If you’re anything like us, a big part of your childhood was spent obsessively watching and rewatching best music video countdowns at the end of each week. The art of the music video has changed quite a bit since then. Music videos are now infused with deeper narratives and concept direction, that focus on storytelling and embody styles of the artists themselves. The accessibility of these videos has increased their awareness dramatically, connecting us to artists that weren’t already on our radar. Music videos have revolutionized music entertainment over the last 40 years, so it’s only right we highlight our favourites released in the last year, as we prepare for 2022. From videos with hilarious narratives to thoughtful and detail-oriented direction; here are 21 music videos we loved in 2021.
“Family Ties” by Baby Keem & Kendrick Lamar
You can’t look away from this video. Seriously, we dare you to try. The storytelling and creative direction are unmatched, making for mind-blowing compositions. Which is no surprise to anyone familiar with Director Dave Free. Beloved artist IDK seems to agree because he went out of his way to tweet “Family Ties by Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar is the best music video I’ve seen in rap” shortly after it was released. And with a guest appearance by Normani, what more could you ask for?
“t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” by WILLOW ft. Travis Barker
Indulge in the fantastical visual quality of pop-punk futurism that is the “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” music video. WILLOW takes us on a ride through a seemingly underground grunge club and she is embodying total bad-assery. This video bridges the gap between long-time Blink 182 and dance-pop fans. All paired with a fisheye lens. And we love a fisheye lens.
“Brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo
Name a stronger duo than Olivia Rodrigo and Petra Collins, we’ll wait. This iconic music video is full of teenage angst, attitude, 2000s trends, and a slew of visual effects resembling social media filters and gamification. Truly a reflection of the times. Olivia Rodrigo may not know how to parallel park, but she can drive one killer music video home.
“Need To Know” by Doja Cat
Doja Cat never serves anything mid, all she knows is slay. She elevates the usual in-the-club music video with alien utopia realness. Naturally, Grimes makes an appearance because what’s an intergalactic paradise without her? This video will leave you fantasizing about taking a vacation to Planet Her.
“From The Garden” by Isaiah Rashad ft. Lil Uzi Vert
A cinematic abstract masterpiece! This video is intoxicatingly mesmerizing and can leave you in a trance-like state. Director and editor Omar Jones is a master of his craft, transporting you into the video’s dimension. You do not want to sleep on this one, it is a feast for your eyes.
“fue mejor” by Kali Uchis ft. SZA
The highly anticipated “fue mejor” collab was well worth the wait and accompanied by a music video directed by Daniel Sannwald, whose creative license has extended to the likes of Beyoncé. You’ll come for the Kali and SZA alliance and stay for the ethereal, dreamy cinematography (neon-lit scenery), Kali choreography, and SZA’s moving car sequence *chef’s kiss*.
“Law of Averages” by Vince Staples
Two words: aerial drone shots. If you’re a sucker for them like we are, you’re in luck. The Law of Averages’ filmic music video alternates between visuals of Staples’ neighbourhood in Long Beach and shots of people in mysterious, smiling masks. Director Kid. Studio approaches the video with a ‘90s grainy art-house aesthetic and it is everything.
“JUGGERNAUT” by Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator reaches for the stars with the “JUGGERNAUT” music video. No, seriously, he’s soaring through the clouds. If we summarize the plot of this video, it would sound like nonsense—a marker of a job well done for a piece of surrealism reverie. As per usual, Director Wolf Haley—TTC’s evil alter ego—does not disappoint. Warning: this video will give you vacation FOMO.
“simple times” by Kacey Musgraves
Clueless meets Sugar & Spice in the wicked, twisty plot of the “simple times” music video. The video stars some of Kacey’s pals who we also adore—Victoria Pedretti, Symone, Princess Nokia, and Megan Stalter. A group of icons you’d never think would have an opportunity to work on a common project together, and we’re so glad they did. Don’t do yourself the disservice of missing out on this movie-esque music video.
“Breathe Deeper” by Tame Impala (Lil Yachty Remix)
We’re greatly aware that the internet has drastically changed the music industry, making communications and awareness much more accessible. With that, we are gifted such unexpected collaborations—Lil Yachty and Tame Impala being one of my favourites of 2021. Tame Impala tapped Lil Yachty for this genreless remix of “Breathe Deeper.” The music video is highly saturated and shifty—what’s traditionally considered a psychedelic knockout.
“Lost Cause” by Billie Eilish
Ah, we’ve made it to the “Lost Cause” music video, a moment we remember very clearly in 2021. Why? Maybe because we yearned to be in the video’s TikTok-esque hype house. Or maybe because there was something about this video that signified a new era for Billie Eilish. Whatever it was, it made us happier than ever.
“Funeral”l by James Blake and Slowthai
As we obsessively ruminated over Friends That Break Your Heart, we didn’t think James Blake could get us any deeper in our feels—until he updated album cut “Funeral” with a feature from U.K. rapper Slowthai paired with a morose music video. These musical geniuses know how to pull on our heartstrings by playing into the song’s metaphoric theme of attending your own wake—with black and white aerial views of the procession, of course. This may not sound like the most pleasant of videos to watch. But, it moves you to feel something. Something we could all relate to. A true marker of beautiful artistry.
“Mood Ring” by Lorde
In true 2021 fashion, there’s only one word to describe Lorde’s “Mood Ring” music video—VIBES. And they are immaculate. This video is a symmetrical aesthetically pleasing dream that you’ll want to build a home inside of. We realize the irony of this given the fact the song is a satirical, clever critique of pseudo-spiritual wellness culture. Lorde is a cheeky queen in a blissful, soft green palette.
“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” by Lil Nas X
No 2021 list would be complete without Lil Nas X, who absolutely dominated the craft of the music video this year. Lil Nas X uses humour as the powerful tool it is, to unpack the queer experience of growing up in a prominently religious household. Watch Lil Nas X walk through hell to give Satan a lap dance, kill him, and take the horns for himself. With most comedic triumphs, it sounds much heavier and nonsensical than it feels to watch, we promise you. The “MONTERO” video is all about radical self-love and acceptance.
“just for me” by pinkpantheress
Pinkpantheress makes her music video debut with “just for me.” The video is unconventional, but weirdly, just what you would expect. She takes the stage in front of a crowd of young people in a sterile-looking white set, shot on what seems to be 380p, even when watching in HD. Mix that with some cutaway images of a tarantula and a book blowing in the wind and it’s giving early ‘00s garage pop, leaving you wondering if this video had been living in the depths of the internet since then.
“Beside April” by BADBADNOTGOOD
BADBADNOTGOOD, the experimental Canadian jazz trio, has become known for having some concept-heavy, dynamic music videos, and “Beside April” is no exception. The video draws inspiration from 1878’s The Horse in Motion, capturing a strong, majestic horse in all of its glory. Funny enough, Director Camille Summers-Valli admitted in a press release to having a fear of horses, which you would never suspect by seeing how the magic aligned in this sublime video.
“Sorbitol” by Men I Trust
If it isn’t abundantly clear already, we are suckers for some music video humour. And Men I Trust delivers! The video was shot on 8mm film, making for a lovely warm, grainy visual quality, while traveling for their Untourable Tour. It features a frantic chef Paul Brimeau stuck in Times Square, desperately looking for Hell’s Kitchen. Not even an Elmo impersonator could help him. How poetic. We still wonder to this day if he ever did make it.
“Introvert” by Little Simz
Little Simz made a return with “Introvert” in 2021, a recollection of her past year and a call to break free from societal limitations. The song reflects on her sense of identity and the world around her during a time of crisis and political upheaval. Directed by Salomon Ligthelm, the video is a cinematic sensation, with breathtaking black and white shots juxtapositioned against fine art paintings, dancers caught on film, and more. It will be the fastest six minutes of your life, as you try to hold onto each beautifully captured moment.
“MAZZA” by Slowthai and A$AP Rocky
The embodiment of “mazzaleen”—meaning madness—in this surrealist disarray, that tells the story of next-door neighbours suffering the effects of isolation. Relatable. With googly eyes and flared nostrils, blood, and a colour story that will leave you mesmerized, Slowthai and A$AP Rocky are serving Trainspotting.
“Dearest Alfred” by Khruangbin
Any fan of Khruangbin will tell you that listening to their music feels like something close to magic and it’s incomprehensible how it can make you feel so warm and dreamy. The “Dearest Alfred” video is no different. If you’re tired of concept-heavy plot-driven videos—after being 20 deep—then this will serve as charming, hypnotic relief for you. Just 4 minutes of collage-esque video. No thoughts, just vibes.
“Die For You” by The Weeknd
Premiering 5 years after the song’s release date is “Die For You.” The Weeknd released the video and a five-piece capsule collection containing merchandise for Starboy’s anniversary. The video follows a young telekinetic boy on the run from government officials, who they call “Project: Starboy”. “Die For You,” like Stranger Things and E.T.—which the video pays homage to—is a timeless classic.
Like what you saw? Here’s more:
Unpacking 2021: The Best Moments In Music
BeatRoute’s Favourite Albums Of 2021
Take A Netflix Break With These Must-Read Music Memoirs