The 10 Best Canadian Music Videos of 2020

From mainstays like The Weeknd to rising stars like Mustafa, here were to top music videos of the year.

It has been… a year. And while there’s certainly been no shortage of reasons to celebrate its impending end, we’re spending the final weeks of 2020 commemorating the bright spots in what’s been an otherwise flaming garbage dump of a year, celebrating the songs, albums and work that helped make the year a little more bearable. Things like these 10 music videos, which run the gamut from mainstays like The Weeknd and Drake to rising stars like Junia-T and Haviah Mighty, from over 1 billion views to under 2,500.

Because what makes a great music video is so much more than just how many views it racks up on YouTube. It’s about a compelling narrative, stunning cinematography, imagery that doesn’t just compliment a track but adds new layers and new depth to it, helping you appreciate the music in a new light. And these videos did just that. Here are the 10 best Canadian music videos of the year.

10. Daniela Andrade, "Tamale"

Directors: Justin Singer and Daniela Andrade

Andrade’s video for “Tamale”—the title track off the Honduran-Canadian singer’s 2019 album—hits a bit different these days than when it first dropped back in mid-February (a.k.a. pre-lockdown). Tamales are an extremely traditional Christmas and New Year’s meal, during a year when those traditions are going to look vastly different. Regardless, this moody video deserves celebrating for the clever way it takes familiar iconography—slinging foil-wrapped packages in an empty parking lot late at night—and turns that imagery on its head. 

9. Junia-T f/ Faiza, "Puzzles"

Director: Dan LeMoyne

According to director Dan LeMoyne, the video for Junia-T’s “Puzzles” took advantage of Toronto’s socially-distanced COVID summer to shoot in places that would normally be jammed, like Yonge-Dundas Square. But far from resulting in an eerie vibe, there’s something genuinely magical and hopeful about this sun-dappled video—from the persistent rainbow motif to lens flares that would make J.J. Abrams jealous—and those are two emotions we could all use more of heading into 2021. 

8. Jessie Reyez, "LOVE IN THE DARK"

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Director: Se Oh

It feels especially fitting to be celebrating this video during a year when the Toronto-born Reyez went from rising Canadian star to bona fide worldwide phenom, and the dreamy, ethereal visuals for “LOVE IN THE DARK” are a perfect match for this hypnotic single from Reyez’s debut studio album Before Love Came to Kill Us. Watching her float in that shimmery, celestial lake, it feels like the sky’s truly the limit for Reyez.

7. Drake - Popstar

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Director: Director X

Thanks to COVID, a lot of artists opted for slimmed-down productions for their videos this year. Smaller cast, smaller crews, more restrained visions. And, uh, yeah, that definitely wasn’t the case for the cameo-laden video for “Popstar”, which goes all out, from the eight-minute runtime to the high-concept, starring Justin Bieber as Drake’s official stand-in—after all, who better to tag in for a locked-down Drake than Canada’s biggest popstar? As Drake raps, “Shit don’t usually get this big without a Bieber face.” And thanks to an assist from Bieber, “Popstar” definitely blew up in 2020.

6. Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber, "Monster"

Director: Colin Tilley

Basically the complete polar opposite of “Popstar” in terms of production, the video for “Monster” literally puts Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber on a pedestal as the two Canadian superstars take turns singing about exactly that. In other words, this video from director Colin Tilley (who also directed 2020’s breakout video for “WAP”) isn’t the most subtle translation for a song about the pitfalls of fame, but hey, sometimes simple works. 

5. TOBi f/ Shad, Haviah Mighty, Jazz Cartier and Ejji Smith, "24 (Toronto Remix)"

Director: Kit Weyman

The star-studded video for TOBi’s “24” remix was apparently shot on one of the coldest days of 2020, but it still manages to bring some serious fire, packed with an infectious energy and imagery and composition you could spend hours dissecting frame-by-frame. It’s easy to see why both the track and accompanying visuals have earned comps to “Northern Touch”—this is a video we’re going to be talking about for years to come.

4. Haviah Mighty, "Thirteen"

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Director: Theo Kapodistrias

There’s great videos, and then there’s required viewing. Don’t let the storybook style fool you; the visuals for Haviah Mighty’s “Thirteen” are powerful, urgent, adult stuff. “I wanted to make the video look like a pop-up history book,” says Theo Kapodistrias of the animation, which provides a visceral visual accompaniment to the Toronto MCs lyrics as she rips through centuries of systemic racism and its insidious effects in the tight three-minute track. The fact that the video dropped on Canada Day definitely wasn’t a coincidence either.

3. The Weeknd, "Blinding Lights"

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Director: Anton Tammi

The Weeknd may have gotten robbed at the Grammys, but we’re giving Abel his due here for what was, without a doubt, 2020’s top single. Picking up shortly after the “Heartless” video left off (and continuing into “After Hours”), the video for “Blinding Lights” sees Tesafaye’s red-suited alter-ego take off on an increasingly chaotic, neon-tinged joyride. COVID may have robbed us of a new Fast & Furious movie this year, but “Blinding Lights” turned out to be the next best thing.

2. Future f/ Drake, "Life Is Good"

Director: Director X

Clocking in at over 1.3 billion views on YouTube (yes, as in billion with a b), “Life Is Good” is not just the biggest Canadian music video of the year, but the biggest video of 2020 full stop. The irony of watching two artists who’ve presumably never worked a minimum wage gig in their life essentially cosplay in a bunch of blue-collar uniforms notwithstanding, watching this pre-COVID video today feels like a callback to a simpler time. A little goofy, extremely meme-able (that chef’s hat…), and a clever way to tackle the song’s two-tracks-in-one structure—you pair two of the game’s biggest stars with Canada’s reigning No. 1 music video director and that’s as close to a guaranteed mega-hit as you’re going to get. Life is good, indeed.

1. Mustafa, "Air Forces"

Directors: Glenn Michael and Christo

Produced by Kid. Studio (who, along with Director X, recently made our list of the 10 Best Canadian Music Video Directors Right Now), Mustafa’s “Air Forces” may not have even 1/100th of the plays of “Life Is Good,” but it doesn’t matter. “Air Forces” directors Glenn Michael and Christo—who've worked with The Weeknd, Future, French Montana, among others—helped put together a truly gorgeous video for the Toronto up-and-comer, featuring slices of life from the 23-year-old’s Regent Park neighbourhood to the grounds of Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum, interspersed with cornfield shots straight out of a Terrence Malick movie. It’s an elegant accompaniment to a beautiful track, and a welcome reminder that you don’t need a massive view count to be a massive video.

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