The idea of a music video is to generate promotion; to give extra air time to an artist in front of a chosen demographic, with the aim of increasing awareness and sales.
The MTV Generation saw the creation of numerous animated videos, but as technology became more accessible and the platforms available for showing media grew, the possibilities for animation in music videos increased.
The list below has been compiled to show a broad range of the animated music videos that are out there. Not all of them are strictly ‘animation’ (in the cartoon sense); some are motion graphics, 3D art, lo-fi, hand-drawn and so on. And they’re in no particular order…
01. John Grant – He’s Got His Mother’s Hips
- Released: 2018
- Directed by: Casey Redmond and Ewan Jones Morris
Iceland-based singer-songwriter John Grant can generally be relied upon to deliver a great tune, and He’s Got His Mother’s Hips is a top example: a thumping slab of wry electroclash, complete with a dazzling animated video.
It’s the work of Cardiff-based animators Casey and Ewan, who roped in another 11 animators to deliver the goods, each in their own particular fashions. The end result is a bewildering, lightning-paced mash-up, depicting Grant in all manner of cartoon styles; it’s often reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s classic Sledgehammer video (see page 3 of this post), and none the worse for that.
02. Aphex Twin – T69 Collapse
- Released: 2018
- Directed by: Nicky Smith
Watch with caution (see below)!
New stuff from Richard D. James isn’t quite the major event that it was before he reappeared after an eight-year absence in 2014, with Syro. However, his 2018 EP, Collapse, managed to grab its fair share of attention, partly thanks to a poster campaign that saw Aphex Twin logo posters appearing in cities around the world, but also because of this video for the title track, T69 Collapse.
Created by James’ regular visual collaborator, Weirdcore, it’s an hallucinogenic trip that starts off weird and glitchy and quickly ups the complexity and intensity. T69 Collapse was originally scheduled to appear on Adult Swim, but its broadcast was cancelled after it failed the Harding test for photosensitive epilepsy.
03. Rick and Morty x Run the Jewels – Oh Mama
- Released: 2018
- Directed by: Juan Meza-León
There’s nothing quite so lovely as getting an unexpected little slice of Rick and Morty, and having it in the form of a Run the Jewels video is a splendid bonus.
Directed by Juan Meza-León – who as well as working as a storyboard artist on the show, was the director for three of the best episodes in its third season – it’s a typically dark and brutal mini-Rickventure that’ll take good few watches for you to unpick exactly what’s going on.
04. Flying Lotus – Post Requisite
Not entirely safe for work if we’re being honest, this video for Flying Lotus’ Post Requisite reminds us of the work of punk collage artist Winston Smith, best known for his work with the Dead Kennedys. Interestingly, the Flying Lotus video was directed by Winston Hacking; we don’t think the two are related.
It’s a challenging piece of animated cut-up art packed with disturbing imagery and crammed with little details that you’ll want to freeze-frame so you can check if you really saw what you thought you just saw, then immediately regret doing so.
05. Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do (Lyric Video)
- Released: 2017
- Directed by: ODD
Taylor Swift marked the start of her musical return with this animated video created by ODD. In terms of its style, it seems influenced by thriller and horror movie title sequences – is there a hint of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang about it, or is that just us? Featuring images of snakes that were all over Swift’s social media profiles at the time, this video continues the long tradition of listeners indulging in rampant speculation as to who the pop phenomenon is referring to.
06. The Killers – Miss Atomic Bomb
Director Warren Fu had previously worked with the band on their video for single Runaways, and returned to take charge of this, their second single. Effortlessly fusing the media of animation and stunning live action shots, this animated music video brings a heartbreaking love story to life.
Josh Goldstein worked as the producer, with Jeff Pantaleo as executive producer and Shawn Kim as director of photography. Titmouse Studio was responsible for the exceptional animation.
07. Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
You could say that the inspiration for this animated music video lies somewhere between Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer and The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. The amount of work that’s clearly gone into it makes it a true work of art.
Directors Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling have a creative chemistry that always produces the best results, whether it’s applied to set design, window displays, Christmas cards or TV idents. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards is an absolute delight.
08. Home and Dry – Ghosts Are Dancing
- Released: 2012
- Directed by: Maxime Causeret and Gilles Deschaud
This video for Parisian art-rock band Home and Dry is a personal project made mostly using Houdini. The dramatic effect was created by filming a motion capture of the band’s lead singer Laure Laffererie’s face with two cameras. The effect was then created in 2D using motion vector and 3D lighting.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like the band have put out new music since 2012, but we think this video is still worth a watch.
09. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
- Released: 2013
- Directed by: Jessica Cope and Simon Cartright
Clearly inspired by the work of Russian animator Yuriy Norshteyn (best known for the incredible Tale of Tales) the intense atmosphere of this imaginative and thought-provoking short brings the haunting story of the song to evocative life. The stark and simplistic animation style – based largely on the gentle movements of hand-cut paper models – fits the mood perfectly.
10. The Kleenrz – Sandman
Combining children’s television-style cartoon characters with live action, this music video follows the Sandman as he works with his two helper umbrella girls, and reveals what goes on inside the big bag he carries. The action cleverly synchronises with lyrics by The Kleenrz, a collaboration by LA rappers Self Jupiter and Kenny.
The beauty of this approach is that it gets you to listen carefully to the lyrics. This is something that can be difficult to achieve with music videos, as often the action distracts from the song itself.
11. Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight
US husband and wife duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have directed music videos for the likes of R.E.M. and Paula Abdul, as well as Little Miss Sunshine. They paid homage to silent film director Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon for this animated video, which is possibly one of the greatest music videos ever made.
12. Daft Punk – One More Time
The Daft Punk videos are pretty special. And they’ve even inspired a film by the same director, Kazuhisa Takenouchi. The 2003 anime film Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem is a continuation of the stories told in Daft Punk videos One More Time; Aerodynamic; Digital Love; and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.
13. The Cribs – Mirror Kissers
- Released: 2006
- Produced by: Diamond Dogs
UK music video directors Diamond Dogs (Olly Williams and Philip Sansom) have directed for the likes of The Hoosiers, Jack Peñate and Maximo Park, and have a very distinct style. The video for Mirror Kissers was shot on a plain white background, then around 2,740 frames were printed, photocopied and manipulated before being edited back together to produce this fascinating video.
The concept works very well – it’s stylistically spot on. It’s not your typical music video as it’s laced with blemishes and is rather ugly, all of which actually complements the track it’s supporting.
14. Gorillaz – El Mañana
Pete Candeland boasts a huge repertoire of well-known pieces: the BBC’s 2008 and 2012 Olympic marketing campaign, the Beatle’s RockBand promos, plus numerous music videos for Gorillaz. You couldn’t compile a list of animated music videos and not include Gorillaz, a band that was seemingly created for this format.
15. Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing!
American animator Monkmus has created an array of music videos for the likes of Badly Drawn Boy, Mogwai and Death Cab for Cutie. This effort for Los Campesinos! stands out for its depiction of a party (with contrast to the bands other video about war). The naive style of the illustration is reminiscent of the tail end of the infamous Dumbo scene with the racing elephants.
16. London Grammar – Hey Now
Chris Ullen’s stunningly atmospheric video for London Grammar’s Hey Now perfectly reflects the song. For this work Ullen collaborated with string artist Sebastien Preschoux.
In the video, balls of string and light dance amongst trees as a forest comes alive in a night time setting.
17. REM – Man Sized Wreath
- Released: 2008
- Directed by: CRUSH inc.
Toronto-based CRUSH inc. teamed up with REM to produce this very effective effort. CRUSH inc. have notably worked with IKEA, Budweiser and Nintendo.
The many different styles in this video – from low-fi techniques, to 3D modelling via pixelated video games graphics – are intriguing. Normally, this really wouldn’t work well together – but strangely enough, here it really does.
Next page: Basement Jaxx, Coldplay, The Shins, and more!