There are a few videos I turn to in times of boredom, stress, happiness and sadness: the Odd Future ‘Oldie’ video (just for Frank Ocean’s verse, to be honest), any Hot Ones video, and Tyler, the Creator’s Tiny Desk concert.
NPR’s Tiny Desk concert is a rite of passage for many artists. Coming into the ‘office’, they perform a few tracks live for a select few in the audience, and as the name suggests, the set replicates a miniature desk. Since its conception in 2008, there have been more than 900 Tiny Desk Concerts and until the pandemic, most of them were filmed in NPR’s headquarters. Anderson.Paak and the Free Nationals is the current most-viewed Tiny Desk concert, with 68 million views. Somewhat surprisingly – this crown didn’t go to BTS, although they have still racked up an impressive 34 million views.
So, if it’s not necessarily about pre-existing popularity and enormous fanbases what makes a great Tiny Desk concert? Well, it may not come down to a formula, but we’ll allow Tyler to guide you through it. The whole thing starts with the smooth tones of his band – two female singers, expertly singing the pre-chorus of boredom in two different octaves. We’re immediately inducted into the FLOWERBOY world, and these few seconds set the tone for the rest of the concert. Alongside the subtle percussion, keys and eventual deep tones of the double bass, it gives relaxation, sultry tones and a treat for the ears.
At around a minute in, the camera pans to the audience. Usually filled with a select few lucky NPR employees, we see Tyler enjoying watching proceedings too, before jumping straight in to deliver the first verse. It’s a rare moment of candidness, but portrays the sentiment that Tyler is as much of a fan of music, and his band, as anyone else. Giving his talented band the spotlight for the first minute and a half of the concert and to acclimatise his audience is both effortless and just a nice touch, to be honest.
The format allows us to hear the tracks in a way we hadn’t previously, and allows for on-the-spot changes too. Frequently, Tyler directs the performance by changing the pace, lyrics and feel of the song all with a few words like “lets go Spanish on ‘em”. This (perceived) spontaneity also adds to the allure: Tyler is performing, joking around, and directing all at once. It feels like an authentic, personal experience – as if we were in the room watching too.
What really ties it together though, arguably, is the aesthetic. Choosing to forgo the harsh ‘office’ lighting, Tyler’s Tiny Desk is a colourful, calming viewing experience. From the blue and purple hues that take us through the first song, this changes to a red backdrop and then a warm, orangey glow by the end. It’s clear that Tyler understands lighting, people and aesthetics; in command both of the sound and visuals of his concert.
So, sue me, I’m a Tyler the Creator Tiny Desk concert stan. Check it out below.