Saturday, 17 December 2011

Best Music Videos of 2011: Part 1

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m fairly particular about what makes a good music video. A music video can’t just be ‘a video with music’ or ‘music with a video attached’ – the song and the visuals have to complement, and enhance, each other. The visuals in the music video can’t be too literal or too abstract, either: get too literal, and the song loses most of its impact; get too abstract, and you might as well have any song playing over those visuals, for all we care.

It’s a delicate balance – and one that’s utterly meaningless to a lot of record companies, I’m sure; why bother with ‘enhancing both the music and the visuals’ when you can just throw a bunch of people on a dance floor, add some blatant product placement, and be done in a couple of hours?

It won’t be a surprise, then, that the following music videos are largely by bands and artists that fall under the category of ‘indie musicians’. A few of these videos are from major label artists, though – which I found occasionally surprising, as far as these things go.


It’s harder to shoehorn music videos into a numbered list, considering we’re dealing with the often intangible marriage of music and visuals, so I’ve come up with a compromise of sorts. I’ve decided to arrange these videos in a list (mostly for posterity), but it’s a loosely-structured kind of list. Basically, the good ones are here in Part 1, and you can find the really good ones in Part 2.

Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
You could argue that the video for Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” is at its core quite similar to what the band did in 2009 for “Strawberry Swing”, but what makes the video for “Waterfall” shine is its ability to capture the sheer energy and emotional abandon of the song while taking it in a pleasantly distinct direction. Sure, Chris Martin’s constant gesturing towards his heart gets a bit vexing after a while, but the video pops with colour, and you have to give the director props for letting Will Champion occupy the screen for his drum solo at the end.


Feist – “How Come You Never Go There”
That Feist’s video for “How Come You Never Go There” is so stylistically different from anything she’s done before may be startling for those who got hooked on her music through the “1234” iPod ads. Still, once you get past the initial shock of a music video being in black and white – what outrage! – and that Feist is sporting a hairdo that would put Rubeus Hagrid (and possibly Bjork) to shame, you start to realize how effective “How Come You Never Go There” is at conveying the pensive nature of Feist’s vocals and the song’s overall feeling of isolation.


Jill Barber – “Tell Me”
It was wise of Jill Barber to start her video for “Tell Me” with its ending; it ratchets up the level of anticipation, for one, and it adds a rather sinister undertone to Barber’s vocals that isn’t really present in the song itself. They go a little overboard with the James Bond theme at times, but it’s still an elegant, well-directed video that never sacrifices the smoothness of the song for some sort of high-pitched, ill-considered melodrama – and for that, I’m truly grateful.


Katy Perry – “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”
I’m as surprised as anyone that Katy Perry made this list, let alone the video for “Last Friday Night”, a song so cheesy you could serve it as a party dip and nobody would notice. And yet the video for “Last Friday Night” took me by surprise, serving not only as a sort of salve for the ‘music videos’ put out this year by a certain Ms. Germanotta, but also for how an attractive woman like Perry elected to transform herself into a decidedly unappealing alter-ego. Both Perry and the video aren’t afraid to poke fun at the throwaway nature of pop music, either – the cameo by Rebecca Black should clue the viewer in to that fact, at least.


The Decemberists – “Calamity Song”
The Decemberists’ video for “Calamity Song” has attracted considerable attention for its recreation of a scene from David Foster Wallace’s epic novel Infinite Jest, but the beauty of the video is that you don’t have to have read a single page of Wallace’s work to get a general appreciation for what’s going on. Naturally, it would help, but Colin Meloy’s lyrics and the way the set is structured make the video a work that stands largely on its own. Who knew kids endlessly pelting each other with tennis balls could be so much fun?


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