NPR Music’s YouTube account has gained popularity by releasing Tiny Desk concerts, which are mini “concerts” starring popular or up-and-coming musical artists. These concerts feature stripped down versions of an artist’s songs. With a live band and no autotune or post-production available, the concert relies solely on the musical talent of the artists.
As you may have guessed by the title, they also take place in the intimate setting of a small room with the performers behind a “tiny desk.” Hundreds of artists such as Harry Styles, Alicia Keys and Billie Eilish have performed live, and after having watched many of these concerts, I’ll share some of my favorites for you to check out.
Stephen Bruner, better known by the stage name Thundercat, is a bassist that blends soul, funk, R&B and hip-hop to create some of the best sounding music currently. In this concert Thundercat performs “Lava Lamp,” “Friend Zone” and “Them Changes,” each featuring his unique and soft falsetto voice and incredible talent on his signature six string bass. I am a fan of Thundercat’s music and I love what he does in terms of genre bending, and his abstract personality can easily be seen throughout this concert. His accompanying band is also incredibly talented, perfectly complementing Bruner’s bass playing and vocals. My favorite performance is “Them Changes,” which is also one of my favorite songs by him. I love his live improvisation and it really gives this performance a unique vibe compared to the studio recording.
Anderson .Paak is a singer, songwriter and rapper who produces some of the smoothest sounding music today. In this Tiny Desk concert, .Paak performs “Come Down,” “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance,” “Put me Thru” and “Suede” with the help of the band Free Nationals. Each song is incredibly well performed and .Paak plays drums live, demonstrating his talent and versatility in the music world. My favorite song performed is “Suede.” It perfectly captures his incredible vocal range, drumming skills and overall feel for music. R&B and soul group Free Nationals does a great job backing .Paak up and putting their own mark on this song, and all the performances throughout this concert. This concert played a crucial part in .Paak’s growing success, and it helped make him a more popular name in hip-hop and R&B.
Tyler is one of the most prominent and interesting personalities in modern music, and his Tiny Desk perfectly captures his childish energy, as well as his musical talent. He performs three songs off his popular hit album “Flower Boy:” “Boredom,” “See You Again” and “Glitter.” This concert has a very low-key feel to it, influenced by the angelic background vocals, expertise of the band and the lighting. Some of the best artist interactions from any Tiny Desk concert are seen as he continually looks to the “audience” and involves them in the music that he’s performing. His constant joking really lifts the mood of this entire performance, and you can see how much he loves to have fun and goof around. My favorite song is “Boredom,” however each individual song is performed incredibly well.
Mac Miller produced a unique style of rap music, fueled by his personal experiences and struggles with addiction, but through it all Miller remained positive. This performance is particularly impactful for many because a month after its August 2018 release, Miller unfortunately passed away at the age of 26. It is one of the most popular Tiny Desk concerts, with 47 million views, and for good reason. Three songs are performed from his 2018 album “Swimming:” “Small World,” “What’s the Use” and “2009”. Mac Miller is accompanied by an incredible live band and the aforementioned Thundercat, who plays bass on “What’s the Use.” Between songs Miller talks with his band and audience like they’ve known each other for years, bringing incredibly positive energy to the stage. My favorite performance is “2009” where Mac is accompanied by live strings, making the song hit so many emotions. Reading through the comments on the video you can see how much of an impact Mac had on his fans, and he remains an icon in modern music.
The Roots are one of most popular modern hip-hop bands, and have been together since 1987! Their performance only includes one song, “It Ain’t Fair” featuring Bilal and Black Thought. However, it lasts for 12 incredible minutes of pure talent. Their introduction alone lasts for nearly four minutes before moving on to the featured track. “It Ain’t Fair” is a social justice anthem with a message that still rings clear three years after its release. The intellectual and passionate lyrics are perfectly performed by both Bilal and Black Thought. The reprise of the song captures the passion, sadness and pain felt by many Black Americans following tragic events of police brutality. This Tiny Desk concert is a powerful presentation of strength and unity, in a time of deep pain and sorrow.
NPR Music’s Tiny Desk concerts are a great way to find new and interesting music and they allow artists to experiment with their sound in a live setting. These concerts are genreless and feature artists of many musical and personal backgrounds. You can find them on YouTube under NPR Music’s channel as well as at npr.org. Happy listening!