Looking back at the best music videos of 2011, one thing leaped out: All of the best clips were made by the same six or seven people.
So rather than call out individual entries for their greatness, we’re going to reward the directors who put together the best portfolios this year. Anybody can make one excellent video, but it takes serious jiujitsu to knock out three great ones. That left a lot of awesome videos on the table (all apologies to excellent entries like Foo Fighters’ “Walk,” Beyoncé’s “Countdown,” and Ke$ha’s “Blow”), but this is a pretty good sum-up of the year in music videos.
1) Spike Jonze
Jonze only stood behind the camera for two videos this year, but they were both game-changers. Beastie Boys’ “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” was a sandbox revelation that was way better than the actual feature film based on GI Joe, while Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis” turned that pair’s obsession with commercialism into a bombastic brand of Americana. Pour one out for the fallen Maybach, and raise your glass to Jonze, who proved that no amount of directing polarizing adaptations of beloved books for children can take away his four-minute spark.
No, our hockey-loving, poutine-consuming neighbors to the north didn’t collectively make a bunch of great videos (though considering their socialist tendencies, that scenario is not outside the realm of possibility). Canada is the nom de director of a trio of filmmakers from Barcelona (Luis Cerveró, Nicolás Méndez, and Lope Serrano) whose specialty is building benign images, strange art installations, and rhythmic, repetitive action into almost orgasmic explosions of hallucinatory visual glory.
They built Oh Land’s spectacularly journey through the looking glass for “White Nights” and got Biblical for White Lies’ “Holy Ghost,” but their calling card has become Battles’ “Ice Cream,” a supremely lascivious swirl of disorienting beauty that feels like it’s way dirtier than it actually is.
3) Tom Scharpling
Better known as the host of the cult hit radio show The Best Show on WFMU, as half of the comedy team Scharpling & Wurster, and as a writer on such eclectic TV shows as Monk and Tom Goes to the Mayor. Last year he got his feet wet directing music videos, but 2011 saw him take on two of indie rock’s most beloved collectives.
He handled Titus Andronicus’ epic New Jersey travelogue “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future,” and also helmed Wild Flag’s video for “Romance,” which contained undoubtedly 2011’s best use of a bunny-rabbit mask.
4) Marc Klasfeld
Klasfeld’s big headline-grabbing contribution to music videos this year was Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” which somehow seamlessly combined ’80s neon, Rebecca Black, and that one really gross scene of Perry vomiting into a roller skate.
While “Last Friday Night” is super fun (and buoyed by Perry’s natural charisma), Klasfeld’s 2011 resumé also included Rise Against’s “Make It Stop (September’s Children)” (a “message” video that managed to not be too heavy-handed), and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ surprisingly spry “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.” It’s an old concept (band plays outside, real people show up to see them), but Klasfeld managed to keep it fresh and helped the Chili Peppers look vital nearly 30 years after their formation:
5) Jake Nava
Did anybody have a more bipolar year than Jake Nava? He directed two clips, and they stood poles apart from one another as far as content was concerned, though both are excellent. Kanye West’s long-delayed “Monster” was all the terrible things people said about it, but it was also bracing, surprising, and bold. And Nava scored again with Adele’s “Someone Like You,” a phenomenally satisfying tearjerker:
6) Jesse Dylan
Even if he only directed the Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy,” Dylan probably would have gotten a free pass on this list, as that simple clip of one guy dancing does the work of dozens of inferior projects. Luckily, he also got behind the camera for Tom Waits’ “Satisfied,” which sort of acts as the more aggressive version of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower”:
7) Wolf Haley
Tyler, the Creator’s cinematic alter ego turned in a pair of mind-blowing videos this year, and as these things tend to happen, the one that fewer people saw was the far superior outing. Tyler’s “Yonkers” became an instant identifier for the entire Odd Future idiom, full of horror, humor, absurdity, and aggression. But Tyler truly got the best of him with “She,” which was haunting and disturbing but also snuck in a bit of melancholy. “Haley” is still pretty raw, though he’s clearly evolving:
8) Natasha Pincus
Though neither of her 2011 videos scored any serious crossover attention, Australian upstart Pincus remains a talent to watch. Her sad, surreal work for Australian chamber-folk combo Falloe’s “Science of the Heart” was lush and cinematic, but she really showed off her considerable skill set with Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” It takes a little while to get started, but once it hits its stride, it’ll have you reaching for the replay button over and over again:
9) Dugan O’Neal
TV on the Radio are always game for some mind-bending, and their shifting, cavernous “Will Do” lent itself nicely to the virtual-reality exploration of the video. O’Neal proved that he has some versatility, as his work for Gym Class Heroes on “Ass Back Home” (the best song on their underrated album The Papercut Chronicles II) is grounded in an almost punishing sense of realism:
10) Maria Matsoukas
Sure, she got into some trouble for her liberal borrowing of other people’s images, but Matsoukas is about 38 percent thief and 62 percent a victim of putting out videos in an era when stuff disseminates faster and farther than ever. (Mark Romanek used to pull this stuff all the time, and nobody really batted an eyelash.) Though “S&M” was a bit of a dud, the one-two punch of Rihanna’s sleek, sexy “You Da One” and the aggressive, manic, adrenalized “We Found Love” proved that she’s more than just a copycat.
Okay, that’s our list. What were some of your favorite videos of 2011? Let us know in the comments, and have a happy new year.