10. Natalia Kills - "Wonderland" (Director's Cut)
Natalia Kills, as I've discussed, is a mix of transparent effort and unintentional post-Gaga pastiche. The latter is a bit redundant, which contributes to the slow burn the Brit's career seems to be on, but it does make for the occasionally interesting bit of output. This includes the captivating dirge "Activate My Heart," Doctor Rosen Rosen's joyous remix of the will.i.am-featuring "Free," and the video for the single "Wonderland," off the singer's debut album Perfectionist. The song is enjoyable enough, with its relentless fairy tale references (the singer is many things but subtle isn't one of them) and strong emotional message ("I don't believe in fairy tales, but I believe in you and me"), but the video is an interesting exercise in shock value.
The original cut opens with a static "warning" about censorship, and numerous moments are blacked out accordingly. Since this fits with the flashing cuts to statements like "Who Needs Love?" and "It's All Lies," it looks like part of the act, and only upon seeing the "Director's Cut" does it become apparent that there actually is something going on behind the "Censored" signage, and most of it involves drugs (pills, and a bit of sugar snorting) and violence (the singer's severed head lies on the ground at the end, and that the eyes DON'T open as by that point you'd almost expect is probably the video's most shocking bit). Subversive, glamorous, high fashion, and not all that shocking, "Wonderland" is nonetheless an excellent showcase for a somehow still intriguing new artist.
9. Adele vs. Britney Spears - "Rolling Till the World Ends" (Jarod Ripley)
I'm not a huge fan of Adele, but "Rolling In the Deep" is an excellent song, and it's even better when mixed with Britney Spears' great "Till the World Ends." Adele's vocals and lyrics stand out against the backing from Spears' track, and both artists are lovingly portrayed in this internet mashup video by mixer Jarod Ripley. The whole things works on a thematic level, and it keeps the best parts of both music videos, making the whole thing much more dramatic than Adele's chart-topping original. This is the version of the song I listen to, and I have returned to this video many times throughout the year.
8. Sara Bareilles - "Uncharted"
Sara Bareilles is a blossoming artist. Though her breakthrough single "Love Song" was nominated for a Grammy Award for songwriting and "King of Anything," lead single from her #1 sophomore album Kaleidoscope Heart, grabbed a nod for Female Pop Vocal, it has only been recently that her performing persona has caught up. A well-reviewed concert in Central Park, a giddily humorous turn in the recent "Gonna Get Over You" and a gig as judge on The Sing-Off have shown Bareilles in a new, confident light.
The video for Kaleidoscope Heart's second single "Uncharted," however, barely has Bareilles in it at all: instead, hipster pop and country icons like Ben Folds, Josh Groban, Adam Levine, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, Tegan and Sara, Vanessa Carlton, Pharell Williams, and Bareilles' bespectacled friend Ingrid Michaelson populate "Uncharted" with low-budget webcam lip-synching. The result is wildly amusing, a real love song to the undeniably lovable Bareilles, and most importantly, it's unlike anything else we've seen in music videos this year.
7. Beth Ditto - "I Wrote the Book"
In a year when Madonna was evoked left and right, most notably by an unapologetic and protesting Lady Gaga, former Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto did probably the best job of paying homage to the Queen of Pop without ripping her off with the single "I Wrote the Book" and its music video. In black-and-white, the video takes "Justify My Love" as its main inspiration, with the hotel, the skinny, vogueing black dancers, and plenty of shots where the oversized Ditto does some remarkable Madonna impressions, especially the uncanny final shot where Ditto's eyes have been made up exactly like the Erotica-era icon. "Erotica" is, of course, spliced in here and there, mostly in unfocused face shots, and the playful sexiness, while far less explicit, is all there in the way Ditto applies her makeup and shuffles gleefully down the hallway at the end. While pastiche is not in itself an indicator of good music video-making, Ditto pulls off her love letter with respect while maintaining her own individuality as an artist...and not hiding her influences.
6. Britney Spears - "Criminal"
Britney Spears is funny, sexy, fun, here to stay, and has one hunk of a boyfriend: these are the main messages in Chris Marrs Piliero's gorgeous video to "Criminal," Spears' non-starter of a fourth single from Femme Fatale, her seventh studio album. The "I Wanna Go" director is the first of the Femme Fatale era to really seem to get the new Britney Spears visual, and his two videos are the only ones in which Spears looks comfortable - and entertaining. "Criminal," like the clunkier but also enjoyable "I Wanna Go," lets Spears off the hook with the choreography, and consequently she looks her best in shots where she's dancing in a backlit doorway (a screenshot of this is my desktop background). Also as with "I Wanna Go," the opening (in which Spears' real-life boyfriend Jason Trewick rescues her from a prim asshole who calls her ungrateful for not smiling constantly at a big gala at which she clearly longs not to be) gives Spears a chance to shoot back at her critics, albeit in a more subtle way than the latter's press conference setup.
But "Criminal," with its Bonnie and Clyde theme (taken way more seriously than Jay-Z and Beyonce's), is far more glamorously and gorgeously shot than "I Wanna Go," not unlike Piliero's winning unicorn ball-and-rainbow gun battle-filled clip for Ke$ha's "Blow." That all amps up the nostalgic, Oops!...I Did It Again throwback nature of the single, which is a main reason the song is so inviting, even if it never made the chart impact it ought to have done. It may be Britney Spears' best video since "Toxic."
Tomorrow: The 10 Best Pop Music Videos of 2011 (#1-5)