Over the past few decades, music videos have gone from promotional larks to a nascent cable network’s cornerstones to relics of an old promotional strategy to perhaps the single most important element of an artist’s rollout plan. A good music video can completely make an artist, or turn a song from a mild hit into a phenomenon. And since most of the Billboard charts now take streaming numbers into account when making calculations, a well-watched clip can be the difference between a write-off on your business expenses and chart dominance.
This was a pretty excellent year for music videos. Though there are only five picks below, they were culled from a list of several dozen, many of which served not only as vessels for excellent songs but also as gripping short films.
5. CHET FAKER, “GOLD”
What lurks on a stretch of lost highway? The dreamiest roller-skate action since Olivia Newton-John laced up for Xanadu. “Gold” scores because of its thrilling ambiguity: If you just want to enjoy some foxy ladies doing awesome skate tricks, then go right ahead. But there’s also a Lynchian weirdness lurking underneath that gives it an extra jolt of adrenaline.
4. SIA, “CHANDELIER”
Plenty of people paid homage (including Jim Carrey and Lena Dunham), but tiny leotarded pixie Maddie Ziegler outshone them all. This video is a definitive example of the format’s power: While “Chandelier” is definitely a great song, it probably wouldn’t have gotten the sort of attention it did were it not for the clip, especially considering how camera-shy Sia is.
3. FUTURE ISLANDS, “SEASONS (WAITING ON YOU)”
Frontman Sam Herring exorcised his dance-rock demons on Letterman and blew everyone—especially Dave—away. While obviously not as cinematic as some of the other videos on this list, Future Islands’ late-night performance of “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is as lively and kinetic as anything else on YouTube, and it did exactly what these things are supposed to do: It sold the idea of the band, and the song.
2. JENNY LEWIS, “JUST ONE OF THE GUYS”
By putting Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart, and Brie Larson in drag, Lewis made lady mustaches seem impossibly erotic. A smart, sly approach to a song (and a songwriter) who also shares those qualities.
1. IGGY AZALEA FEAT. CHARLI XCX, “FANCY”
A detail-obsessed ode to Clueless—that highway scene! Those knee socks!—that made everybody fall butt-crazy in love with Iggy. The nostalgia trip probably fueled a lot of the popularity of “Fancy,” but don’t get it twisted: Azalea is a star, and all she needed was the right role to convince the world that was true.