The Top Music Videos of 2012

10. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”

[Dir. Romain Gavras]

It doesn’t take an expert to say: it hasn’t been the best decade for music videos. What works has been explored and re-explored far past the point of saturation, resulting in desperate attempts at grandeur and 1,001 takes (and counting) on “Thriller”. If it’s big, it’s overblown, if it’s small, it’s a pitiable, negligible afterthought, with poor Rick Ross stuck filming himself on a boat.

M.I.A., by very design, is incapable of such a bore. The complete dominance of character that defines Maya is both her greatest ally and worst enemy. The same attitude that led to the middle finger heard round the world allows for the ease with which she presents this visual masterpiece. Give the girl a few cars and she effortlessly gives us the most swagged out video of the year – 2 Chainz et al, move over.

“Bad Girls” is no cheap mass of stimuli, either. Perched casually filing her nails on a charging, sideways car M.I.A. isn’t simply combining some of Western cultures’ more absurd vices with the homeland of the track’s beat. By tapping into the contradictions inherent in our increasingly globalized pop culture, she equally exposes those existent within herself as an artist. M.I.A. is both the sexy, Westernized temptress and alluring, foreign beauty, forever meshing traditional World sounds with hyper-ventilating, boisterous pop frenzy. All this is present in what simultaneously manages to be one of the year’s most unabashed explosions of musical and visual ecstasy. Not bad, not bad at all.

Chase McMullen

09. Father John Misty – “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”

[Dir. Noel Paul]

Fear Fun, Josh Tillman’s first album under his new moniker Father John Misty, is a story of self-discovery through a series of experiences, often drug-fueled and not always healthy. The video for “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” ties into the style and themes of Fear Fun brilliantly. We pick up with the star of the video, Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, laying face down and bloody-nosed in the street, before flashing back to the night before, which sees her and friends mourning the loss of a friend. Plaza does a great job of conveying the deep sadness that she feels, not only at the loss of her friend, but at her character’s own depression and chemically-induced numbness towards life; crying her eyes out, slapping herself repeatedly, dancing amongst the others at the party but never seemingly with them, and ultimately destroying the record player, ruining the party, and running off into the woods. What happens out there is open to interpretation. The video manages to balance the discomfort of the situation with a lot of dark humour and a strangely magnetic attraction towards Plaza’s character, despite her odious nature. Tillman has admitted that Plaza’s character is essentially the version of himself that inhabits the songs on Fear Fun, so when the actual J. Tillman shows up at the end to peel Plaza off the street and lock her in the back of his van until she calms down, it makes sense. This is the sober, sensible side come to lock away the wild and emotional side so that he can get on with his life.

Rob Hakimian

08. Perfume Genius – “Hood”

[Dir. Winston H. Case]

The video for Perfume Genius’ “Hood” features the man behind the moniker, Mike Hadreas, shirtless and engaging in intimate and sexually-themed activities with another, also-shirtless man, played by gay porn star Arpad Miklos. On the surface the video could be taken as a blunt statement from Hadreas about his sexuality, but there’s much more to it than that; the video plays into “Hood”’s theme (and one of the main themes of the album Put Your Back N 2 It) of having to overcome his discomfort with the way outsiders will react to his homosexuality. Shot in a very personal and unflinching way, spending almost the whole time looking directly at the subjects’ faces, the video shows Hadreas at first almost refusing to acknowledge the big muscular man with his arms around him, but as the video progresses and Miklos gradually helps Hadreas adorn makeup, lipstick and a wig, the singer starts to acknowledge his love and reciprocate it. The video is a statement about how it’s alright to show the people you love who you really are, even if it makes you nervous or uncomfortable. It’s something that Hadreas has himself struggled to conquer, and succeeded in doing so – he put it best himself in an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year: “if Rick in Pittsburgh or whatever isn’t going to listen to my music because I’m gay, fuck it.”

Rob Hakimian

07. El-P – “The Full Retard”

[Dir. Timothy Saccenti]

Now, it’s an unspoken rule that most things in this world are made better when you add puppets. It’s simple, but true. El-P clearly knows this, which is why the video for the standout track off of his Cancer for Cure album depicts a drug-and-booze binge with an eye-patch-wearing puppet squirrel. From pounding shots with the likes of Killer Mike and Despot to driving around in a convertible Fear and Loathing-style, “The Full Retard” is ridiculous fun. It proves that watching a small squirrel perform deplorable acts can be infinitely entertaining, and it helps that El-P’s music is pretty damn good too. Perhaps unexpectedly, El-P’s lyrics are actually well-accompanied by a stuffed animal picking prostitutes up off the side of the road and then drinking himself half to death. “The Full Retard” reminds us that you don’t only have to litter your music videos with sex, drugs, and partying – you can sometimes add puppets too.

Eric Arredondo

06. DIIV – “How Long Have You Known”

[Dir. Grant Singer]

Picking up where the “Earl” video left off, Grant Singer’s clip for the Oshin standout features DIIV singer Z. Cole Smith brewing up his own special smoothie. Though instead of a hemorrhage inducing blend of illegal substances, Smith cooks up a mixture of, among other things, bits of a Nirvana tape, a watch, wires, CD shavings, a lava lamp, a portion of the American flag and lines from a book, all while his bandmates are performing in the next room. Perhaps in a bit of a metaphor for the band’s formula, as soon as Smith blends it all up, it reaches an explosive ending. It’s all done in a low fidelity VHS-driven aesthetic, and, while that can be off-putting, it increases the voyeuristic nature of the film – we get to watch Smith at work cooking up his craft, but we get to watch it bottle up and explode as well.

Colin Joyce