A great music video requires a few things: a captivating concept, expert execution and, yes, a good song. This year produced lots of memorable — and sometimes meme-able — clips for our viewing pleasures, from fun GIF-able moments by Drake and Nicki Minaj to socially conscious statements by Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels that really left an impression on its audience.
Hit play on the 20 best music videos of 2015 below.
Kalle Mattson, ‘Avalanche’
Kalle Mattson expertly pays homage to 35 of his favourite album covers in “Avalanche” by personally recreating each one. From classic covers by Bob Dylan (Blonde on Blonde) and Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run) to the more surprising picks of Backstreet Boys (Millennium) and Jay Z (Blueprint), Mattson pulls off each and every single one with panache and a wink of humour.
“Miniskirt” is a gorgeously shot music video, but it’s also a profound analysis of the ties between femininity and nature. Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston liberates herself from societal ideals of beauty by rising above rows of flowers nurtured inside greenhouses – which are groomed and packaged to adhere to a specific idea of style and elegance – and dancing to the beat of her own drum.
Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal, ‘Feel Right’
A young boy, with the voice of rapper Mystikal, dominates a talent show proving all his haters wrong. (“This performance is dedicated to all the player-hating teachers that won’t let a little gangsta shine,” the boy wrote in a note read out loud before he hit the stage.) This natural born entertainer has a bright future ahead of him.
Nicki Minaj feat. Beyoncé, 'Feeling Myself’
Nicki Minaj was right to feel robbed when “Feeling Myself” wasn’t nominated for video of the year at the MTV Video Music Awards. Two of music’s biggest stars came together in a celebration of pleasure, power and female friendship and the result was absolutely flawless. (Preview below; watch the full video on Tidal.)
Shred Kelly, ‘Sing to the Night’
A carefully choreographed music video is already tough enough, but throw in elements of snow, skiing (including some impressive jumps!), hula hoops and cartwheels and the stakes are suddenly sky-high. Shred Kelly’s single-shot video for “Sing for the Night” definitely gets points for complexity and amazing execution and the end credits show just how much work went into it.
Frazey Ford, ‘Done’
Frazey Ford is done and she is ready to move on, literally, by dancing away her troubles. The music video for “Done” follows Ford as she and her friends strut around and dance through Vancouver, charging forward and never looking back.
Drake, ‘Hotline Bling’
“Hotline Bling” became one of the biggest meme machines of 2015 with its James Turrell-inspired set and, most importantly, those dance moves. Drake has proven that he’s always at his best when he’s in on the joke (remember when he used everyone’s Meek Mill memes at OVO Fest?) so it makes total sense that he would create content ripe for online gags. All jokes aside, though, “Hotline Bling” is still objectively a great video.
Sleater-Kinney, ‘No Cities to Love’
Oftentimes, famous faces are recruited to lip-sync along to a song in a music video, but Sleater-Kinney decided to get their friends to actually sing in “No Cities to Love.” Many of the people featured in the video are not professional singers (actors Ellen Page, Norman Reedus, Natasha Lyonne and Sarah Silverman all make appearances), but they did do their best renditions of the song which included endearing attempts to sing the guitar riff.
Alessia Cara, ‘Here’
Time moves slowly when you’re at a terrible house party and that’s exactly where Alessia Cara is in the video for “Here.” Cara recreates the party that inspired the song and even hires her friends to be in the video. The results perfectly illustrate the monotony of social outings for “anti-social pessimists.”
Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘Run Away With Me’
It’s hard not to get swept away in the giddy rush of emotions in “Run Away With Me.” The video, shot by Jepsen’s boyfriend David Kalani Larkins, follows Jepsen around the world. But instead of turning it into a typical tour collage, Jepsen is seen simply having a good time roaming around busy city streets, karaoke bars and hotel rooms, all fueled with a joyous sense of rare spontaneity.
Shamir, ‘Call It Off’
This disco dance number gets an equally fun video treatment as a bored retail worker, played by Shamir, transforms into a puppet and dances around with his puppet friends. If only we could all escape our mundane realities by entering an animated felt realm.
Sia, ‘Elastic Heart’
Dancer Maddie Ziegler and singer-songwriter Sia were one of music’s most dynamic couples last year when they put together a powerful, choreographed number for 2014’s “Chandelier.” That partnership continued this year when they released “Elastic Heart.” The project introduced actor Shia LaBeouf to Sia’s musical universe and together, he and Ziegler brought “Elastic Heart” to life as two duelling parts of Sia’s internal dialogue. The results are as dynamic as Sia’s driving melodies
The Elwins, ‘So Down Low’
Stop-motion videos are a long, laborious task but The Elwins pulled it all off with some patience and a lot of sticky notes. The three-minute video is a creative exercise in animation as the band members come to life on pieces of post-it notes. The project gets even more ambitious when members create a large-scale moving canvas that features Pac-Man .
The rapper takes us on an extensive tour of North America in four minutes in “Preach.” This video is the ultimate tour diary, cutting together clips of SonReal posing and rapping in locations across Canada and the U.S., and in some instances, multiple SonReals appear onscreen.
David Bowie, ‘Blackstar’
This 10-minute opus is rich with imagery for fans of the iconic artist. There are nods to religion, Bowie portraying a blind prophet, scarecrows, haunting choreography (which was influenced by Popeye cartoons) and a dead spaceman that has sparked many Major Tom theories. While it’s hard to draw a definitive narrative from this video, it’s still a fantastical visual journey worth going through
Kendrick Lamar, ‘Alright’
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is one of the year’s best albums, an album that perfectly captured America’s year of struggle with racism and police brutality. “Alright” serves as a flickering light of hope, a reminder that in times of hopelessness that we must grasp on to anything positive to get us through it. In this clip, which is bound to become a classic people continue to return to in the future, Lamar is a Christ-like figure who floats across Los Angeles, spreading hope to others until his ultimate demise atop a lamppost.
Editor's note: strong language warning.
Run the Jewels, ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to F--k)’
Another stunning video that provides necessary social commentary on the state of police brutality in America is Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F--k).” The clip follows a black man and a white cop engage in an extended struggle that eventually exhausts itself proving the inevitable pointlessness of all this unnecessary violence.
Editor's note: strong language warning.
Never one to shy away from politics, M.I.A.’s powerful video for “Borders” tackles the refugee crisis head on by recreating the struggles of people trying to flee their countries. “Borders, what’s up with that/Politics, what’s up with that/Police shots, what’s up with that/Identities, what’s up with that?” M.I.A. asks as she travels by land and sea with large groups of refugees.
Grimes, ‘Flesh Without Blood’
Grimes’ new album Art Angels features many characters and perspectives. In the music video for her lead single “Flesh Without Blood,” we are introduced to four of the album’s main players: Skreechy Bat, I.V., the Kill v. Maim vampire and Roccoco Basilisk. It’s a colourful, vibrant look into the Art Angels universe.
British star Adele has praised Canadian songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr. a lot for their collaboration on 25, but he wasn’t the only Canadian she worked with. Filmmaker Xavier Dolan directed the beautiful sepia-toned video for Adele’s lead single “Hello,” which has already racked up over 650 million views on YouTube. It’s also arguably the most successful commercial for flip phones in recent memory