I should begin by confirming that I’m neither a music critic nor a video expert.
Billboard has been my go-to, as it is millions of music lovers’, for not only charts and stats but also for how to engage with the work of certain artists who I’m unsure of, how to think about sounds and trends in the grander business of music history. But lately, I find myself disagreeing with their pieces on the legacies of some artists. It started with that piece arguing Beyonce’s comparison to Michael Jackson in terms of performance ingenuity, and continues with their “The 100 Greatest Music Videos of the 21st Century: Critics’ Picks,” published on 24 July.
I can’t help but disagree with the ranking.
Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” directed by Francis Lawrence, lands at No 1, deservedly so, followed by Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” directed by Dave Meyers; D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel?),” directed by Paul Hunter; Beyonce’s “Formation,” directed by Melina Metsoukas; Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” directed by Bryan Barber; and Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” by Metsoukas again—at Nos 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, respectively. But my happiness that Metsoukas is deservedly recognized for her best two videos was cut by seeing Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” directed by Joseph Khan, at No 7. I understand that greatness can be found in a video opening on an aeroplane, with Britney as an air hostess, and in flashy shots in which Britney is dressed in shiny clothes and is a futuristic heroine, but I do not understand how that video is this one. Especially when this one places ahead of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” directed by Jake Nava, at No 8. The Top 10 is completed by Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” directed by Spike Jonze, at No 9, and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” directed by Hiro Murai.
After Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis,” directed by Spike Jones, at No 11, and PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” directed by Cho Soo-Hyun, at No 12, the ridiculousness returns. At No 13—one spot ahead of Lady Gaga’s Beyonce-featuring “Telephone,” directed by Jonas Akerlund, and two ahead of Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.,” directed by Dave Meyers and The Little Homies—is a choice I’m not even accepting as the artist’s best: Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” directed by Joseph Khan. For real? How is “Blank Space,” with its trite angst of a wealth-spoiled, angry lover, even in the same space as, not to talk of being ranked ahead of, “Telephone” and “HUMBLE.,” two modern classics by artists whose music and video legacies are among the greatest of the current crop in the business? How is a show of opulence and jealousy anywhere around these two which merge serious art and social consciousness without compromise? I suspect that, as with Britney at No 7, Billboard’s critics have mistaken Swift’s huge celebrity for video artistry.
Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On,” directed by Meyers, sits at No 28, and Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers,” directed by Wolf Haley, is at No 32, four spots ahead of Rihanna’s Jay-Z-featuring “Umbrella,” directed by Chris Applebaum, at No 36, with Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” directed by Colin Tilley, at No 37. Kanye West’s Pusha T-featuring “Runaway,” directed by West himself, is at No 39, and—this is blasphemy—Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” directed by Akerlund, is at No 40. Question: How did these five videos end up behind Katy Perry’s Snoop Dogg-featuring “California Gurls,” directed by Matthew Cullen, at No 23?
Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” co-directed by Rihanna and Megaforce, is at No 61; Missy Elliot’s “Gossip Folks,” by Meyers again, is at No 64; Kendrick Lamar’s “I,” by Alexandre Moors, is at No 75; Janelle Monae’s Big Boi-assisted “Tightrope,” by Wendy Morgan, is at No 73; Gotye’s Kimbra-assisted “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Natasha Pincus, is at No 77; Madonna retains her video relevance with “Hung Up,” by Johan Renck, at No 79; and Miley Cyrus scores a second entry with “We Can’t Stop,” by Diane Martell, at No 80, after “Wrecking Ball,” directed by Terry Richardson, zoomed in high at No 19.
David Bowie comes in at No 87 with “Lazarus,” directed by Johan Renck, as does Aaliyah at No 93 with “Rock the Boat,” by Hype Williams. Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids,” directed by Nabil Elderkin, is at No 96; Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” by Sam Brown, is at No 97; and Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever,” by Francis Lawrence, one of the videos of my childhood, arrives at No 99. The list is closed off by Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Goin Down,” directed by Matt Lenski.
Image collage from Billboard.com.