This year's Tiny Desk Contest was unlike any other. Amid lockdowns, social distancing guidelines and ongoing adjustments to daily life, over 6,000 dedicated unsigned artists sent in their songs in the hopes of performing a Tiny Desk concert. We received entries from every state in the country, and those inspiring entries helped us feel connected in a year of isolation. This year, our judges' decision was a particularly tough one (something they talked about in every episode of Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf), but there was one entry that rose to the top — a video that several of our judges called "a perfect Tiny Desk Contest entry."
We're proud to announce that Linda Diaz is our 2020 Tiny Desk Contest winner! Diaz is a singer and songwriter from New York City, and her winning entry, "Green Tea Ice Cream," has a powerful message and euphoric sound. To me, Diaz's song is about slowing down and trying to find moments to enjoy life. Hearing her sing the line, "you should be living out your dreams / but you're tearing at the seams" seemed particularly poignant this year as we're all struggling to find balance in our lives.
Diaz's compelling entry and captivating stage presence left a mark on our other judges, too. "Linda stood out in a crop of thousands of talented musicians, but I knew early on that she was the one to beat," Tiny Desk producer and Contest judge Bobby Carter said. "Her tone, her message and the band's overall musical presentation were simply undeniable." Carter was so impressed with Diaz's entry early on that he interviewed her in the very first episode of Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf.
Judges Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee and Tiny Desk alumna Gina Chavez agreed that we all needed Diaz's entry this year. "It was meditative and reminded me to take care of myself during this craziness that is 2020," Moody said. Chavez added, "If harmonies are medicine, then Linda Diaz is a salve for the soul."
Our other judges — 2019 Contest winner Quinn Christopherson, Tiny Desk alumna Brittany Howard and World Cafe host Raina Douris — also praised the entry, citing Diaz's top-notch musicianship and songwriting skills, as well as her angelic voice and the warmth her entry radiated.
This afternoon, you can learn more about Diaz (fun fact: She's a former scholastic chess champion) in her interview on All Things Considered. And next up, in socially distant 2020 fashion, she'll perform a Tiny Desk (home) concert. When she does, we hope you'll join us to congratulate her and celebrate the achievements of all the artists who entered this year's Contest.
To Linda Diaz: Congratulations and welcome to the Tiny Desk family. We're so excited for what's to come. And to all the artists who put themselves out there this year: Thank you for sharing your music with us and giving us something to celebrate.
Bo Hamby and Phil Harrell produced and edited the audio of this interview. Elle Mannion and Marissa Lorusso adapted it for the Web.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In the before times, when we actually went to work at work instead of in our guest rooms or our basements, there was this awesome thing that happened several times a week at NPR. It would start with an intercom announcement - Lizzo was performing at the Tiny Desk or Chance the Rapper whoever it was - and then the sounds, right? People moving away from their cubicles. Hear that sound of footsteps up the stairs, the elevators dinging - everybody on their way to watch a performance like no other, the Tiny Desk Concert.
Well, in 2014, NPR Music wanted to offer that same stage to unsigned artists as well. So they asked musicians around the country to send in homemade videos. And one of them would win the chance to come play behind the Tiny Desk.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
FANTASTIC NEGRITO: (Singing) Games people play, slave through the year for a holiday.
GAELYNN LEA: (Singing) And I know you.
TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) I see him looking. Oh, by the way he like my body - my body - don't see my face.
NAIA IZUMI: (Singing) Don't judge, baby, a book by its cover.
QUINN CHRISTOPHERSON: (Singing) I got a voice now. I got power. I can't stand it.
MARTIN: The winning entries of the Tiny Desk Contest over the years. And at this point, I'm going to bring in the man behind the Tiny Desk, Mr. Bob Boilen. Hi, Bob.
BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: Hi there. Oh, my gosh. That montage made me tear up.
BOILEN: I miss my desk so much and all these people...
MARTIN: Right? The actual desk...
MARTIN: ...That you haven't been around. And all those performances - tell us who we just heard.
BOILEN: So that was - Fantastic Negrito was the first voice. Gaelynn Lea, Tank and the Bangas, Naia Izumi and Quinn Christopherson. Wow. Oh, my.
MARTIN: I know, right? OK, so I want to bring in one of the judges because you do not do this alone, Bob. You have help.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Musician Gina Chavez was one of the judges this year, and she's with us. Hey, Gina.
GINA CHAVEZ: Hey. How are you doing?
MARTIN: I'm doing well. So, I mean, every year this is a tough decision. You guys get so many entries. What were you looking for, Gina, this go-round?
CHAVEZ: You know, I think you just look for someone who captivates you. You know, especially when you're listening to multiple entries, often in a short period of time, you know, you want someone that's going to stand out and grab you. And, obviously, I think all of us agreed we were listening with different ears this year, you know, because of the pandemic, because of the Black Lives Matter movement and kind of what's been going on in our country. I do feel like all of us were perhaps needing something different than we might have thought we were.
MARTIN: I mean, could you tell if the pandemic and the associated isolation - was that affecting, in any patterned way, the entries that you got?
BOILEN: Absolutely. So the contest started in February. And, you know, we see the entries from early on are a bunch of people in a room together playing music.
MARTIN: That's a very real difference.
BOILEN: And then the contest was supposed to close at the end of March, but as we came closer to middle-March, we realized, yikes, people need more time, and they can't do what they were going to do, and let's give them more time. And then we closed the contest at the end of April. And you can watch, as the contest entries came in, how you get these messages from the artists. I was going to be with my band; I couldn't, so I'm going to do this solo. Or they got creative and did many of the things that we see now in terms of music, which is videos of little squares of people playing at different times and different rooms.
BOILEN: But it all felt kind of powerful.
MARTIN: OK, let's do it. Let's do the big reveal. Bob, who is this year's winner?
BOILEN: I'm so proud. The winner of the Tiny Desk Contest 2020 is Linda Diaz and her song "Green Tea Ice Cream."
MARTIN: Whoo (ph).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN TEA ICE CREAM")
LINDA DIAZ: (Singing) Slow down. You're burning out at the end of your wick now. Nine to five - you're burning holes through your sneakers, through your soul. Should be busy living life, but you just haven't got the time. Gum and pennies on the street. Close my eyes to see my peace. But when it gets to be too much, I find myself in what I love. When I'm by the sea, sweatshirts, sweatpants, white noise, blue jeans. Writing letters to old friends, black cats and tender moments.
MARTIN: Mmm (ph).
MARTIN: I love it. I love it. What a beautiful voice. So what did you hear in there? Gina, I'll start with you. What just, like, drew you to Linda and her sound?
CHAVEZ: I think, you know, with Linda, you have somebody that has written a song not for this time, but then when you find that, you know, it just kind of soothes your soul in a certain way - you know, like, just the harmonies and the chill vibe - but then she's singing this message of, hey, like, you know, there's more to life than just kind of this 9 to 5, and you're not what you make, and at the same time, the making is so important, you know? And so I don't know. I just feel like this - it's a great grounding message. And her voice is obviously incredible. But even just the whole vibe of the aesthetic of the video is so simple...
CHAVEZ: ...But very rich in texture. Oh, it's beautiful.
BOILEN: A, it's from the heart, which is true of a lot of the videos we got. But there's a line in the song - I think it's, you should be living out your dreams, but you're tearing at the seams.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN TEA ICE CREAM")
DIAZ: (Singing) Even trees and flowers know weather seasons 'for (ph) you grow. You should be living out your dreams; instead you're tearing at the seams.
BOILEN: And I think that, again, as Gina said, not written for these times, but that's what's happening now when we listen to music and things, that we take them in in ways that feel deep inside and meaningful.
MARTIN: Yeah. I assume, Bob, that if and when we can get back into our building and Linda can safely be with us, that she'll get a chance to actually play behind your desk?
BOILEN: That's the plan.
MARTIN: That's the plan.
BOILEN: We'll try and do something creative with her for the Tiny Desk Home Concert series at the NPR Music site and YouTube.
MARTIN: Yeah. Congratulations to Linda Diaz, this year's winner of the Tiny Desk Contest. And you will be able to hear from Linda this afternoon on All Things Considered. You can listen on your radio or by asking your smart speaker to play NPR or your favorite member station. Bob Boilen, Gina Chavez - thank you to you both.
BOILEN: Thank you.
CHAVEZ: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.