Since the days of MTV Unplugged are over, NPR has gifted us with the beloved Tiny Desk Concert Series. Tiny Desk debuted as a video series of live concerts in 2008. Since then, there have been over 800 concerts with over 2 billion views on YouTube collectively.
I only discovered the Tiny Desk when I was in high school and since then, it’s helped me stumble upon some of my favorite artists. Most recently, I’ve been replaying Jacob Collier’s performance.
Here’s how it usually goes: I’ll stumble upon an artist’s Tiny Desk concert, save a bundle of songs on Spotify, repeat them for the week, then I’ll find myself looking for their tour schedule.
I appreciate NPRs Tiny Desk so much because it enables talented, and often big-name, artists to perform out-of-element, organically, and without all the blinding lights and overpriced tallboys found in most venues; In that regard, it’s such a unique space—quite literally, a tiny tesk—that provides an intimate concert experience for the masses. Sometimes, when I listen to my favorite songs or artists, I’ll think to myself, “Damn, that’d be such a sick Tiny Desk.”
I came up with a list of artists who would put on amazing Tiny Desk performances. Enjoy!
Frank Ocean would be my first preference if I had to choose anyone for a Tiny Desk performance. He’s an incredible, one-of-a-kind vocalist who would thrive in this setting. In my opinion, he’s lacking in live, small-venue performance content. Especially for someone who’s music is exceptionally intimate. We’re often teased with amazing live renditions of his music and vocal ability, but it’s never enough to soothe the appetite. It’s also not very common for Frank to go on extensive tours, let alone a small venue tour. A Frank Ocean Tiny Desk concert needs to be a priority @NPR!
Setlist: Pink + White, Novacane, Pyramids, Lost.
Since the release of her second studio album Melodrama (2017), Lorde has somewhat been out of the limelight. A Tiny Desk would certainly quell the cravings from some of her fans. It might be the medium to tease some new content as well.
Lorde is a good candidate for a Tiny Desk concert because she invokes so much feeling through her melodies. Her music embodies the essence that is Tiny Desk: poise, arrangement, and emotion. I also think this type of performance could lead to a nice maturation in her career, straying away from some of her pop roots.
Setlist: I only chose two songs here, because ideally I would hope to hear some new content from Lorde considering it’s been so long since her last release. Writer in the Dark, Team.
The internet rap, boy-band sensation would be an interesting fit behind the Tiny Desk. Brockhampton’s energy is unmatched and at times, a lot to handle. But it’s not unlike NPR to host charged performances neither. For example, there was the Blue Man Group who, dressed in their trademark blueface, involved an actual shred mill as their percussion source. The great artists make it work within the boundaries of Tiny Desk.
Brockhampton would make sense for Tiny Desk because they have songs where it doesn’t require them to go crazy, but it’d also be an interesting transition to a more controlled environment. It would be a cool nod to the internet artists of today’s music industry.
Setlist: The only cause for concern would be the song choice because of the controversial dismissal of Ameer Vann. I think a few songs from their new album GINGER would be most appropriate: SUGAR, BOY BYE, and IF YOU PRAY RIGHT.
This one hurts, only because we were so close to having an actual SZA Tiny Desk. In February of 2018, SZA cancelled her scheduled performance with NPR because of strained vocal chords. We were robbed, ladies and gentlemen:
SZA is a shoe-in for this type of performance, and everyone knows it. Her album Ctrl had so many vibes that she would light up Tiny Desk. Personally, I think SZA is one of those rare artists that has a true, authentic sound both in and out of the booth. Hopefully, NPR can get a performance back on the books.
Setlist: The Weekend, Love Galore, Broken Clocks
I know I’m picking a couple of mainstream names, but I stand by it. Tiny Desk is a nice checkpoint for these big name artists and their performance value. Drake might be an unpopular choice for a lot of people, but to me, he has the right mix of soft songs as well as #ThemBARS.
Setlist: I’d want to see three songs from Drizzy. Each of which, span across his entire body of work: Replacement Girl, Headlines, Feel No Ways, March 14th.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tiny Desk succeeds because it challenges artists to switch up their classic vibes. And although the Red Hot Chili Peppers are already versatile in their sounds, I think it’d be a treat to see them behind the Desk. A Tiny Desk concert doesn’t always have to be a softer, acoustic take on a few songs. Similar to what I previously mentioned above with Brockhampton, showing energy and excitement usually translates well, especially with high-notoriety bands. I’d imagine they would give off a similar vibe to Sting and Shaggy’s performance, or maybe even St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers would give off a special type of feeling in this setting; The type of feeling that would make your week, or at least make you wish you could have a full concert of this setting.
Setlist: Can’t Stop, Scar Tissue, Dani California.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Yeah, I said it: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I don’t think there’s a soul in America that wouldn’t gush over a Springsteen Tiny Desk. Also, I’d be willing to bet that you can’t find a music opinion article on the internet with Frank Ocean, Brockhampton, SZA, Drake, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lorde, and Bruce Springsteen on the same list… but here we are.
If there’s anyone who could pivot music towards an intimate setting, it’s Bruce. He actually did it in 2017 with his run of concerts called Springsteen on Broadway. The performance consisted of him, his guitar, a piano, and one background vocalist.
Bruce behind the Tiny Desk would be something truly special. The best part is, he’s a legend that seemingly hasn’t left his prime. For American music history’s sake, getting Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on NPRs Tiny Desk is a MUST.
Setlist: Hungry Heart, Thunder Road, Badlands, and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.