Radiohead – Burn the Witch
Ahead of their fantastic album A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead released easily the most distinctive music video of the year. It is entirely in stop-motion animation, in a similar style to old children’s television shows such as Trumpton. However, this innocent-seeming setting clashes with a dark plot: an inspector being toured around a town by its Mayor, discovering increasingly eerie and violent scenes as he progresses, and finishing with him being trapped and nearly burned to death in a wooden effigy. Whether you’re interested in the weird contrast or the many political readings it has incited, it’s definitely worth the watch.
Beyoncé – Formation
I couldn’t write about music videos in 2016 without mentioning Lemonade. ‘Formation’ concludes Lemonade, and what a conclusion it is. It’s the biggest, most elaborate performance on this “visual” album, epitomising it and alluding to its issues. Racism is explored through references to police brutality, as the video starts with her crouching on top of a police car, and the references to her family that she shared are reflected by featuring her daughter in several shots. However, this is all eclipsed by Beyoncé at her best – flawless singing complemented by incredible dancing, and I defy you to find anything more iconic than her declaration of “I got hot sauce in my bag (swag)”.
Jeff Buckley – I Know It’s Over
While this is a less well-known music video, it’s a personal favourite of mine. Buckley died in 1997, but ‘I Know It’s Over’ was released in March with You and I, a compilation album featuring previously unreleased demos and covers. The video follows a little boy who’s unable to sleep, and his mother who repeatedly tries to get him back into bed. This becomes very poignant accompanied Buckley’s beautiful delivery of The Smiths’ lyrics, repeating the cry of “oh mother”. As well as being a gorgeous video, it contains several references to Buckley hidden in the background, making it all the more special.
Kanye West – Wolves
While there’s a lot to be said for ‘Famous’, Kanye’s controversial artistic statement on the press’s intrusion into celebrities’ lives, I think his real stand out video this year was ‘Wolves’. Created by Olivier Rousteing, the video also serves as an advertisement for Balmain’s autumn clothing line and so it is aesthetically stunning, shot in black and white so that the light could reflect off the details in the clothes. It intersperses slow-motion shots of the models walking around and crying with the grainy Paparazzi-style of the ‘Famous’ video, for example, in a sequence where disembodied hands grasp at Kim Kardashian’s metal-encased chest. It puts across a similar message, but if you were uncomfortable watching naked celebrities in the voyeuristic ‘Famous’, here is a version featuring celebrities who are dressed, but in clothes that probably cost more than your university fees.
David Bowie – Lazarus
David Bowie lying in a hospital bed singing “look up here, I’m in Heaven” is a very unsettling way to begin a video released three days before his death. It only gets more disconcerting to watch his body contort in the bed with the knowledge that it was during the week of filming that Bowie was told that his cancer was terminal. Verses about his youth and fame are acted out by the grey-haired Bowie dressed in an outfit he modelled in 1976. He dances, furiously writes songs and, after Bowie sings the words “I’ll be free”, he finally retreats into a wardrobe in the room. Intelligent, emotive, and brilliantly weird, it’s a very fitting goodbye.