Creating the perfect music video requires a most creative mind. Relying on clichés can serve as a simple out for some artists, but it takes a true visual innovator to take a song, either bad or good, and make it even better. This year, musicians treated the creative medium as place to further their artistic expression, and in turn enhanced the impact of the songs themselves.
The ever-infallible Missy Elliott returned with one of her kookiest confections yet; A$AP Rocky turned to cinema as the inspiration for the colorful, forward-thinking “L$D”; Childish Gambino went full Grace Kelly in the imaginative clip for “Sober”; and M.I.A. brought social awareness to the epic “Borders.” These artists not only furthered the importance of the song they represented visually, but they also yielded pieces of art that held importance outside of that song—a feat that many attempt, but only the best execute.
From “Ayo” to “WTF,” here are Rap-Up’s 10 Best Music Videos of 2015.
10. “Ayo,” Chris Brown & Tyga
Chris Brown and Tyga live extra large in the Richie Rich-inspired video for “Ayo,” a single off their collaborative project Fan of a Fan: The Album. Their opulence is over-the-top: Breezy sings his verse to an overhead cam while laying on a floating gold bed accented with gold throw pillows, and Tyga showed off his whips that the pair later drag race on a wide stretch of highway.
9. “L$D,” A$AP Rocky
Inspired by Gaspar Noel’s trippy film Enter the Void, the video for A$AP Rocky’s “L$D” is a psychedelic journey of the A$AP Mob leader as he rolls through the streets of Japan. It’s intended to be a close representation of the effects of taking the hallucinogen, as neon colors accent the world around him, crafting a vivid portrayal that matches the euphoric strings plucking in the background.
8. “All Hands on Deck,” Tinashe
Though her sophomore album Joyride didn’t meet its fall release date, Tinashe carried on from her 2014 debut Aquarius by releasing the ultra-slick video for “All Hands on Deck.” In the middle of a shipping yard, the R&B singer posts up in some massive crates, hitting eye-popping dance moves along with a team of backup dancers positioned in the crates around her.
7. “Sober,” Childish Gambino
For the instantly catchy “Sober,” Childish Gambino puts aside rapping in favor of singing, setting off the video for the track at a restaurant where he stumbles towards the only other patron who stares at her phone. Creeped out, she moves to another booth, only Gambino is determined to get her attention, hitting fluid dance moves as the lights in the establishment flicker in time with the track. In the end, she gives in, but only for a few seconds.
6. “Borders,” M.I.A.
A political artist since the beginning of her career, M.I.A. continues the trend with the self-directed video for “Borders.” The Sri Lankan musician tackles the issue with refugees being barred from entering new countries and gaining freedom from their oppressive regimes, all with a creative bent: Maya stands on water, surrounded by refugee boats, and poses at the front of men clad in beige robes, assembled in a pyramid and on the ground to resemble a pirate ship.
5. “These Walls,” Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was awash with serious overtones, so it came as a surprise to see a more comedic side of the Compton rapper in the epic eight-minute video for “These Walls” featuring Bilal, Anna Wise, and Thundercat. Directed by Colin Tilley and The Little Homies, the visuals split between a prison, where comedian Corey Holcomb claims that K-Dot put him behind bars, and a house party, where the rapper grinds so hard on a girl that they break through a wall. It’s a whole mess of fun—even Kendrick wilds out, hitting the quan with actor Terry Crews.
4. “Bitch Better Have My Money,” Rihanna
Rihanna has shown her dark side time and time again, but it reached menacing new heights in the seven-minute video for “Bitch Better Have My Money.” RiRi plays a criminal queenpin, kidnapping a trophy wife to get her husband to cough up the dough that she’s owed. After torturing the woman, she ties her man, “the accountant,” to a chair and gets her revenge with a few cutting tools. It all goes to red after the Bajan singer lays up at the end of the clip, naked and covered in bills—and blood.
3. “Hotline Bling,” Drake
Drake may have taken on memes in the clip for “Energy,” where he superimposed his face onto celebrities like Kanye West and LeBron James, but he actually became one in the visuals for “Hotline Bling,” which inspired a cultural phenomenon. In typical Drizzy fashion, he hits highly specific dance moves as if he knew they would immediately be GIF’d by the Internet (and even parodied by Donald Trump). Knowing your fan base is one thing, but being in on the joke with them is on another level.
2. “WTF (Where They From),” Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell Williams
One of the most anticipated returns of the year came with the release of Missy Elliott’s “WTF (Where They From),” a riotous banger that only she could pull off. But it was the bonkers music video that showed she hadn’t lost her touch. In the clip, she dances in a mirrored suit, replete with shards of glass on her lips, and hits dance moves like a pro. It wouldn’t be a Missy video without a touch of weird, though: a cameo from Pharrell came as a puppet, carved in his image.
1. “Feeling Myself,” Nicki Minaj feat. Beyoncé
The festival circuit was hot in 2015, but no one did it better than Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé. The dynamic divas hit the desert in the video for the TIDAL exclusive “Feeling Myself,” filming the ladies-only clip during the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. The queens lock arms while chomping down cheeseburgers, tossing fries into each other’s mouths, and, of course, hitting some A-level dance moves. The duo proved that girl power still reigns in 2015.