Picking one Tiny Desk Contest winner from the thousands of amazing entries we received this year wasn't easy. Over the past few months, we've spent time with early standout entries; asked our judges about their top picks; and celebrated tons of creative videos. And after all that, one entry rose to the top: a song that our judges said stopped them in their tracks and commanded their attention.
Today, we're proud to announce the winner of our 2021 Tiny Desk Contest: Neffy!
Neffy, born Mecca Russell, is a singer-songwriter from Arlington, Va., whose tender work and singular voice captured our judges' ears from her entry's opening lines. On "Wait Up," Neffy's winning song, she sings about slowing down and rooting herself in nature during a trying and tumultuous year. "I wrote what I needed to write for my soul," she told us about her entry.
"From the first line that Neffy sings, it's easy to get lost in her rich vocal timbre," Contest judge Jewly Hight of member station WNXP says, noting the singer's "understated dignity that draws a profound sense of melancholy right to the surface of each note."
Linda Diaz, who won last year's Tiny Desk Contest and served as a judge this year, agrees. "Her voice is so unique, and kind of timeless," Diaz told myself and NPR's A Martínez on today's broadcast of Morning Edition. "Her vocal delivery was incredible and seemingly effortless." She adds that Neffy's song about homesickness and self-discovery was "the perfect song" for this moment. (You can hear that interview in the player above.)
Neffy is no stranger to the Tiny Desk Contest — she also entered in 2018 and 2020. You might recognize her from an early episode of our Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf series, where she talked with Contest judge Phoebe Bridgers and me. We noted that, in her video, her recording is sparse — just Neffy and her acoustic guitar — and she explained that she learned to work with what she had during the pandemic. For me, that stripped-down nature is one of the things that makes performances behind my Desk so special.
You can hear more from Neffy this afternoon on NPR's All Things Considered. We'll be recording Neffy's Tiny Desk (home) concert soon, and when it's safe to do so, we can't wait to welcome her to perform behind my Tiny Desk at NPR's headquarters.