We're finally here with the cream of the crop. Here are the 20 best music videos from underground, indie, and lesser-known artists of 2021. Overall, it was a fantastic year for videos despite the lingering pandemic, and some artists crafted visuals of epic proportions. Thank you for spending the week with us.
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20. th1rt3en, “Cult 45”
It’s going to take years of songs to bleach away the corruption and madness of the Trump years. Thank Rassilon groups like th1rt3en are here. The video is simple, but the imagery of devils being driven away with sage and televisions reduced to static is extremely comforting.
19. Dorian Electra, “My Agenda”
It’s times like these that you can really feel where Lady Gaga made her mark on the medium of the music video. Dorian Electra pulls a “Bad Romance” with a slight kawai feel in “My Agenda,” utterly dominating the screen with their electric presence.
18. Brand of Sacrifice, “Altered Eyes”
One of the most ambitious offerings of 2021 was the CGI epic “Altered Eyes.” Animated by Tony Simone, it appears to be the story of a godlike figure that is in the process of being constructed as forces mass to stop it. The execution is glorious and dynamic and a completely treat for the senses.
17. Evan Stanley feat. Bryan Cranston, “Memories”
One of the most random music videos of the year involves Paul Stanley’s (of Kiss) son covering Maroon 5 and hanging out with Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). Inspired by long drives through the desert on tour and worrying about the dwindling gas gauge, Evan Stanley and Cranston put on a delightful and slightly absurdist music video that just gets weirder and more adorable as it goes on. May all your breakdowns be as delightful.
16. Red Fang, “Arrows”
No band has ever come closer to creating a live action version of Aqua Teen Hunger Force than Red Fang does in “Arrows.” After blowing their entire music video budget on a katana, the band proceeds to act like compete freakin’ doodles with it in a non-stop hilarious parade of slashes. If you like seeing things cut in slow motion, it’s a double treat.
15. Idles, “When the Lights Come On”
Idles videos always feel like you’re in the middle of a meme about some terrifying, internet-based urban legend. They make no sense, but damn if they aren’t eerie. Of the several videos the band put out this year, their latest is by far the best, with its art-horror aesthetic and incomprehensible bicycle monster.
14. Venues, “Rite of Passage”
You’re going to want to not be eating anything for this one… Venues had a major shakeup in 2018 when vocalist Nyves abruptly left, but rallied well by replacing her Lela, who fits right in. The video for “Rite of Passage” is a total grindhouse, with main singer Robin Baumann spending most of his time belting out the lyrics lying in a pool of his own innards. Meanwhile, the rest of the band plays out the murder investigation. It’s Clue, but metal.
13. Jason Collett, “Crab Walking Home in the Rain”
As animation in music videos gets more and more accessible to indie artists, the way for a mark to me made often depends on capturing a unique style. Director Ryan D Anderson’s newsprint-esque presentation combined with classic rock poster tropes makes for one of the best swings at animating a song ever seen.
12. sym fera, “11/8”
The pandemic made a lot of people live on social media than is probably healthy. Sym fera wanted to capture the paranoia that comes from social media saturation. “11/8” is almost anti-technological, trading phones for the feeling of being watched in the woods. However, it still has the same grisly obsession with eyes upon you.
11. Snail Mail, “Valentine”
There’s just something about murder at a wedding. Singer Lindsey Jordan plays “The Designer,” a woman infatuated with a bride who snaps in the wildest way at a reception. Jordan’s unhinged but touching performance is a one-woman rollercoaster that manages to balance gore with affection. Plus, few people can act that well through a face of cake and blood.
10. Arca, “Prada/Rakata”
Frederik Heyman and Arca teamed up to make something that is like the serial killer mind scenes from The Cell, but even gayer and with an art style cribbed from Frank Frazetta, In other words, it’s amazing even when it leaves you completely baffled and unsettled. Frankly, now that we have Arca and videos like this I see no reason to ever mention Marilyn Manson again.
9. Ya Tseen, “Close the Distance”
You have to be patient with “Close the Distance.” Director Stephan Gray takes his bloody time showing the audience a lot of stop motion video of flowers and plants before transitioning into weird non-organic erotica that explodes the scene like a climax. It’s a dance of uncommon touches and weird, almost alien types of love, and it is absolutely worth the wait to get to the action.
8. Hildegard von Blingn’ & Whitney Avalon, “Holding Out for a Hero”
Bardcore is making a big comeback lately, and as far as great covers go they don’t get better than “Holding Out for a Hero.” Hildegard von Blingin’ and Whitney Avalon not only slay on the track, but the well-done medieval tapestry music video is also doubly enchanting. Every goddamn thing about this is magical.
7. Logan Lynn, “Here’s to Us”
What “Here’s to Us” lacks in complexity it more than makes up for in sincerity. The animation is simple, almost childlike, but the sentiment hits like a cannonball. No other artist has managed to capture the sense of survival these last long years has put in humanity. It’s still sad, but congratulatory. Here’s to us, indeed.
6. Chelsea Wolfe & Emma Ruth Rundle, “Anhedonia”
There is a moth that lives on the tears of sleeping birds. That fact was first in Chelsea Wolfe and producer Cressa Beer’s minds when they were putting together the utterly engrossing stop-motion video for “Anhedonia.” It’s a nightmarish journey through grief and darkness that still manages a great deal of beauty. Like so many videos of the year, it’s about how we handle trauma. And it’s nice to have such a wide menu of ways to do so.
5. Des Rocks, “Imaginary Friends”
We’ve all wanted to escape a bad situation, but no one has illustrated it in quite so marvelous a style as Des Rocks does in “Imaginary Friends.” The video follows a teenage boy who is cornered by bullies and beaten. During the attack, he leaves his own mind for a lost boys-style world where the band leads a never-ending party. It’s a bit sad, but still magical for all that.
4. Japanese Breakfast, “Savage Good Boy”
Michelle Zauner is one of the great music auteurs working today. Not only is Japanese Breakfast a great band, but her eye as a director is as razor sharp as her wit. “Savage Good Boy” shows her trapped in a controlling relationship with Michael Imperioli (Lucifer) until she does the only sensible thing and eats him. Extra live goes out to Hannah Arnold for the excellent costumes, including a portentous take on Lucy Westenra’s dress from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
3. Alt-J, “Better”
I’ve seen a few bands use 16-bit retro game art styles in music videos before, but nothing has even come close to the perfection of “Better.” Directed by Stefanie Grunwald and based on a concept by singer Joe Newman, the video is an emotionally devastating trip through the end of a loved one’s life told in narrative video game form. The retro graphic style adds to the feeling of displacement in Newman’s lyrics and give the video a feeling of being trapped in the past.
2. Ladyhawke + BROODS, “Guilty Love”
Director Lula Cucchiara turns in a brilliant take on forbidden love while under religious condemnation. Phoenix Kahlo Connolly and Ana Kelliher star as younger versions of the artists who pursue a relationship under the angry gaze of their Catholic school administrators. It’s exhilarating and presented with a deft eye for drama that makes the story take off like it was yeeted from a trebuchet.
1. Soen, “Deceiver”
Producer Daniele Zed Berretta has finally completed the epic trilogy of videos begun with “Monarch” and “Illusion.” Combined, they weave a complex tale of magic and broken time that stands as one of the greatest heavy metal stories ever put out on YouTube. Truly, the whole work is a massive accomplishment for the artform, and that’s why it’s the best underground video of the year.