Tiny Desk Contest Our search for the next great undiscovered artist to play a Tiny Desk concert.
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Tiny Desk Contest

Our search for the next great undiscovered artist to play a Tiny Desk concert

"This feels like a moment where I'm restarting, in a way ... a career that I've worked so hard at for so long," says 2022 Tiny Desk Contest winner Alisa Amador, reflecting on what was likely one of the craziest months of her life.

Just a few days after finding out she won this year's Contest, Amador flew from her Boston home to Washington, D.C. for her Tiny Desk concert – the first show at my Desk with an audience in over 2 years. The day after that performance Amador hit the road, headlining our month-long, cross-country Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour.

NPR's video team recently caught up with Amador in Brooklyn at our final tour stop to hear how her life has changed – from the first time she entered the Contest, 6 years ago, to finding out her 2022 entry, "Milonga accidental," rose to the top of the thousands we received. This is her journey.

Retro soul shines in Micah Edwards' Tiny Desk Contest entry 'Jean Leon'

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A Houston store decorated with an old Pac-Man arcade game and a vintage typewriter sets the scene for Micah Edwards' Tiny Desk Contest entry, "Jean Leon" — and Edwards and his eight band members fill the space with a retro Texas soul sound to match. His upbeat sound and sentimental lyrics are part of what made his entry stand out to this year's Tiny Desk Contest judges (including Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner, who highlighted the entry in the Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf series) – it's one of a handful of impressive entries Weekend Edition is featuring this month.

Edwards says he wrote the song, which is the title track of his debut record, about weighing some heavy relationship decisions. "On the surface, it sounds like a summer bop," he tells Weekend Edition's Ayesha Rascoe. "But when you look into the lyrics a little bit," he adds with a laugh, "you're like, 'Ooh man, maybe I should be crying!' " When he wrote the song, his parents were going through a divorce. "It's really me singing to my parents' marriage and the expectations I had for myself as a husband and a father," he says.

Edwards takes influence from 1970s Texas soul artists, but also drew on many different sounds in crafting his album. "What I'm trying to create is a blend of that retro vibe with country and Americana," he explains — to "create that's uniquely my own and I could really be proud of," he says.

Family and faith are two major themes in his music, and Edwards says spirituality plays an important role in his creative process. "I was able to use songwriting as a way to process pain and frustration and confusion and grief and loss," he explains. "Spirituality and my faith was the only way I got through the past few years." He says he uses music to process baggage from the family he grew up with and to guide the family he's building now. "I took it to Jesus and he just so happened to give me melodies back," says Edwards. "I know this [album] is gonna be a time capsule because the Lord has more for us, more for my family, more for me. We're gonna grow through this," he adds.

He knows everyone who listens to the album won't have the same experiences with faith that he has, but there's a message he wants all listeners to know: "The lies we hear about ourselves are so wrong – whether it's family or your boss or society telling you who you are or this is where you're gonna be. All of that's just noise. The only person that can define where you're headed is you."

Web adaptation by Elle Mannion. You can head here to read, listen and watch more from the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest.

A rock climber takes the Tiny Desk Contest to new heights

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Lillian Frances' Tiny Desk Contest entry is off the wall – literally. The Sacramento-based artist, who describes herself as a "sonic collager" with an "alt-pop style," filmed her entry video from a portaledge on the side of a cliff in Lake Tahoe. Her striking video – which shows her climbing up the mountain, setting up on the cliff and sporting tiny-desk jewelry – stood out among (or above, you might say) the thousands of entries NPR Music received for this year's Contest.

Rock climbing and music are Frances' two passions, so she decided to do both at the same time. "It just hit me one day!" she tells Weekend Edition's Scott Simon. "Like, oh duh, portaledge concert, obviously." Frances' idea was ambitious, but she was up for the challenge. "After a lot of planning (finding someone with a portaledge, tracking down climbing videographers, finding the right crag, setting up a totally portable music set) and a whole lot of optimism, we finally set out to accomplish this goal," she shares.

Her song "Gravestone Feel," took on a new meaning when she performed it for her Contest entry. It's about "trying to live life to the absolute fullest, take on adventure and do things you've never done before," she says. "So in a lot of ways, this was the perfect song to sing hanging off a cliff."

Frances says she's not drawn to a particular genre, but makes her creative decisions "based on experimenting, and then just selecting the little pieces that stoke me out," like the electronic beats that elegantly contrast the natural world surrounding her in the video. "I love the synthesis of natural and organic and synthesized," she says. "That's kind of what music is to me and what life is to me."

Web adaptation by Elle Mannion. You can head here to read, listen and watch more from the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest.

Wryn's Tiny Desk Contest entry sends love and affirmation to transgender youth

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"These are things that I'm personally processing: the anger, the frustration, the love," says Wryn. "And most of the time, what I'm writing about is things that are almost too big for me to talk about." Kait De Angelis/Wryn hide caption

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Kait De Angelis/Wryn

"These are things that I'm personally processing: the anger, the frustration, the love," says Wryn. "And most of the time, what I'm writing about is things that are almost too big for me to talk about."

Kait De Angelis/Wryn

In their 2022 Tiny Desk Contest entry, Wryn sits alone in a room with an acoustic guitar. After taking a meditative sigh, they quietly begin strumming, leading into their song, "Pushing." "Everybody's pushing up against you / And you are who you are who you are who you are / And nothing's gonna change you," they sing.

The somber serenity of their voice is reminiscent of songwriters like Angel Olsen or Julien Baker, occasionally rising to a full-bodied burst before quietly subsiding into the verses of the song. That serenity is why the judges of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest named Wryn's performance as one of this year's standouts, and over the next few weeks Weekend Edition is highlighting some notable entries from the contest.


The song "Pushing," Wryn tells NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, was inspired by a time in their life when they were confronted with the difficulties many trans youth face when accessing health care.

"During this time, I was also helping a young trans teen in my family get the health care that they need, try to find the right doctors, the right therapists, jumping through all of the hoops," the artist says, who is also trans and nonbinary. "It's this mix of emotions — frustration with the system, even in a place like California where it's not illegal, like what's going on in so much of the rest of the country."

When asked if there's a message they want to send to trans youth in a year when they've been particularly targeted, Wryn says: "Every day, these kids are waking up and they're seeing headlines and they're seeing news and they're seeing thinkpieces about them. But they're not objects — they're people. All of these adults are saying that they shouldn't exist; that they aren't real. The main thing I want to send to them is just another voice saying, 'No, you should not be the ones to change. The world should be changing for you.'"

For Wryn, music has taught them a lot about themselves, particularly their relationship to gender. Currently working on their first full-length album, a collection of songs written in the last few years, the big topics they explore in their music are deeply personal to them.

"These are things that I'm personally processing: the anger, the frustration, the love," they say. "Most of the time, what I'm writing about is things that are almost too big for me to talk about. It's just a vehicle to release those emotions, and hopefully also connect with people and show some empathy."

You can listen to this story using the audio player at the top of this page.

Yosmel Montejo performing in Los Angeles Farah Sosa/NPR hide caption

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Yosmel Montejo performing in Los Angeles

Farah Sosa/NPR

After the winner of the Tiny Desk Contest claims the grand prize — playing an actual Tiny Desk concert — NPR Music takes them on tour across the country. This year's Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour was a victory lap for 2022 winner Alisa Amador, who was met by thousands of new fans, and also showcased local talents in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, as three Contest entrants performed alongside Amador each night.

Tour began in Washington, D.C. — the city that's home to Bob Boilen's Tiny Desk — with an eclectic lineup of artists from the area. Everyday Everybody kicked off the night with an energetic set; Outerloop kept the energy high performing its loud, invigorating, cathartic songs; and 2021 Contest winner NEFFY put on a breathtaking acoustic performance, including a rendition of her Contest-winning song, "Wait Up."

In Atlanta, O'She Tyght kicked off the show with soulful rap songs, Alto Moon brought the heat with his theatrical set and stunning voice, and Yah Yah and her crew put on a groovy R&B performance that had the whole crowd dancing.

Yah Yah performing in Atlanta Josephine Figueroa/NPR hide caption

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Josephine Figueroa/NPR

Yah Yah performing in Atlanta

Josephine Figueroa/NPR

In Seattle, Halley Greg and her band played a handful of what they called "bluesy feminist rock songs." Then, in Helmer Noel's first-ever live gig, he dazzled the audience with his exquisite voice and natural stage presence. And Ollella put on a moving performance with her impressive cello looping.

In Los Angeles, Yosmel Montejo and his band kicked off the night with a lively set, and he also had an inspiring message for the audience: "We all came here because of a dream. Don't quit. Just go for it." Jack Rabbit took the stage next, performing songs about heartbreak, friendship and queer joy. And Pocket Queen closed out the night, wowing the crowd with a skillful, drum-heavy performance.

Amador and her band put on joyful, jazzy performances across the entire tour, prompting celebratory encores and standing ovations from fans who'd fallen in love with her heartfelt lyrics and beautiful melodies.

A.J. Hines of Seratones performing in New York Itzel Alejandra Martinez/NPR hide caption

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Itzel Alejandra Martinez/NPR

A.J. Hines of Seratones performing in New York

Itzel Alejandra Martinez/NPR

Eventually, the tour wrapped up with a night to remember in New York. For the first time ever, a handful of Contest winners performed as part of the same lineup at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park. Amador kicked off the night, making herself right at home on the biggest stage she's performed on yet. Then, 2020 winner and New York native Linda Diaz took the stage to play her gorgeous R&B songs. Next, Seratones (one of many past entrants who, despite not winning the Contest, have gone on to play the Tiny Desk) took over and rocked the park. And for the grand finale, our first-ever Contest winner and three-time Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito put on an incredible performance, playing the song he won the Contest with and selections from his new album, White Jesus Black Problems.

What was really special to us, besides watching all of their incredible live sets, was seeing these artists support one another: Each artist shouted out the others from the stage, congratulated this year's winner and lifted the Contest and their local music communities up every evening.

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The eight winners of the Tiny Desk Contest — our annual search for a great unsigned artist to play a Tiny Desk concert — have all gone on to do great things, from performing on world tours to winning Grammy Awards. Today, we're taking a moment to highlight one of these artists: the beloved Gaelynn Lea, winner of our 2016 Contest. The Duluth, Minn., native won with a video of her song "Someday We'll Linger In The Sun," which she recorded on her phone in the space where she taught fiddle lessons. Gaelynn Lea makes music unlike anyone else. Her beautiful folk melodies are often rooted in the sounds of Irish fiddle tunes. She also has brittle bone disease, which makes it necessary for her to play her instrument in an inventive and unique style.

"The Contest definitely changed my life," Lea told NPR Music last year. Since winning, she's toured the world and co-founded a coalition that amplifies disability culture in the music industry. She's also writing a book. Most recently, she wrote music for the Broadway adaptation of Macbeth – the director of the play first discovered her music from her Tiny Desk concert – which she hopes will help bring disability culture into the mainstream. "Celebrating disability, rather than just accommodating it, is the next step in the journey to really valuing diversity," she says.

NPR's Tiny Desk video team recently met with our 2016 Contest winner during production on Macbeth to hear about her journey from the Tiny Desk to Broadway. We're proud to share that video here today.

It surely was a day of joyful tears. And those joyful tears for Alisa Amador, the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest, came at a time when she had been considering putting her music career on hold. For the staff of NPR and the Tiny Desk crew, it was our first Tiny Desk concert with an audience in over 800 days, and Alisa's captivating music surely intensified our spinning emotions.

Alisa Amador opened with her Contest-winning entry "Milonga accidental," a song about embracing your contradictions. It's a song that our judges — iLe, Big Krit, Michelle Zauner (of Japanese Breakfast), Raveena, Nate Chinen (of member station WBGO), Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter and I — all found to be so filled with passion. I often fall for a song because of the lyrics, and this is the first Tiny Desk Contest winner whose winning song is in Spanish. Despite the fact that I don't speak Spanish, I felt the conflict, the yearning and the song's questioning.

Alisa grew up in Boston, Maine, Puerto Rico and Argentina, and was raised by Rosi and Brian Amador, her Latin-folk musician parents who play in the band Sol y Canto; they were also in attendance. She's been singing since she was four, and has been entering the Tiny Desk Contest every year since 2018. In fact, the song "Together," which closes this concert, was an astonishing entry from 2020. For COVID safety, we limited the audience to a small group of masked NPR employees, yet the sing-along for the closing track was still powerful.

Alisa also set her winning song to a lovely string arrangement performed by a Washington D.C. quartet and rehearsed for the first time just hours before the performance. The arrangements were originally done by Jamie Oshima after a recording session a few years back, and then Alisa's friend Noah Fishman transcribed the arrangement. For the next three songs, she's joined by Jamie Oshima (guitar, keys), Noah Harrington (bass) and Jacob Thompson (drums, keys).

"When will I know how to decipher my purpose? / When will I feel at home in my voice?" As Alisa sings those words to her winning entry in Spanish at the Tiny Desk, I'm thinking: Perhaps that moment is now.


  • "Milonga accidental"
  • "Timing"
  • "Slow Down"
  • "Together"


  • Alisa Amador: vocals, guitar
  • Jamie Oshima: guitar, keys
  • Noah Harrington: bass
  • Jacob Thompson: drums, keys
  • Kristin Bakkegard: violin
  • Nick Montopoli: violin
  • Paul Bagley: viola
  • Carol Anne Bosco: cello


  • Producers: Bob Boilen, Kara Frame, Lia Crockett, Elle Mannion
  • Audio Recording & Mix Engineer: Josh Rogosin
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Editor: Joshua Bryant
  • Videographers: Kara Frame, Joshua Bryant, Alanté Serene, Estefania Mitre
  • Production Assistant: Jill Britton
  • Tiny Desk Team: Michael Zamora, Ashley Pointer, Dwi Partowardojo, Bill Wright, Stacey Foxwell, Maia Stern, Suraya Mohamed
  • Tiny Desk Contest Team: Jessica Goldstein, Devon Williams
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann

Meet Alisa Amador, the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest

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Alisa Amador is the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest Jacquelyn Marie / Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Jacquelyn Marie / Courtesy of the artist

Alisa Amador is the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest

Jacquelyn Marie / Courtesy of the artist

Today, Morning Edition announced the winner of the eighth annual Tiny Desk Contest: Alisa Amador. A songwriter from Boston, Mass., her entry "Milonga accidental" rose to the top of the thousands NPR Music received this year.

This was Amador's fifth year submitting a song to the Contest in the hope that it would earn her a performance behind series creator Bob Boilen's famed Tiny Desk. For this year, she tried something new: She submitted a song sung entirely in Spanish, with a video that included what she calls an "animated visual translation of the lyrics."

"Milgona," from the song's title, "is a folk rhythm from Argentina and Uruguay," Amador tells All Thing Considered's Mary Louise Kelly. "It's a really driving rhythm." She says she's always identified with her family's roots in Argentina, Puerto Rico, New Mexico and all of the other places her family is from. She explains that "Milonga accidental" is an ode to feeling like she doesn't fit neatly into any one box. "Cuando sabré descifrar mi razón? / Cuando sentiré mi hogar en mi voz?" ("When will I know how to decipher my purpose? / When will I feel at home in my voice?"), she sings in her winning entry.

Past Tiny Desk Contest winners have gone on to win Grammy awards and write for Broadway, Kelly points out. Amador says that finding out she won brought on a mix of emotions – both immense excitement and wondering, "Oh my God, what am I going to do with this?"

In the past few months, Amador says she had actually been considering an exit from a career in music. "A career in independent music is challenging in good times," Amador says. "And these [past few years] have been uniquely, painfully, difficult times." Amador admits that just before Boilen called her to let her know she'd won, she had been feeling so tired that she didn't think she could keep pursuing music, but was grieving the thought of letting it go.

Winning is "such an honor," Amador says. "I do not take this lightly." She says her friends call these life-changing curveballs "an intervention from the universe." We're so glad Amador took a fifth swing.

Hear "Milonga accidental" below, and listen to our full conversation with Amador above. To see Amador perform live, you can get tickets for the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour here.


Announcing the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest

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Choosing one Tiny Desk Contest winner from all the incredible entries NPR Music receives each year never gets any easier — though the process, where a panel of judges and I get to hear so many amazing unsigned artists from across the country who hope to play a Tiny Desk concert, is always pretty exciting. Now, after sifting through thousands of entry videos to this year's edition, we have some big news.

Today we're thrilled to announce Alisa Amador is the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest!

Amador is a singer-songwriter from Boston, Mass., with a powerful voice whose tender performance commands attention and fosters connection. Each of the Contest judges (NPR Music's Bobby Carter and me; Tiny Desk alums Raveena, Big K.R.I.T., iLe and Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner; and WBGO's Nate Chinen) fell in love with Amador's winning entry, "Milonga accidental." "Her performance – marked by a soaring vocal improv and imbued with Spanish inflection and a crystalline sense of purpose – captivates from start to finish," says Chinen.

This was Amador's fifth year entering the Contest, but her first time submitting a song completely in Spanish. Amador's family is from Puerto Rico, New Mexico and Argentina, and she told us her winning song is "an ode to in-between-ness, to having several identities at once, to feeling split between cultures and languages." "Cuando sabré descifrar mi razón? / Cuando sentiré mi hogar en mi voz?" ("When will I know how to decipher my purpose? / When will I feel at home in my voice?"), she sings in her entry. "I like that rhetorical question," Contest judge iLe told Rachel Martin on Morning Edition today. "You never know when you will find the answer, but you want to keep searching — and that's the beauty of the song for me." Amador says she wrote the song as a way to make a home for herself and "for anyone who has felt out of place or like they don't fit neatly under one label."

Later this month, Amador will play a Tiny Desk concert at NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She'll then headline the return of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour: a victory lap of sorts, celebrating the winner and the spirit of the entire Contest community. At each stop, the lineup will include Amador and her band, plus other local artists who entered the Contest this year.

You can hear more from Amador herself this afternoon on All Things Considered. And you can learn more about each tour stop and get tickets at NPRPresents.org.


Pocket Queen & The Royal Flush, "WE CAME TO MOVE"

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Pairs well with: Caipirinhas under the peek-a boo shade of trees

Drummer and vocalist Taylor Gordon (aka The Pocket Queen) delivers a sensual bossa nova track, complete with the flute flirting with us. The song will have you swaying thanks to the groove thrown down by upright bassist Chris Thigpen and guitarist Mauricio Guererro Jr., and lyricist Ryck Jane adds even more flavor when she joins on the track.


Brassville, "Bring Yo' Brass"

Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Pairs well with: A plate of red beans and rice precariously balanced in your hand while you dance

Who doesn't love a good brass band? The moment drummer Derrick Greene kicks off this song, there is no question that Brassville is about to deliver. With trombonist MarVelous Brown's spirited drawl, swinging horns and a solid rhythm section, every note is designed to entice you to the floor.


Tivon Pennicott, "Off the Cuff"

Hometown: New York, N.Y.
Pairs well with: Childlike giggles while running around a playground

Saxophonist Tivon Pennicott's sly smile invites you into "Off the Cuff." Improvised with looping and a drum machine, Pennicott experiments and builds the song in real time, giving the listener a sneak peek into the joyful process of creation.


Salome Hajj, "Pursuit"

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Pairs well with: Self-reflection brought on by a solo stroll

Salome Hajj's entry tells a story of recovering from disappointment and growing in the aftermath. Hajj's sultry voice and hypnotic harp are perfectly accompanied by an understated but meaningfully rich performance on the bass and drums from Jermaine Paul and Myles Martin, respectively.


John Ferrara, "Perhaps Everything, Perhaps Nothing"

Hometown: Wickford, R.I.
Pairs well with: Daydreaming while gazing at a stormy skyline as rain drops slide down the windowpane

Bassist John Ferrara makes his five-string bass sing in this solo entry. The myriad of sounds Ferrara pulls from his instrument construct the type of multilayered storytelling you'd expect from more than one musician.


Before we reveal our 2022 Tiny Desk Contest winner, our Contest judges have been sharing their favorite entries as part of our annual Top Shelf series. In the second episode, which streamed live on NPR Music's YouTube channel today, Tiny Desk alums Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast) and iLe shared their top picks with Bob Boilen.

Zauner and iLe's selections included remarkable guitarists, songs sung in Spanish, a "mind-blowing" bassist and more:

The judges also talked about their own experiences playing behind the Tiny Desk. "I remember being very, very nervous," admitted Zauner as she explained how performing without any vocal effects can be a very humbling experience.

iLe said she had always thought she would make her performance perfect if she ever had the chance to perform behind the Desk. But her actual performance wasn't what she was expecting at all, she said – it was even better. "Sometimes it's nice when things go in a way that you don't plan or expect," iLe shared. "You learn new things about it and still enjoy the show."

Bob said one of the nice things about messing up behind the Desk is that the audience (typically made up of staff working at NPR's headquarters) embraces the artist's fragility and appreciates having a special moment with them.

We can't wait to have a special moment with this year's Tiny Desk Contest winner very soon. To watch all the entries to this year's Contest – and be among the first to know when we announce the winner – you can visit npr.org/tinydeskcontest.


Our Tiny Desk Contest judges have a very tough decision ahead of them. After reviewing tons of incredible entries, they need to determine who will be named the winner, and will get to come play a Tiny Desk concert at NPR's headquarters. But before that happens, judges are. Before we reveal the 2022 Contest winner, judges are sharing their favorite entries as part of our annual Top Shelf series.

In today's episode, Bob Boilen (Tiny Desk series creator, Contest judge and host of All Songs Considered) and Bobby Carter (Tiny Desk concert producer and Contest judge) shared some of their favorite entries live on NPR Music's YouTube channel.

Their top picks included entries from a handful of artists who entered the Contest for the first time this year, plus a returning artist who Carter calls "Top Shelf royalty." The featured entries span a variety of genres, styles and locations – hip-hop from St. Louis, a harpist from Los Angeles, folk from Colorado, rock from New York and more:

And these featured entries represent just a fraction of the talent and creativity in this year's entries; it's going to be a tough call for the judges. "I could think of five to 10 people who could win this thing!" says Carter.

You can join us again next week to discover even more new artists live on NPR Music's YouTube channel, where Bob will chat with Contest judges and Tiny Desk alums iLe and Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. Sign up for reminders at topshelf2022.nprpresents.org.


Hometown: Seattle, Wash.

Pairs well with: Running around your childhood playground

The Seattle-based artist Ollella describes her Tiny Desk Contest entry as a "contemplation on playfulness." "Lava" reflects longingly on the days of playgrounds, monsters and mischief, pondering where this playfulness goes as we get older. Ollella's mature voice contrasts with the childlike frustrations about growing up that she describes: "I don't know why you won't follow me / Adults they think they know." This innocence is expressed through the bouncy cello line, paired with floating melodies and keys that evoke nostalgic contemplation. Ollella may know where she's trying to go, or perhaps trying to return to, but can't quite get there: "Catch myself standing still," she sings, "wish I knew how to unfurl." "Lava" serves as a hopeful call to action — a call to reflect and play.


Soon, we'll announce our 2022 Tiny Desk Contest winner, the artist who will perform their own Tiny Desk concert at NPR's HQ before touring the country with NPR Music. But the Contest is about more than one winner — it's about the entire community.

This year, we received entries from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, from Maine and California and every state in between. To showcase this inspiring and growing group of musicians, we created a video soundtracked by entrants SNACKTIME PHILLY in Pennsylvania, AYVIO in Oklahoma and Lalah in Puerto Rico. Today, we present to you: the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest community.


Hometown: North Hollywood, Calif.

Pairs well with: Taking a deep, belly full of fresh air on a sunny day

"Sometimes it's just better off if you just let go / If you just let go and just breathe," Tim Reynolds sings over his playfully percussive, string-centric song "Be Free." The singer-songwriter and violinist evokes all types of good feelings in his Tiny Desk Contest entry, down to the infectious smile that almost never leaves his face. The song is simple, yet Reynolds' approach is also mindful. With just a mic, violin and loop pedal, Reynolds crafts melodies vocally and through his violin, incorporating folky and soulful embellishments. Reynolds wraps up his performance by serenading us with a violin solo that hits quite the high note, passionately driving his message home. After all, what better feeling is there than the freedom to just be?


Hometown: Astoria, N.Y.

Pairs well with: Singing into your hairbrush and dancing around your room

dolltr!ck knows how to set the scene. The New York-based artist performs in a blue lit room for her aptly titled entry, "In The Blue." The dark, cool backdrop creates the perfect contrast for the lights of her synth pads to flash and pop like a dancefloor. dolltr!ck owns this dancefloor, jumping around her space while expertly navigating her tech and singing with crystal clarity. Her voice sweet and secure, she evokes early 2000s dance pop with her headset, braids and sugary melodies. While dolltr!ck performs solo, she is accompanied by the colors that guide the imagery of her lyrics and visuals. The flute especially shines, along with the other beats and sounds seamlessly layered into this nearly five minute song. dolltr!ck ties all of these elements together, sparkling with all the confidence of a pop star — it's impossible to deny her joy.


Hometown: Silver Spring, Md.

Pairs well with: Breakfast for two

"Potatoes on my plate / hash brown sausage / I can't wait. / Don't forget the bacon too – I made it for you," Alex Fasehun croons at the top of "Home Cooking." With a sweet groove and honeyed vocals, Prjct Untld takes an easygoing approach to devotion. Suitably recorded in the kitchen, the song celebrates the romantic intimacy of sharing meals and underlies the mortifying vulnerability of courtship ("If it don't taste that good, at least promise you'll fake it") with the easy joy of being with the one you love. Earnest, and perhaps a little kitschy, "Home Cooking" is the ultimate declaration of being in it for the long haul. Because when push comes to shove, is there really anything more romantic than offering to share your food?


Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Pairs well with: A heart ready for second-chance romance

Everyone makes mistakes in relationships. For this Tiny Desk Contest entrant, what matters most is a person's ability to clearly examine their role in a conflict and commit to making things right. This track by Zaxai is a really intriguing meditation on betrayal, wherein he asks his partner to forgive themself for their wrongdoing. Zaxai's powerful vocals are reassuring, begging his partner to understand how much he believes in them and the relationship they share. "I believe in you / Now that my mind is clear / No I won't let you go," he sings with searing sincerity. I only wish that all second-chance romances could feel this honest and healing.


The first rule of the Tiny Desk Contest is simple: All entry videos must include a desk. If they didn't, how would we know artists are up to the task of performing behind the Tiny Desk if they win?

We watched each and every one of the thousands of entries to this year's Contest. We saw big desks, small desks, crafty desks, desks in unexpected places and desks that tested the limits of what exactly a desk is. Here are the best of those desks in one supercut video, soundtracked by a Florida band called Speak Easy, whose members perform their groovy entry, "Ain't No Need to Wonder," in matching tracksuits behind an especially large desk.

Watch the full versions of all the entries featured in the video – plus thousands more entries to this year's Contest – at npr.org/tinydeskcontest.


Hometown: Tampa, Fla.

Pairs well with: Confronting harsh truths

Going straight into the searing chorus from rapper Perception, the tone is set: "Streets is not a game / you insane / they can't coach you. / Some make it out but you're really not supposed to." Perception X Katara's Tiny Desk Contest entry is filled with dark observations about navigating survival within various societal structures that seem to go against that very thing ("No justice in a system tryna make it work / Power tripping but they never get to quench their thirst"). The interplay between Perception's realist lyrics and ethereal harp and keyboard-led melodies is indeed a delicate balance. The whole band moves nicely in sync here, but a special nod goes to the keyboardist playing keys and harp at the same time — no small feat!


Hometown: Jamaica, N.Y.

Pairs well with: A well-needed Friday night in

In "City Sea," Justine Grove sings about finding solace in the noise of the city. Her vocals sit nicely on top of acoustic rhythm guitar and an intoxicating layer of chords from Daniel Lerner's electric guitar: "Lost I think I'll forever be / A wanderess always wandering / Under city lights in the city streets / That is me forever." As their guitars build to a ringing forte through the chorus, Grove's lyrics paint the picture of a narrator allowing her burdens to wash away and succumbing to escape: "I'll let the ocean take me in / I'll let the waves crash / I'll let the sea take my peace / As I drown in the city sea."


Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.

Pairs well with: Pressing flowers; changing seasons

On "Wilted," singer-guitarist Katie Domschke reflects on a love that's wilted like plants in a neglected greenhouse. "Do you feel it getting colder the further / We are from the sun?" she asks, her voice strong, consoling and conversational. In the video, four band members — Domschke, Geoffrey Mutchnik, Peter Vance and Max Hewett — perform where two staircases meet, each artist's talents coming into focus as the song progresses. The group's catchy "oohs" and "aahs" back Domschke's melody on one verse; they finish her sentences in the next. "Words we," Domschke begins, "Buried under," the band interjects; "Crowded," Domschke continues, "Lonely garden," the band responds. "Wilted" is like a comforting friend there to help soak up a melancholy feeling.