11 min read

My Ten Favourite Music Videos of 2023 (So Far)

Feat. a late-ish Q2-in-review
My Ten Favourite Music Videos of 2023 (So Far)

My last newsletter was originally set to be the introduction to this Q2 catch-up, but it shaped up to be too long for one. Everything below is what would have followed it.

You might recall from my Q1 catch-up that I initially set out in 2023 to watch a new-to-me music video every day this year, but then at some point found myself spending more like half an hour a day watching them. My video block has gradually become a staple of my morning routine—I typically am handed a tea and then watch ten or so videos from the couch while I slowly work my eyes open; I’m really not a morning person—and has meant that I’m easily the most caught up on new work I’ve ever been.

At first, I made a point of noting the videos that made a great impression on me (green-coded in my records), the ones I thought were doing something interesting even if I didn’t love them (blue-coded), and the ones I found actively off-putting (red-coded)—leaving the ones that made no noise in my brain (most of them, speaking honestly) out of my records entirely. I quietly stopped recording the reds at some point a few months ago—bad energy—so it’s mostly a snowballing list of greens and blues for me to revisit at the end of the year.

But, since we’ve recently crossed into the second half of the year, I forced myself to pick my ten favourites of all the greens that have been released in 2023 so far. (If I do a year-end version—do you want a year-end version?—I’ll definitely need more than ten entries.) Here they are in no particular order, with a couple words about each.

“Running Out of Time” — Paramore, dir. Ivanna Borin

My original note on this one just says, “Hayley is so mesmerizing.” So true, past me! I’m not sure whether this is intentionally reminiscent of Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For?” (2004), but I love a good Vivienne Westwood moment and a good Alice in Wonderland-esque music video moment either way. (Also not sure if there’s a Taylor Swift nod happening here in Hayley escaping into the guitar case, as Taylor does into her piano in “cardigan” [2020].)

“Gorilla” — Little Simz, dir. Dave Meyers

A dream collab, really. (And Meyers is seemingly a director where I think the collaborator—namely, what they bring to the project in terms of, uh, vision—matters a ton; see: one of my reds from earlier this year.) I haven’t even heard this Little Simz album yet... I’ll listen right after this... but Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021), one of the best I listened to last year, turned me into an instant fan.

“Flowers” — Miley Cyrus, dir. Jacob Bixenman

“Flowers” is obviously one of the defining songs of 2023, but I’ve been telling people all year that I mostly just love the simple but very effective premise of its video: contended divorcée Miley Cyrus walks home from some night out in vintage Yves Saint Laurent, washes said night out away, then gets ready for another one. She heats up, she cools off, she heats up, she cools off—visibly happy and healthy in a way that did a lot for me at the top of a new year.

“The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte” — Sparks, dir. Sparks & Richie Starzec

I’ve recently been working my way through Sparks’ discography just for the hell of it—I’m currently in the late-‘70s—so I’m already in this sort of headspace. Not sure if you have to be in it yourself to enjoy this, but you can let me know. Their original invite to Cate Blanchett was apparently something like “Come and stand in our video,” which—spoiler—is not what she ended up doing. Another solid entry in the growing Blanchett music video universe.

“vampire” — Olivia Rodrigo, dir. Petra Collins

I don’t know how big I am on the song itself—“fame fucker” does not seem to be growing on me, though I’ll keep trying—but I was pretty taken aback by its video, in a good way. The only video I’ve really loved from Olivia otherwise is “brutal” (2021), also directed by Petra Collins, even if I’ve definitely “gotten” the headline-making ones. So for the first 90 or so seconds of “vampire,” I was like, Another one of these? But then it won me over with its big gear-shift, which will probably hit hardest if I don’t say anything else about it here. You know what, let me actually try and speak to Collins and circle back.

“Padam Padam” — Kylie Minogue, dir. Sophie Muller

I was on board the “Padam Padam” train pretty much instantly, and, probably because I experienced the song for the first time visually, it only is what it is in my brain because of a) these boots and b) the little bounce Kylie does for the entire outro of the video, which I also catch myself doing whenever I listen.

“River” — Miley Cyrus, dir. Jacob Bixenman

I debated putting a second Miley on here, but I just re-watched “River” and… it stays! I think it’s very smart that she’s had Jacob Bixenman handle the entirety of Endless Summer Vacation (2023) visuals, down to the Disney+ concert film; everything feels very clean and consistent in terms of creative direction. Similar deal as “Flowers” here: simple but super effective concept, this time with a hornier bent. This is easily my favourite song of the two.

“SILVER TOOTH.” — Armani White & A$AP Ferg, dir. Mikey D’Amico & Davey Robinson

I don’t know what it is, but this song (which, again, I first heard through its video—I try to do that whenever I can) currently has me in a chokehold. I’m probably one weak moment away from passing it along to my dentist. (This won’t make any sense until you’ve seen it.)

“Rush” — Troye Sivan, dir. Gordon von Steiner

Troye actually appears a number of times among my blues and greens; a non-2023 green from him is “Angel Baby” (2021). And a special shout-out to the person who tragically sent me these texts a little while back:

“What Was I Made For?” — Billie Eilish, dir. Billie Eilish

I haven’t yet listened to Barbie: The Album (2023), but I’ve been following the music video tie-ins very closely and have been fascinated by how each artist has navigated promoting the film while also tying things back to their own brand. Billie’s sticks out a bit because it’s the only one of the four videos that a) doesn’t contain any footage from the film; b) is self-directed, which her projects normally are; and c) forces you to keep thinking about it past its final frame. The whole thing is a one-shot where the camera slowly moves in and out on a static Billie (something she’s done a couple times before), and while there’s a quick flash of the Barbie logo on the little suitcase right at the beginning (potentially a contractually obligated one), the video is her hanging up Barbie-sized versions of various looks from her own career—at least for its first half, before another sort of gear-shift. The other videos from the album have the artists happily playing as Barbies, driving Barbie cars and living/dancing in Dreamhouses; this Barbie doesn’t seem quite so happy being a doll.

My Q2-in-review

🎙 In May, Film Cred published a bunch of interview questions with me that I’d answered closer to the beginning of the year—about my professional journey so far, my “process” and things like “writer’s block,” and my bookshelves. I think there’s some good stuff in there? You can let me know.

The books section: I’ve made pretty good progress with the stacks on stacks of non-fiction books I mentioned in my last recap; two I’d definitely recommend from this last wave of reading are Tina Turner’s My Love Story (2018), her most recent autobiography and a genuinely lovely read, and Jennifer Worley’s Neon Girls (2020), a great memoir about stripping to make some extra cash as a grad student and inadvertently falling into the labour movement. I’m now reading and currently quite enjoying I, Tina (1986), on which Turner collaborated with Kurt Loder. (I think I chose the right order to read the Tina books in; there’s naturally some overlap between the two, but this older book is a much easier read when you know that there are three joyous decades waiting for her.

🎙 Also in May, I was interviewed for a piece Jenna Benchetrit did for CBC News on how social media has changed stadium tours, with the Renaissance World Tour and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour as the two main focuses.

The film section: Still watching mostly music films for projects you’ll hear about later, but I’ve also gotten really lucky this last little while with my for-fun screenings. (Some favourites have been Send Me No Flowers [1964], What’s Up, Doc? [1972], Eastern Promises [2007], and Batman [1989], the last of which I can’t believe I hadn’t seen.) One film I’ve been going back and forth on is Love to Love You, Donna Summer (2023), though I think it’s worth a watch regardless. It’s less that I didn’t enjoy it and more that I was surprised by it; because of the trailer, and I guess the general glut of often-disappointing pop music docs, I was expecting it to be a fun (and possibly sanitized, since that’s also the norm as of late) romp through the Queen of Disco’s life and work. It’s actually a pretty gutting attempt by her daughters to at once complicate their mother’s legacy and come to terms with that legacy, and it struck me on a first watch as successful on both fronts, even if it wasn’t what I was expecting. (You might be surprised by how little attention is paid to her work, relatively speaking.) I’ll have to rewatch it at some point.

🇨🇦 I spent a couple weeks in June with the CBC Arts team, helping with all-around editorial things on the site’s The 50 Greatest Films Directed by Canadians project, which turned ballots from dozens of Canadian film critics and programmers (including myself) into a ranked list—fun the way such lists inherently are, flawed the way such lists inherently are. I also ended up writing the short essay for entry #10, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), which I’d ranked first on my ballot due to my strong belief that “greatest” means something very different from “best.” I essentially spent all of May knee-deep in research on both Titanic and RMS Titanic, to the point where I really tired my loved ones out with weird trivia and sort of lost myself a bit in the whole thing emotionally—and this is pre-submersible, mind you, so no one in my life wants to hear the T-word ever again. But if you meet me in person at any point, I’ll happily tell you lots about what I’ll delicately call “the cleanup process” and what I’ll delicately call “the shoes thing.”

The music section: Probably the medium I have the chillest relationship to at the moment because I get to just listen to whatever, whenever. There has not yet been a 2023 album I’ve felt the need to listen to over and over again (just some really good ones, which I’ll share at some point later), so I’ve instead been listening to a lot of old faves. I do, though, have several songs on repeat during my runs—a couple disco classics (or instant classics) like Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and a solid half of Renaissance (2022), “Karma” by Taylor Swift (a perfect pop song, for my money, but also a fascinating cultural artefact; I listen to the original and the Ice Spice remix in equal measure because I like to hear “I be draggin’ that wagon” every so often), and “Never Ending Song” by Conan Gray (there’s something about the melody, especially of the verses, that strikes me as either Jack Skellington-like or Andrew Lloyd Webberian, both of which would activate the same part of my brain). Madonna-wise, I also seem to have—forgive me—gravitated much more to “VULGAR” than “Popular.” Totally different vibes, of course, but I do like weird and difficult pop, and “VULGAR” is the song that I think feels like Madonna through and through, as opposed to her having been squeezed into someone else’s. Madonna and Sam Smith recorded it in the days after they both became figurative punching bags at the Grammys (I think they messed up a bit in not releasing it earlier in the year), and there’s something about “If you fuck with Sam tonight, you’re fucking with me” that I find genuinely moving.

🎙 Last week, all thanks to my friend Dan Simpson—who recently released an epic video essay on Stanley Kubrick’s book adaptations—I got to introduce my first ever screening, of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) at the Screening Room in Kingston, Ontario. Didn’t die and it honestly felt great to do an IRL speaking thing for the first time in… years? Not since I was a TA. (My wedding doesn’t count.)

The music video section: It was above, arguably.

🔍 My editor at Billboard, the great Andrew Unterberger, published a lovely interview last week with Tony Bennett’s longtime drummer, Clayton Cameron, and very kindly hyperlinked to my newsletter piece on Bennett from last year.

The life section: Probably happier than ever, and not the way Billie Eilish meant it. Still doing a lot of running and cooking, or at least putting together stuff like this:

Also did shrooms for the first time a few weeks back… and possibly the only time, I think. Have you ever been trapped in the iTunes visualizer? ●

Mononym Mythology is a music video culture newsletter by me, Sydney Urbanek, where I write about mostly pop stars and their visual antics. I do that for free—and actually pay to use this platform—so if you happened to get something out of this instalment, you’re more than welcome to buy me a coffee. The best way to support my work otherwise is by sharing it. Here’s where you can say hello (if you received this in your inbox, you can also reply directly to it), here’s where you can subscribe, and I’m also on Twitter and Instagram.