Evan Jarvicks of Oklahoma music website Make Oklahoma Weirder shares his 10 favorite music videos by Oklahomans in 2020.
10. Outline in Color - "Alibi"
dir. William Barber
Quarantine hit a lot of bands hard, but Outline in Color made the most of it by putting out a slew of new music videos in lieu of touring. Every one of them is quality, but the visual for "Alibi" stands out for the fabulous job it does of capturing its song's dramatic swells.
Where almost all of Outline in Color's 2020 videos feature the band going hard on its instruments, "Alibi" is completely animated. It offers up a cold, urban style that draws like a graphic novel but plays like anime. Considering this is one of the band's tamer, more melodically broad singles that pushes its post-hardcore genre label about as far as it can go, this is a fitting look. It is, for lack of a better term, melodramatic, and it makes the most of it, with pencil-sketch characters, glitchy edits, and more rainy cityscapes than Seattle.
The song's subject matter of turmoil and distrust within a relationship is prime material for angst-laden imagery. The entire video feels tucked in the shadows and balances its big emotions with tiny daggers of detail. A teardrop splashing onto the ground at one point carries as much weight as another scene where a body falls from an apartment building.
If there are any gaps from the animation's occasional corner-cutting, the music fills them in to complete the full experience. This is a big song that, despite nary a djent in earshot, has all the gravity that certifies Outline in Color's flair for romanticized intensity. As a music video, "Alibi" is everything it should be and more, with moments worth revisiting even if it's about memories that aren't.
9. Alyse - "Shoot My Shot"
dir. Aaron Art
Some music videos are lucky if they feature one costume change. In "Shoot My Shot", Alyse has four, and that's not counting her backup dancers.
One needs only to watch this retrolicious music video for a matter of seconds to appreciate how much thought went into every frame. "Shoot My Shot" stays on its toes with a smorgasbord of scenes brought to nightlife by electric set pieces, sizzling choreography, and playful editing. Even though the production team clearly went in with a game plan, there's still no telling how much footage remains in the cutting room because there is simply no filler in sight.
The track "Shoot My Shot" comes from Alyse's new album, Claudette's Garden, which has other music video contenders in its tracklist as well. "Bon Appetit" and "Rose Royce" arguably have more opportunities for visual metaphor. However, Alyse went all-in on a single visual in 2020. In that sense, "Shoot My Shot" is not just about coming on to a romantic interest. It's also about Alyse shooting her shot as a music artist. She pulled out all the stops to ensure that her video was one of the year's most alluring, and she scored big.
Alyse recently stated that there's more where "Shoot My Shot" came from and to expect it in 2021. If that's the case, this is an artist to keep eyeballs on in the coming year because the bar has already been set, and it's high.
8. Thomas Who? x Sid Carter - "Postmortem"
dir. Terrell Mayes
"Postmortem" is heavy-handed. It opens with a full minute of news footage recounting fatal police shootings of black people. Afterward, everyone who appears in the video wears a white shirt painted with red bullet wounds. Sometimes they stand with fists in the air. Sometimes they lay motionless on the ground. The only exception is a policeman, who stares in horror at the realization of his blood-stained hands. The release date for this video was Independence Day, 2020.
"Postmortem" is heavy-handed, but the hand is not clumsy. It is firm. In terms of both his rap technique and his artistic vision, Thomas Who? is razor-sharp in articulation, loud in voice, and so the music video follows that precedent. The only punches it pulls are the graphic violence that accompanies such a subject as lethal force, and it only does so out of sensitivity to the PSTD many of its viewers may have over it. Witnessing vocalist Sid Carter delivering his feature while pressed against the ground is harrowing as is.
"Postmortem" is heavy-handed, but so is the hand of white supremacy, a hand so embedded in the DNA of America that its fingerprints continue to manifest in new ways as society evolves. As with any virus, the steps to eradicating it begin with recognizing the source of the spread, and it takes a heavy hand to break through the calcified layers of history's unjust residue to lay it bare. Thomas Who? and Sid Carter are heavy hitters, and on "Postmortem", they strike hard.
7. Deezy - "Doin' Thangs"
dir. Nicole Allen-Fisher and Imageline Studios
Deezy's Aporia is not just an EP. It's a visual album. Each music track was conceptualized in tandem with its corresponding music video narrative. As with any Broadway soundtrack or film score, the cuts are great on their own but even better when one understands the theatrical context.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the opener, "Doin' Thangs", which literally moves behind the camera to establish just how meta Aporia is. As a standalone track, "Doin' Thangs" is a put-up-or-shut-up hustle anthem. As a music video, it echoes those fiery verses with flashy production. As the first chapter in a story, however, it's something else entirely. It extends beyond the frame in a surprise second half to reveal that every carefully perfected image is part of a show, a performance in a world of its own making. The real world is messier.
There is a wonderful redemption arc in Aporia that has a lot to say, but one of the most high-brow concepts is the dichotomy--or aporia if you will--of what lies on either side of the camera. One side is a fantasy, while another is reality. If one isn't careful, they form a feedback loop, where disorder fuels a desire for perfection, while idealism's unattainability, in turn, discourages order. It's a trap with which many artists of many mediums deal.
Aporia reconciles this with a pivotal third act that arrives a few videos after "Doin' Thangs", but it takes the first video in the series to blow the narrative wide enough open for such a moment to happen. Deezy and company flip the script at the outset, even offering some commentary on hip-hop music videos for viewers inclined to consider it. All the while, "Doin' Thangs" functions well as a video within a video, allowing Deezy to have his cake and eat it, too, which is a boss move if ever there was one.
6. The Imaginaries - "Revival"
dir. Reagan Elkins
The music video for "Revival" could have been a standard affair, perhaps filmed at a local church to reflect its gospel themes and southern sound, and it would have been a good video. However, husband and wife duo The Imaginaries are nothing if not ambitious overachievers.
"Revival" is a bonafide short film, complete with period costuming and props, that has been screened theatrically from Oklahoma City to Tokyo. It follows a traditional Hollywood beat of the criminal with a conscience, the bad guy who decides to leave it all behind. Where those sort of stories tend to end with a tragic reckoning, however, The Imaginaries trust in faith and mercy to find a happy ending, It's no coincidence that the video's dust bowl grit literally washes away as its protagonists choose good over evil.
This is a band keenly aware of its clean-cut take on the blues, and with "Revival", it shows a great pairing of that style with a specific but universally applicable ideology. As both a song and a music video, it is a metaphor that can represent bad habits and salvation of any sort. Desperate times are said to call for desperate measures, but perhaps they call for faith instead.
5. Swim Fan - "Tell Me What U Want"
dir. Rahul Chakraborty
Swim Fan is not unlike a new mattress. The exceptionally chill band makes music that is so soft that it barely has edges, so cozy that it comforts most anyone who will try it out, and so dreamy that it becomes more cloudlike as the world slips away into the atmosphere. The similarities continue into the bedroom, but that's another story.
In its music video for "Tell Me What U Want", Swim Fan finds the perfect muse in a local mom-and-pop mattress store, with its lead singer cast as an employee who spends most of his time getting rejected by customers and his boss. (What downtime he keeps is spent chowing down fast food and practicing martial arts in the backroom.)
A good deal of premeditation went into this video, of course. The twist on the chorus, which turns a relationship plea into a retail sales pitch, seems to be at least a partial genesis to the concept, and technical details like the boob tube aspect ratio couldn't have been chosen on the fly. Nonetheless, "Tell Me What U Want" manages to feel pretty off the cuff thanks to some riffing in scenes like the campy greenscreen commercial shoot and the credits reel. The tone, which takes pride in its self-aware awkwardness, is so spot on that a particular reaction shot near the two-minute mark could become a viral animated GIF if the Internet's hivemind took a shine to it.
Swim Fan may not make mattress sales skyrocket--which, hey, Macklemore didn't boost thrift shop sales either--but there's a chance that viewers won't look at a sleep store quite the same way, either. "Tell Me What U Want" is ideal, not just because it's an entertaining rewatch that doesn't outstay its welcome, but also because it does the ultimate service. It makes Swim Fan iconic.
4. Artivists of OKC - "Unity OKC"
dir. Kyle Van Osdol and Tiffany McKnight
When most people around the country think of Oklahoma City, they tend to conjure images of cattle ranching, country music, and right-wing politics. While that is undeniably a big part of OKC, it completely skips over the diverse heritage of this city, both historically and in the present. If there's a video that desperately needs to be a part of OKC's tourism campaign, it's the multiculturally rich "Unity OKC", but there's little doubt that such a suggestion would be shut down for being too political.
Indeed, Artivists of OKC makes no qualms about speaking out in favor of Black Lives Matter, decolonization, and abolishing ICE. The trio of musicians leading the way is comprised of Lincka, Quese IMC, and Original Flow, representing Latinx, Native, and Black cultures respectively. This isn't the first time they've spoken up about big issues, as they have an incredible body of conscious work between them, but it is the first time their voices have come together on a single project.
There is a fierceness in "Unity OKC" invoked by the presence of these individuals alone, but it's the massive community that rallies with them that truly elevates Artivists of OKC into a powerful movement. For those not aware of major grassroots figures that make cameos or the symbolic filming locations, there is an extensive credit roll that offers many points to educate oneself on a part of Oklahoma City that is rarely celebrated like this.
The song itself is beautiful in how it weaves together vast musical identities into one cohesive, unassimilated piece of music, but the music video goes one step further. It very intentionally puts POC faces front and center. For those within these cultures, it is added validation. For those broken off from them, it is a close-to-home reminder of an enduring message: "I, too, sing America."
3. John Calvin Abney - "Showing Up Late"
dir. Samantha Crain
John Calvin Abney's Familiar Ground is heavily informed by the 2020 pandemic, yet he writes songs that resonate well beyond the specifics of the here and now to become timeless. Similarly, fellow artist Samantha Crain draws from the present to capture universal emotions in her poignant directorial turn for and starring role in "Showing Up Late."
Paired with Abney's slow-paced take on the world's lack of a pause button, the music video echoes its quiet urgency while broadening into a new narrative. Where the lyrics discuss tardiness as an inevitable symptom of ignoring the ticking clock, the video follows a character who must come to terms with the limitations of digital communion. They're entirely different narratives, but they share many of the same ideas.
Samantha Crain's "Showing Up Late" follows an arc that's so smart that it shouldn't be spoiled, but suffice it to say that its revelation is darkly comic yet beautifully angelic in its tragedy. Life can be fragile, loneliness can be starving, and deviation from constructs, whether personal or societal, always comes at a risk.
Sure, the video could also be about social distancing, but that's just the script of it. The meaning is much deeper. "Showing Up Late" is about the inevitabilities of modern life and how they tend to penalize those on the fringes of what has been accepted to be normality. People are tethered to civilization like gravity, and what goes up must ultimately come down.
2. Jabee - "Clic"
dir. Francie Ekwerekwu
"Stop Killing Us." In Jabee's music video for "Clic", these three words in industrial-sized marquee letters do not hang on the side of a building but instead stand on a bare foundation in Oklahoma City's northeast side. The predominantly Black neighborhood has been in a conflicting spot of late, with grocery stores fleeing the East to leave a food desert behind while property gentrification encroaches from the West. NE OKC faces community erasure. This is one interpretation of "Stop Killing Us."
More prominently, however, is the very direct, literal meaning. Of all that 2020 brought to a halt, high-profile cases of fatal police shootings were not one of them. "Clic" has a chorus that extracts multiple meanings out of its title, and certainly multiple meanings can be pulled out of its music video, but Jabee makes sure that his message about social justice is impossible to miss. He does this with those towering letters in the background and law enforcement footage in the foreground.
"Clic" eases into its more powerful latter moments, starting with a content disclaimer, some captures of Martin Luther King Avenue, and children sharing their dreams. By its conclusion, however, the video sees a montage of lethal force mapped across close-ups of Jabee and his friends. When the end screen displays the names of victims, it continues to scroll well after the song finishes, leaving silence for necessary reverence and reflection.
That "Clic" was filmed at the location of a since-demolished grocer speaks of more than an underserved district. The unused commercial slab is a representation of society's failings to serve its marginalized communities, but it also intuits a chance to build a better society from the ground up. That's what Jabee is working on, and even if it means needing to literally spell it out in big letters, he'll "keep on tellin' y'all until it clicks."
1. Aaron J. Morton - "Yesteryear"
dir. Aaron J. Morton
On January 1, 2020, Aaron J. Morton began filming a music video for a song he hadn't written yet.
With nothing but a tempo and some idea of how the video would be edited, he launched into the year, making everything else up as he went. Over the next 365 days, he wrote the song piecemeal and recorded a snippet of his life every day. On a number of these clips, he sings in time with his past and future self, creating a seamless musical thread amidst contrasting real-world scenes. On December 31, 2020, he finished the video, which had been edited and scored as quickly as it was being filmed, in a virtual house concert that went live on YouTube as the year drew to a close.
Titled "Yesteryear", it is an incredible, one-of-a-kind song and music video. There is nothing like it because there simply can't be. It isn't just the impressive balance of planning, improvisation, and post-production. It isn't just the innovative idea which few would conceive and ever fewer would execute well. No, the part that makes "Yesteryear" such a distinct experience is the year in which it was made. Aaron J. Morton set out to document a finite span of his life in song, but he accidentally made one of the most fascinating commentaries on American life in 2020.
The mutual unpredictability between the year and the video makes for a perfect match. By giving up some control at the outset, Morton employed an ideal framework to adapt to the changes within the year. As the video progresses, his clips become more reclusive, the tone of his song changes, and his bittersweet yet inspiring resilience begins to shine through. It feels so much like a time capsule because it is one.
Morton's wondrous quarantine work wasn't limited to the making of "Yesteryear", but it's this song and video that best sums up his creative spark to date. Sure, day-to-day montages have been around since the infancy of YouTube, but there's never been anything quite like this. Even if someone would attempt to replicate the formula, it would not be able to capture the way "Yesteryear" flies by the seat of its pants for an entire year, echoing the first-hand experience most Americans had in 2020's sporadic ups and innumerable downs. No doubt, it was a stormy period, but in the midst of it, Aaron J. Morton caught lightning in a bottle. "Yesteryear" was and is prophetic, making it not just the best music video of 2020, but one of the most incredible pieces of art of the new decade.