While many music videos are merely slick, soulless promos for potential hit singles, occasionally a video comes out that transcends crass commercialism and actually stands alone as a work of visual art. Happily, quite a few such artworks hit TV screens and computer monitors for three or so minutes at a time this year, and when we here at Yahoo Music added all those minutes together...well, we realized we spent much of 2013 enjoying some truly awesome music videos.
So here, in ascending order of awesomeness, are our picks for the top 20 videos of the year.
20. Phoenix – "Entertainment"
They may hail from France, but Phoenix's recreation of a high-end Korean soap opera is surprisingly on point — so much so, we're hoping for a sequel in 2014. We need to know what happens next!
19. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – "Sacrilege" [viewer discretion advised]
This seemingly Scarlet Letter-inspired epic stars scarlet-haired British actress Lily Cole as wanton woman who pays dearly for her sins of the (freckled) flesh. Her performance is startling. Can music videos be eligible for Oscars?
18. Yoko Ono – "Bad Dancer"
Supercool octogenarian Yoko invites her hipster friends (including the Beastie Boys' Mike D and Ad-Rock, the Roots' ?uestlove, Roberta Flack, Reggie Watts, and Ira Glass) to come bust a move in some tinfoil-plastered Brooklyn bunker. A lot of (you guessed it) bad dancing ensues. But it's the so-bad-it's-good kind of bad dancing. The GIFs practically create themselves.
17. Janelle Monae – "Q.U.E.E.N."
Stars in stripes! The flawless Janelle recruits the regal Erykah Badu for one of the most stylish and stylized clips of the year. She really lives up to the title of her new album, The Electric Lady, with this one.
16. Empire of the Sun – "Alive"
True to the band's cinematic moniker, every Empire of the Sun video is an over-the-top widescreen masterpiece. And "Alive" is no exception. Animal costumes, desert landscapes, body-painted jungle-women, towering spaceman headdresses…this EotS sci-fi saga is ridiculously sublime, sublimely ridiculous, and just plain rad.
15. Mumford & Sons – "Hopeless Wanderer"
In case you thought M&S were a bunch of over-earnest folkies, this Lonely Island-esque clip — starring comic geniuses Jason Sudekis, Ed Helms, Jason Bateman, and Will Forte as the members of the band — proves they've got a wonderfully skewed sense of humor. No folk-music cliché is left untouched here, and the result is one of the best self-parody videos not just of 2013, but of all time. These guys found comedy gold in a "Hopeless" place.
14. David Bowie – "The Stars Are Out Tonight"
Bowie, the comeback king of 2013, made several epic videos this year. But this one, directed by Floria Sigismondi and starring Thin White Duchess Tilda Swinton as Bowie's lookalike missus, is still the most epic of them all. How wonderful to see this rock icon and video vanguard, as glamorous and dapper as ever, onscreen again.
13. Arcade Fire – "Reflektor" (Interactive Version)
True visual pioneers, this year Arcade Fire created an open-source Google Chrome experiment that lets viewers use a computer, phone, or tablet to manipulate their video's graphics or even incorporate their own faces into the clip. A demo is below, but to see the real thing, go to justareflektor.com and prepare to be blown away.
12. Cut Copy – "Free Your Mind" [viewer discretion advised]
Australian cult band Cut Copy cast cult actor Alexander Skarsgård to play the sexy, shirtless leader of a tracksuited cult. This is definitely a video worthy of worship.
11. Lily Allen – "Hard Out Here" [viewer discretion advised]
In a twerktastic year filled featuring Miley Cyrus's not-safe-for-Disney makeover, Robin Thicke's soft-porn spree "Blurred Lines," and Rihanna's X-rated Instagram, Lily's comeback was so needed. "Hard Out Here" was possibly the wittiest, realest, most girl-powered pop song of the year, and its accompanying video (a withering missive against sexism in mainstream music) did for pop in 2013 what Pink's "Stupid Girls" did in 2006. Welcome back, Lily. You've been missed.
10. Willy Moon – "Yeah Yeah"
Want to see what real star quality looks like? Look no further than this dazzling video, starring model-handsome New Zealand rockabilly god Willy Moon. It's a little bit Bye Bye Birdie, a little bit All That Jazz, a little bit "Single Ladies," and whole lotta amazingness. This Moon is a rising star.
9. Darwin Deez – "You Can't Be My Girl"
Talk about a video evolution! Darwin turns photobombing into a bona fide art form here. You'll never look at stock photography the same way again.
8. Bruno Mars – "Treasure"
Disco is back, baby! This looks like a vintage outtake straight outta "Soul Train." And it's the video that Daft Punk really should have made for "Get Lucky" this year.
7. Justin Timberlake – "Mirrors"
There's a reason this won so many VMAs this year. A seven-minute celebration of the 63-year marriage of Justin's real-life grandparents, from their 1950s bobby-socks courtship to lump-throated scenes of Grandma as a recent widow, it's an extremely moving clip that warrants multiple viewings…preferably with a box of extra-ply Kleenex at the ready.
6. Franz Ferdinand – "Evil Eye" [viewer discretion advised]
Director Diane Martel made news in 2013 for her work on Miley Cyrus's racy "We Can't Stop" and Robin Thicke's even racier "Blurred Lines"…but do not overlook the grossout masterpiece she made for Franz. This medley oflow-budget, lose-your-lunch horror scenes is NSFW is an entirely different, entirely unsexy way, but you won't be able to look away.
5. Avril Lavigne – "Rock N Roll"
The bear-shark and Tank-Girl-on-girl kiss with Danica "Winnie Cooper" McKellar in this utterly confounding clip has garnered all the media attention, but we think its most VMA-worthy moment is Avril's "November Rain"-inspired guitar solo, which pops up in the middle for no reason (other than it's just friggin' cool to pay homage to Slash). Either way, "Rock N Roll" rocks, in the weirdest way possible.
4. Miley Cyrus – "We Can't Stop"
Yes, we're sure "We Can't Stop" has landed on many worst-video-of-the-year lists. But the people who wrote those lists are just wrong. This is THE video for the modern age: Everything seems like it's been run through an Instagram filter, every shot looks like a really well-taken selfie, and the aforementioned Diane Martel's art direction is just impeccable. That Pepto Bismol bloodletting! The French-fry skull! The money sandwich! The twerking teddy bears! We couldn't stop watching this in 2013. Admit it, neither could you.
3. Bob Dylan – "Like a Rolling Stone"
It took 50 years for Dylan's classic to get an official music video, but it was well worth the wait: That way, the song could undergo a truly modern treatment. This astoundingly inventive interactive clip, by digital media company Interlude, creates an alternate cable television universe where, no matter what channel you tune to, the shows' hosts are lip-synching "Like a Rolling Stone." It's all Bob, all the time, 24/7…and it's definitely must-see TV.
2. Foals – "Late Night" [viewer discretion advised]
The cycle of life goes into full spin in this Oxford buzz band's arty NSFW clip, as under the roof of a single dilapidated hotel building, a woman gives birth, a man hangs himself, and a nekkid couple does the deed. To call this video "intense" would be the understatement of 2013. To call it "brilliant" would be very appropriate.
1. Capital Cities – "Safe and Sound"
We hope our New Year's Eve party is as jubilant and colorful as this dancetastic tour de force, which just nabbed a well-deserved Grammy nomination for Best Music Video. Rarely does a video so perfectly capture the vibe of a song as this one does. It's the look and sound of pure joy. We dare you to watch this and not smile.