The 25 Best Music Videos of 2012

The 25 Best Music Videos of 2012


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The entries on this list offer a glimpse of the staggeringly dissimilar outcomes of music video’s democratization, running the gamut from shiny, well-choreographed dance numbers to high-art conceptual pieces. There’s no theme or mood uniting these videos aside from the fact that a director no longer needs a cadre of set designers, caterers, stylists, and dancers to craft a captivating vision—proving that the power to not only make media, but imaginative media that reaches a large swath of the public now rests in the hands of a large and diverse group of not-always-professional auteurs.  Kevin Liedel


Le1f, “Wut” (Director: Sam Jones)

Wut indeed. The hips of this rebel of the neon god, whose couture appears to have been designed by Project Runway alum and androgyne Fabio Costa, exist to shake things up. And like this swagger, the video’s practically Dadaist images are a hilariously winking “fuck you” to rap music’s heterosexist bias.  Ed Gonzalez


Björk, “Mutual Core” (Director: Andrew Thomas Huang)

Leave it to Björk to anthropomorphize the Earth’s tectonic plates. The lyrics to “Mutual Core” sometimes feel like she’s reading from a science textbook (“As fast as your fingernail grows/The Atlantic Ridge drifts”), but the video brings the song to explosive life, with Björk, naturally, in the role of neglected Mother Nature.  Sal Cinquemani


Sigur Rós, “Ekki Múkk” (Director: Nick Abrahams)

Practically a rebuke to the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog, starring Game of Thrones’s Petyr Baelish being guided across a vast field by a wise snail toward an injured fox he comforts in its last moments. The snail’s narration can be a bit on the nose, but the mood of loss and loneliness is striking, as is the image of three creatures of different sizes meeting each other on the same level of mortal understanding.  Gonzalez


Major Lazer, “Get Free” (Director: SoMe)

“I just can’t believe what they’ve done to me/We can never get free,” Amber from Dirty Projectors sings on Major Lazer’s “Get Free,” her plaintive lamentation juxtaposed with images of people doing precisely that in the streets, gyms, salons, and discotheques of Jamaica.  Cinquemani


M.I.A., “Bad Girls” (Director: Romain Gavras)

Wonderfully ridiculous in its juxtaposition of American excess and stereotypical Middle Eastern imagery, M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” treats viewers to illegal desert races full of drifting BMWs, burning oil wells, and hijab chic. In the middle of it all is M.I.A. herself, and deservedly so, as few other artists could lace such a wild, colorful collage with powerful but subtle nods to Saudi Arabia’s “women to drive” movement.  Liedel


Bob Dylan, “Duquesne Whistle” (Director: Nash Edgerton)

An old-fashioned boy in modern times meets girl, girl shuns boy, boy destroys everything in his path for a second chance. The video, spry even at its darkest, ends in a dream, a melancholic vision of a kiss just out of reach, an image that ultimately attests to Bob Dylan’s own endurance.  Gonzalez


Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse” (Director: Kristoffer Borgli)

A snarky ode to arrested development with a great undercurrent of sadness. Like the deliberately passé-sounding electronica of the Todd Terje track, the moustachioed nobody of the video feels out of time, clinging to a reality that left him behind long ago.  Gonzalez


Benga, “I Will Never Change” (Director: Us)

In a day and age where amateur videographers can apply rather sophisticated special effects to their YouTube-bound film projects, there’s something to be said for achieving novelty the old-fashioned way. In what had to be a painstakingly tedious process, various vinyl records are lined up to match the wave pattern of British dubstepper Benga’s “I Will Never Change” What’s particularly interesting about the project is that there’s very little mystery behind the feat: Viewers see quite clearly that each vinyl is numbered according to order, thereby making this one of those rare visual feats that’s just as honest as it is impressive.  Liedel


Zebra Katz featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx, “Ima Read” (Director: Ruben Sznajderman)

Zebra fucking Katz’s rhythmic song is a mean queer’s manifesto, and its hypnotically trashy and intriguingly racially coded video, a horror-film aficionado’s wonderland, gets an A+ for its use of double entendre.  Gonzalez


Cloud Nothings, “No Future/No Past” (Director: John Ryan)

The video for “No Future/No Past” is an ideal pairing for the song’s creeping escalation, depicting a hapless bystander being dragged by some invisible, no doubt malevolent force to some unknown fate. As viewers, we see what the victim sees: garage ceilings, blue sky, wintry canopies—mundane, everyday vistas signifying the last fateful visions before death or worse. The horror show is made all the more impressive when considering that the scares are delivered in broad daylight, surrounded by typical suburbia, and without a drop of blood or visible violence. Liedel