Yes, they still make music videos. Good ones, too. From blog-favourites like Lana Del Rey and Tyler, the Creator to major label stars Kayne and Jay-Z, from Montreal’s vibrant art scene to Seattle’s cold forests, the form is alive and well.

So let’s get to it, shall we? Behold, the class of 2011:

15. Dirty Beaches - “Lord Knows Best” (dir. Zoe Kirk-Gushowaty)

“Lord Knows Best”, a contender for my favourite tune of the year, feels beamed in from some lost AM radio signal. Like the rest of Dirty Beaches’ music it loses something whenever creator Alex Zhang Hungtai and his modern life become apparent, when one is reminded that, yeah, it’s from 2011. But the idea of “anonymity” is pretty passe right now, so Hungtai appears front-and-center, doing his best ‘50s crooner impression in front of the mirror. It walks a thin line between nostalgia and kitsch, but isn’t that the point?

14. Beyoncé - “Countdown” (dir. Adria Petty)

Controversy over plagiarism . The idea that, apparently, it now fits the standard of “too weird” for chart success. These factors and fate itself stopped “Countdown” before it really went anywhere, but squabbling aside, God-damn if it’s not the most energetic clip of the year, a utilization of all things – colour, composition, movement, editing – that used to make major label music videos “events.” The fact that Beyoncé’s best song is also one of her biggest flops is pretty depressing, but then I listen again and, in the moment, could care less.

13. The Head and the Heart - “Lost in My Mind” (dir. Christian Sorensen Hansen)

“Lost in My Mind”, from Seattle-based group The Head and the Heart, isn’t the most creative video of the year, but as a good ol’ Canadian boy with endless memories of headphones in the cold snow, it brought the biggest grin to my face. It’s simple, yes, but feels like the video thousands of fans imagined in their head before seeing it. It’s warm and inviting, fitting the band's appeal like a mitten.

Related: TORO's interview with The Head and the Heart

12. Beastie Boys - “Make Some Noise” (dir. MCA)

Technically this clip for “Make Some Noise” is excerpted from the Fight For Your Right Revisited short film, which could easily top this list on its own. But that would be cheating. Even if you don’t have time to watch it in full, “Make Some Noise” works as an homage to the band’s better days, a summation of the famous friends they’ve made along their way, and a showcase for their best single in years.

Related: Beastie Boys album review

11. The Lonely Island feat. Akon - “I Just Had Sex” (dir. Akiva Schaffer)

“I Just Had Sex” is king of all the music videos / digital shorts / whatever The Lonely Island have produced. It’s a goof, yeah, but a sincere one, in that the guys and their special guest Akon seem to be enjoying themselves not out of irony or exaggeration, but because they’ve accidently stumbled on a real live Pop Hit. One that communicates, in the most obscene and awkward way possible, something every adult male can identify with. Like, who doesn’t want to pat themselves on the back after getting laid?

Related: Lonely Island album review

10. Oneohtrix Point Never - “Replica” (dir. Daniel Lopatin)

Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project is known for re-appropriation, both visual and audio, and “Replica” is one of his best switcheroos. By selecting footage from the obscure, Tom and Jerry-esque Russian cartoon Nu, pogodi!, slowing it to a crawl, and soundtracking it with his own haunting music, Lopatin achieves what dozens of amateur Youtube fanboys can only dream of: he makes source footage his own. You probably don’t have any memories of Nu, pogodi! to speak of, but stream “Replica” a few times, find original episodes to watch, and wonder how anyone could think of it as innocent kid’s stuff.

09. Socalled - “Work With What You’ve Got” (dir. Caleb Beyers)

The song “Work With What You’ve Got” is cheerful, innocent, and positive. It gets a simple message across without sounding forced, an achievement visual interpretation could have easily ruined. Thankfully director Caleb Beyers doesn’t overdo it, and his video has just the right amount of quirk and absurdity. You’ll feel empowered, whether your problems are as dire as a headful of plants or not.

Related: TORO's interview with Socalled.

08. Low - “Try to Sleep” (dir. Travis Schneider)

Low seems like the last band in the world to fall back on stunt casting, and lucky for us the appearance of John “Uncle Jesse” Stamos in this clip for “Try to Sleep” isn’t used for irony. It turns out he’s just a great leading man for their mini-movie about two people starring in their own mini-movie, a clip that makes the song feel even more like life’s closing theme.

Related: TORO's interview with Low

07. Death Grips - “Full Moon (Death Classic)” (dir. Flatlander)

In terms of approximating the music, the most successful video of the year is this disorienting, nausea-inducing clip from Death Grips. It puts MC Ride front-and-centre, surrounds him with noise and fury, and leaves you to clean up your own mess. The song was, for whatever reason, left off the group’s great Exmilitary mixtape; maybe too rough to play with others?

06. Data Romance - “The Deep” (dir. Alistair Legrand)

Music videos have, for decades, done well by simply putting a camera to great performers, and “The Deep” from Vancouver duo Data Romance is no exception. Granting a stage to dancer Lil Buck and his crew, the clip alternates between primitive and modern movement, tasteful colours and grungy costumes. It’s not something you could easily recreate in your living room, but that probably hasn’t stopped an army of inspired students from trying. 

Related: TORO's interview with Data Romance

Related: Date Romance live @ TORO

05. Youth Lagoon - “Montana” (dir. Tyler T. Williams)

I wasn’t a huge fan of Tree of Life, the default Art movie of 2011, and I think this clip for Youth Lagoon’s signature track “Montana” gets done in five minutes what Terrence Malick sort-of achieved in 139; both share personal, decade-specific nostalgia with an audience of thousands, but Tyler T. Williams’ direction is gentler, warmer, and built from a kind of simple brevity Malick couldn’t even imagine. I’m not saying “Montana” should get an Oscar nod or anything, but Williams knows the limits of his medium and fits his own story perfectly within them.

04. Tyler, the Creator - “Yonkers” (dir. Tyler, the Creator)

I don’t care what your blog is pushing: Odd Future are a fucking novelty act. That said, in small doses their schtick can be truly effective, which is why this clip for OF founder Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” stuck such a deep nerve this year. In stark B&W Tyler spits lyrics and vomit, then hangs himself before getting to the verse about stabbing the hypothetical bloggers who would, it turns out, essentially hand him his career. It’s an act of self-censorship, something I wish Tyler had utilized more on his overlong slog of an album Goblin.

03. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - “Bubble” (dir. Elliot Dear) 

Singer/songwriting King Creosote and producer Jon Hopkins collaborated on the album Diamond Mine, combining glitchy electronic production with pastoral, very anglo-European folk music. The result wasn’t always successful, sometimes sounding like The Postal Service remixing Luke Kelly, and sometimes sounding like Coldplay, but it bred this gorgeous clip for “Bubble.” Like the music it melds digital and analog artistry, but its creation is hard to think about when the images are so rich.

2. Jay-Z and Kanye West - “Otis” (dir. Spike Jonze)

“Otis” is so simple, it’s hard to believe it came from Spike Jonze, the guy who turned “concept” into a music video keyword. Just two guys basking in the sun, foregrounding their square American flag, doing donuts in their homemade Batmobile. Soulful? Not really, but it sure looks like fun. 

Related: Watch the Throne album review

01. Lana Del Rey - “Video Games” (dir. Lana Del Rey)

Lana Del Rey’s eerie ode to fucking with the camcorder on will be remembered as the first (and maybe last) genuine hipster blog/Youtube crossover hit, even if her career has fizzled by next March. It’s a great song in the first place, slow but insistent, but the clip cements it; Del Rey’s vamping is mysterious even as she now risks overexposure, her mix of stock and pop culture clips intriguing even after repeating the idea twice more. In short, “Video Games” transcends whatever hope or hate you might hold for its artist and earns the attention it's brought her.

Related: Lana Del Rey concert gallery

Also check out our picks for Best Albums of 2011

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