The Best Music Videos of 2021, Ranked
Featuring talented directors including Paul Ward, Odunsi The Engine & more
Featuring talented directors including Paul Ward, Odunsi The Engine & more
Some songs aren’t just meant to be listened to; they are to be experienced. When the ongoing pandemic turned the world outside in at the beginning of last year, it re-emphasised the avenues through which we wholly enjoyed music as a living, breathing organism with a visual component. In a time with limited live performances, music videos were one of the few mediums to relish the theatrics artists often attached to performing their songs.
Even with the world being reopened, it’s impossible to understate the importance of music video in the wholesome presentation of music, especially at a time when the audience is global—even the scrutiny is now global. With that in mind, more artists are creating videos that not only represent their music but also elevates it. In celebration of this phenomenon, the NATIVE’s editorial staff has curated a list of the best music videos we’ve seen all year.
From the curated opulence of Wizkid and Burna Boy’s “Ginger,” to the poetic resonance of Shekhinah’s “Fixate,” this list is a testament to the diverse and stunning range of visuals being created across the continent.
In September 2020, clips from the music video for “Sore,” the scene-elevating posse cut headlined by then-high schooler Yaw Tog, began to spread like wildfire on social media, putting a spotlight on Ghanaian Drill being led by a Motley crew of rap artists from the historic city of Kumasi. Even though he was the least intimidating figure on the menacing banger, that viral attention immediately transformed Yaw Tog into a budding superstar, and he quickly embraced the role on the remix of his breakout song.
Featuring Ghanaian rap star, Kwesi Arthur and British-Ghanaian superstar Stormzy, “Sore (Remix)” is a posturing showcase strengthened by its music video—much in the same way as its original. Even though it doesn’t reach the dirty-as-nails aesthetic of its OG version, the video for “Sore (Remix)” is just as boisterous, finding a way to balance the differing levels of stardom between all three rappers. Just as on the song, Yaw Tog sets the tone in the video, revelling in his status as the precociously talented rap star with a blinding future. In the midst of familiar faces, Stormzy and Kwesi Arthur wield their star power, but in obvious service to the fact that this is Yaw Tog’s moment.
Dennis Ade Peter
Director: Bobby Hanaford
In the summer, Rema officially released the musical style of his upcoming album as Afro-rave. The Mavin golden boy has always taken listeners on experimental musical journeys since his breakout in early 2019 and has sustained that momentum since then with the same formula of releasing great music. On his latest single, “Soundgasm,” Rema debuts this new sound while soundtracking a sexual experience he mapped out to his love interest if she agreed to be with him.
To further amplify this track is the Bobby Hanaford-directed video. From the visual storytelling to the styling, the video depicts the raunchy message that the song’s lyrics is trying to convey. We see Rema at one end of the room and his muse at the other end in every scene, as he serenades her with promises of a good time. Cool and collected with a guitar to match his lover boy trope, Rema sings passionately and serenades his muse with his sensual and soothing vocals.
Director: TopShotta and FAX.NY
Fast-rising South African singer Tyla debuted her modern fairy-tale filled music video for her glossy Amapiano-fusion hit, “Getting Late,” in collaboration with producer Kooldrink earlier on in the year. In the video, we see Tyla as a beautiful princess surrounded by a modern-day castle as she enjoys a good time with her girlfriends before an event with her crush.
Kooldrink takes the role of Prince Charming with the mission to woo and get Tyla’s attention any way he can, even if it means being loud. He purchases a fabulous Rolex watch, gives it to her, and waits outside her window for them to attend exchange a lover’s dance at the school meet. The best part of the video is watching Tyla, alongside the diverse cast, burst out infectious and well-choreographed moves to the Amapiano beat in various cameos. The styling and set design was well put together too and done by Tyla and her close-knit friends. A lovely video that compliments her beautiful, smooth and tranquil voice.
Director: Odunsi (The Engine) and Ben Cole
Boundaries are a non-existent concept for Odunsi (The Engine). Over the course of his shape-shifting catalogue, he’s gone from sunny alt-Pop to chilly R&B, from glitzy Disco and Afro-Funk to springy Trap. On his latest single, “Half A Tab,” the creatively restless artist has blown up the sonic template from his last EP, and the emerging result is zoinked-out slapper with heavy vocal pitch modulations. The accompanying set of visuals is also experimental in scope and execution, featuring an 8-minute long “full-length film,” co-directed by Odunsi and Ben Cole.
The video is a cool, slick production that features a group of disaffected hot girls on their way to a party. We follow their journey from the retro house that they get ready in, before leaving on foot to the club. The pregame and walk to the club is sound-tracked by an unlikely one-two punch of sampled music from Yves Tumor and Yinka Ayefele, while the original score by Odunsi fills out other parts of the film. It all builds up to the understated yet climactic moment where “Half A Tab” itself starts to play once the girls arrive at the club, with the psychedelic editing, bold make-up choices and blasé performance, Odunsi has compiled one of the most visually stimulating music videos of 2021.
Director: Meji Alabi
Two of the biggest musical icons in Afropop Wizkid and Burna Boy teamed up to release the smash hit “Ginger,” off the former’s Grammy-nominated album ‘Made In Lagos.’ Early in the year, “Ginger” released alongside a cinematic music visual directed by the talented Meji Alabi. Forgive me if I’m wrong but this has to be one of the most brilliantly curated African music videos to drop this year. From the set design, casting and styling to the edits, music and direction, it all comes together seamlessly and effortlessly.
Both artists are placed in a warehouse surrounded by minimalist props, cars and beautiful models and dancers. The lighting is superb and highly elevates the whole viewing experience. “Ginger” already being such a smash hit, it is commendable to have the visuals come to par with the music and the energy. One of the best things about the video was the styling which is all thanks to Laurie London. From the Burna and Wizkid’s personal styling which was fashion-forward, minimal, and yet colourful, to the Black female dancers whose clothes in different cameos brought the oomph and merged well with the scenes. It’s an all round lush watch helmed by one of the most prolific directors in Nigeria.
Director: Yinka Soda
Amaarae sealed her status as one of the most singular voices and persona in Afropop with her immersive, genre-spanning debut album, ‘The Angel You Don’t Know.’ This year, she worked her way into global eyes and ears, attaining a higher level of visibility with the remix of the Moliy-assisted standout track, “Sad Gurlz Luv Money,” featuring American singer Kali Uchis. However, the original song’s video remains a highlight for her fans. Debuting on Crack magazine earlier this year, the song’s video is the cinematic visual of the vibe and energy exuded in the track.
Amaraee and her girl posse are in psychedelic and carefree moods on the Yinka Soda-directed visual. While being their free and liberated selves, they explore life in a pink-coloured world with VHS edits. All the girls are having fun while dressed in the late 90s and Y2K aesthetically pleasing style adding a new level to the visuals. You can’t help but escape into this world of Amaarae’s making.
Director: Ebeneza Blanche
For record producer Jae5’s first single of the year, he collaborated with UK grime legend, Skepta and Nigerian superstar Rema, to deliver the Hip-hop and Afropop fused track, “Dimension.” The visual experience is a lush representation of life as a Black West African. Created and shot in Ghana—Jae5 is British-Ghanaian—the video captures different Black people in different parts of the country boldly wearing their skin with pride as they contort their shape into awe-inspiring choreography. In an interview with Fader, the producer made it clear that he wanted to create something that truly represented him and his roots properly. Ebeneza Blanche managed to bring this to life and show the splendour of Ghana in the most satisfying and beautiful way possible.
Director: Ebeneza Blanche
On her latest album, ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert,’ Little Simz affirms her person through the dual pillars of emotional honesty and boastful self-reverence, embracing her formative circumstances and heritage in the process. On groovy standout, “Point and Kill,” her typically heady flow gives way to a lithe, melodic cadence, matching Obongjayar’s playful bellows with vain proclamations of her own. Heightening the song’s importance, both British-Nigerian artists head back to their home country for a stunning music video with the feel of a Blaxploitation flick.
The video depicts Little Simz journeying through a strange and almost fantastical Lagos, eventually winding up at a vibrant party. The styling in the party scene incorporates references to the 1970s through the various afro hairstyles, bell-bottoms and large-collared shirts seen on the partygoers. Director Ebeneza Blanche utilises his familiar style of segueing between several symmetrical shots with little movement, giving the whole video a storybook-ish tone. It is as if we are watching a folktale of two outlaws on a journey. Alongside Obongjayar, this Bonnie and Clyde-esque setup suits the conceited lyricism of “Point and Kill,” depicting two people who refuse to be restrained and will do whatever it takes to get what they want.
It also quickly becomes evident just how much thought went into each frame, location and styling choice. The video is full of references to works about fugitives. When Simz hops on a motorbike with her companion, the bull horns fastened to the handlebars seem to allude to the iconic motorbike in the 1973 film ‘Touki Bouki,’ which follows a pair of Senegalese con artists trying to find freedom through emigration. The final image of the video, which is sound-tracked by the Afrobeat-inspired “Fear No Man,” off ‘S.I.M.B.I,’ finds Little Simz and Obongjayar surrounded by police officers while referencing the 2013 Dominican Republic film ‘Cristo Rey’, also about love, crime and escapism. In fact, the whole video is a stunning ode to rebellion.
Director: Monde Gumede
In the time since her stunning debut album, ‘Rose Gold,’ it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for South African R&B star Shekhinah. ‘Trouble in Paradise,’ as the title of her sophomore LP aptly sums, is a part-pensive, part-buoyant consideration of modern-day romance, its overly complicated edges and the toll these emotional games inflict on a person. One of the enduring standouts is the pre-album single, “Fixate,” a musically sunny cut with a pain-riddled premise featuring rising star, Bey-T. On it, Shekhinah sings of bending to every whim of a partner that eventually leaves, her siren voice echoing with a lived-in essence.
Even though the album leans into broken-hearted whining, it’s driven by a silent determination not to be defined by lovelorn experience(s), and it’s wonderfully visualised in the accompanying short film for “Fixate.” Without any shred of an overstatement, it’s the most ambitious set of visuals in Shekhinah’s sparse music video catalogue, and the rewards match the thematic scope and method. It’s something of a two-act presentation, the first representing the desolation of being abandoned by a lover, while the second shows the gilded glow of accepting yourself on your own terms. The reckoning that bridges both happens in between, ensuring that the arc is complete.
Directed by Monde Gumede and starring a gorgeous Shekhinah rocking a shaved head, the short film matches the song’s lyrics and spoken-word piece with apt symbolism. The visual of Shekhinah playing tennis with a ghost, matched with the lyric line “there were signs enough, till out time is up,” is chilling. Alternately, watching her swoon in a field of flowers, while “cut your teeth on sheets of diamond” is recited multiple times, is heartening. The short film is a celebration of healing, a resonant piece with a poetic edge and warm soul.
Director: Paul Ward
On “Who’s It Gonna Be,” South African experimental R&B/Soul singer Moonga digs into the confusion of unrequited devotion and the heartbreak that might follow. It’s a well-tread topic in music, but there’s an affecting heft to his astonishing voice, and the song is made even more singular with its accompanying set of visuals. The dreamy video takes the viewer on a trip to another galaxy, not unlike how one feels when listening to the song.
Director Paul Ward generally brings a futuristic, post-apocalyptic vibe to a lot of his projects, but it’s taken to the next level in this video. The video depicts Moonga K wandering through a steampunk city, alternatively moving between lying in a cold grey building, attending a party with futuristic attendees, and falling through the sky while approaching what seems to be an asteroid suspended in time, right before it explodes. The recurring images of the asteroid, in particular, stand out as he approaches it, fascinated before eventually being absorbed into it, as the broken rocks show his face multiplied. The faces resemble the Roman God of duality and time, Janus, fitting for a video that utilises non-linear storytelling.
At the end of the video, Moonga K is confronted with what appears to be a ghostly version of himself, alluding to the sort of identity fracture that often happens when feelings aren’t reciprocated. The trippy visuals compliment the lyrics of the song, about a confused person finding it difficult to read the desires of a romantic interest. There is heavy use of blur, with Moonga K sometimes being the only one in focus at the centre of the frame. The aspect ratio and black borders on the sides of the video also make the whole video feel slightly claustrophobic and disorienting in a way that pushes us along with an often confused-looking Moonga K.
Technically, the video for “Who’s it Gonna Be” is a masterpiece. The quality of the set design, costume design, and visual effects allows the video to be immersive and otherworldly like we are truly looking into another, Blade Runner-esque world. It’s epic and huge in scope but also manages to feel very intimate.
Featured image credits/NATIVE