While the most viewed music video on YouTube this year is still Baby Shark (a cool 13.3 billion views), it hasn’t stopped a whole host of creative talent coming together to make compelling pieces of art for 2023.
AI has made an appearance in several of the videos featured here and beyond, but rather than simply letting the tech do all the work, in the best examples it’s been used as a tool to enhance and expand ideas.
There’s also been a distinct lack of animated videos in 2023 in comparison to the last few years. As the first full year without Covid restrictions, it seems the taste for in-person shoots has been fully quenched, and more elaborate, physical snippets of storytelling have been favoured.
Here you’ll find 10 of the best, which include artists horseriding across the Italian Alps, a homage to one of Kill Bill’s classic fight scenes, and a sugar-fuelled riot across London.
James Blake, Big Hammer. Director: Oscar Hudson
To chime in with the announcement of his album, Playing Robots into Heaven, in early summer James Blake released Big Hammer and with it came this video directed by Oscar Hudson. The track was a return to Blake’s dance music roots and the video matched this new energy.
The video opens with four young people having some lunch, before the camera then reverses away from the scene, attached to the car that the group has just ploughed into the restaurant. Chaotic, disruptive and darkly humorous, the vibe for the video is like an “extended cut of Pulp Fiction’s robbery scene”.
“Most of the exteriors and smash-y bits happen on this backlot in Bulgaria that we redressed and repurposed for our needs,” Hudson said at the time. “There’s very little VFX, if any, in there. It’s all just driving through walls, really.”
London Grammar and Camelphat, Higher. Director: Waxxwork
This video for London Grammar and Camelphat’s collaboration is one for the art nuts as classic paintings are interspersed between euphoric shots of people dancing. Directed by duo Waxxwork (aka Timothy Casten and Vikesh Govind), the paintings appear to effortlessly blend into the dancers’ faces, with the pair using Photoshop and AI to generate some of the artworks to make it more seamless. It was Waxxwork’s first time employing the tech in a project and they were keen to only use it to enhance the work rather than be the main tool.
This hyper kinetic style has been adopted several times this year, including in newcomer Mette’s video for Mama’s Eyes which won video of the year at the UK MVA’s. Directed by Camille Summers-Valli, instead of AI-created images it sees Mette’s performance intercut with home videos of the artist and her mother, as well as slices of pop culture and Hollywood films.
Little Simz, Gorilla. Director: Dave Meyers
Back in June, music video director Dave Meyers, who has worked with big names including Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliot, Harry Styles and more, teamed up with British-Nigerian rapper Little Simz for the promo of her track Gorilla.
The film is reminiscent of 90s hip hop music videos but is crammed with contemporary twists, including Little Simz’s distorted image mirrored multiple times or floating up in the sky, dodging paintballs in an empty swimming pool, and spiralling down a multistory carpark laid down on a skateboard. Interestingly, the video also has an alternate interactive version, ‘powered by Microsoft Cloud and AI’, that changes with every watch, which can be seen here.
Macgray, Backbone. Director: Aline Magrez
Belgian director Aline Magrez opted for a grim and gory approach for Macgray’s track Backbone. Not one for the faint of heart, the promo begins with a foley artist working on her latest project, a zombie horror movie.
Entranced by her work, the artist annihilates various fruit and veg, crunches leaves beneath her feet, and clashes knives and axes with reckless abandon. As things intensify, the video cuts between the sound studio and the movie, and culminates in a cacophony of synths and blood.
Riton ft Soaky Siren, Sugar. Director: So Me
A sugar addiction is personified in this high energy video for EDM producer Riton’s track, which features singer songwriter Soaky Siren. A cheeky schoolboy starts his sweet-fuelled rampage with a gobstopper and then chaos ensues across inner-city London as the kid searches for his next sugary hit.
The video was created by French director and designer So Me who has worked with the likes of Kanye West, Kid Cudi and MGMT. It’s a funny, absurd whirlwind with highlights including the schoolboy bursting out of a woman’s furry coat, diving headfirst into a bowl of flying saucers, and some joyful choreography.
It’s not the only video this year that featured schoolboy hijinks, with The Blaze’s video for Madly back in July, which was directed by the French duo (and cousins) Guillaume and Jonathan Alric themselves. The video features a teenager reciting a poem inspired by being taken to his first rave by his older brother and what follows is an ode to rave culture and dance music.
Aphex Twin: Blackbox Life Recorder 21f. Director: Weirdcore
Over the years Aphex Twin has become known for commissioning mind-bending visuals to accompany his music and for this summer’s Blackbox Life Recorder 21f, the artist teamed up with long-time collaborator Weirdcore.
The video is a nod to classic rave visuals and employs the skills of animators Alfie Dwyer together with Misha Notley and Archie Taylor, who developed AI imagery and backgrounds to form part of the hypnotic wormhole visuals. The video uses similar techniques as those developed for Aphex Twin’s current live shows and takes us on a weird journey through space.
AntsLive: Number One Candidate. Director: Tom Emmerson
Tom Emmerson, who featured in CR’s New Talent issue this year, claimed the best UK hip hop/grime/rap video for AntsLive’s Number One Candidate at the UK MVAs. A beautiful romp through the Italian Alps, the viral promo saw the artist ride horseback across the mountains, share a delicious spread with a goat, and dance with the locals.
“I was relieved it got the success it did, because it’s the first time I’ve felt like if you really do make something good enough, it will get seen,” Emmerson told CR. The pair have continued to collaborate with the equally ambitious Captain Ants, which sees the rapper learning how to wing walk and salsa dance.
Sza, Kill Bill. Director: Christian Breslauer
If you have a song that bears the same name as one of Quentin Tarantino’s most famous trilogies, it only makes sense that the music video for said track pays homage, and that’s exactly what Sza’s promo for Kill Bill did back in January.
The video, which has been viewed 89 million times, was directed by Christian Breslauer, who has become the go-to creator for the biggest names including Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, and The Weeknd. Various iconic scenes from Tarantino’s classic have been replicated, including the showdown between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah, O-Ren Ishiii’s anime sequence, and of course the fight scene against the Crazy 88 at the House of Blue Leaves.
Tsunaina, Tenderer. Director: Tsunaina
British-Nepali artist Tsunaina explored the theme of rebirth for the video for her track Tenderer, which she directed herself with co-directors Jake Jelicich and Justin Ridler. Featuring 3D work created with David Guerrero, the artist appears in digitised form and is seemingly suspended in animation.
As the track progresses, the artist is slowly pieced back together from her “embryonic form”, with this sense of rebuilding supposedly stemming from Tsunaina’s time working in the fashion industry.
Audrey Nuna, Locket. Director: Valentin Petit
The video for Audrey Nuna’s Locket was released posthumously after the death of its director Valentin Petit. As his final project, US rapper and singer Nuna is centre stage and statue-like in an art gallery as a series of vignettes take place around her.
Eccentric, larger-than-life characters are so absorbed in their lives and taking selfies that they fail to pay any attention to the artworks around them until Nuna opens up a locket necklace that contains a blue force so powerful everyone is slurped into the vortex.
The dark side of our obsession with screens and the self was also explored this year by director Thierry Albert (aka Albert Albert), who created a cautionary tale around smartphone culture for Thom Draft’s track, Sense.