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The music video of 2012 was an unpredictable and form-flouting phenomenon. Exploring and inverting tropes wherever it could, the hackneyed promotional tool became so much more than that this year – artists like TOPS and Blood Orange used it to subvert patriarchal video norms, producer Actress had his attention caught by an unofficial video and used it to bridge the gap between artist and fan, and Kindness used his music videos to make a comment or three on the very form itself.
Read on to find out which 20 videos were our favourite of these turbulent and surprising 12 months, in no particular order.
Kindness – Gee Up
This video from Adam Bainbridge, AKA Kindness, is just one example of the deeply intelligent ways in which he played around with the form of pop music this year, breaking free of perceived limitations to engage his audience in entirely new and challenging ways. His other videos, for House and Cyan, are just as clever, but it’s the meta-video structure of Gee Up that makes it a true stand-out example of the sideways look that pop music took at its visual counterpart this year.
Grimes – Oblivion
Grimes did what she does best in her 2012 breakthrough video Oblivion – re-assessing and re-appropriating the tropes and the boundaries of pop culture, in this case showing how little she cares for hyper-masculinised imagery by setting herself in the middle of it with a pair of isolating headphones. This is the video that made the world notice this one-of-a-kind artist.
Blood Orange – Champagne Coast
Dev Hynes’ cooing track Champagne Coast found a liberating expression in the bedroom-dancing format of this Haley Wollens-directed video; honeys dancing in music videos are nothing new, but doing it for themselves rather than a room full of pawing eyes – not to mention in an animated, Tumblr-ised personal space – makes a refreshing and quite lovely change.
Mykki Blanco – Wavvy
Straight from the sinister and slick imagination of photographer and filmmaker Francesco Carrozzini, the video for Mykki Blanco’s name-making single Wavvy was a study of indulgence and excess. While these are familiar themes in the rap game, Mykki was part of a wave of rappers who played around with the hip hop “rules” in 2012, filtering these familiar tropes through unfamiliar, innovative and exciting means – one of those means being this outstanding video.
Real Life – Deeper
Shot by film-maker Rollo Jackson (responsible for the wonderful Tape Crackers), this grimily charming short is a slice of Dalston life, playing up the tales of “lads’ night out” excess and loneliness that the London trio play tribute to on Deeper.
Drake feat. Lil’ Wayne – HYFR
Having a re-bar mitzvah. Crashing your own re-bar mitzvah. Getting Lil Wayne to rap in a hat that makes him look like a panda. Baking a cake with your face on it. Smashing a cake with your face on it. These are all things you get to do when you’re Drake.
Actress – IWWAD
This vision of digital decay, as created by artist Nic Hamilton for an unofficial video to Actress’ rave echoing IWWAD, caught the eye of the producer’s Werkhaus art/music collective who went on to commission him to make a video for Lukid’s USSR. That 2012 life.
Funkineven & Fatima – Phone Line
Jam City – The Courts
Delightfully simple and knowingly kitsch, this visual for Jam City’s conceptual corker The Courts took the time to reflect a good 5,000 years of human civilisation through an array of glistening, dizzying cultural debris, all set against the rush and race of the basketball court (which may or may not be a metaphor for modern capitalist life, we haven’t quite decided yet).
M.I.A. – Bad Girls
Few videos did more to up the exposure of their accompanying track in 2012 than Bad Girls. In this garish thrill ride, M.I.A took the initially muted reception for the single and catapulted it to stellar new heights, and while she was at it, she made drifting look like just about the most fun thing anybody could ever hope to do, ever.
Jessie Ware – Wildest Moments
Just as Jessie Ware really started her ascension into the collective consciousness, she shared this elegant, minimalist visual, which refuses to pander to pop video clichés. It’s a triumph in simplicity, with Jessie achieving more beauty just in the movement of her eyes than to be found in the bloated budgets of most major label efforts.
Kuedo – Ascension Phase
This visual created by Konx-om-Pax and Sabrina Ratté appears to take place inside of a pinball machine, circa 1993. Which is wonderful enough in itself, not counting for the fact that it provides a near perfect retro-futuristic accompaniment to the spitfire beats of this track from Kuedo’s still-extraordinary Severant LP.
Azealia Banks – Atlantis
Azealia Banks confused everyone when she decided to use the absurd fad genre of seapunk to visualise her track Atlantis. Implications aside, the video sees the Harlem rapper return to the goofball antics that gave her puerile lyrics such a loveable and hilarious soft edge back when 212 took over our lives, and as a result it’s Banks’ best moment of 2012.
Twigs – Hide
An exceptional exercise in tension, the debut video for singer-songwriter Twigs burns itself into your retinas and worms its way under your skin with its blunt provocation and yet somehow un-bodily, mechanical straightness. Simple, but unforgettable.
Only Real – Cinnamon Toast
With little rhyme or reason, the youthful head-rush of this video is one of the several things that got us excited about the rising West Londoner Only Real this year; 2013 is bound to deliver several more.
TOPS – Diamond Look
In another video on our list that somehow distorts the “male gaze” model of stereotypical music videos, Canadian band TOPS went for a very straightforward, tongue-in-cheek approach with their ode to the male torso in the video for Diamond Look.
Solange – Losing You
With the so-simple-it’s-genius combination of Solange – one of the most stylish women in music – sublime pop production from Dev Hynes, the sun-washed landscapes of South Africa and the innovative elegance of the Sapeurs, Losing You is a great video, embodying the easy, ephemeral fun of summer months.
Thundercat – Walkin’
Filmmakers who want to make something that feels huge without a huge space or budget to work with: Thundercat shows you how it’s done (and has a lot of fun while doing so).
The xx – Chained
Submersion, slowness, simplicity – the themes that dominate the video for The xx’s Chained are also themes that encapsulate the claustrophobic and careful mastery of their music. Swimming wide-eyed underwater, the band maintain a trademark level of distance in this lovely clip, and yet they also reveal themselves in the most intimate, face-on portrait they’ve given of themselves to date.
SpaceGhostPurrp – Tha Black God
SpaceGhostPurrp ticks all the boxes here: the half-naked girls, the convertibles, the all-in free-spending poker games, the inevitable flumes of smoke. But as was mirrored by his ally-turned-rival A$AP Rocky for the Harlem rapper’s Goldie video, in 2012 hip hop swag seemed to be at it’s most effective when it was being subtly deconstructed and morphed into something downright sinister.