I love the NPR Tiny Desk, and I love almost all the performers who have ever been featured on it.
I love the series' inclusivity and taste, and I appreciate the way the Tiny Desk Contest picks artists who deserve the major platform that the prize affords.
Naia Izumi: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert www.youtube.com
However, there's one thing that's been bothering me about the Tiny Desk. The show typically doesn't have repeat performers, but in the past few years, several bands have been invited on to perform more than once. Yesterday, Sharon Van Etten came on to perform three new songs, though she first performed in 2010. Wilco was invited to return in 2016. Julien Baker performed two shows, one in 2016 and then one in 2018, and then came back to perform with boygenius in 2019, alongside Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers—both of whom had also performed before.
boygenius: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert www.youtube.com
Even though I am a devoted fan of most these artists and think that boygenius is the future of rock music, the fact that these artists were invited to perform twice rubs me the wrong way, which makes me wonder how people who are not fans of these artists feel. All these repeats seem to contradict the intent of the show, which has always seemed to be about getting past layers of artifice and tapping into the true emotions at the core of a wide variety of music.
This annoyance isn't really directed at the Tiny Desk or the repeat performers, of course. One series certainly can't be held responsible for the corruption at the heart of the corporatized music industry or for breaking out of the media's elitist echo chambers.
Maybe the annoyance is rooted in the fact that so many artists dedicate their lives to music and yet never get the chance to be featured on a platform like the Tiny Desk. I have so many friends who have submitted wonderful videos to the Tiny Desk competition, and I've watched hundreds more submissions by artists who truly deserve recognition from NPR and other music outlets, yet receive little to none, especially if they don't have the cash or luck granted to others.
Maybe I'm annoyed because, in general, music is such an extraordinarily random crapshoot of a profession, and the truth is that most talented and hardworking musicians I know are sleeping on benches in the parks of New York.
As a music and culture writer, I'm also aware that I've absolutely fallen prey to the temptation to write repeatedly about artists and celebrities I know and love instead of prioritizing new and diverse voices. In that sense, I do understand Bob Boilen's desire to have his old favorites back in his office.
Maybe, Bob, both you and I can try to work on this. We can listen to Go Home by Julien Baker in private as many times as we want, while knowing that as music writers and content curators, we have the power to choose what stories and voices to elevate, and we have to constantly interrogate those choices and subconscious biases that may inform them. On the other hand, tokenization is never the answer, and nothing replaces having more diverse voices in positions of power in the first place.