You’d think the music video would be obsolete in 2016, but artists continue to breathe new life into the medium, with projects as expansive as Beyoncé’s Lemonade or as crisp as Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky.” But in 2016, Latinxs across the U.S. and Latin America gave us stunning visuals too; whether it was Princess Nokia’s universe of empowering imagery or the graphic experimentation of Tomás Urquieta’s “La Muerte de Todo Lo Nuevo,” 2016 offered a little something for everyone.
Aside from our own staff picks, we asked video directors, producers, and some of our friends to share their favorite videos from Latin America and Spain with us. Here’s an inside look at the best videos of the year. –Isabelia Herrera, Music Editor
"Soy Yo" - Bomba Estéreo / Directed by Torben Kjelstrup
It’s no surprise that this video nabbed the top spot on our list: Who didn’t love watching the empowered 11-year-old star of this video rule a New York City block, repeatedly shutting down haters as she unabashedly flaunts her idiosyncratic style? In all her quirkiness, the half Costa Rican and half Peruvian New Jersey native Sarai Isaura González is uncompromisingly proud, and has earned the Colombian electro-cumbia act’s anthem of self-confidence from their 2015 album Amanecer more than 9 million views (and counting) on YouTube since it debuted in September.
Danish director Torben Kjelstrup cast González from an open call; he was hoping to find someone who embodied the unfailing self-assurance he saw in a photo of his girlfriend as a kid, in which she proudly sported a track suit to complement to her braces and red hair. González had never acted before; she won the part based on her failing self-assurance, prompting Kjelstrup to ultimately build the whole video around her.
When we watch her stroll through the streets past side-eye giving detractors, serenading them with an unsolicited recorder sesh, when we see her show up break dancers, unasked and uninvited — these are moments that remind us of when we were younger, before insecurities began eating away at our sense of self-worth. Gonzalez’s performance — which we’re guessing resembles her actual personality — encourages us to channel and grow that strength now, as adults. –Jhoni Jackson
"Tomboy" - Princess Nokia / Directed by Milah Libin
I think Princess Nokia is a genuine artist who makes spot-on portraits of the realities women face; [she gives] her videos a special vitality and force. That’s why “Tomboy” became a hymn, because it depicts a reality that every woman is stuck in: living in a society that rejects new ideas and realness. It’s simply what I wanted to hear this year. –Zai Najera, stylist and content art director
"Comix ft. Mala Rodriguez" - El Guincho / Directed by CANADA
For us, the video en español of the year couldn’t go to anyone other than El Guincho. We’re fans of both his music and his videos, and “Comix” is like a five-and-a-half-minute massage for the eyes. Both the song and the video were playing on a loop in our studio for days, and, to us, it’s the indisputable winner of the year. –Tomás Peña of Spanish production company MANSON
"Annie" - Neon Indian / Directed by Alan Palomo
The success of Neon Indian’s triumphant 2015 comeback album VEGA INTL. Night School bled into 2016 with the release of the music video for its first single, “Annie,” our seventh favorite song of 2015. Directed by Alan Palomo himself, the artist achieved a new level of visual accomplishment here, delivering a video that threads together the world he created on the album through clever references, and enhances it with his absurd sense of humor.
The storyline develops inside an old-school karaoke video. Here, Palomo desperately looks for the song’s protagonist, Annie – played by Ejecta’s Leanne Macbomer – who is shown running away at the video’s outset with none other than the Slumlord himself. His quest finds him dealing with a hilarious police interrogation and telepathic communication via a talk show, all of it rendered in a late 80s-style, complete with heavy VHS filtering. Among the wonderfully mismatched footage we find the album’s cover art come to life, as well as images of live shows and some tight street dancing. And even though Annie thanks Palomo for finding her by putting a burst of bullets through his chest, this video is the opposite of a tragedy; it’s the most successful marriage of Palomo’s musical and filmmaking selves to date. –Cheky
"Tártaro" - Buscabulla / Directed by Buscabulla
Buscabulla’s videos never fail to elevate the mesmerizing, dream-like quality of their pop – and “Tártaro” is no exception. The song is an homage to Puerto Rican salsa romántica icon Frankie Ruiz titled after his nickname, and the clip is set in one of the island’s most storied and palatial hourly sex motels. From the white tiger backdrop to the heart-shaped tub, overabundance of mirrors and what we’re pretty sure is some kind of sex machine chair, the video is shamelessly sensual, regally raunchy — and totally befitting of an ode to Ruiz, who built his career on putting erotica and sexscapades to song. In the context of the track’s elongated synths and Raquel Berrío’s high-octave, whispered vocals, the whole thing becomes a giddy fantasy, one that revels in its over-the-top, kitschy naughtiness, completely guilt-free. –Jhoni Jackson
"Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón" - Alex Anwandter / Directed by Alex Anwandter
Beautiful lighting and “modern” shots, along with industrial scenery, make this video feel like a 6-minute movie. Thanks to the fast pace of the Internet, directors have abandoned more structured videos like these. But I’m choosing to highlight [Alex Anwandter’s] desire and ability to produce a well-rounded piece, which enhances the audiovisual quality of this music – something it definitely deserves. And it’s always good to burn your enemies (in this case, Jaime Guzmán – the ideologue behind our constitution, which was imposed during the military dictatorship and still burdens us to this day). I’m also picking this video because of the cameos, which is something I’ve always highlighted and valued as tribute to our living idols. And because of the dancing – let’s always dance because it’s always Friday in my ❤️. –Enciclopedia Color, music video director
“La Muerte De Todo Lo Nuevo” - Tomás Urquieta / Produced by DMNC
After tracking near the front of Chile’s industrial scene for some time now, this Santiago producer swung through late 2016 with an eponymous EP that neatly outlined our apocalyptic fears of the future. In Urquieta’s vision, what lies ahead is discordant and bleak, but it also has a certain unsettling beauty. At least that was the takeaway from the music video he released for the album’s relatively soft first track. “La Muerte De Todo Lo Nuevo” invites the viewer on a CGI journey through reflective spheres, orbiting vertebrae and rows of the damned, their molten souls trapped in a shadowy red dimension. Urquieta and his team employ the animation not so much for the “ooo” factor, or to capitalize on the internet aesthetic, as much as to build a lasting and specific vision of purgatory. –Caitlin Donohue
"Caníbal" - Ile / Directed by Juan Manuel Costa
The video for Ileana Cabra‘s first solo single “Caníbal” finds the Puerto Rican singer preparing a feast so carnal, you have to look away. In her old-fashioned, Gothic-style kitchen, Cabra stands over a table of lush foods that look like they were painted by Giuseppe Archimboldo during a hunger strike. Each of her gestures becomes a portrait of surrealism: she chops up a Baroque keepsake box as it transforms into a fleshy head of purple cabbage; she rips off her eyelashes and watches them flake away into grains of salt. The ingredients go into a bodily stew that Cabra rapaciously gobbles up, extending the song’s metaphor of consuming bits of yourself in an effort to grown into something new.
The visuals teeter on the squeamish, like when Cabra raps her knuckles against a grater or dips her spoon toward a pulsating heart in the center of her soup. But the statement is purposefully bold, signaling that while Cabra might be best known as the little sister in Calle 13, her journey as a solo musician is honest and raw. She’s not someone willing to play it safe with a pretty, innocuous image; rather, she’s a musical force who expertly weaves antiquity and modernity while revealing every gory part of herself. –Julyssa Lopez
"Round Whippin'" - A.CHAL / Directed by Max Vatblé
My favorite video of the year is this monochromatic audiovisual piece for A.CHAL’s “Round Whippin’,” directed by Max Vatblé. Welcome to GAZI was one of my favorite albums this year, and this dreamy video is a nice pause on the frenetic rhythm of the Internet today. –Alan Lopez (aka Boncker), art director
"It's My Brown Skin" - Helado Negro / Directed by Martin Allais
Like the song it complements, the video for Helado Negro’s “It’s My Brown Skin” wastes no time in making its point. The clip was released in early November, days before el pendejo’s election to the nation’s highest office. Roberto Carlos Lange and Martin Allais teamed up to direct this powerful visual, which ended up resonating with many fans in the aftermath of the events of November 9.
The video, which features Helado Negro walking through the streets of New York, feels prophetic, a potent reminder that even when Latinxs are faced with tangible threats, our strongest lines of defense are often inherited by birth. Our cultures, our histories, and yes, our brown skin, stand as testaments to the enduring spirit of brownness. The music video finds brown people of different shades and walks of life staring directly into the camera and the audience’s eyes. Helado Negro mirrors this as he walks through Brooklyn’s POC communities, and it becomes abundantly clear that, despite their subtleties, the song and video are imploring us to celebrate the brown skin that never washes off, the brown skin that protects us, the brown skin we’d hate to lose. It’s one thing to accept your brown skin, but to celebrate it is a victory all its own. –Jorge Courtade
"Chill Aquí" - Extraperlo / Produced by Manson
Spanish indie pop band Extraperlo get lost in the supermarket in the sickeningly clever video for “Chill Aquí,” the title track of their 2016 album. The video finds the quartet wandering animated grocery aisles stocked with singing rolls of paper towels and dancing soft drink cans to the laid-back strains of their own electro-funk jam. “Chill Aquí” may be supremely easy on the ears, but it’s just a little too hip to be piped-in shopping music – your first clue that all is not quite right in this surreal supermercado.
If you are hoping for a scathing deconstruction of consumer capitalism, sorry. It’s a love story! Singer Borja Rosal is smitten by a winsome but disinterested cashier. Can he win her heart? You’ll have to watch the video to find out. Not to mention all the mind-bending visual tricks dreamed up by Barcelona film studio Manson. –Beverly Bryan
"Tu Coño Es Mi Droga” - PXXR GVNG / Directed by Sergio Caballero
If we are to believe finding balance is key to a prosperous life, then for every thought-provoking, verbose song you post on Facebook, there is a song like PXXR GVNG’s “Tu Coño Es Mi Droga.”
Originally released exclusively on WhatsApp, the video for the Spanish trap outfit’s ode to cunnilingus is a continuous vertical stream of compromising positions, tattoos, and slick visual effects. The messaging app brings together parents, friends, and sexters from the furthest corners of the globe on a single platform. Similarly, PXXR GVNG’s trap takes on oral sex – and the addiction it inspires – unite those who welcome the kind of raunchy lyrics that could get you uninvited from Noche Buena at your tía’s house.
Still, past the crude, somewhat misogynistic nature of the clip, there lies a sort of creative genius and self-assurance required to release a music video about eating pussy on a messaging app. After the launch of La Vendición Records and La Mafia Del Amor’s busy 2016, it’s only fitting that PXXR GVNG find themselves the bellwethers of the Spanish rap scene. –Jorge Courtade
"Llámame más tarde ft. Rosalía" - C. Tangana / Directed by Alberto de Miguel
Maybe this is the most realistic video on this list, because — not to be depressing — we spend more time looking at our phones? Your crush? Please, you mean you spend more time looking at their IG pics, which is exactly what Agorazein madrileño rapper C. Tangana has the unseen protagonist doing in this video. It’s not the first clip to make use of our technological stream of consciousness (Fat Tony’s “Hood Party” and Lyrical School’s “Run and Run” also come to mind when it comes to extended screen grab magic) but it certainly makes good use of the format. That linger over Rosalía’s SnapChat? The way certain news follows us from app to app as we surf? Director Horror.vacui (aka Alberto de Miguel) thought through some intricacies of the Internet to make this piece, a welcome sight as we all struggle to comprehend the ways our excessive usage of technology is affecting our grey matter. –Caitlin Donohue
"Automático" - Francisca y Los Exploradores / Directed by Axel Byrfors
This is the dark tale of a strange event with freak characters in an everyday environment. There’s death and coldness with a tranquil song in the background. Francisca y Los Exploradores is versatile and that gave director Axel Byrfors the freedom to flow with an event that is dark and has no explanation. I like the color processing, the aesthetics drawn from classic Argentine cinema, and the resemblance to zombies. –Ivan Pierotti, Elefante Diamante
"Teorías" - Quiero Club / Directed by Guillermo Llamas Altamirano
Mexican quartet Quiero Club’s career has been characterized by a neat string of visuals to accompany their quirky electro-pop singles. This year, they surprised their following with the release of one-off single “Teorías,” a breezy instant anthem with an unlikely organic feel. For its music video, they tapped post-production master Guillermo Llamas Altamirano, who has previously worked with Carla Morrison, Mariel Mariel, and Andrés Landon, among others.
Presented in his now signature square format, “Teorías” is an outstanding collage of gorgeous images that have a tangible, handmade feel, full of ripped edges and stop-motion-like effects. In the spirit of those early 00s Missy Elliott videos by David Meyers, which rendered lyrics with literal visuals, Llamas references words and moods with spot-on clip art that could have come out of anatomy, botany, or travel books, tied together by the use of flowers and an enthralling color palette. He pulls apart the band members’ faces and puts them back together with pure craftsmanship, manipulating them fluidly. “Teorías” reveals itself more and more with each viewing. –Cheky
"Chupa Chupa" - Ms Nina / Directed by Chico Sonido
At their best, music videos introduce an artist to the world in their brightest mode. That’s definitely the case with Spain-based Argentine singer Ms Nina and her breakout hit “Chupa Chupa.” Who didn’t love this Technicolor tribute to the girl gang? In the Chico Sonido-directed clip, Jorgeline Andrea Torres and her phalanx of babes rock wide mesh and fun fur looks that call up images of 1990s MTV (a professed influence of Torres, who also makes clothes), as well as an array of lo-tech graphic effects that would make any old school dancehall fan happy. The real feel-good moments, however, are the pussy patting and low-key twerking that suggest Ms Nina is performing for own her damn self, not as backup for half-formed hip-hop man babies. After a year that sparked conversation on the role that female reggaeton artists play in women’s movements, “Chupa Chupa” comes off as a clear answer. Sometimes empowerment means politics, but sometimes those politics are the creation of your own aesthetic – one accented with a healthy lack of fucks. –Caitlin Donohue
"Nunca Es Tarde" - The Guadaloops / Directed by Andrés Solís
Few artists have committed to making ambitious and tremendously well-made videos like jazz rap trio The Guadaloops. They struck gold again this year with “Nunca Es Tarde,” a clip that will surely be played in the Video Vanguard Award montage the group deserves in the long run. In it, a hedonistic night in is rendered in mini looped moments – much like the ones you can make on Instagram’s Boomerang app. Washed in red and blue lighting, the trio surrenders to excess, the consequences of which become evident at the video’s end. The light/dark, good times/bad times dichotomy is a running theme for The Guadaloops, and here, the contrasting washes of color drive it home. It’s a minimalist video, really, but a striking work of art. The track is an anthem, and the video makes it a profound immersion. –Marcos Hassan
Porter - "La China" / Directed Jorge G. Camarena
One of the best things about the second coming of Porter has been the band’s evolution into video mavericks of cinematic proportions. The form has become a medium through which they’ve explored their ancestral influences, and “La China” might be their most definitive statement to date. In it, the life story of a chamana unravels as she makes her way through striking landscapes and extreme weather conditions to the promised land of Tenochtitlan, when she sees the prophecy of Huitzilopochtli come true. The video explores the relationship of pre-Hispanic people to natural and supernatural worlds – once one and the same – and the mysticism of their earthly presence. The scope is so grand that it could qualify as one of the best shorts in recent memory – in little more than five minutes it unpacks history, ritual, and revelation. –Marcos Hassan
"Easy" - Hinds / Directed by John Strong
A cut from Hinds‘ debut full-length Leave Me Alone,“Easy” dropped in May with a note from the Madrid band about its meaning. It’s that awful moment in a relationship, they explain, when a love that was once mutual turns one-sided, and you’re left on the losing end. “When you reach that point you can’t help but self destruct,” they write. That’s exactly what we see play out in the video for “Easy,” which is anything but easy to watch – in a good way. As the band performs, eye makeup gets smeared, and their faces bear both phallic symbols drawn in Sharpie and smeared spaghetti – noodles and chunky sauce – that looks more like vomit than dinner. It’s a straightforward representation of self-disgust at its worst.
Then, at the end, things go white – almost as if covered in ash like an effigy. Sometimes you have to burn down the past entirely before you can move forward. –Jhoni Jackson
Chicano Batman - "Black Lipstick" / Directed by Bernabé Bolaños
A stylized cross between Reading Rainbow and the intro to Superbad, the video for Chicano Batman‘s “Black Lipstick” is a crash course in nostalgia and color theory. The Angeleno rockers of (you guessed it) Mexican descent share their vision with director Bernabé Bolaños to create a visual world that experiments with papier mâché and typography.
The song warns the listener about a woman with a greedy take on love – a “capitalist with affection.” Just as Chicano Batman’s funky, breezy guitar playing strikes a contrast to “Black Lipstick”’s sober take on love, Bolaño’s juxtaposition of scratchy primary colors and the floating black lips speaks to the conflicting emotions that often come along with young love – emotions that are frequently at odds with one another. Off. On. Hot. Cold. Dark and cloudy, bright and breezy. “Black Lipstick” runs the gambit.
As we gear up for the March release of their new album Freedom is Free, “Black Lipstick” is a reminder of how much we love the East LA band with the slick name. –Jorge Courtade
"Catalina" - Rosalía / Directed by Txema Yeste
Look at the use of red, blue, and black here – that constant closed shot and the moment elapsed through water. This video evades pretensions, [it has] no styling nor locations; just a whole lot of simplicity and purity. Rosalía doesn’t need anything else to express that feeling, which grabs our attention in the first shot, along with Raül Refree’s angry guitar chords.
Are we in heaven or in hell? This video situates us in an unfamiliar place, but it makes us feel at every second – emotions as opposite as hatred and love, which are expressed in the use of shadows and the strained contrast between the passionate red and bluish white light.
As “Catalina” ends, it follows a chant from “El testamento gitano” with a distinct processed sound, which gives us the sensation of being in the room.
The video was helmed by Txema Yeste for Folch Studio. –Kokos Ackee of Ackee Films & La Vendición Records
"Cuevas" - Monte / Directed by Cristóbal Serrá Jorquera
This clip for Monte, gracefully shot and edited by Cristóbal Serrá Jorquera, was a crowd favorite and perfect way to end the video mixtape we put together this year over at Super Legítimo. The mixtape features 24 local musicians and video artists compiled to make over an hour of pure Costa Rican goodness. Out of over 24 clips, this one still stands out for its unique location and introspective feeling, giving us a look at the close shaves given in this Dominican barbershop in the heart of the city. The video and song come together to create an intimate portrait of the men and many cultures that form the identity of San José, Costa Rica and aren’t usually given the spotlight. –Kevin León, Super Legítimo
"La Comparsa" - Frankie Reyes / Directed by Francisco García Nava
I discovered this video and this artist at the same time, a reflection of the great discovery asset that music videos can be for musicians. I found it amazingly simple and emotive, of soft and decadent essence. As the Baroque audiovisual creator I am, I flip when I find video directors who – with minimal resources – manage to give you goosebumps and keep your eyes glued to a video for over two minutes (sustained attention that is harder to achieve with each passing day). In an era when superproductions fight to show off their perfection, makeup, and flashiness, there’s another world – which to me is more real – of music, effect, and ideas. Some call it underground, outsider…I don’t really know. I’ll just keep repeating: May LOW-TECH, DIY, and homemade productions with SOUL continue to live long lives! –Beatriz Sánchez, freelance director
"Roça Roça 2" - MC Brinquedo / Produced by KondZilla
MC Bin Laden posse member MC Brinquedo has grown up a little since unleashing the first installation of “Roça Roça,” whose video told the story of a young farm laborer who is adopted by the party kids. For chapter two, the teen emcee took the plot a step forward; he not only wilds with the pretty girls cruising past him in nice cars, but also eventually gets revenge on the class system. Why is this important? In a society as stratified as that of Brazil, honest depictions of class are few and far between. Baile funk artists provide a much-needed perspective of life in the favela, and though not all of them use their artistic gifts to communicate social truths, this baby boy is doing just that. Ignore the plot gaps though — we get it, huge diamonds are rare and maintaining that bi-color ‘do would take more funds than one is likely to reap by hoeing fields. Let Brinquedo play, though. –Caitlin Donohue
"Shaky Shaky" - Daddy Yankee / Directed by Marlon P
The reason I’m picking this video is because the color palette is very good, plus it was recorded with different cameras and the change in quality isn’t very noticeable. There’s very good lightning used on set, and it was edited well to the rhythm of the music. Simple, but with the power of capturing your attention in just one viewing. –Manuel DH, director, GC Films