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The 25 Best Music Videos of 2013

For better or worse, the music video was surprisingly central to the way we thought about music in 2013—for better and for worse.

The 25 Best Music Videos of 2013

For a medium that’s supposed to have become irrelevant years ago, the music video was surprisingly central to the way we thought about music in 2013—for better and for worse. This was the year that clips for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” spawned 1,000 think pieces, the year that we ran around our cities trying to find a place to watch Kanye West project his face onto the side of a building. It was the year that artists from Arcade Fire to Bob Dylan continued to push the boundaries of what a music video can be, and it ended with the surprise, Internet-breaking release of Beyoncé’s self-titled “visual album,” which included a whopping 17 videos. If it’s all not quite enough to declare a new golden age, it’s certainly cause to be eager for what lies ahead. Chase Woodruff

Editor’s Note: Watch the full playlist at The House Next Door.

25. Kronos Quartet with Bryce Dessner, “Tour Eiffel”

The average road trip, like this collaboration between Kronos Quartet and the National’s Bryce Dessner, is an exercise in endurance. Here, though, a man’s journey across an epic stretch of American highway, its duration noticeably felt via a series of fast-motion montages, is a test of spiritual resolve. By the time his car reaches its destination and the purpose of the man’s trip becomes clear, your heart may break as he peers across the Grand Canyon, its immensity matching the agony in his soul. Ed Gonzalez

24. Dillon Francis ft/ T.E.E.D., “Without You”

Mister Whitmore and Devon Gibbs’s clip for Dillon Francis’s breakup anthem “Without You” is a disorienting, cleverly edited evocation of the tortured thought processes that afflict us all when enduring heartbreak and loss. Woodruff

23. The Killers, “Shot at the Night”

The simple, sweetly romantic video for the Killers’ collaboration with M83’s Anthony Gonzalez is a modern Cinderella story starring Bella Heathcote as a daydreaming casino maid who meets cute with a dapper young tourist played by Max Minghella after almost running him over at a traffic light. No glass slippers here—just one brief shot at a different life. Sal Cinquemani

22. Tyler, the Creator, “IFHY”

If the first concept that pops into your head at the refrain, “I fucking hate you,” isn’t a loose recreation of Henrik Ibsen by way of Duracell’s ’90s ads featuring the Puttermans and set inside a life-size Barbie Dream House, well, not everyone can be as good at being troubled as Tyler, the Creator. Eric Henderson

21. Iggy Azalea, “Work”

Leaving the trainers, tricycle, and swing set of her youth behind (literally, behind her, in flames, conjuring both Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and George Michael’s “Freedom”), Australian model-turned-rapper Iggy Azalea struts her way into adulthood in the video for her aptly titled debut single “Work” Cinquemani

20. Arcade Fire, “Afterlife”

In a year that saw Arcade Fire drift dangerously close to overexposure, perhaps it’s fitting that the band’s finest moment didn’t feature Win Butler and company on screen at all. Emily Kai Bock’s video for Reflektor highlight “Afterlife” is a master class in the narrative form, broadening and deepening its source material in an arresting meditation on love and death. Woodruff

19. A$AP Rocky ft/ Skrillex & Birdy Nam, “Wild for the Night”

Veteran hip-hop director Chris Robinson flew the A$AP Mob and Sonny Moore to the slums of the Dominican Republic for a subversive twist on the extravagant block-party rap videos that dominated the late ’90s. And for comic relief: Skrillex trying desperately not to look out of place, and failing. Woodruff

18. Jon Hopkins, “Open Eye Signal”

Few dance tracks did more with less in 2013 than Jon Hopkins’s tense, slow-burning “Open Eye Signal,” and the same can be said of Aoife McArdle’s video. Full of long, gorgeous tracking shots and moments that float between the mundane and the surreal, our skateboarding hero’s journey feels at once intensely personal and inconceivably grand. Woodruff

17. Solange,” “Lovers in the Parking Lot”

The bright, neon glow of shoelaces, Christmas lights, and flashing lights is just one type of mood indicator in Solange’s “Lovers in the Parking Lot,” which doesn’t just affectionately convey the joy of letting loose to your favorite jam in front of your bedroom mirror, but throughout every store of an entire shopping mall you’ve got all to yourself. Kyle Fowle

16. Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”

If the surreal images in “We Can’t Stop” were simply a tribute to youthful hedonism, it would be among 2013’s most pupil-dilating eye candy, but deconstructed down to its macabre symbols—edible skulls, blow-up dolls, taxidermia—it’s one of the trippiest, scariest videos of the year. Cinquemani

15. Kanye West, “Bound 2”

Wherein Kanye continues to dismantle white American iconography, subverting it by placing himself (and his topless reality star of a honey) in the middle of it all. This is Kanye deconstructing Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Elvis all at once while instilling fear of a black planet. Fowle

14. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”

In which Paul Thomas Anderson obliges Fiona Apple, making her heart a CinemaScope screen. But he doesn’t show the dancing bird of paradise—rather, through a series of multiple split-screen shots that juxtapose his former squeeze with her backup singers (Apple and her sister), he cannily keys us to the rhythmic intricacies of the song. This isn’t so much about the genesis of rhythm as it is about furthering our appreciation of it. Gonzalez

13. Beach House, “Wishes”

In which Ray Wise straddles a white horse and rides off into the sunset, but not before bringing the gathered crowd at what appears to be the prep-sports version of the Hunger Games to an equine frenzy with his siren song. Somewhere out there, Laura Palmer is crying into her bloodied pom-poms. Henderson

12. M.I.A., “Y.A.L.A.”

In M.I.A.’s world, vibrant paisley, candy colors, inner illumination, phosphorescent lipsticks, and flickering strobes are all among the many tools in a bottomless supply of artistic assault weapons. Despite the obligatory warning to epileptics that kicks it off, “Y.A.L.A.” means to leave viewers nursing a magenta bruise. Henderson

11. Earl Sweatshirt ft/ Vince Staples & Casey Veggies, “Hive”

If Tyler, the Creator’s videos are all about overblown, colorful images in line with OFWGKTA’s Loiter Squad aesthetic, Earl’s “Hive” acts as a counterbalance, more in touch with the menacing Odd Future of a few years ago. The minimalistic, barely lit setting presents Earl and his crew as a hooded force lurking in the shadows, and suggests that Odd Future—and rap music—doesn’t have to be loud and abrasive to be threatening. Fowle

10. Shugo Tokumaru, “Katachi”

Not since Michel Gondry’s prime has lo-fi craft been this dizzying, as the beats of Shugo Tokumaru’s bouncy, recorder-laced ditty serve as the pulse for a stop-motion adventure in traversing construction paper cut-outs. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one frame. Henderson

9. Gesaffelstein,” “Pursuit”

With equal amounts fascination and repulsion, this gorgeously constructed whatsit perpetually pulls away from a series of ostentatious tableaus that evoke aristocratic authority, surveillance, sex, and military might. Fittingly, no expense seems to have been spared in the desire to convey humankind’s pursuit of power since time immemorial. Gonzalez

8. Duck Sauce, “It’s You”

This predictably goofball video from Duck Sauce sweetly tributes the barbershop as a nexus of African-American experience. More slyly, it reckons with and celebrates identity as cultural costuming. What’s hair got to do with it? Everything if it can give you a beat. Gonzalez

7. Chance” the=”” rapper, “everybody’s=”” something”

Using the simplest of superimposition techniques, director Austin Vesely profoundly articulates how the “Chicago blues,” all of the city’s joys and demons, past and present, not only perpetually seethe inside Chance the Rapper, but define him as a man and give his music its unique fire. Gonzalez

6. FKA Twigs, “Papi Pacify”

Only the cinematography is strictly black and white in this clip, as inscrutable, disturbingly shaded dynamics of a possibly unwanted and uninvited sexual encounter play out in forward and reverse, like a nightmare counterpart to Bruce Conner’s Breakaway with an insistent oral fixation. Henderson

5. Disclosure ft/ Alunageorge, “White Noise”

To a pair of outsiders like Howard and Guy Lawrence, Detroit is likely known for two things: its history as the birthplace of techno and dramatic scenes of urban decay. With help from director Luke Monaghan, they manage to unite the two with “White Noise,” and if there’s a more appropriate metaphor for our age than dancing through ruins, I don’t know what it is. Woodruff

4. Goldfrapp,” “Annabel”

Part of a larger film designed to accompany Goldfrapp’s Tales of Us, the Tomboy-esque “Annabel” is dreamy folk tale inspired by Kathleen Winter’s novel of the same name about a young hermaphrodite forced to take on the identity of a boy in the 1960s, gorgeously capturing the isolation and fantasies of its androgynous title character. Cinquemani

3. Lorde, “Royals”

Though additional footage of New Zealand pop singer Lorde was added to the U.S. edit of “Royals” for American consumption, her absence for most of the original international version speaks to both the 16-year-old’s “postcode” shame and her friends’ suburban-teen ennui. Cinquemani

2. Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”

Nearly a half-century later, one of the most iconic songs ever recorded finally received a video treatment worthy of its epic scope, in the form of this interactive project from director Vania Heymann, digital media firm Interlude, and an all-star cast including Danny Brown, Marc Maron, and Drew Carey. Even in an increasingly fractured, media-drunk culture, a classic is still a classic. Woodruff

1. Janelle Monaé ft/ Erykah Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.”

Despite a seemingly playful plotline involving ’60s girl group-inspired rebels breaking into a living museum to free their notorious time-traveling leader and her dangerous accomplice (played by Erykah Badu), the futuristic, sci-fi visuals of “Q.U.E.E.N.” teem with political purpose. The video’s expertly crafted edits and jump cuts make it impossible to turn away from Monaé’s nearly minute-long closing sermon on racial and economic inequality and, most importantly, the virtues of “getting down.” Fowle

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