Music

Declan McKenna: The Young Musician Challenging Societal Ideals

In the midst of corrupt leaders, gun violence, poverty and discrimination, British musician Declan McKenna is utilizing his musical platform to make a difference in the world.

At only 19 years of age, McKenna has already been signed to Columbia Records, among artists such as Beyoncé and Adele, charted on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs, has won BBC’s Music Award for Introducing Artist of the Year, has played festivals including Coachella, Lollapalooza and Leeds, and has sold out venues internationally. He specializes in indie rock and synth-pop, and his music speaks to the entirety of the younger generation, empowering youth and encouraging change within our society.

After gaining recognition for winning the Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition in 2015, McKenna acquired a fanbase through the messages of his songs. His first self-released song via YouTube titled “Brazil” obtained popularity for its catchy beat and its criticizing of how Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup of 2014, while ignoring the deep poverty affecting the country’s citizens.

“I’m gonna burn your house down to spread peace and love,” McKenna sings in the song, considering approximately 170,000 people lost their homes as Brazil tore down slums, claiming necessity for the event’s infrastructure.

Many of his other songs appeal to his audience, because he often speaks on matters that the majority of celebrities and artists tend to overlook. His track “Isombard” speaks on faulty right-wing media; “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home” urges the inclusion of youth in politics; “Paracetamol” discusses media coverage of transgender teens; “Bethlehem” analyzes religious zealotry. The distinct messages that he writes into his music set him aside from other rising artists and attract a diverse audience.

“I was 15 or 16 writing a lot of the songs on the album, and it was the first time really diving into things, like really discovering what was going on in the world for myself and wanting to change things and have an impact,” McKenna told Affinity Magazine in a recent interview.

“And I think like most centennials are kind of a stick in the generation that is really trying its best to acknowledge all of the things that have come before us. I guess I’m just a cog in that machine. But I see a lot of things that have gone wrong, and I just thought ‘I want to change that!’” he explained.

“I see stuff that’s happening to me, see stuff that’s happening to my friends, and try to write stories about them — try and give some kind of perspective in their narrative, as opposed to just being like, ‘This is bad!’ or being too overly negative about it, as well.”

Along with socially-conscious and political topics, McKenna writes of inner-conflict and self-evaluation, seen in songs such as “Why Do You Feel So Down?” and “Make Me Your Queen.” Perhaps the most prevalent example of songs on a personal level is the song “Humongous.” The track was a response to the reviews of himself, either negative or positive, triggering a self-evaluation of whether or not he wants to care about what others think of him. 

“[Humongous] was the last song I wrote for the record, and it felt like it summed up a lot of stuff that was going on in my life, and it also linked with the world, with a lot of talk about Trump and things like that at the time,” McKenna said. “It basically just feels like the most me song on the record.”

Whether the song relates to personal conflict or conflicts within the society, McKenna’s music reaches out to many in the younger generation with the idea of change emphasized.

“Support each other. In everything. It’s just super important for young people if they want to change things, whether they’re artists, whether they’re going to university — in whatever way you can,” McKenna advised.

“It’s all you can do, because keeping the ‘low-level’ or the less-influential people together and just supporting each other… I don’t know. I think that’s the way that the world changes.”

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