Top 10 Music Videos of 2010

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

2010 was a year of renaissance for the music video. It was the year the notion that the rules of the game have changed in a post-MTV world came to fruition. Your video can’t just be cool, it has to be cool enough that bloggers write about it.  It has to be cool enough that people send the link to their friends.  It has to be cool enough that people think it’s a good idea to recreate their own version and post it online for the whole world to see. There isn’t one right way to do it.  It can be simple or elaborate, funny or controversial, but if you want a YouTube hit, you need the clicks. Below are ten videos that succeeded in not only getting the clicks, but pushing the medium of the music video forward.

10. “Go Do” – Jonsi

Directed by Ami & Kinski

Pounding percussion, pigeons, and parakeets — what more could one expect from the first solo video released by Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi Birgisson? “Go Do” in video is as feathery, colorful, and eccentric as the album’s artwork suggested it would be. The influence of longtime Sigur Ros directors Ami & Kinski is evident in the energetic and abstractly artistic cinematography. The video, described as a “symphonic flutter,” features Jonsi in feathers, make-up, and wrapped in raiment that even your most effeminate of friends would pause before nodding with in approval. He scrambles across his trademark Icelandic settings, replete with traditional derelict buildings, cool waterfronts, and eerie trees, with one new addition: birds — lots and lots of birds. – JP

9. “Power” – Kanye West

Directed by Marco Brambilla

The album cut of “Power” clocks in at nearly five minutes, but when Kanye committed the song to music video, he cut it down to a minute and a half. Don’t let that lead you to believe that Mr. West settled on making a simple video. There’s no plot because there’s no time and no need. Instead, Kanye appears in the center of a complex living mural reminiscent of Hellenistic mythology as the view slowly moves out revealing the entire scene. Horned female guardians move their staffs to the beat as water bearers defy gravity by pouring water on themselves upside down. And of course, no visual representation of this era would be complete without a sexy female phoenix. – JP

8. “Too Much” – Sufjan Stevens

Directed by Deborah Johnson

For those who had the pleasure of seeing the King of Indie live on his most recent tour, it isn’t the meticulously choreographed dance moves in this music video that will consume you — No, it’s the devil masks, flashing lights, bright colors, and especially that Nike tank, that one simply can’t have “too much” of. Complete with an animated instrumental interlude, Animorph-esque dancers, and the erratic stop-motion effects of director Deborah Johnson, this video is an allusion to the deliberate change in Stevens’ music path and an accurate representation of his live performance. (If you’re interested in the reasoning behind his stylistic transformation, Stevens provided a brief twenty-five minute explanation at each live performance.)  “Too Much” is the second track on Stevens’ new album The Age of Adz, which was released in October of this year. – JP

7. “All The Lovers” – Kylie Minogue

Directed by Joseph Kahn

Kylie Minogue takes the flash mob to a new level in her “All The Lovers” video. Despite the skads of disrobing kissers, the video doesn’t seem sexual. Instead, the mountain of barely clothed lovers seem like a call for ending all war and hatred, a concept cemented by the white dove Minogue sets free. The Australian vixen errupts from the growing mountain like a phoenix from the ashes (fitting as this is her triumphant comeback following a battle with breast cancer and an underperforming album) as she leads her followers in taking it “higher, higher, higher.” – HS

6. “Window Seat” – Erykah Badu

Directed by Coodie

Just watch the video. Eyrkah Badu, followed by director Coodie, sheds one article of clothing at a time while walking in downtown Dallas. Once totally nude, she is shot dead in the same location of the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. As her body falls to the ground, blue blood leaks from her head and scribbles the word “groupthink” on the sidewalk.  She completes the segment with the following statement: “They who play it safe, are quick to assassinate what they don’t understand. They move in packs, ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel more comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become, afraid to respect the individual.” – JP

5. “Born Free” – M.I.A.

Directed by Romain Gavras

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” reads Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. M.I.A. uses her “Born Free” video to graphically show how far humanity is from realizing that statement. Setting the video in an alternate reality United States where red heads are inexplicably hunted down, rounded up, and killed, M.I.A. brings the reality of genocide, something not uncommon in her native Sri Lanka, home of her Western audiences. It’s unclear if the video was simply intended to generate buzz or a pointed political statement (At the Bush administration? So 2000-and-late. At the Arizona immigration laws? Boring.), but whatever it was, the video was yanked from YouTube for a few days and did both.

4. “Telephone” – Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce

Directed by Jonas Akerlund

It’s one thing to compel people around the world to make homages to your music video if it features nothing more than black leotards and two back-up dancers, but somehow, Lady Gaga did it with a video over nine minutes long that stuffed in a prison, Pussy Wagon, and loads of product placement, not to mention several different phone hats. “Telephone” officially brought back the event music video in a way that hasn’t been seen since the heydays of Michael Jackson and Madonna, and she managed to created more iconic images in one video than Britney does for a whole album cycle. – HS

3. “Cold War” – Janelle Monae

Directed by Wendy Morgan

Unlike so many of the music video’s released this year, “Cold War” stands out for what it lacks. There is no product placement, there is no dancing, there is no violence, there are no special effects. The video isn’t even perfect. Monae breaks her flawless lip synch right after the line, “I was made to believe there’s something wrong with me and it hurts my heart.” First it seems like a simple flub, but then there’s more. A single tear streams down her face. But it’s more than just a tear of sadness. There’s regret there, yes, but there’s a feeling of resolve there too. “Do you know what you’re fighting for?” she asks. – HS

2. “We Used To Wait” – Arcade Fire

Directed by Chris Milk

Arcade Fire, Google, and artist/director Chris Milk have been successful in accomplishing at least one thing this year;  I no longer feel any shame for sporting my Funeral concert tee down the halls of my high school back in 2004. “The Wilderness Downtown” is an interactive video set that accompanies the band’s track “We Used to Wait,” the second single released from The Suburbs. After providing your childhood address, the project incorporates images from Google Maps and Google Street View to take you on a nostalgia-inducing tour of your hometown. Perhaps my favorite part of the experience is the chance to include a note to your younger self. Mine may have read something like this: “Jims, Arcade Fire is good. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.” – JP

1. “Runaway” – Kanye West

Directed by Kanye West

Kanye West might be a little offended that his video for “Runaway” topped a music video list; after all, the 35-minute clip is labeled “a film by Kanye West”. Still, “Runaway” is a worthy companion to the masterpiece that is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as West rescues a nearly nude half-woman half-phoenix that crash lands in by a country road. West teaches his visitor about life on our planet, including his views on the media, fame, and the elite. The visuals are stunning, from the explosions and fire of the initial rescue scene to the over-sized Michael Jackson head and now iconic ballerinas. The video provides a look into the brain of one of the 21st century’s premier music makers. – HS

Graphic by Nick Smith

Text by James Porter and Hunter Schwarz

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