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"
7. Drake - Popstar
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"
3. The Weeknd, "Blinding Lights"
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.