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Best Music Videos of 2010

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2010 was pretty phenomenal as far as music videos are concerned; after all, “MTV [is] Back in the Music Business,” and that has to be a good thing, right? Along the way we saw ICP drop some insight into the magical nature of mother earth, R. Kelly yodelled his way to glory and Gaga & Beyoncé did their best Tarantino; getting banned from MTV in the process. Or maybe they didn’t. Whatever. Of all the artists who made videos in 2010 though, there were two who stood miles above the rest.

Say what you will about the man, but every time Kanye West has said he’s going to deliver something seriously awesome, the man has done just that. Taking the role of director himself, Kanye’s “Runaway” video (err, short film) rotated through a kaleidoscope of songs from his new album while projecting a story of confused love written by Hype Williams. From the Wall Street Journal‘s Jozen Cummings, “‘Runaway’ is a cross between an epic music video and a charming indie-house flick. The plot, a simple love story about a man who witnesses a beautiful phoenix (played wonderfully and effectively by model Selita Ebanks) fall to Earth, and then takes her home, only to end up falling head over heels for her, despite the fact that she is half-human, half-bird. On the surface, none of it makes sense, but considering Kanye’s goal to tell a story from the perspective of a five-year-old, ‘Runaway’ is a vision fully realized.” Simply amazing. The video in all of its 35 minute glory can be viewed here.

Aside from Kanye however, 2010 would have been far less intriguing had it not been for a creative source who until the project began was largely unknown. The iamamiwhoami videos hit viral status early on with the mysterious first round of clips offering little but a series of dark cryptic visuals. Revealing each mystifying clue slowly through the first six minute-long videos, both fans and the media began debating just who was actually behind the clips. Names reaching far and wide from Lady Gaga to Christina Aguilera to Goldfrapp to Trent Reznor were debated, but none seemed to stick. As each new video was released tension continued to build.

By March the visuals had offered enough evidence (albeit mysterious & warped evidence) as to who might be behind the videos. Putting the pieces together, fans concluded that they were in fact the product of Swedish vocalist Jonna Lee. While her management denied any connection, visually, the match was there, and the build-up of buzz surrounding the artist seemed to be perfectly timed as she was to make an appearance at SXSW that same month. But there was no big climax: She came, she got folksy, she left.

Yet the videos continued.

Creating a total of 23 clips, that payoff would eventually come in the form of a long-form performance piece which debuted last month. While no answers were offered along the way (to questions such as “Why?!”), they certainly didn’t come in the 64 minute film finale. “In Concert” portrayed a warped extension of the beautifully crafted reality that Lee and hew crew had created. In the end the process was seemingly done with no unseen motivation in mind; iamamiwhoami was simply art made for art’s sake. Along the way we were treated to one of the most captivating works of the like to be created in recent memory (or perhaps ever). The entire “In Concert” piece can be viewed here. I’ve not honored Lee and Kanye in the list only because I believe their works to be something more than simply a music video.

The following list has left plenty out, but I’ve previously gathered a number of other videos which were worth mentioning: the most bizarre videos, the most visually striking videos, the videos with the best narratives, the best animated videos, the most technologically innovative videos, the best videos featuring found footage, the best videos featuring celebrities, and (last but not least) the best video featuring robots. Some are better than others, but each list offers a cool glimpse into what the year had to offer. With that said, here is the list of my personal favorites from 2010—my hope is that you find something new you haven’t seen before and enjoy the videos as much as I do.

#15) Uffie “Difficult” (Directed by AB/CD/CD)

Not to overlook the simple metaphor of walking an endless corridor continually encountering the same obstacles, but the video for Uffie‘s “Difficult” effortlessly complements the minimal beat and vocal design of the song. Not unlike the video for !!!’s “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass,” the the visually hypnotic transitions go a long way in giving the clip its success. “Difficult” is taken from Uffie’s 2010 album, Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans.

#14) Grum “Can’t Shake This Feeling” (Directed by the General Assembly)

While not offering as engrossing a story as the General Assembly’s video which accompanied Grum‘s “Through The Night,” “Can’t Shake This Feeling” touches a different nerve due to the absurd eroticism used throughout. While adding a twist to the well-worn story of a parent in pursuit of their misguided child, “Feeling” uses an entirely different approach which lends it a completely unique feel. The most absurd point of the entire video isn’t the hot young models grotesquely stuffing their faces, but rather that this is likely the softcore version of what a whole lot of people actually get their rocks off to. Not that I’d know… just sayin’… “Can’t Shake This Feeling” is taken from Grum’s 2010 album, Heartbeats.

#13) Sparrow and the Workshop “Black to Red” (Directed by the Sacred Egg)

The concept of attempting to harness 3D visuals within the realm of a music video took on a variety of unique forms this past year; two of the most intriguing being Bison’s use of the anaglyph technique in the video for Jon Hopkins’ “Vessel (Four Tet Remix)” and MAKAPOON’s 3D rendering used to create Broken Social Scene’s “Forced to Love.” While technologically stunning, those concepts fail to come close to the imaginative concept used by the Sacred Egg for “Black to Red.” The track is taken from Sparrow and the Workshop‘s 2010 “Black to Red” single.

#12) Big Boi “Shutterbug” (Directed by Chris Robinson)

There isn’t much sense to be made of Chris Robinson’s “Shutterbug.” The wild twists and turns between concepts simply serve as the perfect platform to present one of the most propulsive singles of the year.

“Uh.”

“Shutterbug” is taken from Big Boi‘s 2010 release, Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty.

#11) OK Go “This Too Shall Pass” (Directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs.)

The clip for OK Go’s Rube Goldberg machine has now been viewed over 20 million times and comes as simply one of many in the band’s tireless chain of elaborate videos to see release since 2006′s breakthrough viral hit “Here It Goes Again.” Maybe it’s my affection for Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s The Way Things Go that sets this video apart from the band’s super dog showcase “White Knuckles,” but regardless, it’s visually fascinating entirely on its own merit. “This Too Shall Pass” is taken from OK Go’s 2010 album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky.

#10) Cassius “I Love U So” (Directed by We Are From L.A.)

Despite Cassius‘ “I Love U So” essentially being a two-minute long iPhone app commercial, it’s still a pretty damn cool two-minute long iPhone app commercial. The thought of taking such a simple idea and creating something so visually fascinating with it is amazing. The CASSIUS – I <3 U SO app is available as a free download for the iPhone here. “I Love You So” is taken from Cassius’ 2010 The Rawkers EP.

#9) Tricil “The Emancipation” (Directed by Franck Trebillac & Marc Broussely)

Not unlike Trebillac’s stunning video for “Calculus” by Stretta, the clip for “The Emancipation” works in such a synchronized manner with the track that it almost becomes difficult to imagine the two pieces of work as separate entities. A true sign of an amazing music video. Tricil‘s “The Emancipation” appears on the 2010 Enter Calicocompilation.

#8) Cee-Lo Green “Fuck You” (Directed by Matt Stawski)

While the animated lyrics-video which preceded this Matt Stawski clip kicked off a trend that has carried through the entire year, it fails to come close to this video’s sharp narrative which accompanies Cee-Lo‘s smash single. Also, children cursing in public is never not hilarious (unless they’re your children). “Fuck You” is taken from the 2010 album, The Lady Killer.

#7) Miike Snow “The Rabbit” (Directed by Andreas Nilsson)

“The Rabbit” might best be summed up in the description provided by ChAoSKiD, “The young bearded Kumari is raised and protected by a powerful guerilla force of amazon [sic] woman. The boy is called upon by the government to explain a wondrous miracle occurrence at the beach. Upon seeing the magical vision the boy channels its energy and transforms himself into an all powerful being.” In other news: Andreas Nilsson is still the same prolific genius that he was last year. “The Rabbit” appears on Miike Snow‘s 2009 self-titled debut album.

#6) Foals “Blue Blood” (Directed by Chris Sweeney)

The ability to convey genuine emotion simply through expression is an entirely difficult thing to do. Choreographed by Alex Reynolds, “Blue Blood” stars the young actor James Wilson in what initially appears a Napoleon Dynamite-like comedic spoof. Quickly Wilson changes the tone however, investing himself entirely in his performance. What he appears to lack in formal training is more than made up for in heart. If there were an award for lead actor in a music video, James Wilson would be deserving of it. “Blue Blood” is taken from Foals‘ 2010 release, Total Life Forever.

#5) The Black Keys “Tighten Up” (Directed by Chris Marrs Piliero)

Sure, a kid cursing in the previously mentioned Matt Stawski video is pretty awesome, but filming a reaction shot of a kid yelling “mother fudge” and cutting it so that it appears as though he’s cursing is pure genius. While the children (Sean, Anthony & Daniella) all play their roles perfectly, so do the Keys and the running humor that resonates throughout the entire plot is what puts the video over the top. Same could be said of the group’s “Next Girl” and original funkasaurus rex “Tighten Up” videos, but this one is on a level all unto itself. “Tighten Up” appears on the Black Keys‘ 2010 album, Brothers.

#4) Janelle Monáe “Cold War” (Directed by Wendy Morgan)

Sinéad who? A complete 180 from Janelle Monáe‘s “Tightrope” video (which Morgan also directed), the clip for “Cold War” is an odd one in that there’s so very little to it; it’s just a camera and a singer. Well, that and a tsunami-like wave of emotion which manifests itself in a lone teardrop which eventually rolls down Monáe’s cheek. If this video doesn’t extract an emotional reaction from you, there is something seriously wrong with your head. “Cold War” appears on the 2010 album, The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III).

#3) Goldfrapp “Alive” (Directed by Geremy Jasper and Georgie Greville)

It’s not simply the process of combining Jazzercise and black metal that makes “Alive” awesome, it’s that the directors did so and got it right. A good idea will only take you so far, but they took a good (if not ridiculously good) concept and made it brilliant. It would be a lie if I were to say that I ever expect to see dudes decked out in studded arm bands and corpse paint grinding leotard-wearing babes in any other scenario as long as I’m alive. The track appears on Goldfrapp‘s 2010 album, Head First.

#2) Grinderman “Heathen Child” (Directed by John Hillcoat)

Having directed the Nick Cave & Warren Ellis-scored The Road and The Proposition (which cave also wrote), John Hillcoat was likely no stranger to the duo’s raucous group before creating this video. Put them together in a room and apparently this is the result: a visually threatening wolf-man creeping on a girl in a bath tub while the members of Grinderman get all done up in kitschy trojan armor and shoot lazers out of their eyes. There’s far more to it than that, but in the event you haven’t seen the video before I’d hate to give it away. “Heathen Child” appears on Grinderman’s 2010 album, Grinderman 2.

#1) DJ Fresh “Gold Dust” (Directed by Ben Newman)

There is nothing about the video for “Gold Dust” that I don’t love. From the way in which Newman captures the tremendous talent on display, to the way he shifts focus throughout, incorporating the entire community into the video—it’s all positively awesome. Synchronizing momentum between the visuals and the track, everything eventually builds momentum and peaks with a climax that is thoroughly satisfying. It’s simply a really well shot video capturing people doing something unique that they’re really, really good at, and yet the final product conveys an emotion so much greater than the explanation might suggest. “Gold Dust” appears on DJ Fresh‘s 2010 album, Kryptonite.