The MTV Video Music Awards twerked its way back into our lives last night, forcing those of us over thirteen to wonder if pop music is really this boring right now or if we’re just getting depressingly old. With the top award going to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” video, putting a trophy into the hands of a director widely accused of sexual misconduct against Miley-aged women, surely there must be room to acknowledge work more exciting than a pop star licking a sledgehammer.
That’s not to say that all videos on this year’s ballot are awful—after all, Sia’s formidable “Chandelier” video gifted us with proof of Lena Dunham’s interpretive dance skills. But there were many music videos by less popular artists from the past year that were far more inventive and engaging than a good portion of videos up for VMA awards. I can think of ten off the top of my head. So I did! Presented in no particular order, and not masquerading as an exhaustive list, below are music videos from this year that deserve your praise, if not only for being 100% twerk-free.
Hercules & Love Affair-- I Try to Talk to You
Finally, the video that everyone who loved Inception’s hallway fight scene has been waiting for. Following two Scruff poster boys caught in a frenetically choreographed love affair, the video perfectly captures the drama of John Grant’s pleading versus the song’s relentless beat. It also serves as a healthy reminder that there are better ways to sell sex than giving Drake a lap dance.
Years & Years--Real
Years & Years has been putting out consistently great work this year, including the excellent MGMT-clone video for their MGMT-clone song “Take Shelter.” Still, it doesn’t get much better than watching the band’s very creepy lead singer (yes, he IS that guy from that awful Greta Gerwig movie) judge dancers with his playing cards. I definitely would have given that second girl the ace of hearts, though.
Neon Trees--Sleeping with a Friend
The first of several videos on this list serving "Pee-wee’s Playhouse" realness (trend alert!), you really don’t even need your sound turned on to enjoy this hot mess of lip dresses and parachuting knives. Be warned, though, if you do turn your sound on, the song will be stuck in your head for about three weeks.
If “Sleeping with a Friend” is giving you Pee-wee’s Playhouse, “Water Fountain” ups the insanity to a Pee-wee’s Big Adventure level. Watch as tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus muses on death before flying through a kindergarten version of Wolfenstein 3D. Watch as a furry smears ketchup on his smock. There’s even a talking couch. “One potato, ten straws, science in action.”
Remember The Fiery Furnaces? No? Well Rubblebucket does, and they have been copy/pasting the Furnaces style into some excellent new stuff, with “Carousel Ride” and its accompanying video easily taking the cake. In fact, vocalist Kalmia Traver literally spends the video jailbreaking a cake monster from a candy factory. It’s Pee-wee with a blue-collar twist, in the most watchable way possible. Kalmia’s hypnotic, spastic dancing will have you researching ways to put YouTube videos on repeat.
Lana Del Rey--Shades of Cool
Is this cheating? Lana wasn’t absent from the VMAs, with her dreamy video for “West Coast” up for “Best Cinematography” (she lost, hopefully embarrassing whoever added the weird flames at the end). However, her better-by-far video for “Shades of Cool” was sadly missing from this year’s ballot. Shouldn’t Lana’s ability to pull off Pussy Galore at the same time as Club Silencio earn her a moonman statue? What if she throws in a little Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Well, it was worth a shot.
Two Weeks--FKA twigs
Katy Perry may hold the inexplicable-Egyptian-imagery crown after her “Dark Horse” won this year’s Best Female Video title, but she could learn a few Best Female Pharaoh lessons from FKA twigs’ “Two Weeks.” The magnetic presence of FKA twigs (AKA Tahliah Debrett Barnett) captivates for over four minutes without a single camera cut. She doesn’t even stand up. Bow down.
All We Are--Feel Safe
No, they aren’t trying to sell you an iPod. The shadowy figures of the “Feel Safe” video, and their brightly colored backgrounds, have a much more insidious presence, getting more unnverving as the song continues. Eventually, we end up with Twilight-esque sparkling skin, glowing red eyes, and hands crawling over bodies in the dark. In other words, like a gay bar. And who doesn’t love a gay bar?
Speaking of gay bars, if you thought they were the only sensible place for drag queens and mesh tops, Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas wants to prove you wrong. Any Perfume Genius video is worth watching for the way Hadreas’ face becomes a pouting baby when he sings. This one is particularly satisfying because you can watch it in the middle of the work day, between thankless tasks and Excel sheets, and remind yourself how good it would feel to withhold giant shrimp from the board of directors.
Jamie xx--Sleep Sound
Sometimes a music video is so much more interesting than its song that it makes the song seem better. Other times, the video concept is so transcendental it hardly matters what song it’s connected to (I’m looking at you OK Go videos). The video for (the actually pretty good song) “Sleep Sound” falls into this latter category. As the song plays, several deaf individuals share one-on-one dances with, and in response to, the dancing of the video’s director Sofia Mattioli. Feeling out the song’s rhythm through her movement, the deaf dancers shed light on music’s power to extend beyond the auditory into tactile and visual experience. It’s intimate, heady, and frankly awesome.