2015: The year in music videos ... so far

Mbongwana Star is one of the music acts whose video Kala features on the list. (Mbongwanastars.com)

Mbongwana Star is one of the music acts whose video Kala features on the list. (Mbongwanastars.com)

Music videos are a tool to convey messages and to market songs, and are platforms for artistic expression. So far, videos from 2015 (such as Rihanna’s graphic Bitch Better Have My Money video, Kendrick Lamar’s gripping Alright and Thor Rixon’s eccentric Fuk Bread) have been topical, in your face, quirky and memorably. While others not. 

As MTV announces its nominees for the Music Video awards – 7/11 (Beyonce), Bad Blood (Taylor Swift) and Uptown Funk (Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars) and so on – we look at 10 local and international videos that might have been overlooked by the mainstream.

Grief – Earl Sweatshirt

Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt is known for his dark lyrics and music videos, so the concept for the  Grief music video is a perfect fit for the 21-year-old Californian hip hop star, born Thebe Kgositsile. The video was directed by Japanese director Hiro Murai who used a thermal imaging video camera that uses infrared radiation to form images, which in this video resulted in grayscale visuals. 

The music video opens with a scene with Earl sitting alone in the dark in his little corner smoking and rapping about addiction and anxiety, while the people in the room are going on about their business. This video walks the viewer through some of the rapper’s thoughts; his stream of consciousness lyrics work brilliantly with Murai’s technique. – Katlego Mkhwanazi

Kala – Mbongwana Star

Fast-paced jolting movements, staccato pop-locking or slowed down, fluid dance styles flood the frames of this alluring black and white music video. The dimly lit video, which relies on lighting from natural sources, shows youngsters jamming to the band’s electronified Congolese rhythms against a backdrop of a shanty town;  its taverns, alley ways and streets.

Bringing to mind the imagery from Pieter Hugo and Michael Cleary’s Control (2011) and Fatboy Slim’s Ya Mama (Push The Tempo) music videos, these captivating images from Kala show people who are neither happy nor beatdown despite impoverished circumstances. With a little information available about the music video for the recently formed group Mbongwana Star, like Fact Mag, one can only assume it was filmed in Kinshasa, Congo: the home to a large chunk of the band’s members. Kala is a single from the band’s debut 2015 album, From Kinshasa. – Stefanie Jason

Carmen – Stromae

Singer Stromae never disappoints when it comes to concepts and visuals for his music videos. I narrowed my selection to two of his videos, Ta fête and Carmen. Carmen stands out for me because of its social commentary on social media. The animated video opens with a scene showing a Twitter bird sitting by a window pane of a young Stromae who happens to be on his phone at the time. 

The small bird ends up on his shoulder and he starts taking selfies of him with the bird. We see the singer and the bird growing bigger with each selfie they take. Throughout the video we see how the bird takes over Stromae’s life – eating his food and taking all his attention from what is actually happening around him. “Love is like a tweeter bird, the sky is blue for a couple ‘o days/First we meet, then we follow, then we crack, then we end up solo”, he sings in Carmen

We’ve seen people end their careers on Twitter and this music video addresses this reality. The storyline for the video was written by Sylvain Chomet and Orelsan. Chomet, who is an academy award nominated French filmmaker, directed the video. – Katlego Mkhwanazi

Shine and JuJu – Blitz the Ambassador

Choosing between the two recently released videos of multi-talented US-Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador felt like unnecessary pressure to put on myself. So I‘ve chosen both, which were directed by him. 

The videos, which dropped in June, both exhibit striking imagery that makes reference to traditional belief systems from West African to the Caribbeans.  JuJu Girl ends with shots of a cleansing-like ritual while Shine features a costumed man, who is possibly a god or an ancestor who accompanies the video’s lead: a girl dressed in white. The latter video delves into spiritual realism and its hard to tell if all these characters belong to the supernatural world or not. Both songs are from his latest album, aptly titled Diasporical as Shine touches on the diasporic or immigrant experience and the issue of unfairly targeting “foreigners”. 

In a sea of tiredly familiar looking hip hop videos (fast cars, fast people and fast money), Blitz’s videos breathe fresh life to rap imagery. – Stefanie Jason

Ps & Qs – Mick Jenkins 

A mesmerising music video to match a song with equally mesmerising lyrics is what Chicago hip hop act Mick Jenkins ended up with after teaming up with music video director Nathan Smith on his single P’s & Q’s. Chaotic is one word to collectively describe the scenes in the music video. 

Water balloons, colour powder and balls are some of the items thrown at Jenkins who, despite the distractions, remains unflinching and unbothered by the scenes around him and keeps moving forward while everyone else around him is moving backwards. Smith explains to NPR that to achieve this shot, he had Jenkins move backwards from left to right through when they shot the video, but when the video footage is reversed he seems like the only one moving forward. 

The shot took 15 seconds to film at 240 frames per second. Smith adds that he wanted to create scenes of “constant flow of motion to complement Jenkins’s unending verse”. –  Katlego Mkhwanazi

Coronus, The Terminator – Flying Lotus 

This music video exploded on the scene at the start of the year and had us talking about its haunting beauty and the rarity of seeing FlyLo, let along in his own video (dancing too). Following the critically acclaimed 2014 video for Never Catch Me (directed by Hiro Murai), Coronus continues on the topic of death and the after life, which Lotus explores in his 2014 album You’re Dead! The video is told by the muted-coloured moving images of Young Replicant, the LA-based who auteur relies on his stark aesthetic to complement Coronus, The Terminator, a minimalist and macabre music. – Stefanie Jason

Boss Zonke – Riky Rick 

Hip hop star Riky Rick took it to the streets with the video for his hit single Boss Zonke. He teamed up with director Adriaan Louw on the video that was shot in three different cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. In the video, we see Riky interacting with his fans from in Umlazi, downtown Johannesburg and the Cape Flats. 

Louw managed to capture the youth’s energy from each area with shots of some popular dance moves and spinning cars. Boss Zonke features cameos from KwaZulu-Natal music acts, such as Dreamteam and Big Nuz and from Riky’s street crew Boyz n bucks, who throughout the music video show off their street style. Although the music video doesn’t have a storyline, it does succeed in zooming in on South Africa’s current pop culture scene with beautiful shots. – Katlego Mkhwanazi

GUNDAGAI - RETIREE

The cool almost tropical-beach sounds of Australian band Retiree provide a fitting score to its music video’s lush, green setting. As the camera’s zoom in the opening recalls retro filmmaking techniques, the band’s complementary sound also borrows from the past; mainly 1980s funk and synthy pop. Or as the band describes its music: as “drawing from the leftfield avant-pop of Arthur Russell and Talking Heads, progressive disco of Nile Rodgers and contemporary ambient electronica, Retiree channel these through their own pervasive aura of rum-drunk antipodean sunshine. The result is music that is in equal parts lush, thoughtful melody and meditative tropical rhythm.” 

Adding to their “tropical” rhythms, the video, with its fresh appeal and tropical look, was shot by award-winning Aussie music director Jack Peddey, and winds through waterfall-filled rainforests and never-ending fields while following a lone man going about his day without any qualms. This is easy listening and viewing at its best.  – Stefanie Jason

Sober - Childish Gambino

Just when I thought US rapper Childish Gambino’s oddities couldn’t be captured more perfectly than it does on his 2014 video Sweatpants, his Sober video proves me wrong. But from a recent Billboard article on the creative force behind the video – renowned director Hiro Murai – it appears that Gambino’s eccentricities in these videos can’t be blamed on him alone. 

According to the February article Murai, a USC film school graduate who has shot videos for the likes of Flying Lotus and Earl Sweatshirt, told the publication that he always pushes the artists he’s working with “to go a little weirder”. And it’s this weirdness that informs his videos for Gambino, especially Sober

Shot in an empty eatery with colourful seats and walls, the music video shows the actor-rapper strangely attempting to get the attention of the one other person in the restaurant: his love interest. With creepy eye contact, hauntingly fresh, almost Carlton Bankish dance moves and magic tricks (aided by crisp digital effects), he eventually does and she walks away smiling; as the viewers of Sober probably do too. – Stefanie Jason

Teenagers – Desmond and the Tutus

Local indie-band Desmond and the Tutus experience a bit of nostalgia in  the music video of their single Teenagers, directed by filmmaker Lebogang Rasethaba. The four-man band is seen walking and driving in an ice-cream van through the bustling streets of Johannesburg and in the different scenes and spaces there is a hand holding a photograph of a moment in time from each space that the band finds itself in. 

We also get to see old photos of some of the band members. Teenagers is a feel-good song and the shots of other people dressed in the colourful clothes, looking like human candy floss, make for a visually vibrant and colourful video. The video ends off with a pool party scene that shows the band, letting their hair down, having fun with friends that are dressed in wacky outfits and living up to the title of their current album, Enjoy Yourself.  Katlego Mkhwanazi

 
stefanie jason
Katlego Mkhwanazi

stefanie jason

Following studying towards her Film & Media degree at the University of Cape Town and North Carolina State University, Stefanie Jason began work as a copy editor and writer for various South African publications, including Bona, True Love and Sowetan, as well as the Mail & Guardian. For the M&G's arts & culture supplement Friday, she writes about art, music & lifestyle when she isn't relaxing, traveling or checking out Jo'burg's many art galleries.
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  • Katlego Mkhwanazi

    Katlego Mkhwanazi is the Mail & Guardian's arts, culture and entertainment content producer. She started her career in magazines, before joining the Mail & Guardian team in 2014. She is an entertainer at heart.
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