The 9 Tiny Desk Performances You Need To See
If you haven’t discovered NPR’s Tiny Desk series yet, well, where have you been? Around a decade ago Bob Boilen started inviting people to play behind his desk and since then, some of the world’s most famous artists have graced the intimate space with their best performances to date. We’ve handpicked some of our favourites so far, with a range of genres and moods for you to choose from. So get comfortable, tune in and forget about everything else for a moment – let’s recall the magic of live music.
In 2016, Tash Sultana captivated us with a self-made video of her in her living room with a guitar recording ‘Jungle’ – within five days it had reached a million views. Overflowing with energy at Tiny Desk, Sultana brings us a rapturous performance by bouncing between instruments and remains completely submerged in her music throughout.
Alicia Keys appeared on Tiny Desk in February earlier this year and her performance became the tonic we needed to get through the uncertain times to follow. In a pared-back set, Keys kicks off at the piano with an acoustic version of her 2019 single, ‘Show Me Love‘, engaging the audience by asking them to sing back to her. After what was meant to be a three-song set, she pulled out her breakout single ‘Fallin’ and we fell in love with it all over again. This is a truly special performance to enjoy at home and our personal favourite remains the third song ‘Underdog,’ also from her latest album Alicia. The melody, lyrics and rhythm blend together in a way that can inexplicably move you.
Jon Batiste came to Tiny Desk with an all-new cast of female collaborators on bass, percussion, drums, guitar and vocals, where they played a selection of his songs together for the first time. Transporting us through the wealth of his music history, from soulful ballads to jazz and hip-hop inspired songs, Batiste manages to cover every mood in a short and spirited set.
Shaggy & Sting
Perhaps considered an unlikely musical pairing, you won’t need much convincing that this duo works once you tune into their Tiny Desk performance. In a room full of fans of both Shaggy and Sting, the duo were accompanied by Sting’s long term guitarist Dominic Miller and backing vocalists Melissa Musique and Gene Noble. They work through a series of hits that have been given a fresh twist including ‘Don’t Make Me Wait,’ ‘Englishman In New York,’ ‘Lucid Dreams’ and the iconic ‘Shape of My Heart,’ offering a new take on one another’s music.
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals brought their unique sounds to Tiny Desk in 2016, offering soulful hip-hop sounds, hints of rock via the Guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzalez and rare spins on R&B melodies – making it almost impossible to define their sound within one genre. Rhyming, drumming and serenading onlookers in this compact space, .Paak’s performance brings power, zeal and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Taylor Swift is no stranger to stripped-back performances with just her voice, her guitar and her piano – so it’s no surprise she was in her element at Tiny Desk. Taking the opportunity to show the audience how her songs sounded when she first wrote them, she performs tracks from the 2019 album Lover as well as ‘All Too Well’ from 2012’s album Red. Hearing Swift perform with no backing singers or band, whilst talking through her songwriting process, will offer a new-found appreciation for the artist and her ability to story-tell.
Texas-born singer Leon Bridges and his band manage to take us back in time with this Tiny Desk set, covering the songs ‘Smooth Sailin,’ ‘Twistin & Groovin’, and ‘River.’ With a soulful voice that is reminiscent of motown and soul, Bridges sways his way through an effortless, pitch-perfect performance that will make you want to revisit the 2015 ‘Coming Home’ album and keep it on repeat.
After becoming a viral star following a video in which Pharrell Williams raved about her song ‘Alaska,’ Rogers shot to success with her EP Now That The Light Is Fading and released another acclaimed album in 2019, called Heard It In A Past Life. Rogers charms her audience at Tiny Desk with a selection of her first singles ‘On + Off,’ ‘Dog Years,’ and ‘Alaska,’ featuring a three-piece band, her distinctive sweet-yet-powerful voice and her guitar. If you haven’t discovered her music yet, which uniquely blends pop and folk genres, this is the perfect place to start.
Harry Styles graced Tiny Desk in March this year to lift our spirits with a stripped-back set that proved he is a raw talent within his own right – and side note, we can’t get enough of his baby blue duck-embroidered jumper. Supported by his touring band, he performed three songs from his latest album Fine Line and talks us through the story behind the tracks, which explore the euphoria we experience in new relationships. If you haven’t discovered this set already, it’s definitely one to bookmark.