As Taylor Swift settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. "Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!" she said. "I love it!" Then, after introducing herself, she explained her objective: "I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them."
It should come as no surprise that someone who commands stadium stages could hold court in NPR Music's corner of our Washington, D.C. office — specifically, behind Bob Boilen's desk — but Taylor Swift was truly at home in stripped-down, solo session mode. ("It's just me. There's no dancers, unfortunately," she quipped.)
Opening with an acoustic rendition of "The Man," from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all. Turning to the piano for Lover's title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song's bridge. Picking up the guitar again for "Death by a Thousand Cuts," Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy? Across the song's run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She'll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.
Though most Tiny Desk concerts stop at three songs, we couldn't turn down the chance to hear "All Too Well" from Swift's 2012 album, Red. Routinely cited by critics and fans alike as a favorite, the beloved track has become the stuff of Swiftie legends, striking in its specificity (that scarf!) and relatable in a way that anyone who has loved and lost can understand.
That sense of connection is at the heart of it all. Some 800 Tiny Desk concerts since we published our very first back in April of 2008, the aim remains the same: In the midst of meetings and conference calls, Tiny Desk concerts offer respite from the workday and an opportunity to see an artist reimagine their work in a strange setting. It's always special, but on some days, it feels downright magical. Watching Taylor Swift perform – and then interact with coworkers and guests who have grown up with her – was simply enchanting.
- "The Man"
- "Death by a Thousand Cuts"
- "All Too Well"
Taylor Swift: vocals, guitar, piano
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, Natasha Branch; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame, Maia Stern; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistants: Jack Corbett, Mito Habe-Evans; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Bob Boilen/NPR