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The 15 Best Music Videos of 2012

In a year filled with interactive adventures, surrealist fantasies and, of course, gallop-dancing in white suits, here are 2012's most striking music videos.

  • 01 /15 | The Shins "Simple Song"

    Zach Braff’s favorite band returned from a five-year hiatus with a new album of jangly indie-pop. The video for lead single "Simple Song" kicked things off properly with supposedly deceased frontman James Mercer sending messages from beyond the grave.

  • 02 /15 | Keaton Henson "Small Hands"

    If you have a special spot in your heart for woodland creatures, Keaton Henson’s video for "Small Hands" will be especially heartbreaking. The soulful, acoustic crooner’s music is accompanied here by pairs of animals from various phylum chordate becoming separated forever. For more of the melancholy songwriter’s tear-jerking abilities also see here.

  • 03 /15 | Chairlift “Have We Met Before?”

    Interactive videos are coming into their own, but this one by Brooklyn buzz band Chairlift outclasses all the rest. The choose-your-own adventure style video lets viewers loose inside a campus funhouse with so many different potential outcomes, I dare you to try them all. (Say hi to the bees for me.)

  • 04 /15 | Grimes "Oblivion"

    Watch Grimes flip every gender construct you can think of on its head. Well, that is kind of the artist’s whole thing, but she also does it in this excellent video, set at a monster-mega sportsplex of the future, and in its boys’ locker room.

  • 05 /15 | Jack White “Sixteen Saltines”

    There was a lot of casual violence and disturbing imagery in music videos this year (and perhaps every year), but even in a crowded field, Jack White’s solo video “Sixteen Saltines" stood out for its portrayal of a town ruled by kids who are unspeakably cruel to each other (and, ultimately, to Jack White).

  • 06 /15 | The Shoes “Time to Dance”

    Talk about misleading song titles. “Time to Dance” sounds pretty fun, the type of thing that just might get the party started. It’s upbeat, it’s edgy--it’s a jam. It’s a mystery then, how the video ended up outfitting a menacing Jake Gyllenhaal in fencing gear and setting him loose to wreak havoc on unsuspecting partiers.

  • 07 /15 | Danny Brown "Grown Up"

    Up-and-coming rapper Danny Brown has an identifying gap in his teeth, a penchant for hipster fashion statements, and hair that crests over one side of his face. So does the little boy who plays mini-Danny in an energetic performance for the video “Grown Up.”

  • 08 /15 | Aimee Mann “Labrador”

    It is a tribute to director Tom Scharpling's humor and leadership skills that he was able to persuade Aimee Mann to recreate the video she made for her former band ‘Til Tuesday’s greatest hit, “Voices Carry,” shot-for-shot. In doing so, the director drew attention to how wonderfully cheesy music videos could once get away with being, and perhaps introduced new fans to a killer tune from the '80s.

  • 09 /15 | Jay-Z & Kanye West "Ni**as In Paris"

    It’s unfortunate that the best song off of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative 2011 album, Watch the Throne, is the one whose title should not be spoken aloud in conversation. In any case, the video I will simply amend to “Paris” gave casual fans a chance to see the pulsating spectacle that Jay and ‘Ye put on at their explosive live shows, where they performed this song up to 15 times in a row some nights.

  • 10 /15 | St. Vincent “Cheerleader”

    The haunting atmospherics of St. Vincent’s 2011 cut “Cheerleader,” found an appropriate visual counterpart in its video. Director Hiro Murai realistically rendered the singer/songer as an enormous giantess stuck in a museum, who eventually falls apart--much to the chagrin of full-hearted fanboys everywhere.

  • 11 /15 | OK Go “Needing/Getting”

    Has YouTube been kinder to any band than OK Go? The real question is, has any other band been more kind to it. OK Go has consistently concocted videos that serve as full-blown events--from their choreographed treadmill-dancing in "Here It Goes Again" to an incredible Rube Goldberg machine in "This Too Shall Pass." This year, they added another feather to their cap with the Chevy Sonic-branded effort “Needing/Getting”, which used a car to make music and had the distinction of premiering during the Super Bowl.

  • 12 /15 | Joey Ramone “New York City”

    The artist himself may have been dead for the last 11 years, but that didn’t stop a bunch of his fans (both famous and otherwise) from paying tribute to Joey Ramone in a stop-motion video. New York comedy lovers should be on the lookout for cameos from Kristen Schaal, Scott Adsit, Reggie Watts, Kurt Braunohler, and more.

  • 13 /15 | Psy “Gangnam Style”

    Not just the biggest music video of the year, but the most-seen YouTube video of all time, period, “Gangnam Style” is destined to become shorthand for the year 2012. In a year that included other inescapable hits by Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen, this one rose to another level. While at some point, the hype about the video became about the hype itself, it’s worth noting that the video itself is a fun and splashy number with a goofy, easy-to-mimic dance craze. Expect to see more of that in 2013.

  • 14 /15 | M.I.A. "Bad Girls"

    Although M.I.A. started the year known to many as the lady who flicked off the Super Bowl audience, all anybody will be saying about M.I.A.’s 2012 in years to come is that she made a rad video that year. “Bad Girls,” directed by Romain Gavras, puts the shit-kicking Sri Lankan star in a Middle Eastern futureworld replete with dynamic dancers and trick driving. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the song is every bit as epic as the visuals.

  • 15 /15 | Yung Jake ""

    DIY at its finest. The heretofore unknown Yung Jake turned heads this year with "," an odyssey across all social media that ingeniously illustrates what it takes to make a song a hit right now. We’re not alone in recognizing its excellence--Jake and "" will be at the upcoming Sundance festival (note to experience the video you MUST visit its dedicated page).

MTV may have quit airing music videos a while back to focus on teenage pregnancy shows exclusively, but the move was hardly a death knell for the art form. In the age of YouTube, a wellspring of unfettered, unfiltered creativity has risen up through the efforts of musicians and filmmakers, who now have a direct connection to audiences. That raging drive to go as far out as possible, and take the audience along for the ride, remained alive and well in 2012.

This past year saw more and better interactive videos than ever before, as technology continues to catch up with our collective imagination. A volatile undercurrent of rancor ran through many videos, mirroring America’s angry political climate in the months preceding the presidential election. Also, there was a lot of messing around with gender roles. And even though we may never have the experience of all catching the same videos at the same time on MTV, it’s comforting to know that every person you’ve ever met has seen and possibly line-danced to "Gangnam Style."

Have a look through Co.Create’s picks for the 15 best music videos of the year above.