After wading through 6,000 submission, NPR named Anchorage, Alaska, native Quinn Christopherson as their 2019 Tiny Desk Contest champ on Thursday (May 16). His winning entry, the poignant meditation "Erase Me," chronicles his complicated relationship with the privilege of living as a transgender man. "I got so used to pulling the short stick/ I don't know what to do with all this privilege/ Cuz I got a voice now and I got power/ But I can't stand it," he sings in an impassioned, quavering voice on the spare track on which he's accompanied by friend Nick Carpenter on a slowly strummed electric guitar.
"I'm tired of people trying to erase me," he yowls with a PJ Harvey-like urgency on the gut-punch chorus in the contest-winning video, performed in front of a painting of the Denali wilderness at the Anchorage Museum. Christopherson — who is of Athabaskan and Inupiaq background and works as a counselor for Alaska Native youth — told NPR that it's been about a year and a half since he began transitioning from female to male and that he'd never thought about how much power society would offer him as a man.
"I got so many more responsibilities at work just handed to me," he said. "Like, people were just asking me questions I didn't know anything about." Thge song was also inspired by the "terrible things" he heard men say when they thought women weren't around and the misogyny he increasingly experienced as he came into "this 'other side.'" And while the song is about his experience, Christopherson said there is a more universal message in there as well about how "you cannot assume things about people" based on appearance or perceived identity.
"We can all relate to some kind of privilege at the end of the day," he said. "But it's really important to be open about it and know where you're at."
Tiny Desk major domo Bob Boilen wrote that Christopherson's entry "astounded our judge panel from start to finish," with one of this year's musician judges, Lucy Dacus, praising the way the song "concisely shares such a complex and personal message" and calling it "so captivating" and his performance "so earnest." Christopherson will head to Washington, D.C. soon to play his own Tiny Desk show and then hit the road with other NPR Music artists who entered the contest later this year.
Watch Christopherson perform "Erase Me" below.