The Best Music Videos of 2021 (So Far)

From Tyler, the Creator's "Lumberjack" to Megan Thee Stallion's "Thot Sh*t" to Lil Nas X's "Montero" these are the 20 best music videos of 2021 (so far).

Best Music Videos 2021 (So Far)
Complex Original

Complex Original

Best Music Videos 2021 (So Far)

What defines a successful music video in 2021? Millions of views? A spot on YouTube’s Trending charts? Artistic innovation? A deep message? A little controversy? Being able to provide a brief moment of escape in a horrific news cycle? So far this year, the most impactful music videos have combined all of these elements. To cut through all the noise, artists like Lil Nas X and Megan Thee Stallion have used music videos to make a point and ignite larger conversations about the state of the world. And of course, there’s still a place in our hearts for videos that make us laugh (or just look cool as hell). There’s no better feeling than getting lost in the imaginative worlds of artists like Tyler, the Creator and Tierra Whack, who continue to push the envelope of outside-the-box creativity. With that being said, these are the music videos that have kept us entertained and engaged over the past six months. These are Complex’s picks for the 20 best music videos of 2021 (so far).

20. Duke Deuce f/ Offset, "Gangsta Party"

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Director: Wikid Films

Duke Deuce is a one-man visual. All you have to do is turn up the music and watch him go. That was the simple premise for Duke and Offset’s “Gangsta Party” video, which has a few scenes, most of which are carried by the Memphis rapper’s energetic presence. The directors included a couple of meta clips of the actual shoot, showing how much fun people were having bouncing along and reciting his boisterous lyrics. If BET and MTV were still doing music video behind-the-scenes shows, we imagine they’d love to be at a Duke Deuce shoot. —Andre Gee

19. Saweetie f/ Doja Cat, "Best Friend"

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Director: Dave Meyers

Saweetie and Doja Cat got all the way into their respective bags in this one. Throughout the Dave Meyers-directed clip, the California natives embody grace, strength, and camaraderie, especially in the beginning when they shoo off a “fake woke misogynist” trying to holla at them while they soak in the sun. There’s also a ton of actual bags here—Saweetie and Doja have a dance-off in a room full of luxury handbags. Don’t take our word for how good this video is, though. Since it was uploaded to YouTube in January, it has already notched over 137 million views, and the song itself is a multi-platinum record. The people have spoken. —Andrew White

18. Quakers f/ Sampa the Great, "Approach With Caution"

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Director: Gary Motion (illustrated by Geo Law)

Producer supergroup Quakers are superheroes in their visual for “Approach with Caution.” The animated video follows the Sampa the Great-assisted song’s vibrant tones, splicing clips of hand drummers and children playing with a looming threat of furry invaders. But undeterred, the animated Quaker trio kicks ass, sending their enemies on their way (as does a child on a bike who shares a message). It’s a bold visual for a bold song. —Andre Gee

17. 454, "Face Time"

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Director: Richard Phillip Smith

In the video for “Face Time,” which dropped back in January, Florida-born 454 uses New York City as his playground (literally). In the lo-fi clip, the rapper gets off his bars while trotting down a boardwalk. Overall, the video feels casual, in the sense that the scenes were mostly shot at common city locales, but the artistry is far from basic. The whole thing takes on a psychedelic tone, and you even get random shots of a jellyfish doing its thing. The visual manages to be just as entrancing as the song itself; in usual 454 fashion, he manipulates the sound of his voice, speeding up the tempo before slowing it down to a syrupy pour. 454’s flow, coupled with the trippy visual, creates the perfect vibe. If you’re looking to just zone out, definitely throw this on. 454 has got another winner here, as “Face Time” also landed on our Best Songs of 2021 (So Far) list. —Andrew White

16. Olivia Rodrigo, "Good 4 U"

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Director: Petra Collins

In the video for “Good 4 U,” Olivia Rodrigo and director Petra Collins tapped into the song’s message about what some people go through post-breakup: fiery rage. Rodrigo goes shopping for a gasoline tank while dressed in a cheerleading uniform and black latex gloves, which foreshadows the ending, where she decides to release her anger and burn it all down. There are also moments that appear to pay homage to iconic teen movies, like The Princess Diaries and Jennifer’s Body. “Good 4 U” marks the third music video in which Rodrigo follows a distinct theme, as she’s also done with “Drivers License” and “Deja Vu.” The 18-year-old pop star knows what works for herself and her audience, and she’s sticking to the script unapologetically. ––Dayna Haffenden

15. Flo Milli, "Roaring 20s"

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Director: Child

Flo Milli’s “Roaring 20s” music video is both a play on the historical decade in Western culture and a celebration of the Alabama rapper’s new decade of life. The video takes viewers back in time to a speakeasy, where Flo Milli is the lead performer. Much of the video is shot in black and white, which only makes Flo Milli’s flapper girl outfit pop more. Aesthetically, the video stays true to its historical context, but she manages to sneak in a few contemporary elements, like twerking and making it rain in the club. The 20s look good on Flo Milli. —Jessica McKinney

14. Chloe x Halle, "Ungodly Hour"

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Director: Alfred Marroquín

Released at the beginning of the year, the “Ungodly Hour” music video might just be the last of Chloe x Halle’s visuals in support of their studio album of the same name. It’s a futuristic video that depicts the sister duo dressed in latex catsuits, and surrounded by wild electric cables, the girls dance the night away on a light-up stage. The video is sort of dark with apocalyptic elements, but there’s beauty in Chloe x Halle’s angelic and regal looks. Not to mention, seeing their choreography from shot to shot adds a level of fun to the video. Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour era is definitely their strongest yet, and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next. —Jessica McKinney

13. Cardi B, "Up"

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Director: Tanu Muino

Cardi B has quickly become a force in the music video space, and “UP” is another visually stimulating release from the Bronx native that mixes high fashion with choreography and green screens. Cardi dressed in a crystal corset by Abraham D Levy or in the custom translucent plastic suit by Esmay Wagemans are just a couple of the looks that make this video so exciting to watch. Sean Bankhead’s choreography also sparked a viral TikTok challenge that people are still doing today. If this is what Cardi B has to offer stepping into her new chapter, we’re fully here for it. —Jessica McKinney

12. DJ Khaled f/ Nas, Jay-Z, James Fauntleroy & Harmonies by the Hive, "Sorry Not Sorry"

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Director: Hype Williams

Tailored suits with bowties, sunglasses, and cigars inside of a casino—what else did you expect to see in a video from legendary director Hype Willams featuring hip-hop royalty DJ Khaled, Jay-Z, and Nas? The luxury shit throughout the video helps to paint a picture that perfectly represents the opulent rhymes Jay-Z and Nas get off in the song. “Look at wealthy me, wipe your nose, HSTRY my type of clothes,” Nasir raps while cigar smoke floats elegantly through the air. Just being able to see former rivals Nas and Jay chilling in the same room together is enough to make the day of any rap aficionado. The song, with its abundant bars about wealth and family from two of the greatest to ever pick up a mic, was a treat in itself. To then get a visual that represents the narrative is akin to a glass of circular ice and Japanese whiskey, as Nas so elegantly rapped. That said, “Sorry Not Sorry” is easily one of the coolest videos of the year so far. —Andrew White

11. Migos, "Avalanche"

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Director: DAPS

A day before the release of Culture III, Migos treated fans with the visual to “Avalanche.” In the four-minute video, the rap group pulls up at a recording studio, rocking black suits and fedoras. The ultimate throwback vibe is created as the rappers proceed to record in front of a live band, before breaking for interview segments in which Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff reflect on their upbringings and their break from music. If this was a full-length film, it would be one of the coolest rockumentaries of all time. Either way, it’s one of the best videos the trio has made. As Offset says at the beginning of the video, “It’s a level up!” ––Dayna Haffenden

10. Rico Nasty, "Pussy Poppin"

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Director: Emma Westenberg

Biblical characters, giant hearts, green lips, and Rico Nasty dressed like male genitalia: the video for “Pussy Poppin” could not get any weirder (in a good way). But then again, with a title like that, something like this should have been expected. The video begins with Rico lounging under the shade of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Then it cuts to various shots of Rico dancing on her bed in lingerie and a giant heart suit. The most memorable still from the whole thing, though, would be the DMV native standing erect in a brown leather fit. “Pussy Poppin” is definitely raunchy and probably not safe for all viewers, but the best part about it is that Rico Nasty always appears most comfortable being herself. —Jessica McKinney

9. Juice WRLD f/ Young Thug, "Bad Boy"

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Director: Cole Bennett

Watching the “Bad Boy” music video is a bittersweet experience. On one hand, it’s a beautiful thing to see Juice and Cole Bennett’s collaborative relationship grow from their early days shooting videos like “All Girls Are The Same” to pulling off a Young Thug-assisted blockbuster like “Bad Boy.” But there’s also the unfortunate reality that this was the final music video Juice WRLD was able to shoot before his tragic death in December 2019. In the Bad Boys-inspired clip, Juice’s charisma steals the show, as he cracks a smile next to Thug and stares down the camera during his verse and chorus. It’s another reminder of the undeniable starpower of a truly special talent. RIP Juice WRLD. —Eric Skelton

8. Lana Del Rey, "Chemtrails Over the Country Club"

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Director: BRTHR

At first, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” looks like any other Lana Del Rey music video. It has the grainy, old Hollywood look, vintage luxury cars, and extravagant mansions. It’s as dreamy as we’ve come to expect from her. But around the three-minute mark, things take a twisted turn. The whimsical vixens soon become possessed by an unnatural force as images of flaming cars, wolves, and natural disasters flash on the screen. It’s those sinister details that turn this video from good to riveting. —Jessica McKinney

7. Tyler, the Creator, "Lumberjack"

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Director: Wolf Haley

Since releasing his cockroach-gobbling music video for “Yonkers” 10 years ago (which Kanye West immediately crowned Video of the Year) Tyler has had a reputation for being one of rap’s most visually talented artists. Sometimes his videos are shocking, sometimes they’re funny, and sometimes they just look really cool, but they’re always wildly entertaining. On “Lumberjack,” Tyler focuses on world-building, as he introduces us to a new cast of characters who will likely guide the storyline surrounding his new album Call Me If You Get Lost. At only 78 seconds long, the video feels like a movie trailer, as Tyler sets the scene for a globe-spanning adventure full of self-indulgence and chaotic mishaps. Even at teaser-length, it’s already one of our favorite videos of the year, and we can only imagine what he’ll be able to pull off when the rest of the album drops. —Eric Skelton

6. Tierra Whack, "Link"

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Director: Cat Solen

If you had to bet on an artist to pull off a space-themed video, Tierra Whack would be a safe choice. Her otherworldly talent and offbeat visuals are on full display in the video for “Link,” which depicts her shooting out to space before regretting her decision. The playful Cat Solen-directed video looks like something out of a children’s show, as Tierra plays with Legos and mingles with a set of creatures that look like they belong on a toddler’s book bag somewhere. She hits a button to “go to space forever,” but soon regrets being all alone in the universe. It looks like she shed so many tears that she short-circuited her UFO and crashed back down to her planet. If one was clamoring for a moral to the narrative, it would be… if you cry enough about your mistakes, you can undo them? Actually, who cares? It’s a dope, colorful visual. —Andre Gee

5. Vince Staples, "Law of Averages"

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Director: Kid. Studio

A lot of music videos are shot in a city landscape, but what makes Vince Staples’ video for “Law of Averages” stand out is the attention to detail. The video constantly changes the viewer’s perspective, as the lens shifts from aerial views of the city to upside down shots, and then close-ups of landscapes and people (some of whom are animated with cartoonish smiles). The video progressively gets weirder as their reality becomes darker and caricature-like people flood the streets. It’s the kind of video that reveals new layers of meaning each time you watch it—much like any good Vince Staples song. —Jessica McKinney

4. Doja Cat, "Streets"

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Director: Christian Breslauer

Doja Cat has earned a reputation for creating some of the most innovative music videos in the industry right now, and the visual for “Streets” is no exception. Drawing inspiration from TikTok’s viral Silhouette Challenge, the video begins with Doja standing in a store’s window display as a taxi cab driver played by actor Kofi Siriboe gets hypnotized by her. As the beat drops and the red light illuminates, Doja comes alive. The creative direction shines as Doja, now taking the form of a black widow, scales a building to reach Siriboe who is wrapped up in her web. “Streets” is a sexy video that does a great job of appealing to current social media trends, while still showcasing Doja Cat’s creative spirit. —Jessica McKinney

3. Baby Keem & Travis Scott, "Durag Activity"

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Director: Eliel Ford

Baby Keem’s visuals are always on-point. Under the guidance of Dave Free and the rest of the pgLang team, Keem has built an immersive world around his music with stunning videos like “Orange Soda,” “Hooligan,” and “No Sense.” In each of them, it’s clear that every single frame has been carefully planned and arranged—the work of a perfectionist. So, it only made sense that Keem would end up with another flawless video when he connected with a fellow visually obsessed artist like Travis Scott (who is a consistent presence on Best Music Videos lists himself). Every scene of the “Durag Activity” video is worthy of putting in a frame and hanging on your wall, as Keem stares down the camera and lurks through the shadows (these are late-night activities, and by the looks of it, Keem is up to no good). Then Travis Scott shows up, some mysterious old guys get bloodied up, a woman with a torch takes over, and our heroes (Keem and Trav) emerge unscathed. If they ever turn this into a feature-length film, we’ll show up on opening night. —Eric Skelton

2. Megan Thee Stallion, "Thot Sh*t"

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Director: Aube Perrie

What better way to respond to a bunch of out-of-touch conservative politicians than by exposing their hypocrisies in one of the best music videos of the year? After several Republican figureheads expressed outrage over Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s “WAP,” saying things like, “I feel sorry for future girls if this is their role model,” Meg countered in spectacular fashion with the visuals for her new single “Thot Shit.” When Aube Perrie first heard the song, the director says, “It was pretty obvious to me and imperative that we needed to do something extremely strong that will go for what she stands for. The idea came very quickly to do this as an answer to those guys that are afraid of women’s bodies.” Mission accomplished. For four minutes, Megan plays a variety of roles as she puts the hypocritical lawmaker in place (while slipping in a few horror film references along the way). In typical Megan fashion, the whole thing is wildly entertaining, powerful, and funny. And it ends with easily the most memorable scene of the year so far, as Megan surgically replaces the politician’s mouth with, well… We’ll let Tiffany Haddish explain it: “Oh, they gave him a coochie mouth!” Nicely done, Meg. —Eric Skelton

1. Lil Nas X, "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)"

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Director: Tanu Muino and Lil Nas X

In late March, Lil Nas X set forth the downfall of society released “Montero,” a satirical video which had moralists in an uproar, exposing their hypocrisy. The 22-year-old artist had already proven his mastery at inciting hysteria with the release of “Old Town Road,” which upset country loyalists because a Black person was capitalizing off a genre that they helped create. But the “Montero” video, where Nas X takes a Hadean plunge down a stripper pole to give Satan a lapdance, sparked a whole new level of outrage. The Tanu Muino directed-clip seemed too tongue-in-cheek to be taken literally, especially if one was aware of his trolling social media presence. But conservative politicians and pundits, many of whom were previously unaware of him, merely saw an opportunity to grandstand. They immediately deemed the video “demonic” and “blasphemous.” Ditto the 666 pairs of “Satan Shoes” that he released in tandem with the video. Politicians like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who let Donald Trump run wild on human rights, proclaimed that the video symbolized “we are in a fight for the soul of our nation.” Many agree. But Noem doesn’t seem to be aware of which side she’s on.

None of “Montero’s” most ardent detractors seemed to realize that the video was essentially bigot bait. Noem’s telegraphed, brimstone soapboxing was the same rhetoric that has demonized gay people throughout human history. Nas X merely flipped “all gays go to hell” back on them, and he knew they would combust into anger and judgment (being put on the Twitter Summer Jam screen for their own misdeeds) instead of confronting their own hate. Even beyond the controversy, though, the “Montero” video would be our choice for this spot based on its own artistic merit. It’s an extravagant, meticulously curated video which includes a scene of Nas X being put on public trial Rome-style, which could be seen as the true crux of the video if not for the incendiary final scenes. Not all of Lil Nas X’s digital antics have deeper meanings like this, but “Montero” was personal, as the letter he released to his teen self attests. It ultimately broke the internet and picked up where “WAP” left off, making pop music controversial. It’s the best video of the year (so far). —Andre Gee

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