Allison Mahal entered the Tiny Desk Contest with the song "Superego."YouTube/NPR
Throughout the next few weeks, we'll be sharing some of the many 2021 Tiny Desk Contest entries that have caught our eyes and ears. The Contest closes soon: You've only got until 11:59 p.m. ET on June 7. If you think you've got what it takes, check out the Official Rules and fill out the eligibility checklist, then film your video and submit it here!
Allison Mahal, "Superego"
Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Pairs well with: A long drive at sunset
Allison Mahal has a powerful voice, a knack for heartbreaking lyrics and living room full of thriving houseplants: all useful ingredients for a standout Tiny Desk Contest entry. Her song "Superego" explores the moments of retrospection and ambivalence that come after miscommunication: "An honest mistake, saying that I want you," she sings, forlorn, in the chorus, "asking you the same: Do you want me? I take it back."—Marissa Lorusso
Kevonna Rose, "Damn Daniel."
Hometown: Berlin, N.J.
Pairs well with: Belting dramatically in the shower; cleaning up after a breakup
In Kevonna Rose's entry, the New Jersey singer-songwriter gives the phrase "Damn Daniel" — a seeming nod to the 2016 viral video by the same name — a new meaning. Rose tells a story of disbelief as she's strung along by a lover's tomfoolery when a relationship goes sour. Throughout the slow burner, Rose's exquisite voice shines through. Toward the end, she winks, "You ruined my vacation / but boy, you gon' hear about it on the radio station." Damn, Daniel. —Elle Mannion
Hodera, "Best Intentions"
Hometown: Butler, N.J.
Pairs well with: Pensive summer days; long nights that end with the sunrise
Matthew Smith, lead vocalist of the New Jersey-based band Hodera, hopes his first Tiny Desk Contest entry "makes you feel something." Something is an understatement. Notable for its emotive songwriting, "Best Intentions" will transport you to forgotten memories and kindle residual passions. Performing in his backyard surrounded by loved ones, Smith raises his husky voice to the sky to expel inner demons and make amends. —LaTesha Harris
Malena Cadiz, "Hellbent and Moonbound"
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Pairs well with: Morning coffee; an afternoon hike
Malena Cadiz has entered the Tiny Desk Contest several times before, and "Hellbent and Moonbound" isn't the first song of hers to impress us; we featured her raspy, expressive voice and dreamy songwriting just last year. She says "Hellbent and Moonbound" is a song about believing in yourself and choosing your own path; "I've got to hook, no line, no tether," she sings, "nothing I can't leave behind." —Marissa Lorusso
Alisa Amador, "Still Life"
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
Pairs well with: Self-reflection; standing by a shoreline
Alisa Amador says she wrote "Still Life" during an Argentinian songwriting class she attended via Zoom from her Boston home. The prompt was "silencio (silence)." In a strong and soothing voice, the four-time Contest entrant sings, "There was no melody that trusted me / to carry all the words I'd held inside me for so long." With "Still Life," it sounds like she's found the perfect melody to fill the silence. —Elle Mannion
Nicole Han, "Make a Scene!"
Hometown: Villa Park, Calif.
Pairs well with: Tongue-in-cheek rage; Olivia Rodrigo's "good 4 u"
Hell hath no fury like a woman fed up with a man's idiocy. "Make a scene! Call all your friends, tell them I'm crazy, you hate me, so we can end," Nicole Han sings, cool and effortless, over delicate piano chords as she foretells — maybe even eggs on — a lover's explosion. Born from the limbo between (obsessive) adoration and well-deserved exasperation, the poetic lyricism of Han's "Make A Scene!" produces a cinematic portrait of a never-ending tragedy. —LaTesha Harris
Ephraim Bugumba, "Year One"
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Pairs well with: Slowing down; holding tight
"Year One" from singer-songwriter Ephraim Bugumba is the kind of achingly beautiful tune that cuts through the noise and stops you in your tracks. It's a tender song about learning to love. It's slow, but each pause is deliberate and full of emotion. Bugumba, who previously told NPR he "hopes his music can also inspire others to feel hope and show vulnerability," wrote in the video's YouTube description: "This song explores the fear, doubt and reassurances in eventual complete vulnerability." —Elle Mannion