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Crystal Rose came 'Mad' close to winning the Tiny Desk Contest

Nashville-based artist Crystal Rose displays a lot of emotion in her 2023 Tiny Desk Contest entry, "Mad Black Woman." It's one of the things about her performance that most impressed Tiny Desk Contest judge Sharon Van Etten, who featured Rose's entry in an episode of Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf.

Rose — one of a handful of Contest artists whose stories we're sharing on Weekend Edition this summer — hasn't always felt like she could share those feelings.

"Being the only Black person in the [white] spaces I grew up in was difficult," Rose shares. "I noticed that I was different and it made me feel like I had to do more to be accepted ... I was always going to be noticed for anything I did."

Rose moved around a lot and says she didn't know how to release the pain she was feeling.

"There was a time when I was a very, very angry person," she says. "They labeled me impulsive. Being angry all the time as a kid really got me in a lot of places I didn't want to be."

But then, at age 13, she won a music competition and had the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at a local university — and music helped her find her power.

"I think that was the moment I told myself 'this is cool — this is something I want to do,'" she says. "Applause felt like validation."

Rose says it was cathartic to perform "Mad Black Woman," which "tells the story of how many times people will perceive us to be smaller than we are — when in reality, we are all dynamic, complicated and quite extraordinary."

She tells Weekend Edition that she appreciated being able to submit a video so that she could express herself. "I didn't want to just sit down and sing the song — I really wanted to feel everything I was singing," she shares.

"Keep your head up / Eyes front / Fall in line / Always play nice / Stay poised and loyal / Maybe I've grown tired of keeping it together," she sings in the entry. "For me to be able to talk about my life experiences as a Black woman ... it feels powerful to me because there was a point in time where I couldn't say that I wanted to be angry," she says.

"It's not just anger," she eventually realized. "It's power. It feels like I'm taking back my power."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elle Mannion