From W-L to NPR, a tale of “Tiny Desks”

W-L Alumni and musician Mecca “Neffy” Russel has recently won a competition with an incredible prize


Liam Mason

NPR’s headquarters in DC, where Neffy performed

National Public Radio’s (NPR) Tiny Desk  has been host to many of music’s most esteemed stars: Harry Styles, Young Thug, Erykah Badu, and soon, a W-L alumni, Mecca “Neffy” Russell. Recently, Neffy was crowned winner of the 2021 NPR Tiny Desk Contest, the prize of which being a performance behind the titular desk and a video of it posted on NPR Music’s YouTube channel, which holds more than 6 million subscribers. In fact, some performances on the channel have amassed over 70 million views.

For those who have not seen a Tiny Desk video before, it is likely that an artist you are familiar with, or even passionate about, has been featured on the channel (there are more than  800 archived performances). In a co​​nversation with “All Thing Considered”’s Mary Louise Kelly, Neffy explained the self-described “wild-ride” that was her day of victory.  

“I’m still kind of in shock and disbelief, to be quite honest,” Neffy told Arlington Now.

This was Neffy’s first contest victory at this scale. She had submitted entries to the same Tiny Desk Contest previously in 2018 and 2020 and was a finalist the latter year.

To put into scope Neffy’s victory, it’s worth observing what previous winners were able to achieve after theirs. The 2017 winner of the Tiny Desk Contest, Tank And The Bangas, were nominated for “Best New Artist” at the Grammys in 2020, and currently hold more than 220,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone. The 2015 winner Fantastic Negrito boasts more than  325,000. The former band’s Tiny Desk performance has accrued more than  13 million views on YouTube, and the latter’s has more than  6 million (accounting for and including separate uploads, on his YouTube channel and NPR’s). At the time of writing this article, Neffy’s performance has been up on YouTube for only 9 hours, and has already amassed more than 18,000 views. 

“Neffy’s song stood out amongst the thousands of 2021 Tiny Desk Contest entries, as a universal cry to break free of constraints and celebrate nature’s beauty,”  NPR Tiny Desk creator Bob Boilan explained to NPR’s channel WAMU 88.5.   

The “natural beauty” inspiring Neffy could be that of Arlington, Va., where she grew up and currently lives. In fact, Neffy graduated from the school in 2015. On Neffy’s Instagram story, she mentioned that she was “in choir all throughout high school,” and played Mottah Mouth Maybell in W-L’s 2015 production of “Hairspray.” 

It was actually this role that sparked Neffy’s journey towards a career in performance, even though she was “going to college to study journalism in the Fall.”

Neffy, who went to college in New York, detailed her feelings about the city in her NPR award-winning song “Wait Up.” “I’m stuck / and the city’s got its grip on me / and I’ve had enough,” Neffy sings on the track. 

“I wrote ‘Wait Up’ about a month and a half ago,” Neffy told All Things Considered. “I had just come from living in New York City for a while, and then I got the chance to return home to my roots in Arlington, Virginia. And that really gave me the chance to reflect on the last five years that I had been living in New York City for college, and how much that took out of me spiritually and mentally and physically. [The song was] something that I really needed to write.”

Neffy, who has now returned to Arlington,  is planning on performing in Washington, D.C. soon. 

Before that, though, you can watch her NPR Tiny Desk performance on the NPR Music YouTube channel. Her album “I Don’t Miss You” and award-winning single “Wait Up” are available on her Bandcamp page, and other music is up on separate popular music streaming services. 

“I wrote ‘Wait Up’ like many other songs I’ve written: sitting on the edge of my bed. But I didn’t know it would be the song that would change my life,” Neffy told NPR. “I got to sing lyrics I wrote in the privacy of my room late at night to a vast and loving audience is beyond my wildest dreams. For that, I am incredibly grateful, and quite frankly, still in disbelief.”