There are many ways an emerging artist may attempt to leverage their exposure. From live shows, collaborations, soundtrack features, interviews or press photos, there are no shortage of methods through which an artist may secure fans early in their career. One of the most effective ways to present all of the artistic facets an artist might possess is with the production of a music video.
The multisensory nature of the format that rose from near extinction during the post-MTV pre-YouTube era allows an artist to showcase their musical prowess as well as their personalities, performances skills, unique mannerisms, or the fashion and style choices they feel fit their persona. With the help of music video directors, and at a fraction of the cost once associated with their production, a video can visualize certain styles, aesthetics or narratives that can help make a song or artist’s music resonate with potential fans. The following music videos are twenty of the most impressive and inspiring music videos released this year which make excellent use of limited budgets and creative talent to assist in establishing these new acts amongst HumanHuman’s most promising fresh talent.
At its surface, the debut video for “TBC” from 18-year-old North Londoner Ama Lou seems a light hearted glimpse at the day to day camaraderie shared between Lou and her friends. If we take a deeper look past the jam sessions, stylish clothing and skateboarding, the infectious track also reveals its profound significance through the lyrics as a politically charged call-to-arms for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. “TBC” examines both the idea of the media’s tendencies to associate ‘craziness’ with activism and the history of injustices suffered by minorities everyday. If we pay even closer attention, lines such as, “When you say I can't, I can't breathe”, are an intentional reference to Eric Garner, a man tragically choked to death by police in 2014. Many music videos have dealt with these themes in 2016, including Run The Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes” and Blood Orange’s “Sandra Smiles”. For Ama Lou, an artist with only two singles and this music video currently online, this stands out as a powerful visual and audible statement at the start of her promising career.
The DESFAINE-directed music video for Ayelle’s “Machine”, the title track of her first EP, takes a decidedly feminist approach in it’s depiction of the breaking down of a patriarchal sexual objectification of women via the male gaze. Ayelle and DESFAINE worked together to expand upon the themes of sexism introduced in the lyrics of “Machines” to portray these ideas through a video that’s as shadowy and sacred as Ayelle’s dark R&B-electronic-pop. The clip features dancer Mia Nacamae’s passionate choreographed dance in an outdoor setting unnaturally lit by halogen strobes, whilst actor Guilhemere Barroso observes nearby. The ominous and uncomfortable video is made all the creepier by it’s shooting local of the Sintra Woods, a popular centre for cult worship.
Some may consider animated videos a method of ‘phoning in’ a visual, but a more open minded viewer can easily appreciate videos executed this way for their impressive craftsmanship and inspirational artistry. The wildly colourful and imaginative video for Bonzai’s “I Did” takes us on a lucid voyage through the jungle as the illustrated musician seeks deeper personal connections. Animation permits filmmakers the ability to transport viewers to fantastic and otherworldly environments that are limited only by their imaginations instead of the usual financial and technical constraints that impede live action video production. There have been other examples of animated videos this year such as Dreller’s “Control” and Tanya Tagaq’s “Center”, but it’s the mixture of Bonzai’s magnetic, bouncing electronics, pan vocal delivery and the contributions of seven animators that makes this a debut video to take note of.
Welsh vocalist Casi’s visual for first release “Lion” is perhaps not one for squeamish viewers, but it should certainly be included amongst 2016’s most unforgettable music video debuts. The stylish and darkly atmospheric visual sees Casi herself lying in a dreamlike setting as grotesque insects crawl and slide their way across her skin. Through contrasting visuals of feminine beauty and close ups of snails, beetles and centipedes, the video is a peculiar and sensual introduction to Casi’s unique sound and style. Directed by London photographer Maisie Cousins, who explains that her work “explores themes of power, femininity, nature, technology, the body and indulgence,” all of which we see in close proximity paired with Casi’s ethereal single.
South East London duo Temptress and director Fred Rowson pair up for a captivating translation of the band’s alt-soul song “Lies”. The black and white video explores themes of deceit, remorse and spirituality through it’s intoxicating visuals which feature the two band members being baptised by enigmatic masked individuals. The elemental nature of waters is a key symbol within the video, relating to the gentle, flowing vocals of Temptress which can so quickly changed into bassy, dam-breaking surges. You’ll probably struggle to pull your gaze away from “Lies”, although at times you might want me. At the video’s climax, there is a graphic moment of violence which dramatically builds upon its impact. It could easily be a a feature-length film trailer, which acts as testament to Rowson as a director and Temptress as musicians deeply connected to their creative output.
Teenage sister duo and Beyoncé prodigies Chloe x Halle’s remarkable sound was justifiably visualized with the release of their first music video in September this year. Despite the iconic endorsement, very few could have predicted that teenagers Chloe and Halle Bailey would make such a mature performance as seen in “Drop”. Notable aspects of the video include it’s ranch and rolling hills setting, the same used in the Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, subtle choreography, exceptional fashion choices, and a very particular entangled hair arrangement. So far, everything about the sibling’s music project has been incredibly well accomplished, this video included, and we can’t wait to hear and see what’s next.
Easily one of my favourite tracks and videos of 2016, Toronto talent Jessie Reyez’s powerful vocals and performance boldly and irresistibly pulls at your emotions and carves out a permanent home in your heart. The honest and spare visual is an intimate performance that proves a minimalist approach can be just as effective as any high concept and costly production. Some other notable videos that have employed a similar artist centric and emotive approach include Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes” and Cuckoolander’s “Beating Myself Up”. What makes Reyez’s debut visual stand out, is that the lack of colour and simple prop use allow the Canadian artist’s open performance to shine out.
Julia Jacklin’s video for “Pool Party” serves the dual purpose of both introducing us to the songwriting skills of this Sydney-via-Blue Mountain musician as well as her tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. The peculiar visual which sees Jacklin dancing in different rooms while a man (the band’s drummer Thomas Stephens in fact) exercises is the stuff of arthouse short films. Throughout the off-base clip, Jacklin emulates the gentle sway of “Pool Party”, one that you might find yourself unconsciously copying. Directed by Australian video-makers Sam Brumby and Anna Phillips, the inexplicable and mesmerising clip fits well alongside the handfuls of music video homages to the works of notable film directors such as David Lynch, Harmony Korine and Wes Anderson.
An aesthetically pleasing clip shot in Tokyo frames the incredibly beautiful visual for Gold Coast sibling duo Lastlings in their debut video for “You”. The ORFN (Mark Duclos) directed video makes use of many popular visual techniques such as rotating cameras and slow motion resulting in a dizzying and dreamlike effect. The video also makes remarkable use of Geisha choreography, that is as graceful and poised as Lastlings’ performance of the London Grammar-esque track “You”
In addition to her one song a month project, Seattle’s self-proclaimed “pastel pop” artist Liyv has spent 2016 establishing both her sonic and her aesthetic style through the release of two music videos. Recently she dropped a colourful video for the single “Laser Eyes”, which dramatically contrasts the tones of her debut video for “Splintered Arms”, released back in April. The gloomy yet whimsical video follows Livy on a voyage through the forest as she collects flora, a true to life passion of this ambitious artist. If Liyv’s first year of musical output has delivered twelve original songs and two videos, then we can be sure 2017 will be just as productive.
With several beckoning images initially teased through promo art, the first complete visual for mysterious breakout art-pop act Lully is a fitting accompaniment to the incredible harmonies and synths of debut single “Slow D’s”. The hypnotic video consists of a female individual, who may be part of Lully, dancing behind corrugated glass and dowsed in vibrant colours. It’s a thoroughly modern art-piece, and yet you’ll spot a bust of the project’s historic namesake, Jean-Baptiste Lully, the 17th-century French baroque composer, instrumentalist, dancer and courtier. We’re sure he’d be proud.
It’s been a huge year for newcomer Maggie Rogers, whose “Alaska” is best known as the track that made Pharrell Williams cry. Director Zia Anger (a regular Jenny Hval and Angel Olsen collaborator) delivers this suitably majestic visual which features Rogers dancing in the forest with her friends until the setting seamlessly transports us to a night party. The trope of outdoor dance sequences is certainly one you’ll come across as few times in this video, perhaps a way for music to reconnect with the wild. The video acquaints us with this significant new artist by establishing her admiration for nature and dance, two elements which hold a strong sway over her alternative electronica.
Adapted from an idea scribbled onto the back of a setlist by California native Margaret Glaspy by Christopher Good (who has previously worked with Dum Dum Girls, Perfume Genius and others), the memorable music video for “You And I” is a playful and multi-coloured affair that spotlights Glaspy capering through the ever-changing scenery. If her quirksome voice and upbeat rock vibes hadn’t already won you over, then this debut video performance surely will.
The music video for Los Angeles newcomer Maty Noyes’ buoyant single “In My Mind” is a hypercolor meta-trip through fragmented memories and the emotional baggage of past relationships that is often unintentionally brought into new ones. Accomplished videographer Dano Cerny (Broods, Erik Hassle, Galantis) directs the rose-tinted narrative as it follows Noyes and a male love interest through a shifting focus from reality to fantasy in a surreal manner that is both affecting and amusing.
Videos with a more narrative approach will often employ actors, whether popular or lesser known, as their central characters, and yet this year we’ve seen many videos in which the song’s artist assumes the role of protagonist. Noah Cyrus recently used the video format to air her debut single “Make Me (Cry)” which sees both Cyrus and featured artist Labrinth in lead roles. The video makes the most of a split screen effect which focuses on the characters’ conflicted feelings about each of their significant others. Cyrus and Labrinch are each other’s mirror image, going through the same motions and clearly tousling with difficult feelings, showing how many relationships encounter the same problems. It’s an effective and emotionally impactful visual that’s approach to showcasing a featured artist is both practical and unique.
Proving that with enough personality a quirky and effective music video can be produced on a very limited budget, the video for Off Bloom’s very infectious “Love To Hate It” provides a candid snapshot of the group hanging out and not taking this music video thing all too seriously From dancing on mounds of rubble to chilling out at home to roaming through corn fields, and many more unexpected additions, this Danish trio complete the easy-going effect with the obviously self-shot camera work and simple equipment. What’s even more interesting is that the director is Nadia Marquard Otzen, the common force behind modern iconic watches like Years & Years’ “King” and Rosie Lowe’s “Woman”, who uses Off Bloom’s first video as a way to experiment with a less usual DIY approach.
Sälen’s second song release “Diseasy” receives a nauseating and beautiful visual that you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from. It’s a literal interpretation of a track which explores regrettable choices in intimate situations. The video sees one-third of London outfit Sälen, Ellie Kameo, singing and dancing as assorted and unidentifiable fluids run down her face. Simultaneously disgusting and engaging, as a watching experience “Diseasy” will stick in your mind. It’s also a perfect match for Sälen’s fantastically odd leftfield pop.
Easily one of the most fantastic and visually stunning music videos in our list is the CRUDO directed clip for Serpentwithfeet’s “Four Ethers”. The dark and mystical visual features Josiah as he performs Butoh inspired dance atop a sinister backdrop adorned with flowing attire that expands on the video’s mysterious and eerie overtones. It’s a visceral experience that is as striking as it is unforgettable.
hen two odd geniuses such as Connan Mockasin and LA Priest’s Sam Dust join forces we wind up with the uber strange Soft Hair. Paired up with director Joseph Bird, their “Lying Has To Stop” video received a justifiably awkward, suggestive and campy video which sees the duo sharing vocal and dance duties through a plethora of bedroom eyes and swaying hips.
The first video from Toothless, also known as Bombay Bicycle Club bassist Ed Nash, was inspired in part by films such as Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. The cinematic visual avoids a clear-cut narrative yet still manages to convey an unforgettable collection of vignettes that serve to elaborate on the song’s astronomical significance. As Nash told us in this year’s interview, “Terra” is an imagined love story between the sun and moon, although this intentionally ambiguous video gives viewers the opportunity to conceive their own interpretations. The directorial team behind Toothless’ debut music video, also left their mark on “Sisyphus” a GIF inspired creation that is also well worth a look.