From "Lemonade" to "Lazarus"
10. Kanye West, “Fade”
With the aggressively steamy “Fade” video, Kanye West gave a face (and a body) to his concept of “sexy,” bringing in wunderkind dancer/hip-hop artist Teyana Taylor to gyrate athletically in a deserted gym. She hits a new high bar in can’t-look-away choreography. Directed by Eli Linnetz.
9. Grimes, “Kill v. Maim”
Critical darling Grimes is known for her avant-garde visuals; “Kill v. Maim” is the standout from her latest album, Art Angels. It’s not a subtle song, and neither is the vibrantly stylized video, featuring a Suicide Squad-style motley crew of disco vampires living it up in a dystopian punk fantasy. Directed by Claire Boucher and Mac Boucher.
8. Rihanna, “Work” feat. Drake
One of the hottest songs of 2016 gets two videos, both feeding the dating rumors that dogged Rihanna and Drake all year. First we find Rihanna at a rowdy Jamaican dance hall, where ample flesh glistens on display. The second, super-sensual video has the two dancing for each other alone, chemistry palpable. Directed by Director X and Tim Erem, respectively.
7. Fifth Harmony, “Work From Home” feat. Ty Dolla $ign
At more than a billion views, it’s safe to say “Work from Home” is the most-watched video of the year. Featuring oiled-up hunks on the job at a sun-soaked construction site, the five ladies of Fifth Harmony put in their own work in the form of flawlessly choreographed group dances and voracious flirting. Directed by Director X.
6. Chance the Rapper, “Angels” feat. Saba
It’s hard not to smile at Chance the Rapper’s joyous “Angels” video, a ride on Chicago public transit that turns into an impromptu dance party. Chance gets to swoop in from the skies as a superhero, but it’s his earthbound exuberance—plus some cartoon animations and sharp choreography—that gives the video an extra boost. Directed by Austin Vesely.
5. Years and Years, “Desire” feat. Tove Lo
Electronic pop group Years and Years’ frontman Olly Alexander stars in a pastel-toned video spotlighting different sexualities and identities—a powerful message in a genre that can often be exclusionary. There’s a rawness and a weirdness to the video, too, featuring writhing bodies, searching hands, and mystic figures that tell a story just out of reach. Directed by Fred Rowson.
4. Desiigner, “Panda”
While breakout hit “Panda” is a club banger, the video goes for a darker reality: deserted Brooklyn streets, police violence against black men, and a mesmerizingly frenzied Desiigner fighting off invisible demons. The final image—a man’s face painted white with black eyes, a messed-up panda caricature—is bleakly haunting. Directed by Paul Geusebroek.
3. M.I.A., “Go Off”
“Go Off”—from the album M.I.A. says will be her last—is a typically percussive M.I.A. boast track with sleek, sinister production from Skrillex. Similarly, the video is as pared down as M.I.A. gets: no people, just towering explosions of raw earth and scattered construction machinery around massive pit mines. Apocalyptic—and disturbingly entrancing. Directed by M.I.A.
2. David Bowie, “Lazarus”
“Lazarus” is a down-tempo rock ballad off of Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, released two days before his death, and the video is disturbingly prophetic. At some points a bedridden Bowie, eyes bandaged, reaches to the heavens in eerie torment. At others, closeups turn his face into gaunt hollows. “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he sings. Directed by Johan Renck.
1. Beyoncé, “Lemonade”
Beyoncé’s 45-minute-long Lemonade visual album—a haunting ode to black womanhood—is the year’s most indelible pop product. Her rallying cry comes backdropped by rich Southern Gothic visuals, peopled with cultural icons, and stitched together with poetry from writer Warsan Shire. It’s a narrative art film that just happens to be composed of award-winning songs and videos. Directed by Beyoncé Knowles Carter and Kahlil Joseph.