A celebration of the most creative promos from the last 10 years.
The last ten years have seen the music industry throw at us all sorts of visual albums, visualisers, vertical vids and lyric videos, throwing open the definition of what a music video is and can be as we head into a new decade.
More often than not though, the classic idea of a video set to three minutes or more of a song still hasn't gone away, and there's a lot to be said that there are still promos out there that sit comfortably alongside something expansive like Frank Ocean's Endless or a Janelle Monae ‘emotion picture.’
Below we've listed the 15 most creative, visually playful videos of the twenty-tens, taking into consideration sterling use of animation, VFX and in-camera tricks that you won't believe aren't CGI. To parse it down - and save our sanity - we avoided anything that was simply documentary-like in its gaze e.g. actors, camera, set, which is why you won't see something like David Bowie's Blackstar here, as no matter how surreal Bowie looked in that video, it's still one without that extra layer of artifice in camera.
What you'll find below are hyperactive cuts, otherworldly concepts and a whole host of puppets, creatures and animal costumes. Oh, and an awful lot of wasted paint, as you'll see. Count that as the biggest trend of the 2010s.
tUnE-yArDs - Water Fountain
Director: Joel Kefali
Puppets, 8-bit pixels and wacky animation - what sort of music video would you expect from a puppeteer turned art pop musician?
The video for Water Fountain is the most jam-packed of our selections, being based not on one concept spread over three minutes but instead sewn from a random bunch of studio shots, cartoon interludes and everything that director Joel Kefali could think to jam into three minutes and 22 seconds of insane creativity.
It's a great Tuneyards track, to boot.
Justice - Civilization
Director: Edouard Salier
For a song as epic as Civilization, only a whole other world could contain it, and that's exactly what Edouard Salier served up here in this promo for the lead single off Justice's second album, Audio Video Disco.
Monuments crash, the world ends - it's a video fit enough for (a) Queen.
Massive Attack ft. Young Fathers - Voodoo In My Blood
Director: Ringan Ledwidge
Urban moodsters Massive Attack started the decade with an underwhelming album, which they more than made up for with promising EPs and 12" singles that hinted at a follow-up which never came.
Of the various videos made for their bric-a-brac release schedule in the 2010s, the best had to be for Young Father collaboration Voodoo In My Blood, as starring her elegance Rosamund Pike.
Ringan Ledwidge's video is a sort of mash between Polanski's Possession and 2000s-era Doctor Who, with Pike's troubled figure going head to head with a mysterious floating orb. The stark simplicity of it all stays with you, making what must be Massive Attack's most memorable video since the 1990s.
Radiohead - Burn the Witch
Director: Chris Hopewell
If Massive Attack pretty much released one great video this decade, then the same could be said for fellow alternative veterans Radiohead.
The stop-motion delight of Burn the Witch is an intoxicating mix of Trumptonshire wholesomeness and Wicker Man wyrdness, another example of how child-like simplicity is the perfect breeding ground for wholesale creepiness.
Iglooghost - Clear Tamei
Director: Luke Gibson
Strobe Warning: Viewer discretion advised.
You'll have missed this one, a mad promo from electronic producer Iglooghost that provided some great interplay between live-action and 3D footage.
Clear Tamei was filmed in the environs of Joshua Tree National Park, and the hyperactive 3D visuals that are mixed in with the location shots are a fitting part of Iglooghost's idiosyncratic world-building.
The final result is much like a mutant take on the Monument Valley aesthetic, and also a digital update of those classic analogue videos from late '90s Warp. The gooey and gothic finale reminds us a little of cinema classic Under the Skin, too, and there's a colour-led interplay between good and evil that would make David Lynch proud.
Despite these influences though, Clear Tamei stands in its own right as a thrilling piece of art; mark our words, Luke Gibson will be someone to watch in the 2020s.
Now onto our top ten!
Toro Y Moi - Rose Quartz
Director: Lauren Gregory
Chaz Bear aka Toro Y Moi released a string of rock solid albums the last ten years, so much so that we can't even say the fantastic Rose Quartz was his absolute best track.
We can say though Lauren Gregory's mesmerising animated painting of a video was his defining visual, and dare not estimate how many hours of work it must have taken to animate each frame over of its four minutes of sightly sumptuousness.
Kali Uchis ft. Tyler, The Creator & Bootsy Collins - After The Storm
Director: Nadia Lee Cohen
As the 2010s saw fashion snapper Nick Knight become a noted music director after three decades in the game, rising star Nadia Lee Cohen made the same leap in just a matter of videos without even hitting 30.
After The Storm is a slight little funk jam in itself, and yet there's so much going on in this video, going beyond simply bringing Nadia's Lynchian photo style to life but imbuing it with animation and some hilarious styling of Tyler, the Creator (in his first appearance on our top 15 rundown.)
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pon Pon Pon
Director: Tamukai Jun
This decade's J-pop was defined by two acts: rocking trio (now duo) Babymetal, and the florescent electro-pop of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
For Kyary - real name Kiriko Takemura - it all began with debut video Pon Pon Pon gaining overseas attention, a rare thing for any J-popper. As a lot of Japanese pop promos prior to 2011 popped with equal parts colour and surreality, it's hard to say Pon Pon Pon crossed over simply for being so damn 'weird.' What probably made it resonate was how it prefigured everything to come with the looming Instagram generation: no-one could disagree that the bedroom Kyary dances in is perfectly 'grammable, full of trinkets and colours that would go on to rack up Likes for all sorts of normal folk in the years after. In fact, the whole video looks like it was filmed through a filter before the word 'filter' was even a thing - and all those floating eyeballs and weird things are basically those wacky AR masks all over Snapchat etc.
Look at the random American breakfast cereal box in her room for example, the sort of 'foreign' food brand worship that led to London's now infamous (and still popular) Cereal Killer cafe. We got a taste for all things quirkily ironic in the 2010s, and Kyary was the first to infect us.
Tyler, The Creator - Tamale
Director: Wolf Haley aka Tyler, The Creator
The one video on this list that has actually never been seen as the director intended, Tamale is once seen, never forgotten, with its giant cats, giant butts and tiny bouncing Tyler.
The visual prowess hints at a future visual career for Tyler, even when the actual Tamale part of the video is only two minutes long; the rest of the video is taken up by the much more laidback vision of Answer, which is equally worth a watch.
Tyler has gone on to make other acclaimed videos in recent years, but Tamale has perhaps not gotten the dues it deserves as it came from the 'backlash' era of his ascendancy, the album it came from (Wolf) deemed a disappointment by many.
Despite all the years gone by, nobody is yet to see the blurred part of the video that was deemed too controversial to broadcast. Including the scene in pixelated form instead of cutting it out altogether was another genius visual stroke on behalf of the artist, in a video full of many of them.
FKA Twigs - Water Me
Director: Jesse Kanda
Water Me not only turned out to be a calling card for then 25-year old rising star FKA Twigs, but director Jesse Kanda, too, who's gone on to become an in-demand producer and director for the likes of Bjork, along with becoming an acclaimed music act in his own right.
Anyone who saw Kanda's visuals knew FKA Twigs was one to watch; in fact, she probably became a feared figure thanks to the avatar used in Water Me.
Alien-like with anime eyes and spooky tears, FKA's face is the sole focus of the promo; the turquoise blue behind her is an inspired choice, accentuating the doll-like features daring us to look away.
There hasn't been a video like this since, and nor can we think of anything similar that may have inspired this. True god-like genius here from both artists.
Kanye West - BLKKK SKKKN HEAD
Director: Nick Knight
UK photographer Nick Knight defined the 1990s with iconic album art for Bjork and Massive Attack, and the 2010s saw no signs of him letting up, with glorious front cover shots for Lady Gaga and Kali Uchis and a decidedly marked uptick in music video output.
Of the two promos he did for Kanye this decade, we're going to go for Black Skinhead as our favourite, first for having some intimidatingly unrefined VFX work, and secondly for its masterful use of colour and iconography.
We didn't need any other colours than black and white for a song as stark as this, and an equally minimalist use of shapes never lets ghosts of the KKK slip our mind as one sits transfixed by certain pointed triangle shapes in Knight's video.
Ironically, the video was made before the world noticed the reemergence of the far right and Kanye's own controversy-baiting comments on slavery last year. Prophetic polemic indeed from the fifth best promo of the decade.
Duck Sauce - Big Bad Wolf
Director: Keith Schofield
Not only did you forget this video, but you also forgot this song.
The forgotten follow-up to one hit wonders Duck Sauce's Barbara Streisand is about - well, it's not about anything, it just has the lyrics 'Big Bad Wolf' repeated over and over. In any case, director Keith Schofield interpreted this as a reference to genitalia, and that's kinda what you get in this video, the funniest promo of the 2010s.
To say any more would be a spoiler; if you like this outrageous video, watch the much more SFW yet equally delirious MV to Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck's Heaven Can Wait, which missed out on this rundown by coming out one year too early for the 2010s.
Tame Impala - The Less I Know The Better
Best album this decade? Tame Impala's Currents comes close.
Third best video of the decade? Gotta be The Less I Know The Better, with its gorilla love rival, psychedelic basketballs and pop art animation.
Spanish collective CANADA really knocked it out of the park with this one, and we hope Tame Impala's next album in 2020 brings promos on this level of quality.
OK Go – The One Moment
Director: Damian Kulash
OK Go owned the decade in gimmicky, memorable promo videos, and in our eyes The One Moment remains their crowning achievement.
Four seconds long but slowed down to four minutes of flip books, explosions and no CGI, the video is a genuine technical marvel and will be hard for anyone to top in the next decade.
Gotye ft. Kimbra - Somebody That I Used To Know
Director: Natasha Pincu
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery as they say, and this is the only video on our list to be parodied endlessly by the online community.
Considering Somebody That I Used To Know was released in 2011, long before memes became even a thing your mum knew about, that's no mean feat.
When you have an arresting visual, though, anything's possible, and that's exactly what Natasha Pincu served up her nude actors, painted shapes and stop-motion trickery. As such, the video which came out at the start of the decade continues to be long remembered by its close, making it our best video of the 2010s.