When most people hear the name NPR, a schema is activated in our mind that is represented by a boring radio show that we only listen to when we REALLY need the news. Or maybe, your mind goes to a soothing, quiet voiced lady probably named Karen rambling on about Congress or the political intricacies of Eastern Europe. Rarely do we think of music when we think of NPR; however, NPR has an extensive section of music related content that rivals top music websites like Pitchfork and Complex.
The music section of NPR has a section called, “first listen,” in which contributors share a full-on review of an album during their first time listening to the album. They also do extensive interviews with artists on their current and old works, as well as share their opinions on new music that comes out in the pop culture realm. The best aspect of the music section is one of the live concert series that they do. Their Tiny Desk concert series, which is a collection of live performances at their office in Washington D.C., is arguably the best live concert series going right now.
If you’re looking for a medium in which your favorite artist provides an intimate, live, emotional, vulnerable performance, look no further than a Tiny Desk concert. It provides a perspective into an artist and their work that is unlike any other concert. Recorded behind the desk of All Things Considered host Bob Boilen, artists ranging from rap superstars to unsung indie heroes deliver beautiful, intimate performances. Whichever songs they play, the chart hits or the deep cuts, the artists always deliver a one of a kind performance. Surrounded by a treasure trove of music memorabilia, the performances have a studio-like feeling, like the attendees are getting a peek into the process behind making the very songs they know and love.
The Tiny Desk arena is made for some artists that have the talent to have their hits translate to acoustic-like performances. When Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals band came through Washington D.C. to perform at NPR, his electric energy and charisma instantly gelled into the atmosphere of the Tiny Desk. Similarly, when Aminé made his way to Tiny Desk, he was able to smoothly transition his mega hit “Caroline” to the acoustic stage with the aid of a stellar band and backup singer.
The Tiny Desk also has a special way of allowing artists to display a different side to their music that most fans were unaccustomed to. A perfect example of this is T-Pain’s Tiny Desk. Most know him as the master and pioneer of autotune. However, his Tiny Desk was a fully natural voice performance, only backed by a man on keyboard. To those who didn’t know, T-Pain is one of the best singers in the industry. For many, this was their first taste of a T-Pain performance without autotune, and it left everybody clamoring for more. Another prime example of an artist displaying musical dexterity on Tiny Desk was Gucci Mane’s performance. When people think NPR, their mind does not go to Guwop. With that being said, the Atlanta rapper gave a great performance solely backed by superstar producer Zaytoven on the piano, who delivered an accompaniment on the level of Bach.
NPR has found a goldmine with its Tiny Desk series. The mellow, cozy performances that are delivered at their offices are unlike any in the music industry. It allows fans to consume their favorite artists in way that they never could before. It also allows casual fans to discover artists that they would most likely never encounter on their own. If your favorite artist has one of these performances, don’t hesitate to check it out. It will open your eyes and ears in a way that haven’t been opened before. Check out some of my favorite NPR Tiny Desk performances below.