As we round off the year, it feels as though you can’t move for someone sending you an AI-generated Christmas card, or rewriting A Christmas Carol on ChatGPT but with all the characters as dogs. So it’s perhaps little surprise that many of the most interesting music videos from the last year have been heavily focused on pushing the boundaries of tech, or at least doing something new with it – there was Max Cooper’s abstract, language-based, AI-generated offering for instance; while others, as we discuss below, have explored things like Deepfake technology and bringing back that bastion of high-tech prowess, the pager.
But that’s not to say that it’s only the techy stuff that’s made great videos this year – far from it. As ever, there’s been some gorgeous stop motion music videos; traditional animation; and some gripping use of straightforward live action. Here’s ten of the music videos that caught our eye in 2022 – in no particular order.
Jamie XX, Let’s Do It Again (lyric video); Director: Connor Campbell Studio
This mesmerising video for Jamie XX was created by Connor Campbell Studio (and worked on by designer Vincenzo Ragona, one of our 2023 New Talent picks) and uses nothing but typography to create a spellbinding take on the traditional lyric video. Studio founder Campbell has said that the idea to focus on type came from Jamie himself, then it was up to the design team to conceptualise, render and animate the whole thing in just a couple of weeks.
That wasn’t without its challenges: the track title, Let’s Do It Again, had to appear in no less than 18 languages throughout the video. Plus, the team worked across numerous different mediums to create the type, using tools such as Oculus Rift to create VR effects, Illustrator, Cinema4D and more.
Jordan Stephens, Feel Joy; Director: Phoebe McCaughley
Former CR Gradwatch pick Phoebe McCaughley is behind this beguiling stop motion animation for Jordan Stephens’ Feel Joy, spending eight months painstakingly creating every single element (except the clothes) by hand – oh, and she also animated and edited the whole thing.
McCaughley told us that she drew inspiration for the video from the song’s lyrics and also her experiences of anxiety during Covid lockdowns. “I wanted it to be an uplifting video,” she told CR. “A good day can always be around the corner. But I also wanted the brain to have a sinister edge – as if he could change the day at any moment.”
The Beatles, Taxman; Director: Danny Sangra
Next up is an entry from a little-known band called The Beatles, who despite having been pretty much the biggest band ever for about 60 years (and with two members no longer with us) are still managing to put out their music in fun, innovative new ways.
Here, illustrator, artist and filmmaker Danny Sangra was one of two creatives behind new animated music videos that were released in October to coincide with a new expanded edition of iconic album Revolver going on sale (the other was Em Cooper, who created a rotoscoped animation for I’m Only Sleeping). Sangra tackled Taxman, and again we see a focus on typography: it’s a suitably lively, colourful and expressive video, which borrows its style in no small part from that of Yellow Submarine.
Sangra has worked on other animated Beatles-based videos before, working on a “year of animated Beatles birthday messages from George Harrison to Paul, Ringo and John”.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom, Go On; Director: James Siewert
The summer of 2022 saw the launch of a beautifully trippy, pinball-based offering from Animal Collective member Panda Bear and former Spacemen 3 man Sonic Boom in the form of Go On. Created by New York-based filmmaker, cinematographer and visual effects artist James Siewert, the video was initially inspired by an idea from Sonic Boom based around “a modern 3d version of the classic Sesame street 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 video”, Siewert told CR.
Created over around ten weeks, the Go On video was animated in Blender and composited in After Effects. “Getting a ball to go through a maze is child’s play compared to character animation (which I suck at),” Siewert told us. “For the most part the ball is not traditionally animated — it’s a physics simulation as if you let a real ball loose on a real contraption — so making the rigid body physics behave well enough to the ball to hit specific beats of the song was a challenge.”
KH, Looking at Your Pager; Director: Trevor Jackson
Some big names here: KH (better known as Four Tet); music and graphic design legend Trevor Jackson; and the pager – that little device used by some in the days before teenagers had mobile phones so that their mums could message them and ask them to call back (from a payphone).
The video is part of a broader campaign concept created by Jackson that looks to mirror the lo-fi nature of KH’s current output. As such, he looked to vintage analogue equipment to forge a video based around visually sampling layers of text that appear on the screen like code. According to It’s Nice That, the final video was created using an old ASCII (text code) generator and Apple Motion software – all in just ten days.
Kendrick Lamar, The Heart Part 5; Directors: Dave Free, Kendrick Lamar
Deepfake technology isn’t exactly new, but it’s generated a lot more discussion over the last year or so – and not, on the whole, for positive reasons. So it was interesting to see deepfakery used for innovative creative ends, as in this video by Dave Free and Kendrick Lamar for the track The Heart Part 5.
The video sees Lamar take centre stage in front of a red backdrop, shapeshifting over the course of the video and taking on a range of well-known faces, from Kanye West to OJ Simpson, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle.
As CR’s Aimée McLaughlin pointed out in her piece about the video back in May, this isn’t the first music video to explore deepfakes (others include Miles Skarin’s music video for Steve Wilson, which featured famous faces including Joe Biden and David Bowie), but Lamar’s offering felt somehow more considered in its use of the tech.
Onoe Caponoe, Red Planet; Director: Mikey Bharj
Released earlier this month, the video for London-based rap and hip-hop artist Onoe Caponoe is another in his superb arsenal of psychedelic, transfixing and downright weird mashups of live footage, lo-fi animation and deliciously shonky VFX.
Over the years Onoe Caponoe has created a highly distinctive visual landscape based around a Sun Ra-esque take on interplanetary landscapes, cats, and more pedestrian territory like London’s transport system, and thankfully this is no different. It’s refreshingly DIY in appearance but no less watchable for it; and it’s about as surreal as they come – watch out for the cat in the lotus position, and a cameo from some praying mantises.
Röyksopp, If You Want Me (ft. Susanne Sundfør); Director: Jonathan Zawada
More psychedelia here, but of a much gentler persuasion, with Röyksopp’s If You Want Me, from the band’s ambitious Profound Mysteries project. The video (or ‘visualiser’) was created by Australian artist and designer Jonathan Zawada, with whom Röyksopp felt an instant kinship thanks to their shared interest in exploring the intersection of “technology and nature, digital and analogue, the artificial and the human,” as CR’s Megan Williams wrote in her piece about the project earlier this year.
Zawada began the process of creating imagery by feeding images into a GAN (general adversarial network), before meticulously digitally repainting the objects that were generated by the AI. “Part of the charm of GAN imagery is that at first glance it appears to be a normal photo but then you quickly realise that various details aren’t right, like incongruous lighting or perspective,” he told us. “One of the challenges in repainting them was in figuring out ways of preserving these vagaries while still making them a defined object.” To create the video, he then made the stills into 3D objects which were animated according to the tone of the track.
MIA, Popular; Director: Arnaud Bresson
A simple, but nonetheless very creepy premise is at the heart of the video for MIA.’s single Popular: the artist’s uncanny valley-ish animatronic double appears in a casting tape, occasionally joined by her real life counterpart.
Helmed by French director Arnaud Bresson, the cinematography is stark and stripped back; and the theme seems to be warning of a dystopian future (or perhaps present) in which the robots have well and truly taken over. Where the video feels smart is in its no frills approach: there’s pretty much one character, one setting and just a few fixed frames, yet a sense of tension carries the whole thing and keeps the viewer more than engaged right through to the bleakly comic denouement.
Pharrell Williams, Cash In Cash Out ft 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator; Director: François Rousselet
To end, a bit of a showstopper: the zoetrope-based video for Pharrell Williams’ Cash In Cash Out. Directed by François Rousselet and created with London-based visual effects company Electric Theatre Collective (ETC) and production company Division, the video uses CG animation to mimic the slightly woozy low frame rate style of stop motion to give the sense that things are a little eerie, and off kilter.
The zoetrope device unites the whole thing, with a relentlessly turning world of tiny toy cars, dismembered hands, miniature cash machines (and dollar bills, of course) and various zoomed in shots of the toy-like recreations of Williams’ co-stars 21 Savage and Tyler, The Creator. All in all, it feels like a masterclass in using high tech means to mimic low-tech mechanics, but in a way that celebrates both and fits the track beautifully.