The impact of a music video can sometimes make or break a song. It can enhance the melody’s impact through creative cinematography or direction. It can transport viewers to another world in under five-minutes, or it can bring you back to that period when music videos were praised and rewarded more than the actual song.
In the calendar year of 2017, music lovers were not only treated to surprise and exceed-your-expectation albums, but also visuals that made us take time out of our busy day to watch, dissect, and experience a certain emotion after watching.
Here are the videos – in no particular order – that we had our eyes glued to this 365, from December 2016 until November 2017.
Director: Alan Yang
The Tidal captain’s short film for “Moonlight” placed black Hollywood’s most game-changing actors in a replicated Friends set. Not only do the lyrics boast instances of artistic/cultural appropriation and a lack of recognition, but the lines that the stars recite also speak life into the 7-minute reel. In a past interview, Queen Latifah shared that Friends was inspired by the cult-classic Living Single. Friends was also notorious for featuring little to no recurring black actors throughout its 10-season run.
Artist: Camila Cabello
Video: “Havana” feat. Young Thug
Director: Dave Meyers
Paying homage to the musicality of Cuba, pop singer Camila Cabello transported viewers from a telenovela to that hole in the wall discoteca equipped with a live band and dancers that continue a tradition of physical expression that’s traveled from generation to generation.
Artist: DJ Khaled
Video: “Wild Thoughts” feat. Rihanna, Bryson Tiller
Director: Colin Tilley
Given the tropical atmosphere of the nearly four-minute visual, it’s only right the Little Haiti Caribbean Marketplace in Miami, Fla. serves as the hub of this replay-worthy video. The Grateful cut captured all of Rihanna’s angles, inspiring you to emulate her movements whenever the track plays in the club.
Video: “1-800-273-8255″ feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid
Director: Andy Hines
Logic’s “1-800-273-8255″ was not only revered for its gripping statements or subject matter, but also for its visual component. The lens follows a high-schooler who’s grappling with his sexuality. Once his father finds out that he’s gay, a battle for understanding ensues which leads the main character to a point of near-suicide. Thankfully, things begin to get to a realm of acceptance as viewers watch the protagonist go on to build a life based on love through marriage and children. Named after the suicide prevention hotline, “1-800″ caused the organization to receive a spike in calls from those seeking an ear to help and listen.
Artist: J. Cole
Directors: J. Cole, Scott Lazer
What was meant to be a creative space dubbed “The Sheltuh” for Dreamville artists/producers quickly turned into an area of interest for the SWAT team in North Carolina. The Fayetteville-native released a home recording of law enforcement officials raiding this space in search of drugs or weed plants thanks to a neighbor who thought things smelled suspicious, shared producer Elite. Without having to say it, Cole put racism’s head on display in less than 90 seconds.
Video: “Love Galore” feat. Travis Scott
Bondage, butterflies, and badassery are the ingredients to SZA’s dark video. As noted by several viewers and media outlets, the Ctrl single’s visual is reminiscent of Kathy Bates’ role in the film Misery, particularly nearing the gruesome end of the four-minute recording.
Artist: Jessie Reyez
Director: Peter Huang
The dark realities of making it in the music industry come to light in this stirring portrayal, which Reyez said was her way of “talking about my experiences, talking about the sh*t that I went through, and keep it as honest as I can.” Within the video, an aggressive music industry executive offers Reyez an uncomfortable proposition in order to get her big break as a singer. Before things go too far, Reyez stands her ground and gets herself out of a troubling situation.
Director: Philip Knowlton
Your favorite singer’s favorite singer sought to bring awareness to the horrors of detention camps within the U.S., particularly California’s Adelanto High Desert Detention Center. According to Rolling Stone, the facility holds nearly 2,000 immigrants from Mexico to Haiti. To change the narrative surrounding detention centers, the War & Leisure artist performed near the location to incite a “political awakening” and join one of the many conversations that has been the center of policy in this country since Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Director: Jonas Lindstroem & The Little Homies
When the DAMN. rapper sets out to bring his lyrics to visual life, he goes above and beyond what fans might expect. That’s the case for “ELEMENT.” which took its cues from the legendary photographer Gordon Parks’ still images to add a physical quality to his iconic LIFE snapshots of black Americans. New York’s Gordon Parks Foundation recently debuted an exhibit titled “Element: Gordon Parks and Kendrick Lamar” which married the artists’ creations for a side-by-side analysis.
Video: “Crew” feat. Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy
Director: Matthew Dillon Cohen
Shot in the nation’s capital, “Crew” seems to be a hot contender to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” with its catchy Faiyaz hook and the lyrical delivery of DMV representers Goldlink and Shy Glizzy. Although the video is minimal in terms of scenery, the vibe depicted makes you want to grab your closest friends for a once-in-a-lifetime memory sans social media.
Artist: Bruno Mars
Video: “That’s What I Like”
Director: Jonathan Lia
There’s power held in simplicity, and when simplicity is coupled with the sheer talent and musicality of Bruno Mars, you get a music video dripping with subtle, yet dynamic flair. “That’s What I Like” features the Hooligan in his element, bringing funky, feel-good vibes and killer dance moves to an effect-tinged visual. The over-one billion views make it clear that even when Mars is unassisted by his equally-as-gifted backing band without any type of set or scenery, he’s still a magnetic force to be reckoned with. Lucky for him. ~ J’na Jefferson
Video: “Lemon” feat. Rihanna
Directors: Todd Tourso & Scott Cudmore
N.E.R.D’s triumphant return to the music-sphere was ushered in by their addictive single, “Lemon,” earlier this season. Not only does the song get your feet moving, but the easy-to-grasp choreography that model Mette Towley displays also puts a pep in your step.
Artist: Young Thug
Video: “Wyclef Jean”
Director: Ryan Staake
Staake had to dig deep in his creativity bag to salvage the immense video budget for Thugger’s “Wyclef Jean.” The reason being that the ATL native failed to show up on set for the production’s scheduled times so it was up to Staake’s team to put together a brilliant portrayal of what was presumably etched on their storyboard.
Artist: Joyner Lucas
Video: “I’m Not Racist”
Directors: Ben Proulx & Joyner Lucas
An angry black person—not even in the sense of the dismissive stereotype, but quite literally a person enraged over legitimate circumstances—would never, in any lifetime, hug a white person who just called them a n***er. Joyner Lucas’ viral “I’m Not Racist” video, which he co-directed with Ben Proulx, would have you think otherwise, though.
While the polarizing visual—an accusatory MAGA hat-wearing white man and defensive natural haired black man have a “conversation” in a warehouse— is shot on some nice cameras and does a good job of both capturing the actors’ emotions and seizing ours, the message it sends is a false one. It implies that black people have any part to take in the realization and eradication of racism, something white people are wholly responsible for. The video asks us to “see things from both sides,” yet there were no two sides of fairness when white people willfully put people of color through hell (and systemically still do).
So far, Joyner’s video has racked up over 15 million views on YouTube in under a month, so it has the potential to spark some really important conversations about racial dynamics in America. However, it would’ve been nice to see such a conversation actually start off on a fair and accurate foot. ~ Stacy-Ann Ellis
Video: “Story of O.J.”
Director: Mark Romanek
This brilliant black-and-white visual kicked-off Jay’s onslaught of thought-provoking video after thought-provoking video. To boast the lyrical content of his 4:44 album, the Brooklynite decided to reclaim the racist Little Black Sambo caricature images to breathe new life into that Kanye West line: “Even if you in a Benz, you still a ni**a in a coupe.”
Artist: Princess Nokia
Directors: Destiny Frasqueri & Milah Libin
Princess Nokia kicked off her video in an inspirational way with a motivational spoken word. If no one else tells you the you’re beautiful inside and out, allow the 1992 Deluxe artist to be that source of affirmation. “All girls are meant to be something special in this world even when they’re told they’re not supposed to be.”
Director: Adam “Aminé” Daniel
Quicny’s Auto Group was the location of choice for Aminé’s controversial music video. The rising artist adorned white face alongside two unidentified actors to play a group of three men at a car dealership. Aminé continued to touch upon racial references like the business’ black staff’s interactions with the main character and the creation of the “NWACP.”
Artist: Vic Mensa
Director: Andrew Donoho
If you have a fear of flying, then skip past this video. If you’re blessed and highly-favored, then press play on this uncontrollable presentation from Chicago’s Vic Mensa. The lyrically-gifted rapper tries to survive a fiery private plane crash that rips apart the luxurious aircraft and also listeners’ hearts with Mensa’s in-depth lyrics.
Artist: Danny Brown
Song: “Ain’t It Funny”
Director: Jonah Hill
If Danny Brown ever plans to shift over to the sitcom-circuit, then he’ll probably have a fruitful career. The Detroit native invited viewers into his psychedelic mind via the Religious Values Network while actor Jonah Hill’s directorial steering captured the rapper’s battle with hard drugs while those surrounding him confusingly laugh at his usage. Although Brown has been open about his relationship to certain pills, it’s interesting to see him display it on an unabashed stage to show the horrors of drug abuse.
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Director: Dave Meyers & The Little Homies
This year, Lamar elevated the creativity of his videos through images that mean more than meets the eye. The Compton native mixed in flashy images of expensive threads or shooting cash out of a money gun to interpreting iconic religious paintings like The Last Supper or dressing up in a godly white robe like the pope.
Artist: J Balvin
Song: “Mi Gente” feat. Willy William
Director: 36 Grados/JP Valencia
The vibrancy will get you on your feet and mimic the dance moves within. The beat is already infectious, serving as the driving force to inspire you to shake it off. “By erasing barriers of races, colors, continents, genres or languages, we can achieve the whole world moving their head to the same beat.” ~ J. Balvin
Artist: French Montana
Song: “Unforgettable” feat. Swae Lee
Directors: Spiff TV & French Montana
Kampala, Uganda served as the backdrop for Montana’s “unforgettable” trip where he introduced the masses to a dancing troupe call the Triplets Ghetto Kids. Their debut stateside catapulted the young dancers’ from late night talk shows to our July cover feature on the Morocco-born rapper.
Song: “On My Mind” feat. Jorja Smith
Director: Hector Dockrill
The vibes runneth over while the burgeoning songstress effortlessly commands the room of confidants with her smooth tone. You’ll probably run it back twice.
Artist: A$AP Ferg
Song: “Plain Jane”
The du-rag connoisseur let his flap hang low from the mundane corridors of an apartment building to the streets of uptown NYC. Ferg’s mob were front and center with their bikes as their peddling matched the intensity of the A$AP Mob member’s lyrical delivery. This is just another scene that you might witness over the summer in the Big Apple.
Artist: Tyler, The Creator
Song: “Who Dat Boy” feat. A$AP Rocky
Director: Wolf Haley
The lyrical mad scientist that is Tyler, the Creator concocted a cinematic feature starring rapper-turned-plastic-surgeon A$AP Rocky. The doc stitched on a completely new face for the OFWGKTA member as he attempted to escape law enforcement for an unknown crime. Although the video started off a bit sinister, it ends on a pink and cheery note.
Artist: Chance the Rapper
Song: “Same Drugs”
Director: Jake Schreier
The philanthropist has a good relationship with real-life puppets and predicted his stint with Sesame Street when he debuted the video for “Same Drugs.” Although it’s a simplistic presentation, the insert of the puppets give the video a serene and tranquil feeling to match the words’ somber quality.
Artist: Kamasi Washington
Director: AG Rojas
Still shots of everyday life to isolation are contained within this Jazz musician’s 14-minute video. You’re left to your own senses to interpret the meaning of each image as Washington’s intricate instrumental guides your sensations.
Artist: Missy Elliott
Song: “I’m Better” feat. Lamb
Directors: Dave Meyers & Missy Elliott
The G.O.A.T. when it comes to music videos, Misdemeanor didn’t disappoint with this one. It was only right that she allow the legendary visionary Meyers to capture her sharp choreography and futuristic set-ups.
Director: Andrew Thomas Huang
The looks that Kelela served were priceless and slightly paid homage to a few R&B gatekeepers, namely Mary J. Blige with the blonde wig and black head scarf. The constant movement of the camera also keeps you engaged from start to finish.
Directors: DAPS & Quavo
The Atlanta trio escaped to their version of a winter wonderland equipped with highly-expensive furs, snowmobiles, and a cabin fit for three wise kings. Quavo also flexed his directing chops to bring to life The Revenant-like trap interpretation.
Song: “Young Dumb & Broke”
School is out and it’s time for you to think of your next plan of action before the next semester begins. But before you add to or create a vision board, allow the “Location” singer to take you down memory lane in a yearbook-like montage with students at Los Angeles’ University High School, including surprise cameos from entertainers Wayne Brady and Kel Mitchell. Basically, what high school dreams are made of.
Song: “Drew Barrymore”
Director: Dave Meyers
Sometimes, the most fun you’ll have will come from an unplanned or random night out on the town. For Grammy-nominated SZA, the New Jersey native and her friends brave NYC’s cold air to find move after move, and even brushed shoulders with the actual Drew Barrymore.
Director: David Camarena
Kehlani’s music always provides a breath of fresh air, especially when she sings on the pleasures of love. To match the hue of honey, the video is just as golden with its moments of flirtatious bliss and a world where it’s just two people getting to know each other with no strings attached.
Artist: Mike WiLL Made-It
Song: “Perfect Pint” feat. Rae Sremmurd, Kendrick Lamar & Gucci Mane
Gigantic pills falling from the sky, flying sea turtles that thrive off of air and not water, and Gucci Mane as an astronaut are just a few of the wacky images that exist in this alternate universe.