The 35 Best Pop Music Videos of 2016
From Ariana Grande to Beyoncé to Zayn, we’re taking a look back at the best pop music had to offer in 2016.
Our favorite pop superstars kept our eyes thoroughly satiated in 2016 with their visual servings, from Beyoncé's behemoth Lemonade to sister Solange's gorgeously artsy "Cranes In The sky" to Britney and Tinashe's sexy "Slumber Party."
Check out the 35 best pop music videos released this year.
Didn’t see a song you loved on our list? Let us know in the comments!
The Knowles sisters have some serious magic infused in their DNA, but the beauty of all that talent comes in their vastly different approaches to unleashing it unto the world. Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” is a visually arresting work of art, with each frame shot like a painting — all soft hues and movement. It’s rare for a music video to match the artistry of its soundtrack this well — count on a Knowles sister to get it right. — Ali Szubiak
That the video for “The Greatest” didn’t immediately show its hand (several media outlets eventually inferred it was filmed in honor of victims of the June massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub) was ultimately proof that Sia’s abstractions are sometimes her most powerful weapons. The clip finds the This Is Acting singer’s preferred draft-pick, the outstanding Maddie Ziegler, sorting through beautifully rusty choreography that would leave seasoned ballroom dancers shaking in their court shoes. Ziegler’s ultimately joined by 48 others (Pulse left 49 club-goers dead) who collectively and brilliantly rage before sinking into the floor and receding into a quiet still. At once, violence and peace are both at rest, and Ziegler — eyes underscored by rainbow makeup — begins to weep. — Matthew Donnelly
Confetti, potions, candy lotions and mystery substances spilled all over...oh my. The Legendary Miss Britney Spears brought her signature brand of seduction back to the forefront with the stunning video for "Slumber Party" in 2016. With the help of superfan-turned-BFF Tinashe, Brit Brit writhed 'round, lunged and hair-flipped in all her, well, Glory — and just wait and see what that tongue can do. Like a combination of "Boys," "I Love Rock N Roll," "If U Seek Amy" and "My Prerogative," the mystery mansion party-themed video is one of Brit's best in years. And after the drama of #MakeMeOriginalGate, the sensually lit video only feels even more like a return to form during a brilliant year in Britney's career. — Bradley Stern
Life imitates art and vice versa in the surreal, stunning music video for Jane Zhang’s “Dust My Shoulders Off,” her breezy Timbaland-produced anthem to shrugging off the bad days. The imaginative clip finds the crossover Chinese pop star wandering a museum before suddenly emerging within the many iconic classical works of art on its walls, from Edvard Munch’s horrifying “The Scream” to Johannes Vermeer’s elegant “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” One of the most unique videos of 2016, it’s clever, it’s visually stimulating, it’s memorable—everything that pop (art) should be—and it truly solidifies Zhang as one to quite literally watch, Louvre-style. — Erica Russell
To be fair, the entire Lemonade video series could (and should!) be our Best Videos of 2016 (So Far!) list in its entirety. But Bey mercifully blessed us with "Sorry" on VEVO for mass consumption beyond TIDAL — a move no doubt appreciated by many in the BeyHive. The "Sorry" clip is especially rich in African cultural references (which are fascinating to explore in-depth) — and, of course, tennis superstar Serena Williams bopping right alongside Queen Bey is an incredible moment in joint icon celebration. — Bradley Stern
The “Formation” video’s surprise debut dropped a lot of jaws, for a host of different reasons: fans of Bey (and of New Orleans bounce star Big Freedia, who’s voice makes a cameo) flooded the internet with ecstatic awe, hot-takers wrote too many think pieces and Bill O’Reilly types buried their discomfort in righteous anger at the sight of Beyonce sinking a police car intercut with graffiti that read “Stop shooting us.” That’s power — or as Bey puts it on the track, “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation." Director Melina Matsoukas’ clip is packed with stunning fashion looks, documentary footage and socio-politically coded moments, all of them visually thrilling. But watching Beyonce fully assert her strength and all its sources (her talent, her economic heft, her black womanhood, her southern heritage and her daughter Blue Ivy proudly dancing with a big grin, to name a few) evoked the biggest rush of all.
– Samantha Vincenty
It’s easy to affect cynicism when it feels like the world is crumbing all around us. But John Legend’s touching “Love Me Now” video wastes no energy on all that permeating darkness. It focuses, instead, on love, sympathy and caring, and it invokes several of the tragedies that have seemingly upended the earth over the past year, in an attempt to remind us that love, in all its forms — be it platonic, familial, romantic — will continue to be the strongest force willed into existence. It’s important that we remember, love will forever trump hate. — Ali Szubiak
After flexing his interpretive choreography skills in "King," out-and-proud Years & Years dream boy Olly Alexander opted to go the sexually fluid route for the troupe's fantastic single "Desire," given an assist by Queen of the Clouds, Tove Lo. The video is essentially one big ol' #unapologetic orgy of people of all shapes, shades and sexualities — a veritable rainbow of love. "I choose this because I do not want to hide or limit my sexuality, I want to make videos and songs and art that celebrate all different kinds of sexuality and queer identities," Olly wrote upon the release of the video. — Bradley Stern
Carly Rae Jepsen's brand of infectious '80s pop-by-way-of-21st century production continues its unrelenting stronghold over the dance-floor in the video for "Boy Problems," the fifth single off the Canadian export's sensational EMOTION. Featuring a cameo by Tavi Gevinson and directed by feminist photographer Peta Collins, the candy-coated clip is a glitter cannon explosion of tinsel streamers, tiaras and girl power at its most subversive. And why can't feminism look like a trapper keeper filled with Lisa Frank stickers anyway? — Erica Russell
Make no mistake: The video for A Moon Shaped Pool’s first single is a horror movie expertly disguised as a Saturday morning stop-motion cartoon. But hey, when you produce string progressions that are menacing enough to score The Shining, the visual’s gotta follow suit. “Burn The Witch” slowly and excruciatingly chronicles a stranger’s visit to a provincial settlement, where the public welcomes him with open arms before fashioning each into a collective noose. It’s The Wicker Man-meets-Rudolph’s annual Christmas special, and guaranteed to leave you a little wary of who might be hiding out just a few houses down the street. - Matthew Donnelly
Petite Meller’s whimsical quirk-pop flourishes in the pastel-hued video for “The Flute.” Filmed along the rolling green hills of northern Mongolia, the French artist dazzles as she dances among reindeer and a beautiful nomadic tribe while wearing colorful pom pom-embellished robes, pointy hats and traditional dresses made of straw. Inspired by Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s classic 1913 Russian ballet, “The Rite of Spring,” the sweeping, captivating visual is a stellar and immersive backdrop for Meller’s twinkly, bouncy electro pop tune. — Erica Russell
Equal parts Mad Max, Akira and Tank Girl, the video for Grimes' "Kill V. Maim" is a cyberpunk vision of post-apocalyptic fantasies, all neon-soaked and frenzied. In the manic clip, the alt-pop artist dances in a deserted subway station, goes on a deranged joyride through a neo-Tokyo landscape and raves in an underground vampire nightclub. The whole thing ends in a blood-bath... literally. - Erica Russell
Tinashe, ever-versatile pop princess, effortlessly cycled through bubbly uptempo pop ("SuperLove"), bedroom bangers ("Company") and even the Spanish language ("Duele El Corazon") throughout 2016, but her fiercest moment came at the vogue-ready hands of KDA with UK club banger "Just Say." Armed with only her natural star wattage in a deserted motel, the Nightride diva gave us high kicks, hair flips and face for days in the all too underrated, hot-as-hell accompanying visual. Get this girl to the top of the charts, already. — Bradley Stern
“All the Rage” is a brash and bratty breath of fresh air — and that description also applies to drag star Violet Chachki (or her TV persona as RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 7 champion, anyway). This, and her style-augmented resemblance to the synthpop singer, make Violet a perfectly riveting doppelgänger in the video directed by Jungle George. What exactly is going on in this clip, which finds the pair cavorting on a rooftop and on a beach along what appears to be the Pacific Coast Highway? Who cares — when the looks are this mesmerizing, plot concerns fall by the wayside. – Samantha Vincenty
Kudos to Beyonce for the entirety of Lemonade — truthfully, the entire video album should top this list. But if forced to choose, “Hold Up” has some of the collection’s most striking — and, not to mention, most satisfying — visuals. Bey blazes through town, bat in her hand, fire in her eyes. When she first strikes that car window it’s undeniable: “Hold Up" offers pure catharsis in video form. — Ali Szubiak
2016’s music videos have largely underwhelmed me, Lemonade and Grimes aside. Rihanna is one of earth’s most gorgeous living creatures, but that doesn’t make a video of her standing around with a gun/being a human projection screen/dancing in a pink room a masterpiece. And hey Justin Bieber’s “Company” video, I can tell when someone’s merely rePurpose-ing BTS and tour footage. The visual for Fifth Harmony’s earworm “Work From Home” single is an oasis in this creative drought, mostly for its unabashed goofiness: How can a construction worker possibly work from home? Nevermind — I’m just grateful for Camila, Ally, Normani, Lauren and Dinah’s campy imitations of manual labor using tool-belted living Ken dolls as props. Here’s to the rare 2016 music video that actually had fun with it. – Samantha Vincenty
The self-aware club banger from Lizzo’s Coconut Oil EP makes a strong case for its vogue anthem potential with its music video, which goes full camp (Exhibit A: Lizzo weeping under a black mourning veil in gorgeous close-up) and features some of the year’s best armography. And then the actual vogueing comes in. 2016 needed more genuine joy like this. – Samantha Vincenty
I’ve extolled the virtues of both this song and the Puberty 2 album from which it came (a PopCrush Best Albums of 2016 pick), and the Zia Anger-directed video is equally brilliant. Through minimalist visuals in a single room, the clip bolsters the central message of the song — that the singer’s crush has a lack of interest in understanding their cultural differences, and she’s just now realizing that’s his shortcoming and not hers — and heavily relies on singer-songwriter Mitski’s expressive face (she hilariously makes out with her own hand at one point, a literal expression of her own loneliness). The notion of an “all-American girl” ideal is further parodied when her hipster-y love winds up making out with a blonde, flower crown-wearing “every third girl at Coachella” type who sees “Ride”-era Lana Del Rey as a style icon. As they wrap themselves in an actual American flag, Mitski leans further into her own identity as the guitar-wielding badass in the corner — until she walks off into the world alone. – Samantha Vincenty
Maybe it’s the slow motion, the convincing pratfall or the fact that the video’s requisite entitled white guy gets his comeuppance, but — where it should be annoying — Weezer’s most recent video is a delight. The black-and-white one-take, crafted to supplement The White Album’s third single, finds a guy who’s dressed as a royal running up and down a boardwalk, leaving a wake of small-scale destruction in his path. Finally, after destroying an ATM, police apprehend the local bearded criminal and kill his plans for spending the night challenging teens to Xbox Live duels. — Matthew Donnelly
Departing from the typical neon signage and performance clips of their past few visuals, The 1975’s “A Change of Heart” is their most plot-driven music video to date. Two clowns go on a weirdly charming carnival date, before small annoyances pile upon each other, leaving Healy dejected and alone by the video’s end. Not all relationships end in a dramatic flareup, after all — sometimes it’s those slight but undeniable misunderstandings that contribute to the dissolution of what once felt like a perfect pairing, and oftentimes it hurts more. — Ali Szubiak
As labels continue to slash video budgets, and once-ubiquitous pop video-grandstanding becomes an even fainter memory, Clean Bandit have managed to put together a silvery, sleek bit of cinema that will leave you swearing it’s 2006. The “Tears” video, featuring guest vocalist Louisa Johnson, has got the drama of Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter,” the sheen of Jessica Simpson’s “Irresistible” and…well, a bunch of flaming instruments. Why is this owl flying from the close side of the room to the far? Hard to say, and we’re not totally sure why Johnson eventually aims a flamethrower at a baby grand piano. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter, because it all looks so good — from a dance routine in ankle-deep water to the sparks and errant feathers that decorate the clip’s more delicate moments. — Matthew Donnelly
Selena Gomez plays crazy a little too convincingly in her fake-out music video for “Hands to Myself,” a standout cut from her 2015 release Revival. In it, she plays the role of an obsessed fan who breaks into the home of a celebrity, convinced the two belong together. Barring its weirdly meta (and ultra disappointing) end, the video does a fair job of showcasing Gomez’s acting chops. If only it ended early instead. — Ali Szubiak
Gwen Stefani’s This Is What the Truth Feels Like, a reflection on the devastation of divorce, has ushered in sounds that have fallen flat to some longtime fans. The visual for third single “Misery,” on the other hand, successfully delivers on the singer’s signature sense of style, and offers scenes stunning enough to inspire a high-fashion house’s next video editorial. Between poses straight from the school of Dita Von Teese and the sight of flowy chiffon billowing through smoke, Stefani effortlessly validates her enduring status as a fashion icon. Plus, flower crowns and knee-high leather boots aside, who can resist the image of a grown woman innocently riding a bicycle around an abandoned parking garage’s upper deck? - Matthew Donnelly
New York City EDM duo Sofi Tukker deliver deliciously repetitive, sensual trop-pop on their instantly infectious “Drinkee.” However, the video for the hot, hot, hot dance jam is just as mesmerizing as the track itself, with the pair dancing in a lush, tropical oasis of roses, palm trees and Grecian statues awash in candy hues. The chic visual is like a greenhouse for your brain, all steamy and exotic and luxuriant, and overall feels like some sort of euphoria-induced Versace mansion fever dream. — Erica Russell
After nearly a decade-long hiatus from the Japanese music scene, pop icon Utada Hikaru returned with her somber Fantôme in 2016, a tribute to her late mother. Not everything on the album is quite so morbid: "Nijikan Dake No Vacance" ("Two Hour Vacation") is a wonderfully whimsical and nostalgic escape from the world — quite literally — with fellow legend, Shiina Ringo. Together, the two get slightly Star Wars (and ever-so-slightly Sapphic!) in an intergalactic trip to the stars well worth taking. — Bradley Stern