The 2020 Tiny Desk Contest closed for entries on April 27, 2020. We've received entries from every state in the country — and now, while our judges comb through our entries to find a winner, NPR has been sharing some of its favorite entries to this year's Contest. This week, Heat Check salutes contenders who could definitely hold their own among the usual selections from the worlds of R&B, hip-hop, reggae, pop and more.
No matter how far Heat Check extends, the emphasis is always on highlighting artists who aren't afraid to take risks. All of the selected videos are from acts that are hungry, inventive, unsigned and original. They're bravely submitting their best work for the world to hear and see. Some even had to get extra creative in a time of self-quarantine and stay-at-home orders to get their submissions in. From highly coordinated split screens to coffee shop sermons, these are the videos I had to run back over and over.
Enjoy these Tiny Desk Contest 2020 selections and check back in with Heat Check on Spotify.
Kéo, "Face to Face"
Kéo's calm delivery carries across the screen with a sense of familiarity. She's not new to the relationship dilemma she's singing about or to the cameras she's singing to. Her lyrics roll off the tongue with similar esteem, crafted with crowd-pleasing, relatable consideration and a hum-along chorus sticky enough to show up on Billboard charts, "Face to Face" feels like a pop hit in the making.
"You tell it like it is when I'm playing games / You tell it like it is when I can't do the same / Face to face."
KULTURE & TBA, "21 Questions"
Nope, this is not a cover of 50 Cent's "for the ladies" lyrical fable. KULTURE and TBA successfully create the most synced-up Zoom meeting ever in order to deliver a jazzy, rap break-up-to-make-up diatribe.
Victoria Canal, "Drama"
Isolating at her parents' house, Victoria Canal turns the home office into her makeshift studio and recruits her brother to add in some snaps while she single-handedly helms piano, guitar and voice for a quirky, cool and willowy soft performance.
Tia P., "151"
Tia P. knew if she was going to be in a Tiny Desk Contest submission video by herself, her showmanship and self confidence would need to be at outer stratosphere heights. Luckily, the Inglewood rapper delivered with endearingly self-assured lyrics rapped with breath control and bouncy charisma. And with a chorus like that, there's no way you'll forget who you just heard.
Cameron Wright, "Take 5"
It's obvious that Cameron Wright has studied the great divas — Whitney, Mariah, Celine, Bey, Mary — and taken everything he's learned about soulful scales, audible gymnastics and clean-lined, iconic aesthetics to heart. As for his contemporaries? I wouldn't be surprised to see Wright's name as the opening act for Sam Smith, Kyle Dion or Snoh Aalegra in the coming years.
KayCee Shakur, "Whew Chile"
From the opening shot of Adidas Superstars, Clorox wipes and KayCee Shakur's acrylics wrapped around a coffee mug, I knew this entry was striving for nothing less than some nonchalant "wow factor."
Once Shakur takes to the mic, her delivery teeters between coy, doo-wop pop and blunt millennial honesty — it's the same kind of heat-seeking R&B currently made by folks like Kirby, TeaMarrr and Baby Rose. The warmth of the saxophone gives "Whew Chile" a breezy, tropical feel while Shakur's lyrics are shots of apple cider vinegar that bring you back to reality. "I mean I could slide up on you but it all depends / Know I like to stunt up on 'em, show off to my friends in your Benz."
Ro Maiti, "The Panic Fables"
Even without swooping camera angles or an obvious spotlight, Ro Maiti commands attention. Her laptop, an electric guitar and a fittingly unfazed cat are all Maiti needs to get out her racing thoughts in real time: "Life's as only big as your point of view / I can only tell you what you already knew."
"This song was inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky's beautiful and bizarre comics and writings he released from 1967 to 1973 in Mexico City's El Heraldo newspaper titled The Panic Fables," Maiti notes in the description section of her submission, a detail that adds even more depth to this set; a performance that comes off so simple but is sneakily complex.
Akshara, "Just Cuz"
In the spirit of social distancing, Akshara opted for a split screen, acoustic version of her 2019 track "Just Cuz," but still channels every ounce of dismayed disillusion from her computer chair. The kicker comes in around 2:30 during the runs on the reprise.
Kayla Steen, "Attached"
Anyone already familiar with Heat Check will recognize Kayla Steen's name and voice. The Brooklyn-based singer took specific advantage of the Tiny Desk Contest's deadline extension to perform a twinkling, stripped-down version of her latest single, "Attached," with her partner and producer, Brian Chinn. Without a swirling whirlpool of synth and bass, Steen's velvety vocal tone cuts through even more in this performance than the original.
Lauren Eylise, "Peaks and Valleys"
This video is the definition of doing the most ... in the best way possible. Lauren Eylise's "Peaks and Valleys" takes your emotions to unexpected highs and lows throughout the five-minute journey. With her buttery smooth runs, finger-pointing conviction and a sublime backing band, this song has been stuck in my head from the moment I pressed play.