It’s been a week since singer/rapper/songwriter/actor/producer/comedian (and breathe) Donald Glover graced us with his latest single and its accompanying video, This is America, and the internet has just begun to settle down. The song’s video depicts a multitude of major issues facing U.S society today, including gun violence, racism and the effect of social media, and was received with rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Glover himself has stayed relatively quiet amid the noise, only commenting that he “just wanted to make a good song” when asked. But it’s clear from the incredibly layered and thought-provoking music video that Glover played special attention to the visual when constructing the song, and understood its importance in resonating with fans.
It’s often been said in the last ten years that the art of the music video is dead, but recent pop powerhouses have proven that that couldn’t be further than the truth. It’s true that the music video may have lost the novelty it once had in the 80s and 90s when the medium was newer and fans waited with bated breath in the evenings to catch them on MTV. Nowadays, music videos are a dime a dozen, and artists have to work harder and be more innovative to create a lasting impression. But when they do, it can cement their status as icons, above their fellow artists who are more complacent with the visual side of music.
The best artists understand this, and have given us some of the most powerful images in music as a result. Here are just five of our favourite images from the past five years of amazing music videos.
This is America – Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino’s 2018 video follows him through a chaotic warehouse, where death, destruction and gunfire riots in the background, while Gambino and his followers obliviously demonstrate the latest dance fads to camera. The video has been renowned as Gambino’s masterpiece, and has layers of references to both black history and pop culture, but it’s the scene in which he murders a church choir that arguably packs the biggest punch. In what has been said to be a reference to the 2015 Charleston church shooting, in which a white supremacist murdered nine African American church goers, Gambino starts off happily dancing to the choir’s upbeat singing, before quickly losing interest, grabbing a machine gun and killing them in one swoop. The gun is then carried off and rioters and police rush to the scene, while the shooter himself dances away.
Formation – Beyoncé
If Beyoncé hadn’t achieved icon status before, it certainly came with her 2016 album Lemonade. Clearly an artist who knows the importance of imagery, Lemonade was Beyoncé’s second ‘visual’ album, accompanied upon its release by an hour long film. The entire album is a feast for the senses, but it’s the video for its first single Formation that caused the biggest stir. In addition to the lyrics, Queen B sought to represent black culture and her own ethnicity in ways rarely seen in mainstream media up to that point. References to Louisiana Creole culture and black pride featured throughout, and the iconic wide-brimmed black hat were a major feature throughout the Formation tour that followed.
PYNK – Janelle Monaé
Two words: vagina trousers. Janelle Monaé has long been one of the most original and interesting artists in pop, and her latest video for PYNK inspired an outpouring of praise from women’s columns everywhere. PYNK sets out to explore female sexuality, both personal and societal, and bring vaginas to the mainstream. Monaé dances in the desert with her pink-clad sisters, all wearing ruffled trousers that represent beautiful, big vaginas. In an industry where female sexuality is a contentious subject, Monaé’s fashion statement was gorgeous, and a welcome invitation to women everywhere to embrace their bodies.
New Rules – Dua Lipa
As the UK’s most streamed female on Spotify, 2017 was definitely Dua Lipa’s year and her smash hit single New Rules was a cherry on top. The accompanying video, though, was even better. A celebration of girlhood and female friendship, Dua dances through a house of her supportive allies, all clad in Instagram-worthy pastel pajamas, as they remind her and each other that (for want of a better phrase) boys ain’t sh*t. The choreography is seamless, and Dua’s story of slowly building herself back up with the help of her sisters, before turning to a friend to do the same, is something that every girl will recognise as the reason we need our girls. Dua herself is well-known for her girl-power attitude and it was fitting for her to portray it so elegantly in what was definitely one of the top videos of last year.
Humble – Kendrick Lamar
Just this year, Kendrick Lamar received a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 album DAMN, so you know this guy is doing something right. The video for the album’s first single Humble, full of symbolism and rich cinematography, became an instant classic, with critics and fans alike. The video sees Lamar as a pope, at a seat at the Last Supper, on a bed of cash, and more, coinciding with the song’s lyrics criticising rap’s often ego-centric culture. Lamar is saying that he knows he’s not an icon worthy of ‘religious’ worship, but in the process, he shows himself to be one of the few artists deserving of their hype.