Warp Records

The 25 Best Music Videos of 2011

The 25 Best Music Videos of 2011


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I can recall a time when music videos were all but doomed to certain extinction. In the dark days leading up to Internet supremacy, MTV regulated videos to brief cushions between mass doses of Carson Daly, while VH1 decided it would rather gorge itself on the sideshow of (sur)reality television than offer the “V” in its name. Add the anonymity and budgetary limitations of do-it-yourself indie bands, and music videos suddenly appeared to be an unnecessary pastiche. Unlikely hero though it may be, thank God for YouTube. The age of viral content has done more than just invigorate the music video format though—it’s freed it. From the sneakily graphic and flippant kids-killing-kids horror of Is Tropical’s “The Greeks,” to the bug-eating suicidal odyssey that is Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers,” to the Jonestown-conjuring aesthetic of Cults’ “Go Outside,” to the homicidal tendencies of St. Vincent’s “Cruel,” viewers can be thankful that music videos weren’t just alive and well in 2011, but also completely uninhibited. Kevin Liedel


Ke$ha, “Blow” (Director: Chris Marrs Piliero)

Ke$ha’s “Blow” held the title for the year’s best video featuring unicorns for two whole days—until the premiere of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” But in addition to Dawson Leery and “edible lactose gold,” the one thing Ke$ha’s got that Gaga seems to have lost is the ability not to take herself too seriously. Sal Cinquemani


Times New Viking, “Ever Falling In Love” (Director: Brandon Reichard)

In a place called New Cleveland in 2031, people have no faces, Hummers are still fashionable, and a king has outlawed images of all kinds. Brandon Reichard’s video for Times New Viking’s “Ever Falling In Love” is a moving yet unsentimental reminder of the impact visual media has on our collective memories. SC


St. Vincent, “Cruel” (Director: Terri Timely)

An awkwardly shot video of an awkward tale, made all the more awkward by the discordant chemistry between Annie Clark and her surrogate family when, exasperated, they finally put her out of her non-motherly misery. Strange mercy, indeed. KL


Bon Iver, “Holocene” (Director: Nabil)

Justin Vernon’s humble realization of his non-magnificence is perfectly visualized here: a wandering youth immersed in the cold allure of rural Iceland as he chases an elusive bird of prey. Bon Iver’s sophomore album has an innate wintry beauty all its own, making “Holocene” one of those few entries where a single video captures the total spirit of its source material. KL


Lykke Li, “Sadness Is a Blessing” (Director: Tarik Saleh)

Though it originates from Germany, Ed Gonzalez called Kai Stänicke’s visual interpretation of Din [A] Tod’s 2009 track “Cold Star” “too Swedish” for his taste. The music video cum short film was ultimately deemed ineligible for this list anyway, but Swedish melancholia triumphed in the end, in the form of director Tarik Saleh’s gorgeously lensed clip for Lykke Li’s “Sadness Is a Blessing.” The pop singer displays surprisingly nuanced acting chops as the obstinate younger half of an ostensible May-December romance, while co-star Stellan Skarsgård turns in a characteristically understated performance as the stoic lover who watches her come apart at the seams. SC


Living Sisters, “How Are You Doing?” (Director: Michel Gondry)

Michel Gondry is essentially recycling the same concept he used for Cibo Matto’s “Sugar Water,” except there are three panels now, one for each of Living Sisters’ members, who race toward each other—and through various catastrophes—after one goes into labor. Gondry conveys the women’s devotion to each other not just via the triple split-screen, but also through a lovely series of visual juxtapositions, the best being its very first: a soon-to-be-botched sunny-side-up egg, an engorged belly, and a plane that carries—no, delivers—one of the sisters toward the group’s date with destiny. Ed Gonzalez


Twin Sister, “Kimmi in a Rice Field” (Directors: Bryan Ujueta & Dan Devine)

The House-inspired visuals of Twin Sisters’ “Kimmi in a Rice Field” result in one of the most disquieting conclusions in recent memory: human and ghost, melded together in horror and wonder. KL


Friendly Fires, “Hurting” (Director: David Lewandowski)

Friendly Fires’ Pala always seemed to brandish a kind of blockheaded charm along with its tropical beats, and the music video for “Hurting” provides visual confirmation of that fact, not to mention the greatest Hawaiian shirt ever put to video. KL


Beyoncé, “Countdown” (Director: Adria Petty)

Not exactly a history of dance on film, or a particularly heady act of appropriation, just a dazzling homage to some of Beyoncé’s favorite influences. Using jolts of pop-art colors, virtuosic editing, and a smile that spans from one tip of her bob cut to the other, Beyoncé pilfers through a very specific musical past—one that begins with Funny Face and ends with Flashdance—with her customarily giddy and sincere sense of spirit. EG


Das Racist, “Michael Jackson” (Directed by Weird Days)

Das Racist’s video for “Michael Jackson” is both a send-up and tribute to the Gloved One’s self-indulgent “Black or White,” not to mention everything else that made the early ’90s memorable—namely, The Simpsons and that Swayze vs. Farley Chippendales sketch from Saturday Night Live. KL