To many watchers, COVID-19 seemed like it would temporarily jeopardize the confined and intimate venue so crucial to the beloved NPR Tiny Desk series, but producer Bob Boilen of NPR has found a way to convert the potentially detrimental situation into a great success. Since its genesis on March 24th, Boilen’s new concept, “Tiny Desk (Home),” has hosted massively popular artists from Billie Eilish to BTS, as well as up-and-coming indie artists and international phenomenons. These musicians take the opportunity to experiment with editing, angles and personal home locations to create a unique experience for listeners.
The first home concert featured indie-pop musician Soccer Mommy playing her guitar and singing in her bedroom, filmed by what appears to be her phone propped up against a piece of furniture. While the video initially seems like an indie cover posted by a young teenager with a slim budget on YouTube, the set matches the core of “Tiny Desk’s” traditional intimate and charming legacy.
The Soccer Mommy set became a preview for the rest of the home concerts. Although the “Tiny Desk” venue is no longer available due to coronavirus concerns, the homey warmth and intimacy of the “Tiny Desk” appeal continues.
In mid-August, the Flatbush Zombies performed an acoustic-fueled set in a Native-American-inspired minimalist cabin, whose ambience provided an intriguing foil to the group’s intimidating and guttural acid-rap.
Beginning a string of international sets, traditional Korean band Coreyah performed in front of a modern bookshelf, paying homage to the classic “Tiny Desk” space. The next episode was filmed in Southeastern Africa, capturing the traditionally tribal vocals and stripped-down island-like guitar of the Malawi Mouse Boys.
Later, neo-funk and protege music theorist Jacob Collier performed three original pieces in his home studio, with three copies of himself edited into the video and playing along. Tom Misch then played one of his classic, clean, guitar-solo-drenched sets, with each of his band members in a digital box on the screen. The collaged band was joined by special guest John Mayer.
Finally, young breakout hit Declan McKenna began a sequence of heavy-hitting popular artist episodes on Sept. 14th, which will go on to feature the somber indie-pop icon Phoebe Bridgers, Tame Impala, BTS, and Billie Eilish.
The “Tiny Desk” series has been a staple in the YouTube music platform, but the at-home concerts have attracted a similar engagement level from viewers. Whether an artist performs in their bedroom with a phone camera, in their luxury forest cabin, or in front of a high-budget fabricated set, “Tiny Desk (Home)” has maintained its signature appeal. As the caption on every “Tiny Desk (Home)” video reads, “It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.”