Tiny List


In 2008, Bob Boilen was at a Laura Gibson show in a crowded, noisy dive bar with his friend and producer, Stephen Thompson. He made a joke to the singer that the bar was too loud and that she should just come play at Bob’s desk instead. They laughed it off, but a few weeks later, she showed up. They recorded her playing a few songs, and Tiny Desk was born. Though its origins are arguably silly, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts have become a treasured gem of the internet. Since that crucial year, there have been over 800 videos released with views sitting in the millions or higher. Over time, Tiny Desk has become a brand in itself, and a long-term, consistently successful live music platform.

Tiny Desk has always had my attention, flooding my YouTube recommendations since I was old enough to have an account. Through all my phases of musical obsession, Tiny Desk has been there. And every couple of months, I find another performance that makes me feel like I’ve rediscovered that passion for music all over again. I’m not the same person I was when I was 14, but Tiny Desk still satisfies that deep craving for live music that I found myself itching for back then. 

One of the main reasons it holds up so well is that it doesn’t rely on genre specificity. Regardless of your music taste, you can go to NPR’s channel and find an artist you like every time. They’ve stayed consistent in quality and quantity since 2008 (even through the pandemic), managing to keep the audience’s attention for the past 16 years. 

But why is the concept so fail-safe? Why is the formula so perfect? By stripping music down to raw sound and showcasing authentic talent with nothing to hide behind, Tiny Desk gives the viewer full access to the artist.

Tiny Desk and I have been through a lot together. So today, I present to you: 

The Top 10 Tiny Desk Concerts That I Could Not Live Without 

10. Chappell Roan

  • Chappell Roan needs no safety net, and taking complete advantage of the creative space Tiny Desk gives artists, she creates a heavenly scene. Her band dresses entirely in pink with matching makeup, while Roan stuns in the middle with a towering bright red wig: Complete with a tiara, a face of stark white porcelain doll style makeup, a pink feathered fan and a rhinestone-covered flip phone that she sends a text on in between songs. Beyond the visuals, her dazzlingly, impressive vocals transport us into an unhinged, hyper-feminine world that reminds us how joy-filled music can be. She creates a campy, theatrical experience that I will never get tired of. 

9. Tyler, The Creator

  • Tyler’s 2017 performance includes fan favorites from “Flower Boy.” But they also know there’s always a danger with him; he’s gotta do something weird…right? Right. In the middle of “See You Again,” he makes a scary, honking noise that the rest of the band seemingly ignores, making it my personal favorite part of the 24-minute video. An extremely entertaining watch, his zany genius is more obvious than ever and fills the viewer with nostalgia for the good old days of 2017. 

8. Laufey

  • Laufey charms the audience with ease, showing off her brilliant skill set as she bounces between instruments expertly. Her way of pulling it all together to create an intimate and dreamy story is admirable to even the most boring of jazz haters out there. She takes us through her Grammy-winning album “Bewitched” with a string quartet. Her songs are full of relatability, despite their picturesque beauty. She has a way of turning heartache into breathtaking auditory masterpieces, giving the audience a sense of solace within our circumstances. Laufey is chicken soup for the heart, soothing my craving for jazz every time. 

7. Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers

  • Despite not matching my current music taste, this video was my 15-year-old self’s equivalent of a rosary. Hobo Johnson perfectly reflects the chaotic hellscape that is being a stupid, mentally ill teenager who wants to fall in love. I accepted my parents’ divorce and my own cranial flaws through scream-filled monologues scored by frantic piano and shouting back-up singers. It’s genuine emotion. From messing up the first line of his biggest song to complaining about washing his sheets mid-song, it brings me indescribable comfort. Halfway through, before Johnson’s hit song “Peach Scone,” Bob Boilen casually makes an appearance with a basket of scones he baked earlier that morning for the band. All components of this performance work perfectly to craft something that never fails to make me feel alive. 

6. Omar Apollo: 

  • This video always brings back the most comforting memories of my mom. I showed it to her one day and we immediately bought tickets to Omar’s show at the National. I still go back to it when I’m homesick. For Tiny Desk he brought in a whole mariachi band in honor of Latinx Heritage Month celebration. Paired with his comforting, smooth vocals and emotion-filled songs, this performance always brings me back to good memories.

5. Kenny Beats 

  • Kenny Beats, a producer, does not sing in this unconventional Tiny Desk Concert, despite it being titled after him. Instead, he stays in the back at the drums, bringing out a few singers who appeared on his latest project for each song. JPEGMAFIA opens with an electric verse and energizes the room. Remi Wolf’s stunning vocals blow us away soon after, showing us the essence of the record with “Last Words.” It’s obvious how dedicated to their passion every person in the room is. A producer having a Tiny Desk is a rare treat, and Kenny Beats pulls it off brilliantly. 

4. Erykah Badu

  • Erykah Badu’s classic charm and unique style stuns us as she opens with the smooth, soulful “Rimshot” followed immediately by the showstopping “Green Eyes.” This song earned my obsession from the moment I first heard it, and her performance changed the way I saw music as an art form. Brilliance loses its structure in Erykah Badu, and what she creates was something outstanding. She brings neo-soul to life, showing us how it’s meant to be heard. 

3. Mitski

  • Mitski’s 2015 performance shows another side of the Tiny Desk. Its raw, intense emotion is iconic in my memory for showing me a side of music I didn’t feel like existed. For a moment during “Class of 2013,” she lifts her guitar to her lips as a makeshift microphone as she screams at the top of her lungs to her mom for help. In another, she softly confesses her wish to die. For years, I’ve come back to watch this performance in awe. I find comfort in her screams every time. 

2. Mac Miller: 

  • This one takes up the least amount of space in my watch history, for one fairly important reason. It makes me cry like a baby. Mac’s legacy is encapsulated perfectly by this video. His irreplicable energy is ever-prominent as he takes us through some of the classics, “Small Worlds” and “2009.” It gives you one of those fuzzy, sentimental feelings in your chest, the kind you get when you watch someone do the thing they were meant to do. I see it as a golden time capsule, the perfect snapshot of his impact on the music world. 

1. JID

  • JID claims the #1 spot, not due to a single defining moment or the countless reasons that prove him to be the best performer to grace the acclaimed Tiny Desk, but because since the day I found this video, it has infected every corner of my existence. There was a weeklong period of my life this past fall where I consumed this video religiously every day like it was breakfast. I’ve forced it on friends and dates, even trapping my mother in the TV room as I played it for the hundredth time while visiting home. It has taken over my mind since the day I discovered it. JID’s smooth flow is elevated by a harmonious duo of background singers and skilled instrumentalists. He manipulates pitch effortlessly, a master of cadence and rhythm. He transforms  the meaning of live rap music with his fun, energetic rendition of the fan-favorite “Surround Sound.” This video is a spectrum of emotion, from the lively “Workin’ Out” to the somber yet uplifting, “Kody Blu 31.” JID and his band craft an experience, a world that everyone should witness. 

Honorable Mentions:

Since 2008, Tiny Desk has continuously transformed while preserving the things that made it so widely loved in the first place: authenticity and undeniable talent. In the early days of Tiny Desk Concert, NPR faced criticism for only showcasing a specific genre of indie music. But over the past decade, they’ve continuously proved that claim wrong. This diverse list of performers is testament to that. In 2024, Tiny Desk epitomizes what the internet does best. I hope it never stops being a fixture in our lives.

Graphics by Ryan Benson