Director Paul Thomas Anderson has always stood out for his unique musical sensibilities. In Boogie Nights (1997), he seamlessly weaves major hits like Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” into the film’s narrative. In Magnolia (1999), he goes as far as to have the film’s characters sing along to an Aimee Mann song in the film’s emotional centerpiece. In There Will Be Blood (2007), The Master (2012), Inherent Vice (2014) and Phantom Thread (2017), Anderson teamed up with Radiohead mastermind Jonny Greenwood to create some of the most breathtaking scores in film history. And most recently, the dynamic duo teamed up again with Licorice Pizza, a film that blends Greenwood’s musical cues and a glorious jukebox compilation of 1970s hits.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that some of Anderson’s best work comes in the form of his music videos. From his offbeat creations with his longtime partner Fiona Apple to his pared-down video collaborations with Radiohead and, of course, his iconic, Los Angeles-based productions with sister band Haim, all 21 of Anderson’s music videos are works of art in the same right as his feature films. Here’s a definitive ranking of them, from great to greatest.
Anderson and Apple dated from 1997-2000, and made four music videos together during that time. Produced in 2000, the music video for “Limp” showcases Apple’s raw talent, charisma and snarky lyrics, as well as the adventurous filmmaking style that Anderson leaned into during that time. The music video, which exhibits Apple skulking around a house late at night, plays with hazy cross-fades and stop-motion-style editing to make for a disorienting experience, all in service of the lyrics, which chronicle a confusing, unpleasant, anger-inducing relationship. The video is impressive and emotionally resonant, if not slightly lacking the confidence and sense of coherence that Anderson would later master.
One of the most fruitful collaborations of Anderson’s career has been his with angsty powerhouse rock band Radiohead. Greenwood has been responsible for half of Anderson’s film scores. This partnership started in 2007, when Greenwood designed a menacing orchestral score for There Will Be Blood, and continued through 2017’s Phantom Thread. During that time, Anderson also conceived a couple of music videos for Radiohead. In 2016, he made a video for A Moon Shaped Pool’s “The Numbers.” Filmed on two park benches in Tarzana, California, and featuring just Greenwood and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, the video captures the two strumming along to the droning melody, accompanied by a Roland CR-78 drum machine. This is definitely one of Anderson’s more straightforward videos, but its simplicity does wonders in showcasing Yorke and Greenwood’s unique talents and charisma. Now someone please tell me what Greenwood is talking about when he ends the video by turning off the drums and saying “probably.”
“Man From the Magazine” is one of Anderson and Haim’s most pared-down collaborations. This 2020 video includes none of Haim’s signature sultry strutting, but instead presents the charismatic Danielle Haim singing live in Hollywood’s famous Canter’s Deli right after Anderson shot the cover photo for their latest album, Women In Music Pt. III. The song, one of the simpler tracks on the album, bluntly recounts incidents of sexism the band has been subjected to in their years in the music industry. The video, which rotates between a couple clean 35mm setups, features Danielle rolling her eyes and singing to male customers while slinging and wrapping bundles of sliced pastrami and roast beef. Every now and then, she shoots a cheeky glance at the camera for good measure, the perfect reminder that this is, indeed, a Haim video, and the Haim women still aren’t taking any prisoners.
The 1999 music video for “Paper Bag,” a single off Apple’s second studio album, When the Pawn…, is admittedly an unconventional creation from Anderson. It also happens to find the director and the singer at the height of their powers. The video features Apple in a silk red dress in a lavish dining hall, surrounded by little kids doing an impressive dance number behind her in suits and ties. It’s quirky and idiosyncratic, but impeccably choreographed, and Apple’s charisma and subtle facial expressions allow the lyrics about an intense craving for a sordid relationship to remain deeply harrowing.
“The Steps” is one of Anderson’s most recent music videos. It’s also up there among his most fun. Accompanying a frustrated, sing-scream anthem rife with white-hot guitar riffs and slamming drum fills, the 2020 video showcases a rebellious version of the Haim sisters as they get ready in the morning. They let toothpaste drip out of their mouths. They smear lipstick on their white shirts. They throw clothes at the camera and all over the floor. Co-directed by the band’s lead singer Danielle Haim, this video perfectly embodies the meticulous sloppiness of the song, as well as the resentment behind its lyrics. When Danielle screams, “You don’t understand me” as she pounds on a drum set wearing a grubby tank top … I feel that in my bones.
“Night So Long” is one of Haim’s rare soft ballads, and so it only makes sense that the music video matches that energy. Understated and minimalist, the 2018 video features the sisters playing the song live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. With a scarce amount of cuts, Anderson maneuvers back and forth between the sisters’ emotive faces, a shot of their backs which reveals an empty stadium, and a hard cut to nighttime, only this time the seats are filled and fans are waving the lights of their phones. In using low light and radical close-ups, Anderson conveys the longing expressed in the lyrics, while also lightly flexing his directorial chops by creating a low-key masterpiece using an impossibly simple setup.
One of Apple and Anderson’s earlier collaborations, “Fast As You Can” is one of the directors’ looser, more experimental videos. Shot on a hand-cranked camera in Pasadena, California, by cinematographer Robert Elswit, who worked with Anderson the year before on Boogie Nights, the video shows Apple wandering around a series of seemingly unrelated locations. Apple gushed about Anderson’s empowering filmmaking style, seen primarily in its looseness and refusal to sexualize Apple, in The Washington Post, explaining, “Paul’s going to do all my videos from now on. We used all the people from his movie crew, and it’s all really fun. I don’t have to wear any makeup or anybody else’s clothes, no negligees!”
Anderson’s music video for “Present Tense” is not dissimilar to the video for Radiohead’s “The Numbers,” also released in 2016. This video sees iconic duo Yorke and Greenwood performing the haunting track from their album A Moon Shaped Pool, with a guitar and their Roland CR-78 drum machine. The video pivots from an intimate shot of Yorke singing live to a couple of two-shots of him and Greenwood, all under a blanket of ominous, golden light. The simplicity of the video really allows Anderson to show off his impeccable expertise in shot composition.
More of a short film than a music video, “Valentine” features three songs off Haim’s second studio album, Something to Tell You: “Right Now,” “Something to Tell You” and “Nothing’s Wrong.” The 14-minute video takes place in Los Angeles’ Valentine Recording Studio, a favorite spot of the Haim sisters. The video is intimate, and tracks each sister in restrained, contemplative camera pans, highlighting their unique musical abilities in every shot. Each segment of “Valentine” finds a slightly different temperament. In “Right Now,” Alana and Este triumphantly bang out a rhythm on a drum set. Then Danielle laments the frustrated lyrics of “Something to Tell You,” shrouded in shadows. And in “Nothing’s Wrong,” Anderson finally unleashes the impossibly fun, spontaneous rockstars we all know and love.
In 2013, Apple and Anderson had been split up for over a decade. The two hadn’t worked together since their break, and Anderson hadn’t made a music video since he and Apple teamed up for “Paper Bag” in 2000. Anderson decided to make his smoking comeback in 2013 with “Hot Knife,” a single off Apple’s fourth studio album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. The video is an impressive set-piece, shot in an anamorphic aspect ratio on large-format film. The first shot slowly pans up to a close-up of Apple pounding on a large drum and singing the angry, chant like song, and from there, the shots flicker between black-and-white close-ups, softly lit medium shots in color, and split-screens of Apple singing, in profile, alongside her sister Maude Maggart, also a musician. When it comes to comeback statement pieces, they simply can’t get much cooler than this.
This collaboration with Yorke is one of Anderson’s most ambitious creative endeavors. Produced for Netflix, the music video (another more appropriate to characterize as a short film), had an aura of mystery surrounding it months before it was even announced. Yorke’s third solo album, ANIMA, was first publicized in a campaign called “Anima Technologies,” a fake company that specialized in recovering repressed dreams. Shot in the eerie alleyways of Prague and a museum in Les Baux-de-Provence, Anderson’s film features three songs from the 2019 album: “Not the News,” “Traffic” and “Dawn Chorus.” Each song is accompanied by a slightly different story, woven together with the throughline of a man (Yorke) meeting a woman (Dajana Roncione). The first song features Yorke falling asleep on the subway, when he notices the woman. The second and third songs see him looking for the woman, surrounded by wall projections created by artist Tarik Barri. “ANIMA” is feverish and ambitious, with dozens of dancers whipping around the background, choreographed by the mastermind behind Suspiria’s haunting dance scenes.
What’s better than Haim doing their iconic Haim walk? Easy: Haim partaking in some good old-fashioned line-dancing. The 2017 music video for “Little of Your Love,” a single off Something to Tell You, is nothing short of an uproarious time. Filmed on beautiful 35mm film and set in Los Angeles (where else), the video starts with Danielle Haim strutting through the golden hour glow, and entering the iconic Oil Can Harry’s bar. After that, she and her sisters break into a full-on disco-country dance routine. The camera pans with the girls as they sing into the camera, illuminated by multicolored lights. In the song’s climax, they dance in unison with everyone in the bar. Simply put, this video is impossible not to love.
You can blame—and thank—Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (2014) for the powerhouse duo that became him and Joanna Newsom. In the film, Newsom plays a mystical narrator, and after wrapping, Newsom decided she didn’t want her collaboration with Anderson to end, (can you blame her?). So she enlisted him to direct her verité Manhattan music video, “Sapokanikan.” The video is a stylistic departure from the majority of Anderson’s work. The video is shot digitally, where he tends to stick to 35mm film, and takes place on the busy streets of New York, as opposed to Anderson’s beloved, sprawling Los Angeles. The 2015 piece feels largely improvisational and free-flowing, much like Newsom’s meandering, contemplative music. This approach is unexpected coming from Anderson, as most of his work is thoughtfully outlined and blocked out, but the experimentation with natural light makes for an enrapturing watch, as do the unpredictable movements of the camera.
This is one of Anderson’s most daring music video endeavors, and it really pays off. “Now I’m In It” follows Danielle Haim as she leaves a bar in the morning, goes to work at a diner and spills coffee all over the patrons, then maneuvers through a car wash. Danielle’s idiosyncratic actions match the tumultuous tone of the song, which she explained on Twitter is about being stuck in a pit of depression. “The track is chaotic,” she wrote, “like my mind when I’m spiraling. Fast-talking to myself, words jumbled up. Heartbeat racing. These times are hard to forget and even harder to work through.” But ultimately, the video has an uplifting message: The Haim sisters help each other out of the fog, and even give us a little signature Haim strut on the other side.
High at the top of the list of the most beloved Apple songs is her cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” In her rendition, recorded for Gary Ross’ 1998 drama-fantasy Pleasantville, she adapts the iconic and beloved song into her own bewitching, dreamy tone, and turns it into a softer, more thoughtful ballad. Anderson’s music video reflects that tenor. Set in the universe of Pleasantville, the video sees Apple strolling through a black-and-white diner as a mob wreaks havoc around her, smashing mirrors and throwing food. Despite the chaos around her, Apple stays calm throughout the video, a gentle smile occasionally crossing her face, as she fittingly sings, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.” What makes the video a mini-masterpiece in its own right is the perfectly balanced juxtaposition between anarchy and calm, as well as the impeccable choreography of the background actors, and, of course, close-ups of Apple’s expressive face that was just made for the camera.
After years of working with Radiohead, Anderson directed “Daydreaming,” which ended up likely being their most successful collaboration. The video sees the band’s frontman wandering aimlessly through various unusual locations. At one point, he strolls through a laundromat. At another, he’s in a hospital hallway. And then he’s ascending a snowy hill. This is perhaps Anderson’s most existential work to date. Written not long after Yorke’s split with his wife of 23 years, it’s difficult not to interpret “Daydreaming” as a melancholy ode to feeling displaced in life. And as a dazed Yorke weaves in and out of other people’s lives for the duration of the six-and-a-half-minute music video, that feeling of estrangement is overwhelming. As a bonus, Anderson drops in a couple of sneaky Easter eggs for his avid viewers: In the video, Yorke walks through 23 doors, and he and his wife were together for 23 years. In addition, his outfit was created by designer Rick Owens, and his ex is named Rachel Owen.
Magnolia is one of Anderson’s greatest films, and one of the reasons for that is the haunting singer/songwriter Aimee Mann. Mann’s song “Wise Up” acts as a centerpiece in the film, with all of the characters taking turns singing along to it in a heart-wrenching montage. Another of her songs, “Save Me,” is featured at the end, and does a magnificent job at wrapping up the three-plus-hour masterpiece. While writing the script for Magnolia, Anderson became a fan of Mann. Her music greatly inspired the film, so it only felt right for him to ask that she write some songs for it. During the filming of Magnolia, Anderson and Mann shot the music video for “Save Me.” The video features Mann in a swanky leather jacket sitting serenely next to the characters in scenes from the movie. These shots, which feature Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Melora Waters, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards and Jeremy Blackman, were snatched up at the end of various filming days. The video’s tranquil, contemplative nature perfectly captures the melancholy of both the film and the song. It’s no surprise that the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song that year.
One of Anderson’s most recent endeavors, the music video for Haim’s track “Hallelujah” is basically a masterclass in practical visual effects. At first glance, the 2019 video is relatively simple. The three Haim sisters skulk around an empty theater switching off verses, getting raw and specific about sisterhood, Este’s chronic illness and Alana’s loss of her best friend in a tragic accident. But on a closer look, the video also implements subtle, blink-and-you-might-miss-it visual effects that are also incredibly impressive and will make you ask: Is there anything this power-quartet can’t accomplish together? Danielle pulls an invisible string that slides Este’s chair toward her. Then the two hover over the stage on imaginary chairs. Alana ignites the theater’s marquee with the tap of her finger. The video is the perfect amalgamation of sentimentality, impeccable camera work and impressive editing.
It’s no surprise that Anderson’s first-ever music video is exceptional. Made in 1997, right after the release of his feature debut Hard Eight, “Try” was filmed for Michael Penn, who scored both Hard Eight and Boogie Nights. The video was shot in the longest hallway in America, “The Infinite Corridor” in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while Anderson was editing Boogie Nights. What’s so spectacular about this video, besides the sheer drama and tangible energy it radiates, is that it should have been impossible to make. Created in one long take, the video features Penn strolling down the hallway while an assortment of people walk in and out of frame. At one point, Penn moves out of frame and appears just seconds later much further down the hallway. No matter how many times I watch the video, I don’t think I’ll ever understand how Anderson pulled that off. Plus, it features Hoffman as a frazzled production assistant, as well as Thomas Jane and Waters, which certainly never hurts.
After the critical acclaim Anderson and Newsom earned for “Sapokanikan,” the power-duo decided to continue working together, moving on to create a video for Newsom’s single “Divers.” The 2015 video, which plays over Newsom’s haunting, idiosyncratic harp ballad, was filmed in abstract photographer Kim Keever’s New York studio. In it, Anderson tactfully places Newsom behind an aquarium, and constructs an ethereal, fantastical landscape around her, which comprises foreboding rocky mountains and glowing golden clouds. Around two minutes into the seven minute video, swirling clouds of exploding reds and purples start to blossom over Newsom. Most astounding is the fact that these are all practical effects, and the clouds are actually dyed sand being meticulously poured into the tank. The video premiered at a number of arthouse theaters, which is fitting for such an ambitious endeavor.
Have you spent any time in your life yearning for a Haim/Lou Reed/Paul Thomas Anderson/Quentin Tarantino crossover? If so, then the 2019 “Summer Girl” music video is the perfect video for you. One of the first singles off Women in Music Pt. III, “Summer Girl” is a lighthearted, poppy ditty that repurposes the famous “doo doo doo”’s in Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” for its chorus. According to Danielle Haim, the song was written to cheer up her partner, Ariel Reichtshaid, who was struggling with cancer at the time and she managed to cheer all of us in the process. The video features the Haim sisters as they exhibit what is most likely the best version of their signature Haim walk. The three strut around the streets of Los Angeles, shedding layer after layer until they are in West Coast-appropriate attire. They make a number of stops, one being at Tarantino’s iconic New Beverly Cinema on Beverly Boulevard. What’s ultimately so exquisite about this video is that Anderson uses costume design, shots of the streets of L.A. backlit by a glowing golden hour, and fast-paced dolly shots to uniquely convey and embody a sensation of joy that we could all use in our lives. Much of Anderson’s work strives to convey the magical atmosphere of Los Angeles, and with “Summer Girl,” he truly manages to pull it off.
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.