A music video is an excellent tool that musicians can use to further humanize themselves and the content of their songs. Many of the greatest music videos of all time are intimate character studies that highlight personal, spiritual journeys. Whether through filmmaking techniques such as location/setting, lighting, or camera work, the images that flash upon a screen should elicit strong emotions that shape the artist’s personal identity, and the conflicts brewing inside of them.
Our picks for this edition of Music Video Round-Up are songs that convey the inner struggles of each musician, with videos that highlight and solidify those personal journeys on which they embark. Whether that journey is characterized by tragedy, loss, defiance, Romantic solitude, or mental health battles, each clip is a vivid portrayal of those arcs. Prepare to be moved.
Black Belt Eagle Scout: “Indians Never Die”
The music of Black Belt Eagle Scout is stripped-down, gorgeous, intimate, and haunting. And the song “Indians Never Die” is a pointed reminder of the government’s injustices towards Native Americans (including the fresh wounds of Standing Rock). It’s also musician Katherine Paul’s defiant way of declaring that she, along with her people, will remain committed to the “land that we will forever protect in the present and the afterlife.” As she wanders the coastal ancestral lands of the Chinook, Chinnuk Wawa, and Tillamook tribes, she belts out the song’s poignant lyrics while lush cinematography and gorgeous landscapes heighten the track’s vital themes of perseverance and the tranquil power of nature.
Childish Gambino: “Feels Like Summer”
With “This Is America,” Donald Glover became a music video icon. It’s furious message about cultural violence and media misdirection hit the sweet spot of stunning imagery and vital thematic content. And he continues that here with “Feels Like Summer,” an animated tapestry complete with cameos of nearly every famous rapper frolicking around on a hot summer’s day in suburbia. Among the highlights: Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott playing with blocks, Oprah braiding Lil Uzi Vert’s hair, and Kanye West in a MAGA hat crying while Michelle Obama hugs him. The visually arresting animation and the hazy, smoggy, boiling vibes contribute so much tangible atmosphere. As a result, there’s a sweeping sense of agitation that settles in as Glover himself stoically wanders past all the shenanigans, with strong vibes of isolation and Romantic solitude flowing throughout. With “Feels Like Summer,” Glover keeps a finger on the pulse of our heated, disarray-filled cultural climate.
Denzel Curry: “Vengeance” (feat. JPEGMAFIA & ZillaKami)
The macabre madness of Denzel Curry’s music videos takes an even weirder turn in this splattery and colorful clip for TA13OO highlight “Vengeance.” With grainy, staticky visual overlays giving everything an intense psychedelic look – combined with eye-popping comic book-like visual gore – this video is a manifestation of Curry’s darkest fantasies. With JPEGMAFIA and ZillaKami along for the ride, the trio goes crazy in New York’s Chinatown streets, torturing and slicing open a mime’s chest while animated effects unnervingly maximize their mayhem and violence. Overall, it’s a trip through the lens of Curry’s most twisted fantastical impulses, as well as his highly exaggerated mental state.
Fleet Foxes: “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar”
The dramatic opening track off Fleet Foxes’ The Crack-Up gets its own sprawling short film. A man laboriously runs through the desert – up mountains, boulders, and through colorful, psychedelic mazes – in search of spiritual awakening, all while parsing the contrasts between light and dark, fast and slow, etc. Also, giant floating cubes serve as a motif for the song’s encapsulation of shifting motions, rhythms, and patterns. It’s a very symbolic video with lots to decipher, and it runs the gamut of emotions – from sad and alienating to hopeful and triumphant. Above all, this beautiful music video features the utmost technical craft; the lighting, cinematography, acting, and visual effects are all mesmerizing aspects of Robin Pecknold’s artistic and personal journey.
Yungeen Ace: “Pain”
Earlier this summer, rising Florida rapper Yungeen Ace sunstained eight gunshot wounds, but luckily, he survived. However, his three close friends all lost their lives in the gunfire. It’s the sort of backstory that comes to defines a young rapper – much like 50 Cent in the early ’00s. In this tearjerking video for his new single “Pain,” he addresses his trauma from the incident head-on. He talks about missing his friends, the state of fear he now constantly lives in, his struggle to recover, and the actual physical pain he’s endured. He does all this while rapping inside a lonely hotel room full of lit candles and letters and photographs taped to the walls, his bloodied bandages a vivid reminder of the tragedy. This music video is an absolutely brilliant, soul-bearing portrait of trauma and recovery. Most of all, this music video provides hope that through his music, Yungeen Ace is able to find peace.