Bond is. Ladies want to be with him, men want to be like him. He’s got a casual swagger with a buttoned-up crispness that’s rare among pop artists these days. This video, directed with visual precision by David Fincher in a rare return to vids, brings JT’s appeal to life in luscious black-and-white.
14. Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball”
Dir. Terry Richardson
We can only assume that Miley Cyrus really, really, really wanted our attention this year. Well, Miley, we get it. You’re not a Disney star anymore; you’re a bona fide pop star. You’ve breeched the elite strata of controversy. You went commando on demolition gear. Vevo deemed your video the most popular of the year, and you’ve spawned some truly hilarious spoofs. Yes, Miley, you’re big cultural news and for that, we salute you. Feel free to slide off that wrecking ball now.
15. Ylvis “The Fox”
Dir. Ole Martin Hafsmo
In September, a couple of comedians from Norway created a novelty song to promote the upcoming season of their TV talk show. With well-produced beats and a hilariously earnest and slick video, brothers Bard and Vegard Ylvisaker released their comedic opus about animal sounds. It was all supposed to be a silly joke. Instead it became YouTube’s most viral video of 2013. It owes much of its popularity to how well it resonated with kids (“The Fox” was officially this year’s “Gangnam Style” among the elementary school set), but there’s another secret to its success: it’s actually a good video–funny in all the right places and slick enough to be mistaken for a legitimate dance-pop video.
There aren’t many definitions of “best” that accommodate this one, but it merits some mention. Kanye baffled fans with his lo-fi, green-screened video for “Bound 2,” starring his undulating, topless fiancé Kim Kardashian. What did it mean? Where are they going on that dirt bike? Why is he wearing plaid over plaid? Was it satire? We don’t really care what Yeezy’s intentions were because with Bound 2 came Bound 3, a shot-by-shot remake from James Franco and Seth Rogen. It makes the confusion worth it.