NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series started as a joke between NPR Music and artist Laura Gibson who they tried to see perform while at a bar. The atmosphere was so noisy that they could not hear her perform and joked with her that she should just come perform at their desks. Gibson was a good sport and showed up three weeks later and kicked off what is now known as Tiny Desk Concerts. 11 Years later, over 800 artists have performed for NPR Music, giving them the chance to re-imagine their songs and perform in a atypical environment.
The latest Tiny Desk Concert invited Pop Superstar, 10 time GRAMMY winner, Taylor Swift to their D.C. office to have her chance at playing the iconic gig.
“Wow, this is a lot of people in a tiny office, I love it! I’m Taylor, welcome to my Tiny Desk Concert.” She continued “It’s great to be in D.C. wow, you guys have anything exciting going on the last couple of weeks or any possible changes in play?” Swift went on to say that “Tiny Desk is one of my favorite corners of the internet. It’s an opportunity for artists to decide a different way to showcase their music… I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them. So, it’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately [laughs].”
Swift talks about the double standards in the industry
Swift then went on to introduce her first song “The Man” saying:
“I had an album that just came out called Lover [audience cheers], I’m really happy you like it. It’s one of those albums where I wrote everything on one instrument first, so it’s really fun to pick songs to do acoustically because they all started out that way. There’s a song that I have wanted to write conceptually for a very long time because over the course of my life, it has occurred to me that we have a double standard issue in our society. It’s something that I’ve thought about 7 million times a day for the last ten years of my life. I was always just wondering, ‘can I write a song about this? Is there a concise and catchy way to write a song about this? What angle would I take if I were to write a song about this? So I decided the most fun thing to do would be to imagine what my life would be like and what people would say about my life if I did all the same things, but if I was… a man.”
After finishing “The Man” on guitar, Swift handed her guitar pick to a young girl standing near the front before switching over to the piano to perform the title track “Lover.” She spoke about the song before breaking into her performance, explaining:
Taylor explains “Guitar string scar on my hand” line
“There’s a song that I wrote on the album that as soon as I wrote it, I knew it was going to be the title track. Writing songs is strange cause it never happens exactly the same way, but sometimes it happens in a way like this weird, haunting, like you can’t really explain. Like you can’t really explain where these ideas came from and you feel like you didn’t work at all to write it. That’s the best kind of song. Then there are days, most days where you show up and the idea doesn’t and that’s where craft, you have to kind of know the craft of it. You have to try to scrap your brain for something to write cuz you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s ok. There’s a really good Elizabeth Gilbert Ted Talk about that [audience laughs]. One of my favorite things to cry while watching. With this song, it was one of those weird moments where it is just middle of the night, I’m like in my PJs, stumbling to the piano because I got this idea and the song just happened really quickly. There’s a line in the song that I’m really proud of, the line says “with every guitar string scar on my hand, I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover” [smiles]. That line is really special to me because I’ve spent quite a bit of time writing break up songs [audience bursts into laughter] and songs about things not turning out the way you want them to or songs about what you thought would be love and it turned out to not be that at all or you know just kind of the struggle of life. Songwriting is just a therapeutic thing for me. So there are a lot of things I’ve written about in my life that were the harder things I had to go through so I took that [the line] as a metaphor for the times when I was learning to play guitar and I played til my finger bled when I was a kid and I still have those marks from that and all the times I would be changing a [guitar] string and it would pop, and I still have scars from that. It’s also a bigger metaphor for, in life, you accumulate scars, you accumulate hurt, you accumulate moments of learning, disappointment and struggles and all that. If someone’s going to take your hand, they better take your hand, scars and all.”
She can still write a good break up song!
Swift then took off her jacket and joked about costume changes fans are used to seeing on tour. She switched back to guitar while describing the inspiration behind her next song “Death By a Thousand Cuts.”
“So, over the course of the years that I’ve done interviews, which I think is about 15 or 16 years now, I’ve gotten a question over and over again that has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health [she tries to say light heartily]. The question is ‘What will you ever do, if you get happy? Like what will you write about? Will you just never be able to write a song again?’ It’s an interesting question, in the interviews, when I would get that question, as a young person, I kind of would just be like ‘well, I started out writing songs about things I had no idea about. I started writing songs when I was 12 years old and they were usually about heartbreak and I had no idea what I was talking about, but I had watched movies and I had read books, so I would grab inspiration from character dynamics, as you do. So I would say in the interviews, probably just do that, if stuff is going on in the world that’s not just happening to me, maybe I could get inspiration from that. Then I’d go home and I’d be like ‘what would happen if I was ever happy? Would I not be able to do the thing that I love the most in the world? Oh my God. Would I not be able to write breakup songs anymore? I love breakup songs! They’re so fun to write.’ So then I happened to be writing this album Lover which is a very very happy, romantic album. In my life, a few of my friends had been going through breakups, like one of those breakups where you need to talk to your friend all the time, because they need to talk about it all day, every day. So I was having a lot of conversations about breakups, I watched movies that were really well done about breakups, in some of the books I was reading there was some good breakups happening. So this all culminated and I’d be waking up one day with all these heartbreak lyrics in my head and I was like ‘It’s still here! Yes!’ So I ended up writing a song that was a breakup song on the Lover album that I was like this song is my proof that you know, I don’t have to stop writing songs about heartache and misery. Which for me is incredible news.”
Although typically the Tiny Desk Concert series stops after three songs, they made an exception, for fan favorite “All Too Well” to which Swift returned to the piano to sing. Swift explained about her decision to play the song off her 2012 album Red:
Taylor Swift doesn’t google herself, but her dad does.
“I was thinking about how it’s almost Autumn, that’s like my favorite season and people on the internet have been like kind enough, in amongst people who care about my music, to associate Autumn with one of my albums called Red. I guess it’s just a very “Autumny” album. I was thinking about that, how it’s so nice, the crisp fall air is happening. You know, I don’t google myself ever, I recommend you not do it either, but my dad does [audience laughs]. He will like send me, links to things, every once in awhile I’ll see that, but that’s the only way I get my news. He sends me these lists that are like, very nice, like ranking my songs, that’s really nice of people to do, I really love that people do that, I find it really nice and I’m grateful that people care enough to rank my songs. There’s one song that I’m particularly proud of because when the Red album came out, there was this one song on the album where I was like ‘I’m the only one who loves this song this much but it’s only because it happened to me and it’s personal. No one else is going to like “All Too Well” as much as me [audience cheers]. When it came out on the album, like slowly but surely, over the course of that album’s life and beyond, you guys have made that song something way more than I thought that life of the song would be. I’ve just had so much fun playing it in concert and just like screaming it with you guys. The fact that this song went out into the world and it’s just, I think it’s usually #1 on any list that’s like saying what my songs are, which is great, and I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that because that was probably my favorite song on Red. So I figured that maybe I would play it for you…. Here’s a sad song about Fall.”