Simplicity was the name of the game for music videos in 2011.  Among my top ten and honorable mentions, five featured only the artists (or only one person instead of the artist), three were definitely each one unbroken shot (in one of those, the camera never moved), and two others looked like they were each one unbroken shot, but probably weren’t because of the effects involved.

1. Tyler, the Creator – “Yonkers” [Dir. Wolf Haley]

This is just a man, and who he is.  If you have never been exposed to Tyler, the Creator before watching the “Yonkers” video, be prepared to steel yourself.  And if all that you have seen of him is the enthusiastic kid who won Best New Artist at the VMA’s, follow the same advice.  Attention is commanded right away by this clip, thanks to its use of black-and-white, one of the most tried-and-true attention-grabbing methods available.  With the viewer at full attention, Tyler, quite literally, pours his entire self into this performance, as he eats a cockroach, vomits, and then hangs himself, never backing off the brutality of the lyrics.  These elements, along with the constant shifts in the camera’s focus and the disorienting close-ups, add up to an introduction of Tyler, the Creator as offputtingly alien but in a way that cannot be ignored.

2. Duck Sauce – “Big Bad Wolf” [Dir. Keith Schofield]

Guess what, folks? LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” was only the second most brazenly homoerotic music video of the year. However, that is a misnomer for “Big Bad Wolf,” because the men are not showing off for each other, and the sexuality it presents is too bizarre to be explained in normal terms. Specifically, it features a couple of guys whose genitals are the heads of the guys from Duck Sauce. I appreciate that these men are willing to show off in the same way that so many female video vixens have before them. But on the flip side, others might claim that this is a problem, and the right way to put it is that they are objectifying themselves like the girls who have come before them. But when a couple of ladies who also have cranial genitalia show up, it becomes clear that the message is mainly about everyone opening themselves to having a good time. And I do mean that in the euphemistic sense, but I mean more that as well. This video approves saying “yes” to sex, and it is talking especially to those who do not always get enough attention: the chubby, the particularly ethnic, the hairy. And it is all done in the style of the Surrealization of Sexuality.

3. Gotye ft. Kimbra – “Somebody That I Used To Know” [Dir. Natasha Pincus]

Music is about expressing feelings in ways that are generally not considered appropriate for normal social interactions. The clip for “Somebody That I Used to Know” demonstrates that maxim in a visual way. Gotye directly addresses the camera about how a recent break-up has rendered his emotions while a corresponding abstract expression of those emotions is illustrated. He then literally becomes a part of that painting. Kimbra, taking the role of the ex, is also part of that painting, and their relationship is broken such that they can literally not look each other in the eye. The arrangement of faces is reminiscent of Bergman; there is a cinematic essence to it – that of heightened reality that can only be captured by films, including music videos.

4. Martin Solveig ft. Dragonette – “Hello” [Dir. Tristan Seguela]

Music videos have sometimes been defined by as mini-movies. This description is used to distinguish those videos that attempt to be more than just a collection of images or performance footage. But those videos that try to tell stories with a beginning, middle, and end do not always take care to be clear and logical. “Hello” avoids that pitfall by giving itself a setting – a sports competition – in which the elements of a story basically fall into place on their own. The sunny setting and candy color palette make certain that this is a fun video, but the whole underdog ethos keeps it from being annoyingly frothy. Martin and his opponent – fellow DJ Bob Sinclar – look like they can actually play tennis, and the cameos from ATP players Novak Djokovic, Gaël Monfils, and Mathilde Johansson add to the authenticity. The DJ Mag rankings taking the place of ATP rankings is a clever detail that adds to the whole sense of great care being taken to present a clear and logical – and fun – mini-movie.

5. The Black Keys – “Howlin’ for You” [Dir. Chris Marrs Piliero]

The fake movie trailer conceit – especially the fake grindhouse trailer – is a particularly played-out concept, but it doesn’t matter how played-out it is when it is done right. And the video for “Howlin’ for You” is the fake grindhouse trailer conceit done right. A major part of making it work is the music, and when the music being used is by the Black Keys, there’s no problem there. The right cast is also clutch: Tricia Helfer is the right sort of ass-kicking babe, but the less obvious choices of Corbin Bernsen and Sean Patrick Flanery are even more inspired. Professional editing is also essential: the fake trailer should not constantly be showing off its fakeness; the viewer already knows it’s fake – it should maintain the illusion of realness. Once all this is accomplished, only then can the fake grindhouse trailer get away with calling Todd Bridges a “Sir” and using lines like, “I’m pretty sure God would consider it a sin not to glorify that ass.”

6. Robyn – “Call Your Girlfriend” [Dir. Max Vitali]

One’s first instinct may be to dismiss a dance performance that includes the move of sitting down, rolling over on your back, and humping the ground a few times with your head pressed against the floor. Or maybe you’re like me and you were endlessly amused by that patently Robyn-esque move. Either way, that is the silliest move in the “Call Your Girlfriend” video; meanwhile, every other move simply kills, no doubt about it. The routine is quirky and challenging – the best combination when it comes to dance. The breakdown at 2:30 is fifteen seconds of nirvana. The dopamine that must be teeming through Robyn as she dances her dance would give anyone the energy to successfully deliver the sort of break-up news that she is requesting.

7. The Black Keys – “Lonely Boy” [Dir. Jesse Dylan]

The video for “Lonely Boy” features a spur-of-the-moment improvised dance from actor/musician/part-time security guard Derrick T. Tuggle in the parking lot of a motel. And it is as awesome as it sounds.

8. Katy Perry – “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” [Dir. Marc Klasfeld and Danny Lockwood]

“Last Friday Night” features appearances from Darren Criss from Glee, Kevin McHale (not Kevin McHale the basketball player, Kevin McHale the actor from Glee), ‘80’s icons Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson, the brothers Hanson, and Kenny G. But the most satisfactory celebrity appearance is that of perhaps the most notorious “star” of 2011: Rebecca Black. And thus Katy Perry makes her case as the Grant Morrison of music videos. Like the comic book superwriter reintroducing the most bizarre and stupidest Batman villains into the canon, the pop starlet appropriates Black as a witty commentary on the weekend culture of the 21st century. Katy Perry is not ashamed to immerse herself in the epic fails of the youth of today, but she does so in a knowingly straightforward way that may make some wonder whether or not announcing how awesome you are while acting stupidly is truly awesome. Alternatively, it may just inspire more partying. Either way, everybody wins?

9. Kanye West ft. Rihanna and Kid Cudi et al – “All of the Lights” [Dir. Hype Williams]

Videos like “All of the Lights” really make me feel for those who suffer from epilepsy, because here is one amazing viewing experience that they will likely never be able to have without seizing up. The only way for Kanye and Hype Williams to capture the essence of this title is to have variously colored lights flashing by quickly in an epilepsy-unfriendly manner. Hype is basically showing off his skills as the elder statesman of hip-hop videos. So many current hip-hop videos begin with gaudy, self-congratulatory text introducing the talent. Hype takes that method as far as it can go by making almost the entire video a succession of such gaudy, self-congratulatory text. This is what the hip-hop world has come to, and Kanye is the only one able to see it and willing to say it.

10. Battles ft. Gary Numan – “My Machines” [Dir. Daniels]

A man falls down an up escalator (think about it), and he continues to do so for about four minutes. It may sound like a Family Guy gag that defines overkill, but when it is set to the tune of a driving beat by experimental rock band Battles, it is much more bearable. The “My Machines” video is a triumph of simple visual effects, as the shaky camera and the foggy flashing lights appear to shake the foundations of the mall, and ramp up the escalator’s intensity, rocking the falling gentleman like no escalator has ever rocked him before.

Honorable Mentions:
Skrillex – “First of the Year (Equinox)” [Dir. Tony Truand]

The expression of a fight against child molestation that we desperately needed.

Selena Gomez & the Scene – “Love You Like a Love Song” [Dir. Geremy Jasper and Georgie Greville]

If only all video karaoke machines knew the singer so well.

Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” [Dir. Sam Brown] and “Someone Like You” [Dir. Jake Nava]


Adele is a little bit intimidating sitting in a chair making water shake and just as intimidating walking around and singing into the camera.

Ke$ha – “Blow” [Dir. Chris Marrs Piliero]

The best use of unicorns in 2011 and the best use of “James Van Der Douche” in a while.

Lana Del Rey – “Video Games” [Dir. Lana Del Rey]

Yeah, sure, whatever, let’s include all these random clips in your video, including paparazzi footage of Paz de la Huerta.

Foster the People – “Call It What You Want” [Dir. Ace Norton]

Foster the People romp around in a mansion with some Shining-type qualities.

Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – “We Found Love” [Dir. Melina Matsoukas]

Rihanna’s most direct confrontation yet of an abusive relationship.