The Best Music Videos of 2021: Taylor Swift, Conan Gray, Olivia Rodrigo, Gracie Abrams, and More

Music videos are always my favorite part of the song promotion process because so many artists are incredibly talented at translating their music into visual formats that provide a new level of depth, feeling, and context to the song itself. I love how videos can both stand for themselves and be part of the broader conversation around the song. While I have a soft spot for artist directed videos and small teams, there are also amazing productions made in tandem with video directors, and I made sure to note who directed each of the videos. Which music video was your favorite this year?

by Taylor Swift (Directed by Taylor Swift)

Taylor Swift always puts out stunning music videos. They're always extremely well written, visually compelling, and contribute to larger narratives around the music that truly take each of the songs to the next level. When we spent years begging for the ten minute version of "All Too Well," I don't think anyone anticipated that there would be a music video to go with it. Over these ten minutes, Taylor does an incredible job of both illustrating the song visually and creating a standalone piece of art. The striking casting of Sadie Sink and Dylan O'Brien perfectly accentuates the main points of this extended version, and the narrative is able to take a full circle arc which emphasizes this version of "All Too Well" as one of a shifted perspective reflecting on that time instead of stuck in the thick of it. (Also, I truly hope the ending is foreshadowing a Taylor Swift book.)

2. Overdrive

by Conan Gray (Directed by Dillon Matthews and Conan Gray)

This music video absolutely won me over on a song that I found otherwise kinda disappointing. For this second video collaboration between Conan and Dillon, they also enlisted their friend Sara Fernández to costar with Conan in this daydream sequence of a music video. The video captures a feeling of longing, and the Euphoria-like outfits worn through scenes of brushing teeth together, playing guitar in the bathtub, bicycling through the neighborhood, and breaking into a restaurant clues the viewer into the fact that maybe they're not watching reality. The end of the video is maybe not totally shocking but very full circle. Working with Dillon always allows Conan the freedom to fully articulate his strong visions for videos, and they always end up being among my favorites.

3. Male Fantasy

by Billie Eilish (Directed by Billie Eilish)

Billie always makes stunning videos, but few are ever as down to earth as her latest video release for "Male Fantasy." In a careful blending of relatable content and artful shots, Billie fills three and a half minutes with wandering around an empty house, staring in the fridge, and mentally searching for something outside of her reach. The video is personal, achingly real, and very meticulously crafted.

4. Unlearn

by Gracie Abrams and Benny Blanco (Directed by Jake Schreier)

This video is super simple, as many of these COVID-era music videos are forced to be, but it becomes almost more compelling for that space that it is afforded. Taking inspiration from a song rooted in being forced to unlearn bad habits of an old relationship to not ruin a new one, the video plays on the age-old break-up trope of eating ice cream on the couch in your sweats. For most of the video, you just see Gracie eat spoonful after spoonful of ice cream, but when the camera slowly starts to pull away, you see Gracie is actually perched on a mountain of ice cream pints which is both funny and a show of just how deep her sadness is. At the end, Benny sweeps in on a crane to share a pint with her, offering a small show of comfort. 

5. People Watching

by Conan Gray (Directed by Joe Mischo)

This music video has a super special place in my heart because, in a way, it feels like a mini revival of the Ash 'n Cone Cooking Show, a segment on Conan's YouTube channel, because it features his childhood best friend, Ashely. In the video, Conan gets to live out his barista fantasy for a day and proves that he should probably stick to songwriting after almost accidentally burning down the cafe. Ashely, playing his co-barista, saves the day and chastises Conan as he comes out of his daydream. This video is pure fun and perfectly matches the extreme details of the song with the visuals. 

6. Say What You Will 

by James Blake (Directed by Bear Damen)

This is a super random pick for this list considering I don't actually listen to James Blake, but this video is absolutely priceless. I discovered it because Finneas has a staring role playing the guy that James is always one step behind. In everything from winning Grammys and getting top billing to lucking out of the TSA line, Finneas lives this charmed life that feels infuriating and untouchable to James. The video is absolutely hilarious and also relatable in the sense that almost everyone has had that one person they toxically compare themselves to. 

7. Mood Ring

by Lorde (Directed by Joel Kefali and Ella Yelich-O'Connor)

"Mood Ring" is a music video that provides a bit of needed context to the humorous song by driving home the point that Lorde is, in fact, using irony and does not sincerely believe her mood ring will fix her life. This video transports the viewer to a wellness retreat full of Gwyneth Paltrow types decked out in fancy jewels and light green, silk ensembles to try the latest wellness trends. The video does a great job in accentuating the irony of pouring heaps of money into these dubious practices and truly creates a world of its own. 

8. Astronomy

by Conan Gray (Directed by Al Kalyk)

This officially completes my inclusion of every Conan Gray music video from 2021 on this list, but like Taylor, Conan always brings it with his music videos. This video positions the viewer as the love interest as Conan takes the camera around on a picnic in a gorgeous field. Then, in the second half of the video, everything crumbles to fit with the song's somber nature. The video is well shot and carries a narrative even with Conan as the only one on screen. 

by Ashe and Finneas (Directed by Sam Bennett)

Ashe and Finneas both have a love for contemporary dance in their music videos, though neither are professional dancers. Oftentimes, the results are slightly awkward, and you're left to wonder why that particular concept was chosen for every single video. But here, united in their pursuit and actually fitting to the song, Ashe and Finneas work together in a partner dance out in the desert of California as a song about the world ending plays behind them. The song emphasizes the importance of being with those you love even as reality look bleak, and their mirrored movements serve to emphasize that on screen. 

10. Traitor

by Olivia Rodrigo (Directed by Olivia Bee)

This video earns its place on the list for the gorgeous visuals throughout. The video itself doesn't have much of a discernible narrative, but the visuals are stunning. From the flowy dresses and pink highlights to the glowing arcade and vintage feel of the shots around the high school, the video feels straight out of a mood board.  

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