In 2016, creativity in the form of the music video took on new heights. While the idea of a long-form clip is nothing new, musicians from hip-hop and R&B expanded that concept in new and compelling ways, making for one of the most visually-arresting years on the books.
Beyoncé took a baseball bat and clubbed her way to the forefront with the extraordinary visual-album LEMONADE, accented by individual music videos (“Formation,” “Hold Up”) that played out the emotional aftermath of discovering your man has a side chick.
Others attempted storytelling in similar ways—Drake at the Cheesecake Factory in the Tyra Banks-assisted short film for “Childs Play,” Big Sean and Jhené Aiko as TWENTY88 in the porn star-inspired “Out of Love”—and largely succeeded, keeping viewers locked in past the typical three-minute mark.
And then there were the videos that were simply fun. Tinashe threw a beach party in the “Baywatch”-inspired “Superlove,” Bruno Mars hit the Las Vegas Strip in “24K Magic,” and The Weeknd took you on a wild ride during a botched bank heist in “False Alarm.”
Here are Rap-Up’s 20 best music videos of 2016.
1. Beyoncé – “Formation”
As a preface to her surprise visual album LEMONADE, Beyoncé teased the project with the video for its crown jewel, “Formation.” Directed by Melina Matsoukas, the clip pays its respects to Southern culture and stands as Bey’s most politically-charged to date, referencing police brutality and Hurricane Katrina.
2. Kanye West – “Fade”
Though he doesn’t make an appearance in the video for “Fade” off his latest album The Life of Pablo, Kanye West looked to G.O.O.D. Music’s Teyana Taylor to hold the focus for the clip’s duration. She came through, doing her best “Flashdance” impersonation and hitting sweaty dance moves in a makeshift gym.
3. Frank Ocean – “Nikes”
Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” was more than just a music video—it was an art piece, a companion to Blonde that spoke to its creative scope. It’s a random array of vignettes that accent the lyrics for the tune—a naked woman on a white horse, A$AP Rocky blowing out a puff of weed smoke, and a Chihuahua mouthing the words.
4. Rihanna – “Needed Me”
Rihanna bared it all in the video for “Needed Me,” a slow-paced gangster odyssey to match the track’s sinister tone. In the R-rated clip, RiRi plays the mob boss, hitting the strip club with a pistol in hand to seek revenge on a foe and popping off a few shots as it all comes to a fade.
5. A$AP Mob feat. Juicy J – “Yamborghini High”
A$AP Mob and Juicy J take viewers on a Technicolor ride in the vivid visual for “Yamborghini High,” an exercise in color correction and post-production techniques. Rocky and the clique hit the woods around their mansion as the pixels scramble, making for a warped aesthetic experience.
6. Kanye West – “Famous”
Yeezy has always pontificated about the nature of celebrity, but never as powerfully as he did in the video for “Famous.” He rounded up a collection of wax figures of famous people—Caitlyn Jenner, Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, his ex Amber Rose, and his wife Kim Kardashian—as they slumber together in one long row.
7. Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”
Off her career-defining album A Seat at the Table, standout “Cranes in the Sky” becomes materialized with a soft-edged video that echoes the artistry of the parent LP. With a group of girls, she sings along to the gentle track, performing a sort of interpretive dance along the way.
8. Beyoncé – “Hold Up”
Don’t mess with a woman scorned—just ask Beyoncé, who unleashes the beast in the video for “Hold Up” off LEMONADE. She questions if her man is cheating on her at the onset, exploding out of a building in a rush of water as she walks down the street, bat in hand, getting her swing on as she saunters by.
9. Bruno Mars – “24K Magic”
In 2016, Jheri curls, hairspray, and gold chains were the name of the game for Bruno Mars, who set off the year with an eye-popping performance at the Super Bowl. He carried over the sass and spunk of his Mark Ronson collaborative smash “Uptown Funk” to “24K Magic,” which touts visuals where he cruises down the Las Vegas Strip and wallows in opulence.
10. Rihanna feat. Drake – “Work”
Rihanna pays homage to her Caribbean roots in “Work,” the chart-crushing waist-winder that reunited her with her “Take Care” collaborator Drake. In the clip, co-directed by X and Tim Erem, Ri splits her time between a dancehall party and a room bathed in pink, where she cozies up to her co-star.
11. The Weeknd – “False Alarm”
Ilya Naishuller sits in the director’s chair in the high-paced, blood-soaked video for The Weeknd’s “False Alarm,” a gritty first-person account of a bank heist. Things don’t go exactly as planned: the thieves fend off the 5-0 during a car chase, and they inevitably turn on each other, leading to a dramatic conclusion where our anti-hero decides to end it all.
12. D.R.A.M. feat Lil Yachty – “Broccoli”
Few artists in 2016 have captured such immense joy as D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty did with “Broccoli,” a vamping ode to greenery. The dynamic duo takes it to the forest with a pair of luscious ladies, singing on top of a white piano that they later place on a flatbed and navigate the streets in an homage to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.”
13. Fergie – “MILF$”
Though her long-awaited Double Dutchess has yet to materialize, Fergie kept fans well-fed with the video for “M.I.L.F. $,” or “Moms I’d Like to Follow.” She rounded up the gang—Kim Kardashian West, Ciara, and Chrissy Teigen, plus many more—for a “Desperate Housewives”-inspired clip that’s too hot for TV.
14. Drake – “Childs Play”
On Views, his fourth studio album, Drake chastises his girl for staging a fight at the Cheesecake Factory, one of his favorite places to eat. And he captures that sentiment in real time in the Drizzy and Spiff TV-directed video for “Childs Play,” a 12-minute epic where he brings the scenario to life with his on-screen girlfriend Tyra Banks.
15. D∆WN – “Wake Up”
Former Diddy-Dirty Money member D∆WN (f/k/a Dawn Richard) once again proved to be a visionary with the fashion film for “Wake Up” off the final installment in her trilogy of albums, Redemption. It’s a celebration of style in the clip, co-directed with Sasha Samsonova, where she tries on an assortment of looks, from golden horns to feathery wings.
16. 2 Chainz – “Watch Out”
Having a sense of humor is something that not all rappers have—enter 2 Chainz. Tity Boi set off the year with the hilarious video for “Watch Out” off last year’s Trapavelli Tre mixtape, with the Atlanta MC’s head imposed onto a concert pianist, a baby, and of course, President Obama.
17. TWENTY88 – “Out of Love”
Big Sean and Jhené Aiko may have become closer outside of their TWENTY88 project in 2016, but it manifested on the small screen in their short film “Out of Love.” The 15-minute short portrayed the couple as futuristic porn stars attending an adult film convention, later hitting the sheets for some intimate moments.
18. ScHoolboy Q – “Black ThougHts”
TDE’s ScHoolboy Q went for a larger scope portrait in the video for “Black ThougHts,” a commentary on the prison system and a call for gangs to end their violent ways.
19. Tinashe – “Superlove”
Tinashe put the “bae” in “Baywatch” in the video for “Superlove,” a single off her still-pending sophomore album Joyride. She matches the sunny disposition of the tune, which interpolates INOJ’s “Love You Down.” The bikini-clad songstress hits the beach with her girls on lifeguard duty, saving a few drowning gents in the process.
20. Yo Gotti – “Down in the DM”
In a spot-on homage to UGK and OutKast’s iconic video for “Int’l Players Anthem,” Yo Gotti hits the chapel with his associates—Machine Gun Kelly by his side as a groomsman, CeeLo Green as the officiator—as the bride- and groom-to-be take a few moments before tying the knot to check their DMs and question if they’re making the right decision.
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