News & Politics

Watch 50 Amazing Tiny Desk Concerts Picked by NPR Staffers

Megan Thee Stallion, BTS, and (obviously) Pat Benatar are among the choices.

Jupiter & Okwess perform in 2018. Screenshot via NPR Music's YouTube channel.

There have been more than 900 Tiny Desk Concerts since 2008, and until the pandemic, most of them were filmed in NPR’s headquarters, which artists visit to wedge a set in between workers’ cubicles. The most popular of all time, by video views? Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals’ August 2016 set, with 68 million views. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t BTS, who have still notched an impressive 34 million plus.) But as popular as they are with music fans, the shows are also popular with staffers. For our June 2021 feature on the network’s 50th anniversary, we asked NPR employees which gigs left the biggest impression. We couldn’t fit all of their choices into our print-magazine feature—here are the choices of the dozens who answered.

Snoh Aalegra

Snoh Aalegra brought a full band and string section for a Lush Life.” —Josh Rogosin, Tiny Desk audio engineer and producer

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste. The energy at his tiny desk was without the doubt the greatest I’ve ever experienced. From his charisma, to his all-women-of-color band, to his powerful jazzy music coupled with the hopeful messages of his lyrics make a truly outstanding and uplifting performance on every level.” —Chelsea Chang, NPM, digital media planning manager

Pat Benatar

“Longtime fan of Pat Benatar, and she came to the Tiny Desk and hit me with her best shot…from only five feet away.” —Stu Rushfield, technical director for Weekend Edition

Better Oblivion Community Center

Better Oblivion Community Center, for the joy of watching Bob Boilen try to wreck his rotator cuff.” —Chris Hopkins, engagement editor

The Breeders

The Breeders. Their songs sounded fresh and raw, plus it was a return to the band’s original line-up. Magical!” —Melanie McCarty, senior writer, development

Chuck Brown

“Chuck Brown, because of the hometown Washington, DC, history in his songs. And it may have been the sweatiest Tiny Desk Concert ever.” —Vincent Farquharson, interaction designer

BTS

BTS, hands down. The incredible energy they brought on a bleak weekday morning made me so emotional. This was true healing through music.” —Julie Zhou, software developer

BTS—They’re amazing performers.” —Hazel Leung, design technologist

“Even without their usual choreography, it’s a perfect set to showcase BTS‘s skills and personalities: ‘Dynamite’ is just FUN to listen to and watch, the acoustic version of ‘Save Me’ really highlights their vocal and rap flows, and ‘Spring Day”s beautiful lyrics always make me teary-eyed.” —Irene Kim, product designer

Vic Chesnutt

Vic Chesnutt’s performance still brings me to tears. It was our second-ever Tiny Desk, and that shows: We didn’t know what this thing was yet, and the show rambles with a homespun charm. Still miss you, Vic.” —Lars Gotrich, NPR Music producer

Coldplay

“Coldplay, because watching Chris Martin and his gospel band sing ‘Vida La Vida’—a song you’d expect they’d be bored senseless by after having sung it hundreds, maybe thousands, of times—with such pure delight was a reminder that even mega-celebrity musicians can still find extreme joy in their music in the intimate setting that Tiny Desk allows!”—Sacha Pfeiffer, correspondent, investigations team

The Comet Is Coming

“I entered a state of near-hypnosis when I witnessed the stunning performance from The Comet Is Coming‘s saxophonist, who must have the lung capacity of a whale.” —Brigit Benestante, senior communications associate

Dan Deacon

Dan Deacon, because it was a dance party in the office!” —Kathleen Hoang, manager of business partner operations

“My favorite Tiny Desk was probably the one where Dan Deacon performed. He got the whole room dancing and moving. Not just bopping, but fully getting into the groove! I had so much fun that I bought tickets for his show later that evening!” —Christina Cala, Producer, TED Radio Hour 

Margaret Glaspy

Margaret Glaspy. I wandered over to the desk knowing nothing about the artist, then left knowing I would love her music for the rest of my life.” —Brandon Carter, assistant producer, Washington desk

Imogen Heap

I came into the office on a Saturday to see Imogen Heap—the rare (only?) Tiny Desk filming on a weekend—and watching Heap use her magical, musical gloves to riff on her classic song ‘Hide and Seek’ made the effort more than worth it.” —Adelina Lancianese, assistant producer at Story Lab

Tom Jones

“My favorite: Tom Jones came to the TDC in 2009, I told him it was a dream come true meeting him and I have a picture saying that while he hugged me! :-)” —Laura Sotobarra, RAD chief

Juanes & Mon Laferte

Juanes and Mon Laferte. I’ve loved Juanes and his music since I was 13, but being introduced to Mon Laferte’s music in the Tiny Desk space was such a bonus, I’m not sure if Juanes is my top artist anymore!” —Nicole Hernandez, engagement editor

“They sang the 2002 song ‘Fotografía’ and of course I was silently mouthing along with every word that I had learned in 7th grade Spanish class…then Juanes looked directly at me and kind of laughed and I was immediately transformed into a mortified and giddy 14-year-old.” —Greta Pittenger, information specialist

Jupiter & Okwess

“They are able to get the best sounds from around the world I wouldn’t hear otherwise, like Jupiter & Okwess, an amazingly high energy band from Congo.” —Adam Winters, QA manager

Alicia Keys

“This Tiny Desk Concert may have been the last one before the official declaration of the pandemic, and since it was already crowded by her piano, I stood by the Green Room, closed my eyes, and listened to the transcendent voice of Alicia Keys, who, at the end of performing, returned to the Green Room and thanked me—she thanked me?” —Carol Malinowski, RAD data researcher

Lizzo

Lizzo, because it was amazing.” —Emily Abbott Dagger, senior manager, Member Partnership

Lizzo. I wasn’t even working at NPR yet, but I assure you I contributed a few thousand of the almost 10m views of that video.” —Andrea Gutierrez, producer, It’s Been a Minute

“My favorite Tiny Desk was Lizzo because, in addition to it being an INCREDIBLE performance, I appear in a few shots of the crowd and I still get text messages from friends saying “IS THAT YOU IN THE LIZZO TINY DESK VIDEO?!?!” —Alex Mannix, software engineer

“This might be the worst thing about working from home during the pandemic—missing out on Tiny Desks. From Lizzo playing the flute to Gary Clark Jr on the guitar and talking about family to reliving my college days with Dave Matthews, what a privilege.” —Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent

“Before most of the world knew about Lizzo, she blew the roof off of the joint at the Tiny Desk, and then months later blew across the country like a hurricane.” —Joel Sucherman, vice president, New Platform Partnerships

Lizzo—”Tiny ASS desk— tiny, tiny ass.” —Emily Abshire, assistant producer

“I have to go with Lizzo, whose charisma, talent, and abundant joy were thrilling to behold.” —Stephen Thompson, NPR Music writer and Pop Culture Happy Hour cohost

Pedrito Martinez

Pedrito Martinez exemplifies the joy of music in his Tiny Desk, and he absolutely dedicates himself to the mind boggling drum solo that starts at the 10:15 mark.” —Jane Scott; NPR Shop

Megan Thee Stallion

“Megan Thee Stallion embodies a confidence that I am both stunned by and envious of.” —Candice Lim, production assistant on Pop Culture Happy Hour

Miguel

“He is my favorite artist and I was lucky enough to see him within my first month at NPR (and has a voice of an angel!).” —Anne Mitchell, OGC administrative assistant

Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals

Anderson .Paak‘s TD does not get old. At least 100k of the listens are mine, I swear.” —Maria Paz Gutierrez, associate producer in Programming

Mucca Pazza

Mucca Pazza! Gonzo marching band klezmer mayhem bursting the confines of the Tiny Desk.” —David Gorsline, senior software engineer

Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves [performed] her ‘Follow Your Arrow’ song as the Supreme Court had just legalized gay marriage across America.” —Townsend Horvath, senior marketing manager

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter—his beautiful voice and presence were a balm when he visited the day after David Gilkey and Zabi Tamanna were killed.” —Allison Hasser, director of board relations

John Prine

“His first album in 13 years was due in a few months and I recall he had a cheat sheets laid out on the Tiny Desk to help him remember lyrics to brand new songs like ‘Summer’s End’ that now rank among his all-time best.” —Don Gonyea, national political correspondent

The Roots Feat. Bilal

“I’ll never forget the chills that ran down my neck and arms when Bilal hit his high note during The Roots‘ Tiny Desk concert; his voice filled the entire southwest corner of the building.” —Kara Frame, Tiny Desk video producer

Sesame Street

Sesame Street! Because Bert and Ernie CAME TO OUR OFFICE and not even Wu-Tang can compete with that.” —Scott Detrow, White House correspondent

Sesame Street! From people being disturbed by Big Bird’s lifeless body being carted back and forth, everyone reverting back to their buoyant childhood selves and clamoring for selfies with the Muppets (some of the elevator ones are amazing!), the funny call-out of a Bob’s job as a producer being not that important, and all the kiddos—it was a great day.” —Rebecca Rolfe, product designer

Jorja Smith

“I love Jorja Smith‘s set because she shows off a gritty, funky side that is effortlessly cool yet humble.” —Anna Sirianni, production assistant with All Things Considered

Harry Styles

Harry Styles sticks with me because, yes, it was awesome and he is a magnetic performer but also because it was my last truly carefree moment before the pandemic brought everything crashing to a halt.” —Tamara Keith, White House correspondent

Harry Styles flirted with me before, during and after his concert, I’m not joking.” —Halisia Hubbard, rundown producer for All Things Considered

The Suffers

The Suffers—they had a pre-performance cheer, and before a note was played I was all in.” —Catie Merino, executive assistant 

Taylor Swift

“Stripping away all the noise of pop, with only a guitar and a piano, Taylor Swift (once again) certified her deserved spot in the songwriter firmament—and firmly established Tiny Desk as the ‘it’ concert for ‘it’ musicians & bands.” —Cara Stevens, announcer

Taylor Swift, because I’ve been a fan since middle school and she interacted with the audience/staff to a rare extent (her singing ‘All Too Well’ didn’t hurt, either).” —Anna Clarkson, data analyst, Sponsorship & Development

Tame Impala

Tame Impala‘s psychedelic sound and visuals instantly transport you to euphoria.” —Anaïs Laurent, senior marketing manager

Kurt Vile

“It’s got to be 2019’s concert with Kurt Vile, who is ever-charming in his awkwardness, subtly hilarious, and a supremely talented songwriter and storyteller.” —Ariana Stone, audience relations associate

Bob Weir And Wolf Bros

“While every single Latin-music TDC I have booked is near and dear to my heart, I would have to instead go with my Deadhead roots and select Bob Weir and Wolf Bros.” —Felix Contreras, host, Alt.Latin

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.