Jarvix's Top 10 Oklahoma Music Videos of 2021
Evan Jarvicks of Oklahoma music website Make Oklahoma Weirder shares his 10 favorite music videos by Oklahomans in 2021.
10. The Odyssey - "Breakout"
dir. Garrett Randol
Fewer bands seem to carry the torch of blues-infused rock 'n' roll every year, but with groups like The Odyssey on the rise, that flame remains bright even in the 2020s. The members put their all into a music single and video last year, and while it's not the band's first release, it's the one that most feels like a proper origin story.
With the rocketing song "Breakout," The Odyssey captures the combustive energy of liftoff in a literal and, more importantly, a metaphorical sense. The video counterpart doubles down on this idea with the band members graduating from black suits to spacesuits. Along the way, there is plenty of "kill your television" imagery that symbolizes the lifeless way that people often fall into mindless addiction and isolation. The plot points are a little cryptic, but the transformative arc of the song resolves in a happy ending for all.
The interplanetary scale of the video's concept, represented here by the barren and otherworldly Great Salt Plains of northern Oklahoma, carries beyond the confines of a single music video, too. At live performances since, The Odyssey has worn its astronaut gear on stage, bringing the concept into reality. While this isn't a new persona, even for Oklahoma music -- Ada metal band Oberon has been rocking out in matching space suits for years -- it does feel momentous, if only for the palpable passion that the band poured into this single. Like the final moments of the music video imply, this is one small step for The Odyssey, one giant leap for the years to follow.
9. Aaron J. Morton - "Crossing Over"
dir. Aaron J. Morton
Aaron J. Morton is so full of cool, creative ideas that each of his music videos is a unique experience unto itself. While his ingenuity is not, say, at the level of legendary visual engineers OK Go, he earns the comparison. With a DIY budget and access to nothing more than his own house, he keeps pulling new concepts from his musical world like rabbits out of a hat, giving 2021 novelties like his rhythmic editing proof of concept "ECHO" and his single-take birthday video for "Blue Bayou".
For Halloween last year, Morton premiered the music video for "Crossing Over". It experiments with video editing and an alter ego to create a haunting spirit with whom he sings a spooky pop song about a dying relationship. The double meaning of its title, however, enables him to explore the thought of a being who crosses over from a paranormal plane into his own. The lighting and makeup combine with Morton's on-camera chops to ensure the experience isn't so much scary as it is darkly fun.
A spectacularly unhinged vocal solo, which runs through layers of synthy effects ahead of the final chorus, soundtracks an encounter in the attic that uses time manipulation to create the paranormal being's unnatural bodily movement with dramatic flair. This climactic reveal is counterpointed with a seemingly unimpressed reaction by Morton's protagonist. Shortly after the scene, though, he demonstrates why he is so resolutely past being haunted at this point, but the conclusion is too amusing to spoil here. Give the video a watch, and see if its infectious campiness doesn't latch on to a spooktacular playlist come this October.
8. Sports - "Ordinary Man"
dir. Mortis Studio
It was a big year for Sports, and the next one promises to be even bigger. On the strength of an updated sound rooted firmly in synthpop that keeps its experimentation under the surface, the duo released some of the catchiest singles of the year, and a tireless world tour is already underway in 2022. The band's success is, well, extraordinary.
On "Ordinary Man", Sports takes pride in its self-described wizardry. The music video presents the duo in a bare setting, born into a lab with bare attire. When the two don their colorful leisure suits and face paint, however, the video begins to splash with color. Echoing the lyrics, the visuals come alive through vibrant lighting, projections, and even some glitchy 3D modeling of the band members created by Adult Swim alumni animator-for-hire Dan Forke.
While the lyrics and visuals unapologetically favor style over substance, there is still a good message here. "Ordinary Man" encourages people to own the weirdness within themselves, and when that message comes from a band as cool as Sports, it's easy to take heed.
7. Alyse - "Beautiful Things"
dir. Aaron Art
The music video for "Beautiful Things" is a class act in how to create an engaging visual for a slow, introspective ballad. Alyse has shown that she can dazzle on camera against lively settings, but here, she proves that it doesn't take bells and whistles for her elegant presence to command attention.
From 2020 album Claudette's Garden, "Beautiful Things" is a meditation on growth that adopts a gardening metaphor, and this informs much of the visual language of its music video. While there is a plant that serves as a plot device, soil and shine are represented further with set dressing, costuming, and lots of natural light.
In the video, Alyse lives with a domestic partner who is sometimes in a good mood but is more often likely to be controlling and neglectful. It seems possible for a while that the "beautiful thing" in this story is a relationship or marriage that just needs tending to, but the ending subverts this. Alyse's independence is what blooms in the end. Note that Alyse's domestic partner often wears earth tones, representing the grit, dirt, pain, and hurt that she references in the song.
The ending sets the stage for a follow-up music video for "Rose Royce", released in December, and that visual in turn looks to be setting up another chapter in this ongoing tale. Thoughtful, conceptual creations like this are what sets Alyse apart, and there's no doubt she has more planned for 2022.
6. Branjae - "Free Facts"
dir. Branjae Jackson
Set in a future dystopia where the proverbial system literally hijacks people's brains to control their beliefs, "Free Facts" is a cyberfunk short film written by, directed by, and starring Branjae. Naturally, the soundtrack is a jammin' Branjae song of the same name.
"Free Facts" is a fresh coat of paint to the classic adage that knowledge is power, viewing it through a lens of modern-day fake news and the ongoing great awakening of sociopolitical consciousness. The title is not an inference that facts are free for the taking; truth in information often comes with some risk. Rather, it states that facts are what set people free, as the music video makes evident.
Branjae plays a vigilante protagonist who is afforded the community resources to recognize that she is being controlled alongside a zombified society, and she uses these tools to break from the chains of forced governance. This alone isn't enough, though, as many others are still implanted with mind-hacking devices.
One of the metaphors in "Free Facts" is a mirror that allows Branjae's character to see her device, and in a similar way, this music video also works as a mirror. It puts the viewer face to face with a simple message, but it's one that may be more difficult to swallow than its connotation often implies: the truth will set you free.
5. Dillon Chase - "Here for You"
dir. Dillon Chase
When discussion of who's doing numbers in Oklahoma hip-hop commences, Dillon Chase is a name barely mentioned. This is despite his incredible run for the past 15 or so years, building a living off of his art and accruing Spotify numbers that rival top Oklahoma hip-hop streamers like O2Worldwide and Josh Sallee, all of whom are in the millions. Maybe it's because he's from the small college town of Ada, OK, or maybe it's because he's big with the church crowd. Maybe, though, it's because this isn't how he measures success.
Take his music video for "Here for You", which is simple yet powerful in its testament to what ultimately matters most in life. Shot in a single take, Dillon Chase approaches the camera along a sidewalk and befalls a rapid succession of misfortune, including being hit by a car and getting mugged. The video plays in slow motion as he soldiers on, somehow unphased by it all. Why? As a heart-melting reveal confirms, Chase's material hardships are surmounted by the intangible values of love and family.
It's this big-picture outlook that affords Dillon Chase the faith to move on from rap, an action which he has hinted may be close at hand. His latest record, UV Persona, is said to be his last, and he has hinted at plans to change the method with which he spreads positive messages. Wherever the road may take him past 2021 and whatever may befall him, though, one need only remember "Here for You" to know that devotion will pave the way.
4. Slyrex ft. Gabrielle B. - "Solana"
dir. Ben Tefera & Slyrex
Slyrex and his team at Bad Faith never disappoint, especially when it's time to craft the visuals for his smoky, silky alternative sounds. Last year saw excellent work for "Nightmare Artist" and "Eros", but the music video for "Solana" may be their best example of visual storytelling yet. With a collage of scenes that elapse in mere moments, it uses framing and editing to convey a romantic connection evaporating and fading into memory.
Joined by hometown hero Gabrielle B., Slyrex croons a retrospective of a fling intertwining with demanding busy lives to the point that the relationship breaks apart into bittersweet pieces. The two duet beautifully, trading a verse and joining in the chorus.
In the video, both share close physical spaces, but their emotional states are often disconnected. The visual compositions position Slyrex and Gabrielle B. in thoughtfully framed shots that gracefully show unspoken conflict. When they share the screen, notice how they both take the camera's single focal point in the good times, but troubling times depict each figure looking in different directions and disputing the emphasis of the shot. The split screens and overlapped projections broaden the visual language as well.
As with other work from the Bad Faith crew, the saturated use of shadow and color is all here. It's a surprise, then, when the song cuts short and the video fades into black and white to segue into an unreleased Slyrex tune called "Midsommar", which is decidedly a solo number. The comparative sparsity plays into the storytelling while teasing fans with an unreleased hidden track, and turns like these continue to make Slyrex one of the most exciting artists to follow in Oklahoma and beyond.
3. Starr Lyfe - "F** This Job"
From the man who gave the world "F*** Coronavirus" and "F*** KD" comes a new anthem for the r/antiwork crowd, "F*** This Job". Though OKC-based hip-hop artist Starr Lyfe is far from a one-trick pony, one can't deny that he is in his zone when joking and venting on relatable frustrations.
In the music video for "F*** This Job", Starr Lyfe slings hilariously crass commentary at the low-wage service industry. Wearing a tucked-in polo and disposable gloves, he raps from the grill, the freezer, the counter, and more claustrophobic areas within a drive-in restaurant called Chronic, a cannabis-themed parody of Sonic. The gags, though, are less aimed at the establishment. They direct more at co-workers, bosses, and clientele.
Entertainment abounds in a comic panel presentation of comedic bits, including a ploy to call in sick, a transformation into a martial arts master to karate chop a co-worker, and a car full of customers whose punchline is too good to spoil. Amidst all the fun, it can be easy to forget that "F*** This Job" is also an incredibly well-made music video. From the videography to the editing to the costuming to the acting, everything enhances the song's energy. This is one of the most enjoyable experiences in Oklahoma music of the year, music video or otherwise.
Note: the following video contains lyrics that may be offensive to some listeners
2. Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards - "Sift"
dir. Rahul Chakraborty
Johnny Manchild's star continued to rise in 2021 with a huge album release and some of the biggest steps in his career to date. Given the internal conflicts that permeate his art, though, it would seem a wonder that he has the tenacity to push past his demons to be such a powerful force. However, it's exactly these vices combined with a compulsive music obsession that makes Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards the oxymoron it is: a band of pessimistic hope.
Released ahead of the group's new LP, We Did Not Ask for This Room, "Sift" is a beautiful lead single about death and rebirth. Its video, though, somehow takes this idea both more metaphorical and more literal in its premise. Manchild, washed ashore as the zombie-like remnants of a man, gets himself together and joins society, hopeful to overcome his scary appearance and primal instincts to build a normal life. There is a twist, however, that reveals this may not be the first attempt of its kind, to say the least.
The music video is a lot of fun, with cameos by the Poor Bastards and visual gags on the high concept. Ultimately, though, it proves to be a perfectly sad, Sisyphian arc. Alongside the wistful horns and piano of the song, it is a heartfelt reflection on ambition and failure, and its discordant climax is a flawless mix of horror and tenderness. By the time the credits roll into the night, calling back to the morning where it all began, one can't help but empathize with the character's profound shades of disappointment. As the song says, though, "The world moves on / So why can't we?"
1. Fire in Little Africa ft. Hakeem Eli'juwon & Steph Simon - "Elevator"
Much glory has been bestowed upon Fire in Little Africa's momentous 2021 debut, not least of which is its unity of dozens of Oklahoma rappers, singers, poets, and producers to create a singular work of diverse Black voices. Its narrative concept, though, is sometimes glossed over or left to implication, which is a disservice to the project's depth.
For decades, the Tulsa Race Massacre was a footnote in Oklahoma history under the misleading label of "race riot." It's a slant that has long shrugged off accountability and justice, but Fire in Little Africa counters the spin. This isn't just a supergroup of artists rising from the ashes of Black Wall Street 100 years later to tell the tale. This is active reclamation.
The music video for "Elevator" was released alongside the staggering 21-track self-titled album in May, and while it didn't set the stage -- that credit goes to lead single "Shining" -- it was the video that did the heaviest lifting last year. Between bookends that ensured the uneducated would not miss the historical context of Fire in Little Africa, "Elevator" recreates the racial and gender power dynamics at the root of the Tulsa Race Massacre's violent first spark. Everything that unfolds stems from one interaction in an elevator between shoe shiner Dick Rowland, a Black man, and elevator operator Sarah Page, a white woman.
The music video uses a modern-day interpretation of that encounter, depicted behind closed elevator doors while 1920s attire and setting establish the historical context beyond them. What exactly happened inside is still unconcluded on record, but Fire in Little Africa shifts the narrative from the unfounded assault charge that accused Rowland of predation to one that suggests Page could have easily been responsible. The video calls into question the presumed guilt and innocence of not only this notorious example but the greater fabric of colonized society as well.
And this is just the groundwork for everything that "Elevator" achieves. It gives meaning to many rap video tropes that ring empty today. The sound of gunshots signifies the violence perpetrated against Black Wall Street. The video vixen represents narrative promiscuity. The flashy jewelry references Dick Rowland's nickname, "Diamond Dick." The visual also sits within an arc, kicking off with the audible chaos that ended "Shining" and foreshadowing the heist that would come with "Reparations".
Sure, "Elevator" has great video production, with slick lighting, sharp costuming, and cinematic set-pieces, but what sets it apart is how these features are utilized. It brings black-and-white documents into full living color. For these artists, Fire in Little Africa is their city, their people, and a reckoning long overdue.
Note: the following video contains lyrics that may be offensive to some listeners
Make Oklahoma Weirder is a multimedia exploration of original local music, owned & curated by Oklahoma City music scene zealot Evan Jarvicks (aka Jarvix) from a street-level perspective.