The art of the music video is in a strange place in 2015. TV channels that actually air them are an endangered species, but on YouTube, where a few music videos have now racked up over a billion views, a good video can turn a nobody into a star and make a hit song iconic. And while there are some superstars who can still command expensive CGI effects and big-name cameos, most of the best videos in popular music rely on cheap old-fashioned virtues like charisma, choreography, humor, and storytelling.
Here is our list of Best Music Videos of 2015.
Young Thug "Best Friend"
Be El Be, who’s been directing most of Young Thug’s videos since his 2014 breakout hit, “Stoner,” has been giving the divisive Atlanta rapper increasingly warped visuals this year to match his imaginative vocals. Barter 6’s “With That” video played inventively with post-production effects, while “Best Friend,” the breakout hit from his Slime Season mixtape, features Young Thug as never seen before. Playing his own best friend in a variety of situations, Thugger is seen in both the driver’s seat and the backseat of a car at one point, wearing whiteface makeup, and even with his face superimposed on a girl straddling the rapper in bed.
Fetty Wap "679"
New Jersey rapper Fetty Wap was 2015’s true homegrown superstar, making smash hits out of songs and videos like “Trap Queen” and “679” that were produced on a shoestring budget. “679” is the kind of charmingly slapdash rap video that used to be commonplace on BET’s Rap City, with a badly acted intro scene where Fetty Wap enters a surprise party and fails to convincingly look surprised. But the song, a collaboration with Remy Boyz groupmates Monty and P-Dice, was one of 2015’s great club bangers, and the video captures the mood perfectly.
Drake "Hotline Bling"
Every couple years, Drake takes a break from rapping to sing a full-on pop smash. In the past, he made pompous crime drama videos for “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Find Your Love” that undercut the appeal of those songs. For “Hotline Bling,” he lightened things up, enlisting Director X (a.k.a. Little X) and choreographer Tanisha Scott, both veterans of colorful, dance-heavy Sean Paul videos. Rather than go for a full-on dancehall homage, Drake pulled together a bit of everything in typical Drake fashion, running through several popular dance moves along with his own goofy, original moves that would inspire thousands of Vines and gifs within hours of the video’s release.
tinashe "All Hands on Deck"
“2 On” along with her debut album, Aquarius, made Tinashe one of 2014’s breakout stars, but she spent 2015 continuing to make her mark with new music and several videos. The most memorable of those videos, “All Hands on Deck,” actually prompted the prestigious endorsement of a rare Kanye tweet. Going down to the docks to throw a dance party in industrial shipping containers, “All Hands on Deck” is like a strange new version of the second season of The Wire, with Tinashe as your sexy Frank Sobotka.
donnie trumpet and the social experiment f/ chance the rapper "sunday Candy"
Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s album Surf was an unusual release, which mostly served as a Trojan horse for the spotlight-stealing vocals of the Chicago quartet’s most famous member, Chance the Rapper. While the packaging of the album remained ambiguous about whether Chance is the star attraction, the video for the lead single, “Sunday Candy,” put the charismatic rapper and singer center stage, literally. Co-directed by Chance with Austin Vesely and Ian Eastwood, “Sunday Candy” was shot as one continuous take inside a theater with painted sets, playing out like an elementary school play that happens to have killer choreography and top-shelf rapping.
Kendrick Lamar "alright"
Colin Tilley’s black-and-white 7-minute video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” is the kind of visually arresting production that one of the year’s most important and beloved hip-hop hits deserved. The prolonged intro for the video features snippets of To Pimp a Butterfly’s deep cut “How Much a Dollar Cost,” Kendrick’s non-album track “Cartoon and Cereal,” and about 30 seconds of an otherwise unreleased new song, before the beat finally drops on “Alright,” a song that has been chanted at protests of police brutality even before its video tackled the subject in vivid, imaginative fashion.
Nicki Minaj f/ Beyoncé "Feeling Myself"
Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj’s first collaboration, on the 2014 remix of B’s “Flawless,” felt like a historic summit between two superstars who were overdue to cross paths. But they didn’t make a video until their second collaboration, for Nicki’s The Pinkprint highlight “Feeling Myself,” and once again it was a momentous occasion to see two of the most powerful women in music hang out on a bouncy castle, make crazy faces, and eat burgers together.
fka twigs "Glass and Patron"
FKA twigs rose to fame thanks to the otherworldly aesthetic of both her music and her videos, which she often co-directs. And in 2015 she began directing videos solo, releasing three that included “Glass and Patron,” a standout from her M3LL155X EP that she co-produced with Beyoncé collaborator Boots. In the video, a pregnant FKA twigs gives birth to colorful scarves and struts down a runway like a model in the middle of the forest, which may sound a little weird, but it looks really awesome.
big sean f/ Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign "play No Games"
Music videos are a great platform for paying tribute to a beloved movie or TV series of yesteryear, and lately paying homage to the ’90s is a surefire way to build up a nostalgic buzz for a video, like Iggy Azalea’s Clueless remake that made “Fancy” one of the biggest videos of 2014. For “Play No Games,” a Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign collaboration from his Dark Sky Paradise album, Big Sean decided to relive a hit sitcom from his youth, Martin, complete with a cameo from Martin Lawrence himself. Sean debuted the video after the BET Awards over the summer, while another Dark Sky Paradise track, the inspirational “One Man Can Change the World,” was being worked to radio. But the excitement generated around “Play No Games” and its video made it clear what Sean’s next single would be.
Ellie Goulding "On My Mind"
In past videos, Ellie Goulding was often the ethereal siren of EDM pop. But for “On My Mind,” an uncharacteristically direct Max Martin-produced track—rumored to be a response to Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t”—Goulding is all about glamor and attitude, wearing high heels and gowns in casinos and hotel rooms. Then the Emil Nava-directed video gets increasingly surreal, as Ellie rides through the Vegas strip on horseback and busts a lightbulb with a baseball bat in the video’s vindictive climax.
Jason Derulo "Want to Want Me"
The lead single from Jason Derulo’s Everything Is 4 album, “Want to Want Me,” captures the rush of infatuation and lust in one single pop song. While the video is mostly a direct interpretation of the lyric, little visual embellishments make it memorable—Derulo moonwalks across the dilapidated stage of a theater in some kind of dystopian wasteland, with icicles hanging off of the rim of a bathtub. He also pulls a 50 Cent by hanging upside down doing crunches.
Ciara "Dance Like We're Making Love"
The lyrics to “Dance Like We’re Making Love” make dancing sound like foreplay to the actual act of making love. But when the song was released as the second single from Ciara’s album Jackie, she was in the news for her celibate relationship with NFL star Russell Wilson, making the song feel more like a celebration of dancing instead of making love. And the Dave Meyers-directed video certainly focuses on the dancing, with Ciara gyrating her way through an opulent mansion in what she’s called her favorite video to date.
Rihanna "B*tch Better Have my Money"
Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” functions as an anthem for anybody who’s had money owed to them. But it’s also widely rumored to be inspired by Rih’s own feud with former accountant Peter Gounis, who left her nearly bankrupt in 2009. And the violently vengeful video for the song certainly encourages that, with a storyline in which Rihanna and her girl gang (including Instagram star Sanam) kidnap the wife of a crooked accountant, played by Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen, turning the tables on TV’s favorite serial killer.
The Weeknd "Can't Feel My Face"
When he began releasing music as the Weeknd in 2011, Abel Tesfaye was slow to reveal his face and his identity. The video for “Can’t Feel My Face,” his first Hot 100 chart-topper, plays out a bit like Tesfaye’s journey by stepping into the spotlight while still retaining a certain dark mystique. He passionately sings and dances for an indifferent crowd in a seedy nightclub, until one of the creepy characters in the audience decides to set the singer on fire. And then…Tesfaye keeps performing, and the crowd goes wild.
A$AP Rocky "L$D"
Lysergic acid diethylamide has inspired a fair share of trippy music over the last 50 years, often inspiring new definitions of the acronym LSD. For the Beatles, it was “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and for A$AP Rocky’s 2015 celebration of the hippie life, it translates to “love, sex, dreams.” In the psychedelic video Rocky co-directed with Dexter Navy for the track from At.Long.Last.A$AP, the rapper walks through Tokyo while hallucinogens play tricks with the neon lights of the city.