The 10 Best Music Videos Of 2012 That Are Not Gangnam Style
by Eric Spiegelman
• Justice — “New Lands”
A summary of the rules of the futuresport played in Justice’s video for “New Lands”:
Play begins when batter hits the neutron ball fired at him by the cannon-pitcher. A successful hit finds its way into the possession of the roller-lacrosse attackman, who skates around the banked circumference track while avoiding the opposing team’s motocross defensemen and safeties armed with warhammers. The attackman passes the ball to the wide receiver, who runs downfield toward the end zone. A touchdown is worth 12 points, except when it’s worth 8 points.
This list of the 10 best music videos of 2012 are in no particular order, but they are divided into two rough categories, one of stories, the other of portraits. “New Lands” is a modern classic of the stylized dramatic nonsense story. There’s a room full of wealthy men who intend to win at all costs. They have a cyborg who kills the underdog team’s wide receiver. In a final act of defiance and pure will, the underdogs rally after halftime, and their star batter destroys the cyborg by smashing him in the face with a bat, which is, apparently, a legal maneuver.
• Aimee Mann — “Charmer”
The next great story video of 2012 is “Charmer,” by Aimee Mann. Aimee Mann is weary of the obligations that come from being a star musician. So at the recommendation of John Hodgman, she buys her own robot, an Aimee Mann lookalike, who also looks like Laura Linney. The robot is good at the job — too good. It takes over Aimee Mann’s career, overshadowing her, and, in a final indignity, signs autographs but spells Aimee Mann’s name wrong. Perhaps this isn’t a mistake. Perhaps the robot has become self aware, and is building a name for itself as Amy Mann. This is a cautionary tale about letting the soulless automatons of the music industry run your career for you, maybe.
• Father John Misty — “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is my personal favorite of the year but I won’t put that kind of pressure on you to agree or disagree. I was transfixed by Aubrey Plaza’s portrayal of someone so distraught by death that she goes a little crazy. Unless I’m completely making this up, Father John Misty changed the video several months after initially uploading it. In the original version, Aubrey Plaza runs into the forest after the grief party (note to anyone who still knows me in 60 years: I want my funeral to have a grief party) and has sex with some phantasm succubus. In the new version, the succubus is replaced with one of the party guests, whom Aubrey Plaza kills. Oddly, I think the first version made more sense. Inexplicable bits of absurdity always seem to pop up during periods of grief. I’d prefer to believe whatever Aubrey Plaza went through was so intense that things got supernatural.
• Die Antwoord — “Baby’s On Fire”
Die Antwoord’s “Baby’s On Fire” tells the story of a little sister who stands up against the sexist hypocrisy of her family’s moral code. Her big brother spends all his time in the naked company of tarted-up pairs and quartets of women, yet he won’t let his sister have a boyfriend, whom she selects exclusively from a pool of talented motorists. The brother gets his in the end, and the Die Antwoord brand of feminism carries the day.
• Kanye West — “No Church In The Wild”
Kanye West’s “No Church In The Wild” is the Occupy movement taken to its most violent extreme. The video’s director, Romain Gavras, has a talent for choreographed violence and its portraying its relationship to authority. In his video for Justice’s “Stress,” a roving gang of outcasts extracts authority from wanton destruction. In M.I.A.’s “Born Free,”, the police who harness indiscriminate violence to enforce security (against some unspecified ginger threat). “No Church in the Wild” puts these two forces into direct conflict. It ends with no clear victor, which is perhaps the message. It ends also with an elephant.
• Major Lazer — “Get Free”
Away from the stories, and on to the portraits! The video for “Get Free” by Major Lazer is my other favorite, on account of it being the single most delightful dose of cinema to cross my Internet this year. One of the lyrics is, “we could never get free” — but the action is all Jamaicans doing simple joyous things. In that way it comes off as defiant, a “this world will never get me down” bit of rebellion. Try to watch this and not feel happy with what you have.
• Odd Future — “Oldie”
This video was mostly unplanned. Terry Richardson was shooting the Odd Future Wolf Gang Etc. Etc. kids for something, and Tyler the Creator decided to turn the entire thing into an impromptu video shoot for the ten-minute-long “Oldie.” The result is something similar to watching any Beastie Boys interview from 30 years ago. So much fun, it makes you wish you were one of the gang.
• Joey Bada$$ — “Waves”
I’ve placed a lot of expectation — unfairly, I’m sure — on the shoulders of Joey Bada$$: that his Pro Era crew will be, if not the anti-Wolf Gang, then at least the East Coast equivalent, sparking an east/west “rivalry” reminiscent of Tupac/Biggie although hopefully less violent. Maybe that would heal us. More likely it would feel like things are being glossed over. Either way, Joey Bada$$ sounds like the hip hop I grew up with, from a time just before murder was marketing, and this video is half nostalgic, even though he probably doesn’t care what some old guy thinks he’s reminiscent of. Whatever. It’s chill as fuck.
• Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — “Thrift Shop”
Here is a list of items found by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis in their video for “Thrift Shop” that I wish I owned: A DeLorean. A leopard mink (preferably one that does not smell of urine). A sweater with a ten-point buck on it. Velcro sneakers. Various JFK tapestries. A Wild Wild West pinball machine. A t-shirt with Kurt Cobain’s face on it. A globe that lights up.
I do have a bag of my grandfather’s ties. They’re all very wide and have government seals on them. Bald eagles and such. I should wear them.
• LOL Boys — “Changes”
I have a soft spot for DIY videos, where people take whatever means they have at their disposal and make things with it. “Changes” by the Tumblrcore ensemble “LOL Boys” is a particularly good example of this. Filmed entirely in screengrabs and with iSight cameras built into MacBooks and iMacs, it reflects the culture from which their music buds with a kind of honesty and openness that you really want to see in any form of filmed entertainment. But most of all it’s just people having fun in this Internet world that’s become the new norm.
• Bonus 11th Video: Killer Mike — “Reagan”
Dave Bry and I had an argument about which of the best rap videos belong on this list. He recommended “Reagan” by Killer Mike. I thought it was “too conspiracy theory,” to which Dave responded: “The politics of a piece of art has nothing to do with the success or failure of that art as art. And that video looks amazing — like a hip-hop ‘The Wall.’ And the song is great. Whether or not you buy into its message.”
So, you decide.
Previously in 2012 In Review: 100 Fantastic (Not Best!) Songs From 2012