The 40 best music videos of 2012

After watching hundreds of this year's music videos, here are our visual picks of 2012

What makes a good music video? This year plenty of artists and directors have tried to answer that question but failed. However 2012 did see sound and vision come together to create something beautiful. Here's an audiovisual romp through 40 of the year's best music videos, some of which are high-budget and high-concept, and others rely on one small, perfect idea. There's live-action, stop-motion, 2D and 3D animation – and a whole range of musical styles to accompany them. In fact, the only thing they all have in common is they deserve to be seen and heard.

Did we miss out your favourite? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

Written by Pete Ellender, Rachel Aroesti, Jon Clark and James Manning.

The 40 best music videos of 2012: 10-1

  • 10

    Keaton Henson – 'Small Hands'

    Directed by Joseph Mann

    The theme of loss is explored through beautifully animated puppets who lose their other halves in grisly circumstances. The sight of a lonely rabbit shivering in its burrow is likely to trigger a nervous breakdown of epic proportions in emotionally fragile viewers. It does, however, fit a hauntingly beautiful song perfectly.
    Read more about Keaton Henson

  • 9

    Psy – 'Gangnam Style'

    Directed by Psy

    Psy's horse-inspired dance took the world by storm earlier this year – it's on track to hit one billion views on YouTube – and it's not difficult to see why. Wait, actually it is kind of difficult. How did that happen, again?

  • 8

    Moonface – 'Faraway Lightning'

    Directed by Marsha Balaeva

    This astonishing paper cut-out stop-motion animation follows the fantastic journey and trials of a birdman character, who falls from the sky at the start of the video. A beautiful, mournful fairytale that will stay with you.

  • 7

    Dan Deacon – 'True Thrush'

    Directed by Ben O'Brien and Dan Deacon

    A simple scene is recreated over and over again, in the style of Chinese Whispers, by a series of groups who had one hour and one take to recreate the scene from memory. The end result is a lot of fun, and worth watching over and over again to see the different elements of the scene mutate.
    Read more about Dan Deacon

  • 6

    Modeselektor – 'Evil Twin'

    Directed by Dent De Cuir

    Two evil monkeys bicker, snipe and eventually just engage in a full-on war, for reasons that aren't immediately obvious. Apart from the whole evil thing, that is. But what really makes this is the visual effect of dragging windows around a Mac screen, resulting in a final product that's fresh, funny and wickedly inventive.

  • 5

    Kindness – 'Gee Up'

    Directed by Adam Bainbridge

    The two-minute long clip of a band playing their single in what resembles a shoddily-produced 80s home movie is nothing remarkable. Then comes the clever bit: three minutes of fly-on-the-wall 'behind the scenes' footage that takes no shame in lampooning industry-types. Skinny latte, anyone?

  • 4

    Benga – 'I Will Never Change'

    Directed by Us

    Painstaking stop-motion provides visual accompaniment to the dubstep king's first track of 2012. Vinyl records slowly manifest along a horizontal pole, until they are revealed to be a physical waveform of the track.
    See Benga live in London

  • 3

    Jay-Z & Kanye West – 'N****s in Paris'

    Directed by Kanye West

    The humble 'live in concert' video never looked so good. Hova and Ye’s hypnotic tune gets complemented by flashing lights and kaleidoscopic visuals, racheting up the intensity of an already spine-tingling performance. A must-see, unless you're epileptic.

  • 2

    M.I.A. – 'Bad Girls'

    Directed by Romain Gavras

    If there's an envelope, you can guarantee Mathangi Arulpragasam will push it. 'Bad Girls' is four minutes of car stunts and female militias taking over the Middle East, all while M.I.A. acts like it ain't no thing – doing her nails and generally looking a bit bored. Somewhere the Spice Girls are still picking their jaws up off the floor.
    Read more about M.I.A

  • 1

    Chairlift – 'Met Before'

    Directed by Jordan Fish

    Click here to watch the video

    Sick of watching characters in soaps or films falling for the wrong person? In this hugely inventive interactive video, Chairlift put the power in the hands of the viewer, who has to choose which way vocalist Caroline Polachek's character takes. It wins both on its timing (you make your choices at pivotal moments in the track as well as the video's plot) and on the fact that its immersive emotional payload helps it transcend what could be a gimmick: make different choices, and Caroline gets different endings. It's what the world has always needed: an argument for free will over fatalism, and a fresh look at choice and consequence – in the form of a pop video.