Tiny Desk Concerts, Top 10, Playlist

Top 10 NPR Tiny Desk Concerts

NPR began their Tiny Desk Concert series in 2008 and after twelve years and about 1,000 performances, the series is one of the most highly-regarded performance opportunities for artists. For fans, they look forward to the diversity of the concerts, as artists from all genres curate up-close and personal performances unlike anything they've done before.

The beauty of the Tiny Desk Concert series is that the artists take the creative lead, making for frequent memorable music moments. Although each concert is ultimately its own unique music moment, we compiled the 10 performances that made a lasting impression on us.


Mac Miller (2018)

One of the only times he performed songs from Swimming live, Mac Miller stopped in for a Tiny Desk Concert just months before he passed in 2018. Miller is pensive as he moves through the already thoughtful lyrics of “Small Worlds,” “What’s the Use (feat. Thundercat)," and “2009.” His delivery is poignant and the chemistry with his band is magic, breathing even more life into some of the rapper's last recorded songs.


Ty Dolla $ign (2020)

Although a "Home" edition due to COVID-19, this Tiny Desk Concert is still special because of Ty Dolla $ign's performance and the chosen space. He puts on quite a show, bringing vocals, a full band, transitions, and superstar energy. Ty and his band are not just performing, they're jamming, and their joy and artistry are palpable here.


H.E.R. (2018)

H.E.R.'s Tiny Desk Concert is especially remarkable because of the audio. Compared to her records, she sounds just as good live, if not better. Then, the blend her background vocalists bring makes for immediate goosebumps. H.E.R.'s delivery is calm, cool, and collected, and her band is perfectly in sync.


Chika (2020)

Chika's Tiny Desk Concert is simpler than most, and Chika is center stage. She leans on her lyrics and flow, and the result is refreshing. Chika is down-to-earth and she moves seamlessly between spitting bars and singing melody. She proves big production isn't essential for a standout performance. When talent and confidence are as high as Chika's, putting on a memorable concert is light work.


Leon Bridges (2015)

What makes Leon Bridges so special is that his sound is so familiar yet so unique, and that shines through in this Tiny Desk Concert. Bridges is soul music in its purest form, and it's a breath of fresh air. And most impressive is that Bridges only picked up the guitar at age twenty and started listening to soul music after friends suggested that he had the R&B/Soul sound of the past.


St. Paul And The Broken Bones (2014)

The high energy and specific choice of frontman Paul Janeway standing on the desk make this Tiny Desk Concert memorable. Even when the band slows it down, Janeway's performance is still electric, at times even heart-wrenching. Whether you know of St. Paul And The Broken Bones now or not, you'll know them by the end.


Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals (2016)

Anderson .Paak shows off his natural charm and musicianship as he plays the drums and sings effortlessly in this concert, the most viewed Tiny Desk Concert of all time. .Paak and his band come prepared with three songs and even take an audience request, and through it all, the charisma and confidence never waver.


Tash Sultana (2017)

Tash Sultana is a multi-instrumentalist and she puts just some of that on display in this Tiny Desk Concert. Her approach to music, often described as a "one-person band," is very specific and special, and that's evident in both her music and her live performance of it. It's exhiliariting yet exhausting, as Sultana pours herself into the performance and takes viewers on a short journey of her artistry.


Jacob Collier (2020)

Jacob Collier makes it look easy to put on a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert alone. Collier covers all four parts, each recorded in a single take, and edits them into a shockingly uniform performance by four Jacobs. His musical genius is very much on display, and its a pleasure to even have the opportunity to appreciate his brilliance.


Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats (2015)

It's no simple task to have this many musicians produce such a balanced sound. Throughout the 16-minute performance, there's not a single moment where anyone plays over the other. And to be clear, there are 8 musicians and instruments, including wind instruments. The performance is laidback, warm, and welcoming, making this a perfectly-executed Tiny Desk Concert.


Honorable Mention:

Jorja Smith (2018)

Jorja Smith's delivery is absolutely effortless here, and it's definitely worth mentioning.


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Article Image: Bob Boilen's desk, where the Tiny Desk Concerts are often filmed. (Selena N. B. H. [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr.)

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About Michelle Ruoff

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania