NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts” bring pop stars down to Earth

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The Future. The Tiny Desk Concert has evolved from a launch pad for quiet singer-songwriters to a place where pop stars try to prove they’re the real deal — taking up the torch of MTV’s highly influential Unplugged series. While the Tiny Desk Concerts are still a great place to discover new artists, their role as a superstar reset may end up becoming their legacy.

Small space, big energy
Music’s biggest acts doing Tiny Desk Concerts demonstrate they’re just as worthy of a small room as a packed stadium.

  • NYT argues superstars like Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Usher have put on performances that show, even stripped of all the bells and whistles, they have raw talent and charisma.
  • The series is meant to show their songs not only have power when accompanied by high production value and screaming fans, but also in their very nature (even acoustically or backed by a string quartet).
  • That’s because, as pop music “moves over into the disembodied world of digital sound production,” artists want to cement those musical decisions as a choice, not a crutch.
  • And with the audio and video engineered by in-house NPR staff, the series forces stars to do what they hate most: give up control.

What ushered in this wave of “authenticity baptisms?” It all harkens back to T-Pain’s 2014 performance, where he, at the height of the criticism for his use of auto-tune, proved he had a killer voice. People were floored.

At 26 million views, his concert is still one of NPR’s biggest hits.


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