Stephen Thompson

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2021 was supposed to be better than 2020, and right now, that's looking questionable. But there are some good things coming our way, like new music.

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They feel like sepia-toned dispatches from the Before-Times, beamed from a magical place where musicians could safely raise their voices indoors and let their assembled droplets waft over an appreciative crowd. But the 50 Tiny Desk concerts we published this year — the ones we recorded in NPR Music's Washington, D.C., offices before the pandemic hit — reflect not only a recent past but also a promise for the relatively near future.

Pandemic life has short-circuited many holiday traditions this year, as intergenerational family togetherness has given way to Zoom calls, and Black Friday shopping has given way to the sweet, sweet absence of Black Friday shopping. But it's also a golden opportunity to reboot your routines: to start baking Christmas cookies, or make handmade greeting cards, or lock down a pact with your family to leave the tree up until summer. These are heady and challenging times, so what's to keep you from declaring that Christmas, for you and yours, now takes place from Dec. 23 until June 23?

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We've been talking about the politics of President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet choices - now a very different review of the work of one particular member of the incoming Biden team. Here's NPR's Stephen Thompson with that.

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This year's interminable election season has helped spawn an outsize assortment of frequently vital protest music. Late Tuesday, as part of Stephen Colbert's election-night special for Showtime, Arcade Fire premiered the first big post-election protest song of 2020.

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Tracy Chapman didn't take long to release her masterpiece.

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It's been nearly five years since Adele released her blockbuster Grammy-festooned album 25 — so you'd

This week's Saturday Night Live musical guest was supposed to be Morgan Wallen, before the country singer got himself disinvited.

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The guitarist, bandleader and songwriter Eddie Van Halen died today of cancer. He was 65. His band Van Halen spanned more than four decades, 12 albums, three lead singers and some of the most dramatic guitar solos in rock 'n' roll history.

Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist and songwriter who helped give the rock band Van Halen its name and sound, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 65.

His death was announced by his son, Wolf Van Halen, on Twitter.

"I can't believe I'm having to write this," the statement said, "but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I've shared with him on and off stage was a gift."

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.


We've been trying to make a BTS Tiny Desk concert happen for years now — even gaming out ways we might move Bob Boilen's desk far enough forward to accommodate the superstar Korean boy band's dance moves.

Awards shows often take place amid distractions, from natural disasters to civil unrest to the aftermath of a high-profile death. Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards had to coexist with all three, not to mention a worldwide pandemic that made it impossible — and, in New York City, illegal — to assemble a live audience.

How did it go? Here are 10 takeaways.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

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Back in April, during the early days of COVID-19, Bon Iver dropped a seemingly free-standing single called "

Taylor Swift was supposed to spend this summer touring songs from Lover, the album she put out last August. Instead, like many of us, she wound up cooped up at home. The isolation seems to have sparked her creativity, leading her to write and record an entirely new record in collaboration with producers Jack Antonoff and The National's Aaron Dessner.

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When John Prine died on April 7 due to complications from COVID-19, he didn't just leave behind a rich recorded legacy.

You can probably guess that we recorded the original Broadway cast of Hadestown before the coronavirus pandemic made live theater (live anything) an untenable risk. The reminders are everywhere — in the way 16 performers bunch up behind the desk, singing formidably in close proximity as a large crowd gathers just off camera — that this took place in the Before-Times. To be specific, on March 2.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

When Jason Molina died in 2013, the 39-year-old singer-songwriter left behind a mountain of works: wrenching solo albums, released under his own name and as Songs: Ohia, as well as louder electric recordings with his band Magnolia Electric Co. In 2007, Molina had amassed such a backlog of unreleased songs that he by

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

Cue the Hamilton quotes: Soon the room where it happens will be your living room! Shout it to the rooftops that the Broadway sensation Hamilton will be available for home viewing this summer! Look around, look around to see how lucky we are to be alive in a world where Hamilton is coming to Disney+ on July 3, more than 15 months ahead of schedule!

We're roughly two months into a collective crisis that's kept us sheltered in place, cut off from friends and fearful for the future of our health, our families and our economic well-being. Our emotions frequently form a thick slurry of anxiety, worry, boredom, rage and desperate desire for threads of normalcy; for moments of mundanity; for the calming comfort of the familiar.

Back in the Before-Times, when Tiny Desk concerts were held in front of gatherings of people — "crowds," we called them — we'd remind everyone in attendance to silence their cell phones. When the music was loud enough, it didn't matter if people followed instructions. But when Daughter of Swords came to grace us with a few hushed folk songs, the music was so eerily still, you could have heard a phone vibrate.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected musicians around the world. Many have had to cancel tours, delay album releases and find new sources of income. But some artists have found inspiration in the virus.

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Bon Iver's recent music has been intricately crafted enough that it's bound to roll out sparingly: The gaps

In this era of social distancing, few celebrities have carved out a social media presence as appealing as those of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski. They're married, so they get to share their isolation — and they've been filling the time with a kindhearted weekly YouTube show they call Some Good News.

It's tempting, when assessing great creative works, to funnel all credit to a lone genius — a writer, a singer, a director, an artist, or a name that sits atop a marquee. It's so much easier to be spared the task of teasing out greatness from an interconnected web of contributors, partners, helpers, teachers and organizers. We can accept a songwriting credit that reads "Lennon-McCartney," but our icons — our geniuses, our auteurs — more often stand alone, lest their stars seem diminished.

Adam Schlesinger, one of the most prolific and decorated songwriters of his generation, died Wednesday from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 52.

His death was confirmed to NPR by his lawyer, Josh Grier.

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