While most music videos are merely slick, soulless promotional vehicles for potential hit singles, with no more substance or purpose than a Shamwow infomercial, occasionally a video comes out that transcends crass commercialism and actually stands alone as a work of visual art. Happily, quite a few such artworks hit TV screens and computer monitors for three or so minutes at a time this year, and when we added all those minutes together...well, we realized we spent much of 2010 enjoying some really awesome music videos.
So here, in ascending order of awesomeness, are our picks for the top 20 videos of '10:
20. David Crowder Band - "SMS (Shine)"
Contemporary Christian rockers the David Crowder Band finally saw the light in 2010. The Lite-Brite, that is. The band's stunning breakthrough video for "SMS (Shine)" did for Hasbro's beloved '70s electrical toy what the White Stripes' "Fell In Love With A Girl" video did for Legos, and it was worth every one of the 2,150 hours it took to painstakingly piece it together.
19. The Like - "He's Not A Boy"
After undergoing a mod makeover courtesy of producer Mark Ronson (known for his retro-soul work with Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones), these L.A. ladies shot the perfect video to match their new ready/steady/go sound and Mary Quant/Twiggy-ish image. Featuring mini-skirted mobs of mods and rockers frugging, ponying, mashed-potato-ing, and shimmying in earnest to the Like's girl-group beats inside some supercool cavern club, this adorable video made us all want to party like it was 1964.
18. Julian Casablancas - "11th Dimension"
The Strokes frontman claimed he went broke after spending all his money promoting his ambitious debut solo album. Well, if that's true, then this video was worth breaking the bank. A time-traveling mini-movie that flipped back and forth between old-timey colonialism, what appeared to be the '80s underground nightclub from Desperately Seeking Susan, and some sort of neon-lit TRON-esque futureworld (with Julian's mid-2000s hipster shag haircut remaining intact throughout, natch), "11th Dimension" was a perfect picture of what a futuristic 2010 should have looked like.
17. Hanson - "Thinking 'Bout Somethin''
A Blues Brothers tribute, a polyester-suited cameo by a tambourine-rattling Weird Al Yankovic, and a bona fide comeback by pop's most underrated boy band--what's not to like here? We just couldn't stop mmmbopping to this in 2010.
16. Adam Lambert - "If I Had You"
In the feelgood video of the summer, Glambert got back to his glammy self, eschewing the dour VH1 angst of his "Whataya Want From Me" and "Time For Miracles" videos. This was basically one big Bacchanalian blowout, starring Adam and some "girls in stripper heels," probably some boys in stripper heels too, leatherslaves, circus freaks, club kids, glampires, glitterbabies, Sid & Marty Krofft puppets, centaurs, Allison Iraheta, et al in a Twilight-style woodsy setting having some good dirty fun. You know that Bill Hader skit from "Saturday Night Live" where finger-sniffing, totally-tripping Stefon gives his twisted guide to underground nightlife? It was kind of like that. In the best possible way.
15. Beyonce - "Why Don't You Love Me?"
Beyonce's "Single Ladies" was the big VMA winner last year, and she was up for multiple nominations this year for her duet clip with Lady Gaga, "Telephone" (more on that one later). But we say this pinup-retro romp is her finest solo video to date. She never looked classier, or foxier, nor had any video she'd done ever before been this fresh, edgy, or artsy. Kanye should have protested when this video wasn't nominated for any VMAs. Even Taylor Swift would have agreed.
14. Robbie Williams with Gary Barlow - "Shame"
Fans of Take That waited 15 years for original members Robbie and Gary to share the screen again...and when the former boybandmates finally reunited, they did so in a way that only saucy Robbie could come up with: in a controversial video that hilariously yet touchingly parodied Brokeback Mountain. It sure was nice to see that despite their decade and a half apart, these two couldn't quit each other.
13. The Black Keys - "Tighten Up"
Had bad parenting ever been this funny? Had playground rivalry ever been this cool? Had middle-aged fathers ever seemed this hip? No, no, and no. This video, one of the most unique and amusing of the year, just made every hipster in America wish that one of the Black Keys was their dad.
12. Keri Hilson - "Pretty Girl Rock"
Paying tribute to a century's worth of beauties who paved her way, Keri took on on the likenesses of legends Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, the Andrews Sisters, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson, and TLC over the course of four stunning minutes. Talk about girl power!
11. Kanye West - "Runaway"
No, it didn't make much sense, as is the case with much of what Kanye does. But you gotta give him credit for making a dark, twisted, artsy, movie-length video starring a bunch of bizarre, black-tutu'd ballerinas months before Black Swan even came out. The man is nothing if not a visionary.
10. Ke$ha - "Take It Off" (Unofficial Alternate Version)
The "official" video for this party anthem was typical MTV fare, but when Ke$ha gathered some club kids for an unofficial "Ke$ha 'n' Friends" day-glo version inspired by "TRON, David Bowie in Labyrinth, and Revenge Of The Nerds," that's when the party really got started. If she'd included just a few more white tigers and a couple more drag-queen chainsaw battles, this tour de force would have made the top five on this list.
9. Gorillaz - "Stylo"
It's no shock that the most popular cartoon band of all time made one of the best videos of 2010. Gorillaz are forever topping themselves in the video realm, after all. But how did they up the ante for the Grammy-nominated "Stylo"? They hired Bruce Willis. What ensued was the coolest cartoon-meets-live-action car chase since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Bruce's best act of moonlighting in years.
8. Cee Lo - "Forget You"
Telling someone to $%#& off was never so much fun as it was in this retro romp soundtracking Cee Lo Green's profanity anthem of the year. Even dulling the impact of the song by benignly retitling it "Forget You" could not suck all the fun out of his delightful ode to sweet, sweet revenge.
7. OK Go - "White Knuckles"
OK Go are famous for their innovative viral videos--and this one did for dogs what "Here It Goes Again" did for treadmills. The clip featured the same precision-timed choreography that made the band's other one-take videos so compelling, but this video's shoot may have posed an especially tough challenge, as it involved coordinating 12 dogs and, just for a fun, one scenery-chewing goat. In showbiz, the old adage goes that one should always avoid working with animals, but OK Go made it look easy here.
6. The Arcade Fire - "The Wilderness Downtown"
This one takes some explaining. An interactive video project between the Canadian indie darlings, Google Chrome, and artist Chris Milk, "The Wilderness Downtown" used Google Maps and Google Street View to incorporate images of the viewer's childhood hometown. The video was described as utilizing "choreographed windows, interactive flocking, custom rendered maps, real-time compositing, procedural drawing, and 3D canvas rendering." We're still not sure what all that means...but we do know that in a day and age when it's becoming increasingly difficult to do something that's "never been done before," the Arcade Fire astonishingly succeeded in 2010. See a sample of how it worked below.
5. Mark Ronson - "Somebody To Love Me"
It's no coincidence that on his latest allstar album, superproducer Mark assigned guest vocalist Boy George this tune's line about wanting someone to "see the boy I once was." When George crooned those words, it was a sweet, subtly lump-in-throat moment...which was only augmented by the song's video, which brilliantly recreated a wild night in the life of the Boy, circa 1982, with a George lookalike (an actress--yes, a woman) portraying the dreadlocked icon in happier times. The effect was so uncannily precise, many viewers have mistook this clip to consist of cobbled-together, actual grainy VHS archival footage of Boy George himself.
4. Lady Gaga with Beyonce - "Telephone"
OK, so it was practically a glorified infomercial for PlentyOfFish.com, Miracle Whip, and Coca-Cola, and at almost 10 minutes, it was longer than some actual infomercials (like those aforementioned Shamwow ones!). But admit it: When you first saw "Telephone," it blew your dang mind. Months later, it still holds up. Pass the Miracle Whip, please.
3. Goldfrapp - "Alive"
This clip had just about everything you'd want from a video and so much more: pentagrams, vampires, dry ice, jazzercizers, glittery rainbow-colored fake blood, capes...it's like if Motley Crue had hired Bonnie Tyler to be their Vince Neil replacement instead of John Corabi. This video would have just as cool in 1985, the faraway year in which it appeared to have been made--but it was one of 2010's top videos as well.
2. Holy F*** - "Red Lights"
This video had all the purrfect ingredients for indie-rock-loving cat-fanciers: An "SNL" Toonces The Driving Cat homage; a band of psychedelic cool cats jamming against a swirling backdrop of fire; felines posed in shadow, James Bond/"Charlie's Angels"-style; and a suspenseful, '70s-retro, action-flick car chase in which a cat left an evil doggy in the dust. Simply put, it was the BEST. CAT. VIDEO. EVER.
1. Broken Bells - "The Ghost Inside" (Unofficial Alternate Version)
We didn't think Hall & Oates's "Private Eyes" could be improved upon. We were wrong. When video director Matt McCormick came up with the genius idea to digitally graft Broken Bells' lip-synching mouths onto Daryl and John's faces in the iconic '80s clip, the result was THE viral video of the year. If you haven't seen this yet, your private eyes are about to be amazed.