It was the best of times (for music), it was the worst of times (for everything else.) The year of our lord 2016 was a steaming pile to beat all steaming piles but at least it gave us long awaited albums from Radiohead and Rihanna, along with a final asteroid from departing starman David Bowie. But most importantly, this was also the year of the second visual album from Beyoncé, Lemonade, the indisputable monarch of music videos in 2016.
It all started during the weekend of the Super Bowl. At that point, there had been whispers that new Beyoncé hotness was on its way. She was slated to perform at the halftime show, and it had been two-plus years since she cratered the Earth with the unannounced release of her self-titled magnum opus in December of 2013. Despite her proven ability to surprise, though, the world was fully stunned with the sudden appearance of the “Formation” video on Saturday, February 6th. The song itself was a hellacious, undeniable earworm–a brazenly political banger that also doubled down on the iconic artist’s femininity, blackness, and Southern heritage. The video featured a police car submerged in Louisiana water. To say that it caused a stir would be an understatement. It also left a trail of superior think pieces in its wake. The “Formation” video was thrilling, provocative art–and it was only the beginning.
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show, which paid tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, further highlighted the importance of her artistic statement, even as it ushered in a conservative backlash. Following a world tour announcement, fans held their breath with anticipation for two months knowing that an album was in the works. It was a question of when, not if. A cryptic teaser for her HBO special in April only hinted that something called Lemonade was coming. Nobody knew exactly what it would be. A concert documentary, maybe? Lemonade, of course, turned out to be the music video event of the year.
It was a different viewer experience than her self-titled release. This time, people were tuning in on schedule to take in a communal spectacle together. Anyone who dared hope that it would not be a concert special, but rather an entire new visual album like its predecessor, were rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. Lemonade’s 65-minute original airtime was the most fun place to be on Twitter all year, as all adoring extended members of the beyhive absorbed this new offering en masse. It also dominated the conversation for days and made an early case for album of the year that is still difficult to refute in December.
Beyoncé and her well curated team of collaborators burned down the world to push back against marital infidelity (via the instantly infamous Becky with the Good Hair), an overly controlling father (“Daddy Lessons”), the patriarchy in general, and systemic racism. It was a bold, powerful disruption that also contained a twerking Serena Williams cameo and more gif-able moments than any other piece of art in 2016. The individual parts were as entertaining, nourishing and, it’s safe to say nine months later, enduring as the whole. Beyoncé had outdone herself.
If Lemonade towered above anything else that happened in the music video world this year, though, it wasn’t because it was a bad year for music videos. In fact, creativity in music videos was off the charts in 2016. From the throwback subway-dancing of The Avalanches to the erotic mic drop of Kanye West’s “Famous” to the mind-bending visual trickery of Jamie xx’s “Gosh,” musicians this year were more concerned with going vital than viral.
Have a look below at 13 of our favorites from 2016 that weren’t a part of Lemonade.
Miike Snow – “Genghis Khan”
Grimes – “Kill v Maim”
The Avalanches – “Because I’m Me”
Tegan and Sara – “Hang On to the Night”
If the animation style looks familiar that’s because it was created by BoJack Horseman artist, Lisa Hanawalt.
Kanye West – “Famous”
OK Go – “Upside Down Inside Out”
Sia – “The Greatest”
Vince Staples – “Prima Donna”
Radiohead – “Daydreaming”
This video may look merely kind of cool at first, which is why it’s important to watch this 13-minute video explaining everything happening beneath the surface of the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed clip.
David Bowie – “Lazarus”
DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels – “Nobody Speak”
Rihanna – “Needed Me”
Jamie xx – “Gosh”