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Noteworthy’s Top Music Videos of the 2010s

Posted on November 29, 2019

Ivan from Noteworthy here again (Mondays 6 PM-8 PM CT). As we begin to say our goodbyes to 2019, we’re also shutting the door on the 2010s. This occasion is being marked by numerous online publications discussing the best music of the decade.

The traditionalist in me would prefer to see how the rest of the year plays out and to also give the decade a bit of breathing room before I can determine which albums and singles have held up the best. For anyone who has tuned into Noteworthy, you know there are few things I love more than music lists. I feel like I’m missing out on all the decade talk by being so stringent, so in order to compromise (and to stall until I eventually cave), I’ve decided to come up with a list of my favorite music videos of the 2010s.

While most of the talk nowadays around music videos center on the industry’s top stars and whatever is trending, the medium is still in a very strong spot creatively. The days of a music video breaking an act are mostly gone, but the 2010s proved that it’s still fertile ground for the next generation of directors as Hiro Murai and Melina Matsoukas begin to make the leap into feature films, much like David Fincher, Spike Jonze and countless others before them.

The decade gave us an influx of new voices and visions, which is not limited to this list, but a good way to start the conversation.

Technically, it’s a commercial for the Apple HomePod, but by all accounts, this still qualifies for me. Spike Jonze, who was one of the main figures of the music video renaissance of the mid-’90s, goes back to his roots with a visually eye-popping clip that follows FKA twigs back to her apartment after a gloomy day. She is immediately brought to life when she discovers that the walls and furniture of her unit can stretch beyond imagination and dances around as if she were the star of her own MGM musical.

10. Moses Sumney – “Doomed”

(Director: Allie Avital)

The power here lies in its simplicity. Sure, you can summarize this with “Moses Sumney is completely submerged underwater,” but as the camera patiently pans across his body, we as the viewer are left to grapple with the image of a man whose heart has finally taken all that it can.

9. A$AP Rocky – “A$AP Forever”

(Director: Dexter Navy)

Coupled with “L$D”, I’m a fan of the way that Dexter Navy draws out the haziness of Flacko’s music in his videos. We saw a few of the same tricks in “A$AP Forever,” only this time combined with a dizzying amount of cuts and revolving crane shots.

8. Hurray For The Riff Raff – “Pa’lante”

(Director: Kris Merc)

Spoiler alert: “Pa’lante” is going to place really high on my 2010s singles list. It’s one of the most powerful anthems of our time and its accompanying clip is even more emotionally arousing. Set in Jersey City and post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico, the video follows a working-class family struggling amidst the distance that separates them and the economic barriers of their environment. The placement of Pedro Pietri’s poem right after one of the climactic moments in the narrative gets me every time.

7. DJ Snake feat. Lil’ Jon – “Turn Down For What”

(Director: Daniels)

If you’re wondering, this is still as insane as you remember.

6. Beyoncé – “Countdown”

(Director: Adria Petty and Beyoncé)

One of the best cases for Queen Bey being one of our most magnetic stars is all throughout “Countdown.” Sure, she’s had enjoyable videos before and after this one, but her charisma along with some well-placed chic, frenetic cuts made “Countdown” a feat of technique and pure star power. It’s still one of her smartest videos to date.

5. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”

(Director: Romain Gavras)

“Live fast, die young/Bad girls do it well” was more than just the chorus for this video: it was a lifestyle. Few images were as cool this decade as M.I.A. sitting on the door of a car, leaning on two wheels speeding through the desert, but look deeper and you’ll find women all throughout toying with Western misconceptions of the Arab world. Guns are toted and car stunts are rolled out in slick, furious fashion to embody the IDGAF-spirit of battling being placed in a box.

4. FKA twigs – “Cellophane”

(Director: Andrew Thomas Huang)

When she’s not appearing in other artists’ videos (see above), FKA twigs has positioned herself as one of the preeminent artists of the medium this decade. Her videography has often been compared to Björk, who also ruled the ’90s in a similar fashion with a penchant for elegantly shot abstract imagery. With “Cellophane,” it hammers home the case that while Björk might be an influence, FKA twigs is nicely carving out her own lane in music video history. It’s a stirring display of emotion and transformation told through pole-dancing and an encounter with a winged being that shares a facial resemblance to twigs that dazzles with each viewing.

3. Jhené Aiko – “Eternal Sunshine”

(Director: Jay Ahn)

As an examination of mortality and a tribute to her deceased brother, “Eternal Sunshine” is one of the most dramatic videos from the decade, yet also one of its more subtly effective ones. There’s one main angle for the majority of the clip, which placed the focus on Aiko ascending towards the camera, and the entire video hinged on how well we can connect to her face. There’s a narrative developing below at street level, but the draw is watching someone contemplate their last moments on Earth in heartbreaking fashion.

2. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

(Director: Colin Tilley and The Little Homies)

Four years after its release, “Alright” still remains one of the most representative clips of this decade. The call for action against police brutality was one of the landmark social turning points for this country and “Alright” perfectly summed up all the defiance and hope that came with it. With dynamic imagery to spare, this Kendrick clip is a kinetic jolt to the senses for the duration of its run time and encapsulates the turmoil of the era.

1. Jamie xx – “Gosh”

(Director: Romain Gavras)

We don’t see too many music videos from Romain Gavras, but when we do, they usually leave a mark. His past works, which include “Bad Girls,” “No Church In The Wild,” and M.I.A.’s “Born Free,” put the focus on marginalized communities, in sometimes incendiary fashion. “Gosh,” which is centered around a group of Albinos, is Gavras’ most visually compelling work and his masterpiece. Shot in Tianducheng, China, which presents itself as a replica of Paris, “Gosh” boasted documentary-level cinematography to push themes of worship, alienation, and anything else that could be interpreted here.

Listen to Noteworthy on Monday nights from 6 to 8 at radio.uic.edu. You can follow the show on Facebook and Twitter.

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