In 2018, more than 35 years after the music video became an art form, they continued to evolve. This year we saw clips with incisive cultural commentary (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”), wildly creative and at times disturbing imagery (Tierra Whack’s “Whack World”), and of course a number of celebrity-studded outings (Drake’s “Nice for What?” featuring stars like Tiffany Haddish, Yara Shahidi, Olivia Wilde, and Tracee Ellis Ross, and Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” with Troye Sivan, Kris Jenner, and Jennifer Coolidge).
Here are Variety’s picks for the year’s top ten music videos, ranked in terms of visuals, casting, message, storytelling, and overall finesse.
1. “This Is America” by Childish Gambino
Coming in at number one with arguably the most socially impactful music video is Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” Wrought with symbolism, the video boldly criticizes American gun laws by depicting scenes of senseless violence. With a nod to the 2014 Charleston church shooting, Gambino and the background actors dance along as if everything is fine.
2. “Thank U, Next by” Ariana Grande
Coming in as a close second was Grande’s just-released and highly anticipated “Thank U, Next” video, knocking out her almost-as-mesmerizing “No Tears Left to Cry” in the final inning. If you need a play-by-play breakdown of every early 2000s pop-culture reference in “Thank U, Next,” including a classic “sry I dipped” apology to Pete Davidson via the Burn Book from “Mean Girls,” we’ve got you covered.
3. “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar & SZA
The bronze medal was a tough call, but we would be remiss not to acknowledge the mesmerizing grace of Lamar and SZA as a musical power-pairing. Who could argue with Kendrick Lamar in a wooden boat sailing across a sea of waving hands as an ominously stormy sky thunders in the distance? SZA’s hair contains multitudes — actually, the entire continent of Africa — and the dynamic duo serves us attitude, symbolism, gorgeous dancers, and, of course, a pack of black panthers.
4. “APESH**T” by the Carters
You know it’s a year of astoundingly good music videos when Beyonce and Jay-Z don’t even break the top three. To film this instantly iconic video, the husband and wife team actually rented out the Louvre. Fierce angles of Bey spitting bars are contrasted by writhing bodies, dramatic shots of renaissance paintings, and other famous works of art including the Mona Lisa.
5. “Nice for What” by Drake
In Drake‘s video directed by Karena Evans, a laundry list of powerful women stars appear: Olivia Wilde, Misty Copeland, Issa Rae, Rashida Jones, Jourdan Dunn, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tiffany Haddish, Yara Shahidi, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth and Victoria Lejonhjärta, Letitia Wright, Bria Vinaite, Emma Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, and Syd.
6. “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monae
This Prince-inspired bop was featured in Monae’s “Dirty Computer” Emotion Picture, the narrative film to go along with the artist’s latest album. In this colorful video featuring Tessa Thompson, Monae’s sexuality is on fearless display.
7. “Til It’s Over” by Anderson Paak
This Spike Jonze-directed Apple Homepod advertisement stars FKA Twigs. Coming home after a tiring day at work, she asks Siri to “play me something I’d like” — prompting Anderson Paak’s “Til It’s Over” to pipe through the speakers, turning her apartment into a magical fantasy space where she can dance her cares away.
8. “Whack World” by Tierra Whack
Containing 15 distinct songs in one 15-minute video, Tierra Whack’s “Whack World” is a strange and wonderful watch, featuring Whack in a montage of different narratives, including storytelling nail art, a party RV, sock puppets, a roomful of magnifying glasses and more mind-bending scenes.
9. “New Light” by John Mayer
Unexpectedly quirky, this Mayer bop may just be the meme-worthiest music video of 2018. Rumor has it that Mayer had this made by a local Los Angeles videographer who specializes in bat mitzvah videos. Who can help but watch in rapt wonder as three Mayers gaze pensively into the distance, high above fluffy clouds at sunset? Whether superimposed into a convertible, dancing with zebras or standing in front of the Eiffel tower, this cheeky vid is a feat of green-screen engineering.
10. “Finesse” by Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B
Dishing out a totally awesome dose of ’90s nostalgia, Mars and Cardi make an on-screen pairing picture-perfect enough to star in their own show on Nick at Nite. Hoop earrings, chains and oversized clothes lend authenticity to this tasty track. Complete with period correct camera angles and Cardi’s signature snarl, this video presents a winning combination of attitude, aesthetic and absolute finesse.