If you think about music videos, often you’d imagine singers performing their song, or a matching narrative or plot. Above all, it’s likely that you’d first think of live-action video. However, animated music videos are on the rise, and have been for a while! For one, there are way more possibilities when it comes to action, colour, and characters, and their uncommonness usually help them stand out among the sea of music videos out there. More recently, more music videos are being produced by top animation studios in Singapore as a quick yet creative fix to COVID-19 restrictions. Check out our list of the top 10 animated music videos of all time below!
Gorillaz’ Feel Good Inc.
First released in 2005, virtual band Gorillaz’ hit single Feel Good Inc. made waves in the music scene, winning MTV’s coveted Breakthrough Video and Best Visual Effects music video awards. Gorillaz put animated musicians beyond those more child-oriented (think Alvin & the Chipmunks) on the map, with an astounding five Grammy nominations that year. The music video is as complex as the song itself, with the combination of computer-generated image (CGI) and 2D animation creating a more textured end-product. A higher quality version of the iconic music video was rereleased a decade after—take a look above!
a-ha’s Take On Me
It would be a crime for any top 10 animation video list to exclude a-ha’s Take On Me. An essential piece of pop culture, this 1984 music video beautifully melds live-action and animation—truly ahead of its time! We follow our live-action lead as she’s whizzed into a different dimension, a comic book-esque world and falls head over heels for a 2D man. It was this vision that led the video to win six awards at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year. Take On Me was definitely deserving given the tireless effort put into it, including 3,000 hand drawn frames and 16 weeks’ worth of rotoscoping (where live film is physically drawn over).
DAOKO’s Girl (content warning: some nudity)
Japanese artist DAOKO first emerged into public consciousness with her 2014 viral hit Me! Me! Me!, where her melodic vocals served as a soundtrack to Japanese video artist Hibiki Yoshizaki’s bizarre animated sequences in his short. Girl, another collaboration between the two, was released a year later. The 2015 release arguably blows the former out of the water, both in terms of the music and visuals accompanying it. For one, a single watch isn’t enough as viewers quickly realise that there’s a complex story at play with a heavy amount of imagery and symbolism jam-packed into the animation. Even if picking at small details isn’t your thing, the unique, vibrant pastels make every frame picturesque enough to save as a wallpaper. It’s impressive how well DAOKO’s signature whisper-singing matches the images, but perhaps understandable considering the fact that the singer herself claims that she makes her music with animation in mind throughout production.
Tame Impala’s Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
It’s only natural that psychedelic rock band Tame Impala would employ equally mesmerising visuals in their music videos. One look at Feels Like We Only Go Backwards and you can already tell that hours upon hours were put into it. Rather than CGI, clay animation was employed here. In fact, directors Joe Pelling and Becky Sloan (who might be better known as the creators of web series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared) created the video through animating over a thousand plasticine collages, all individually handmade.
Prince’s Sign O’ the Times
Sign O’ The Times is yet another animated music video staple, and even a part of music history. Prince’s 1987 lead single is revolutionary for being one of the earliest instances of a lyric video before they became mainstream. Rather than being accompanied by a live-action performance or plot, director Bill Konersman animated coloured motion graphics forecasting the lyrics with funky design and colours.
Britney Spears’ Break the Ice
The Princess of Pop never misses. Before Doja Cat and Billie Eilish’s anime-inspired music videos (see: Hallucinate and you should see me in a crown), there was Britney Spears. Released more than a decade before, her anime-inspired Break the Ice was definitely ahead of her time. The concept, which sees an animated Spears as a seductive, futuristic, superspy on a mission, was reportedly Spears’ own idea. The music almost feels like an episode of an action anime in itself!
Arctic Monkeys’ Do I Wanna Know
Do I Wanna Know holds an impressive record of being one out of only 12 rock music videos to achieve over 1 billion views. At first glance, the music video (directed by director and animator David Wilson) appears deceptively simple, consisting only of simple sound wave visuals. However, as the first chorus elapses, the single white line divides into not only differently coloured sound waves, but also line animated scenes reflecting the lyrics. The end result is a hypnotising, moody video that well merits its views.
Daft Punk’s One More Time
Touted by Rolling Stones as the best dance song of all time, Daft Punk takes anime-inspiration to the next level. One More Time features authentic superhero anime animation produced by the iconic Toei Animation studios, known for legendary anime series like Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Sailor Moon! Daft Punk challenges the limits of the narrative music videos can offer, with a storyline that extends throughout the entire album and animation accompanying every single from it. An interesting fact: this animation inspired a film building upon this storyline by the very same director, Kazuhisa Takenouchi, to create the 2003 anime film Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.
A more recent music video, Coldplay’s Daddy takes us into a poignant story about a child calling out for their father. With the lyrics more abstract, the music video unfolds this story with a girl lost at sea, longing for her father as she tries to face the unknown herself. Unlike traditional 2D animation, Daddy approaches animation with a more mixed media method, incorporating 2D animation, puppetry, and digitally painted sets for more refreshing visuals. The more handmade feel this creates really resonates with the subject matter, concerning human relationships and longing.
Björk’s I Miss You
Known for her experimental and provocative style, Björk’s I Miss You is a strange and edgy meld of both animation and live-action. The cartoons definitely give off late-night adult cartoon nostalgia, even giving off a hazy feel. The almost disturbing music video had MTV cautious about airing it in the daytime, though aired it nonetheless after the single rose through the charts. This is a tune that’ll definitely linger in your mind — along with the video!