Greatest Music Videos

Opening with color bars, liquor shots, and gun blasts, this Nabil-directed 8-minute odyssey follows a zonked-out Frank Ocean as he zips across the desert on a motorcycle, giggles his way through a strip club, and runs into John Mayer in the middle of nowhere for a woozy, bluesy guitar solo. Landing somewhere between Lost Highway and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “Pyramids” is a dusty, neon-drenched vision quest that’s hard to shake.

Music videos can sometimes feel unimaginative when they simply translate a song’s lyrics into a four-minute clip, but for the Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist,” the literal approach also happened to be the wildest one. The Australian electronic group’s mishmash of vocal samples is acted out as theater, with dueling therapists, chattering dentures, an old guy with a turtle body, and a ghost chorus comprising a visual representation both surreal and enduring.

The video for Aaliyah’s sinuous “Rock the Boat” might have easily gone down as just one of the many examples of the beloved singer’s preternatural cool and low-key sex appeal, featuring Aaliyah leading an all-female ensemble in understatedly sexy moves mirroring the song’s hypnotic, undulating melody. But it’s impossible to watch without feeling a deep pang of sadness: Directly after filming this video, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in a plane crash over the Bahamas. “Rock the Boat” begins with an in memoriam of sorts, and as the video starts, Aaliyah walks on a deserted beach beneath a sky so beatifically sunlit, it could very well be heaven. The video ends with a gorgeous shot of her swimming alone, trailed by billowy silk, toward a surface that seems contiguous with the clouds. In between, we’re reminded of an artist who was an effortlessly entrancing dancer and singer, a happy young woman with so much ahead of her — before she floats off to somewhere else.

Mitski’s songwriting is often spiked with a dark, sharp sense of humor. The visual for her shrugging, contemplative Puberty 2 single “Your Best American Girl,” directed by longtime collaborator Zia Anger, brings that wit to the forefront, trapping the Japanese-American artist in a love triangle with an all-too-familiar cute white hipster and his Coachella-ready girlfriend as the song’s lyrics muse on cultural clashes and ethnic identity. It’s hard not to roll your eyes as the couple cuddles naked under an American flag (seriously, guys?), leaving our heroine to make out with her own hand like a lovesick middle-schooler, channeling rage into electric guitar. Not too much subtlety here, but the video’s almost uncomfortably on-the-nose references are exactly what make it so brilliant, with just the right dose of funny.

Faced with relationship trouble, a pop queen doesn’t cry it out — she dances it out. Madonna’s ‘80s-infused video for the ABBA-borrowing Confessions On A Dance Floorsmash “Hung Up” turns the star’s sweaty, solo aerobics workout into a therapy session where all you need to squelch anxiety is a pink leotard and a boombox. The visual only gets better as it expands to scenes resembling a Los Angeles street corner, a subway car, and a Chinese restaurant, where crowds of all ages, races, and ethnicities erupt into fiery dance battles of their own. Meant as a tribute to John Travolta’s ubiquitous dance roles in film, the whole thing ends (how else?) with Madonna breaking it down on an arcade Dance Dance Revolution machine — not bad for a star who broke several bones in a horseback-riding accident just weeks before shooting.

The clip for Luda’s first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 is more bizarre than it has any right to be. A kiss from ‘Cris makes a woman’s ass expand to cartoonish size, after which Luda puts on a Sideshow Bob-sized sneaker to start stomping the dancefloor and bring the house down (literally). At the end of the video, Luda and Shawnna’s faces are superimposed onto baby bodies, and we’re treated to Baby Luda dancing Ally McBeal-style, before an unlucky woman changes his soiled diaper. Why? Who knows! But when he moved in 2003, we followed, just like that.

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