All artists construct façades. This is what we call an aesthetic: how someone chooses to look and sound and act and be in this world. It is what compels us about many artists—think MJ’s Moonwalk, Prince’s fashion, Beyoncé’s everything.
The premise behind NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert Series is an exercise in watching the mask slip off. Strip away the artifice, the technology, the vocal correction, and show who you really are. Let’s take music back to its roots. Often it leads to interesting musical concoctions you didn’t know possible—T-Pain without auto-tune, Anderson .Paak drumming and singing simultaneously, or Tyler, the Creator with a band.
Related Story: Growing Wild: A New Docu-Series Shines A Light On Cannabis
Even when it’s not excellent, it reveals a new wrinkle into a beloved artist you didn’t realize you were missing. You get to see a side of them rarely expressed otherwise.
As Tyler says in his Tiny Concert series, “The fact that you saw me even have the courage to be trash with a band means a lot.”
MTV used to do this with same concept with its Unplugged series, if you’re old enough to remember it or when MTV was actually cool. I find both compulsively addicting and once I stumble down a rabbit hole of these acoustic-style concerts, my whole afternoon is shot. I’m a fat kid at Golden Corral and will eat until I puke thank you very much.
To make up for lost time, I’m corralling the five best Tiny Desk Concert series. These are the ones that show you something about the artist you hadn’t seen previously and explains why the super great Sturgill Simpson Tiny Desk didn’t make the cut—everyone who’s seen footage of Sturgill play won’t be witnessing anything new.
Regardless these will get you started and then you can waste the rest of your afternoon exploring the archives. Good luck.
You probably didn’t know T-Pain could actually sing, right? Like really, really sang. Any doubts that auto-tune was T-Pain’s crutch should be banished after watching this video.
The London crooner knows how to put on a lush production. You’re pleasantly overwhelmed by the grandness of it all. Instead, her voice here sounds like a warm blanket coating your stiff shoulders on a cold winter night—comforting and nurturing, just what your weary spirit needed.
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
Tell me you’ve ever seen someone drum and sing this well and deliver so much sway while doing both. That’s what I thought.
Mellow AF Billy Corgan. Enough said.
Chance the Rapper
Come for the Stevie Wonder cover, stay for an original poem by Chancellor Bennett.
Tyler, the Creator
The rapper, despite his worries, is very not trash here. Kudos to him for transforming the NPR offices into a childlike, pillow fort vibe with those funky lights.