McKenna in Paris in October 2017
|Birth name||Declan Benedict McKenna|
|Born||24 December 1998|
Enfield, Greater London, England
Declan Benedict McKenna (born 24 December 1998) is an English singer, songwriter, musician, multi-instrumentalist, influencer, fashion icon, and left-wing/LGBT rights activist. He initially gained recognition for winning the Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition in 2015. McKenna self-released the song "Brazil", a protest song criticising FIFA and the 2014 FIFA World Cup held in Brazil, as his debut single in December 2014. The song reached number one on Sirius XM Radio's Alt Nation Alt 18 Countdown for 23 January 2016 and held that spot for three weeks. The song also reached number 16 on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs chart. He released his debut studio album, What Do You Think About the Car?, on 21 July 2017. McKenna released his second studio album, Zeros, on September 4, 2020, after multiple delays due to the coronavirus disease.
Life and career
Early life and breakout with "Brazil" (1998–2015)
Declan McKenna was born in Enfield, Greater London, on 24 December 1998 and grew up in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, where he attended St Mary's Church of England High School. His mother was a teacher while his father worked as a milkman and in local politics. He is primarily of Irish and English descent and, though he no longer considers himself to be religious, he was raised Catholic. He began taking his GCSE exams in the summer of 2015. He later studied for his A-levels in English literature, Philosophy and Ethics, and Sociology, but stopped after a few months after his music career began to consume too much of his time.
In 2015, McKenna entered the Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition. The festival named him the winner of the contest in April 2015, for which he was awarded a £5,000 prize and a slot on the festival's William's Green Stage. NME called him "one of the most sought-after new acts" in the United Kingdom after his win, shortly after McKenna signed a management contract with Q Prime (the management company that represents British indie rock band Foals, amongst others). More than 40 record companies vied to sign him, with McKenna choosing Columbia Records.
McKenna wrote an extensive number of demo songs prior to releasing his first breakout single. He described the music as "Not very good!" and told an interviewer that he was trying to imitate Sufjan Stevens using basic music software. He posted roughly two albums' worth of material on his web site, but took them down after August 2015.
In August 2015, McKenna self-released his first single, "Brazil". It was originally released through his own YouTube channel on December 2, 2014. The song criticised FIFA, the governing body of association football, for awarding the FIFA World Cup to Brazil in 2014 without addressing the extensive and deep poverty affecting the people of the nation. McKenna later told DIY that he wrote the song because "it's politics and what I see in the news, and it's just general things I feel strongly about, things happening in my life." "Brazil" garnered McKenna widespread attention, as many sports commentators found the song to be a commentary on the emerging FIFA corruption scandal. (Ironically, McKenna's single "Isombard" appeared on the soundtrack for the 2016 football video game FIFA 17.) Later in the year, he was interviewed on Sky News to discuss his views on football's relationship with poverty. "Brazil" reached number one on the Alt 18 Countdown for 23 January 2016 on the Alt Nation alternative rock radio station on Sirius XM Radio, and repeated as number one a week later, on 30 January.
"First" EP and What Do You Think About the Car? (2015–2018)
McKenna spent the remaining months of 2015 playing a wide range of British and Irish music festivals and concerts in venues throughout London. He played the Somersault Festival in North Devon, England, in July; the Boston Big Gig festival in Boston, Lincolnshire, in July; the Electric Picnic music festival in Stradbally, County Laois, Ireland, in September, and the Mirrors music festival in London in October.
In November 2015, following the success of "Brazil" and his shows in London, McKenna self-released his second single, "Paracetamol". The five-and-a-half minute song discussed how transgender teenagers are misrepresented in the media. In an interview with Sound of Boston, McKenna explained that the title of the song came from "the idea of using the lyric paracetamol was a way of comparing the belief that someone can be cured from who they are, via therapy, to an everyday painkiller." Matt Wilkinson of NME called "Paracetamol" McKenna's second break-out hit. Although it was not likely to receive radio airplay or top out the charts, Wilkinson argued, the song showed that McKenna was not just another "UK indie troubadour, a little bit oikish and with a nifty talent for mainstream melody", but rather a solid and accomplished songwriter who can deliver "bruised and vulnerable" vocals. Jon Lyons of the music Web site ThisNewBand.com said the song showed a maturity that clearly indicated McKenna was not "just a teen dream or a one hit wonder." Billboard said in early 2016 that McKenna was "making inroads in America" with "Brazil", which charted on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart (for the week ending 27 February 2016) at number 32, rising to number 26 on the 5 March 2016 chart.
McKenna stayed quiet for much of 2016, writing songs in his bedroom for his debut album, but released "Bethlehem" that year, and in late August, his fourth single, "Isombard", which treated right-wing media. He played at several music festivals in England: the NME Awards in February 2016; the Live at Leeds festival over the 2016 May Day bank holiday; The Great Escape Festival in Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, in May 2016; the Standon Calling festival in late July 2016 in Standon, Hertfordshire; and the Field Day music festival in London in June 2016. He made his North American debut at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida, on 11 March 2016. He then played three sets at South by Southwest Music on 15 March 2016.  In October 2016, he was confirmed to play at the 31st edition of Eurosonic Noorderslag in Groningen, Netherlands.
McKenna appeared on BBC Music's "Sound of 2017" list at the end of 2016, after releasing the two EPs Stains and Liar that year. The EPs had similar tracklists, with "Brazil" and "Paracetamol" appearing on both. McKenna would release two more singles, "The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home" and "Humongous", before releasing his debut album, titled What Do You Think About the Car? English musician, record producer and composer James Ford, who had produced albums by Arctic Monkeys, Depeche Mode, and Florence and the Machine, produced the album, which was recorded at a Kensal Green recording studio. The album was released on 21 July 2017 and received generally positive reviews. It featured all six of McKenna's previously released singles, as well as five new tracks. All songs on the album were written by McKenna alone, with the exception of "Listen to Your Friends", which was co-written with Rostam Batmanglij. McKenna played at various festivals in 2017, including Coachella, Lollapalooza, Glastonbury Festival and Reading and Leeds Festival.
In 2017, McKenna won the BBC Music Award for BBC Introducing Artist of the Year. He also appeared at the Pilton Party 2017 with Bastille. On 17 January 2018, McKenna released a music video for "Make Me Your Queen".
On 19 August 2019, McKenna released the song "British Bombs", which criticises UK foreign policy. He stated that it is specifically about "the hypocrisy of the British arms trade and the weapons convention in London". He wrote it as a result of wanting to write a song directly addressing war. McKenna later announced via Twitter on 18 December that his upcoming second studio album was mastered and ready for release. He also had an artwork shoot for the album on the same day. On 29 January 2020, McKenna revealed that his second album would be titled Zeros and be released on 15 May 2020. He also released the song "Beautiful Faces" as the album's lead single. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he postponed the album until 21 August 2020. In an Instagram post on 5 August 2020, he announced that the album was again delayed until 4 September 2020.
McKenna writes his own songs, but is supported by a band on tour currently consisting of Isabel Torres (guitar), Nathan Cox (keyboards), William Bishop (bass) and Gabrielle Marie King (drums), although he has previously played all of his own instruments. In terms of the development of his musical style, he has said he would most like to emulate David Bowie's career.
BBC News called "Brazil" an extraordinarily mature song for a 16-year-old songwriter. Matt Wilkinson at NME called it "one of the best songs" of 2015, and had high praise for McKenna's second single, "Paracetamol", as well. Jon Lyons of ThisNewBand.com called "Brazil" "a catchy song no doubt", and also noted that it was "a sharp critique on sports, money and power."
Some music critics have tempered their praise of McKenna. Matt Wilkinson called McKenna's London gigs surprisingly good, if "rough around the edges". Jon Lyons has observed that as of November 2015, McKenna's songs seemed to indicate an artist still experimenting with bands and styles of music which have influenced him. He felt McKenna was still "searching for his own sound right in front of the crowd. An artist is being born note by note." Andy Welch, music critic for the Bristol Post, said McKenna was "one to watch", displaying "lots of early, ragged promise".
Andre Paine of the Evening Standard was less impressed with McKenna's live show, commenting that although his performance "had plenty of energy ... [he] didn't quite live up to his reputation as the voice of a generation", going on to call McKenna's performance "messy". Liam Gallagher has also been critical of McKenna's music, commenting that it was simply "not for me".
McKenna says he feels very good about being a role model. At first, he said he also struggled to understand both the criticism and praise he received, but has been able to be more mature and more analytical about both. He is a vegan.
After adopting a somewhat glam rock visual style for his live performances (which included use of eye makeup and glitter), McKenna addressed questions about his sexuality with Attitude magazine by declining to label himself, saying, "I'm young. I'm here to be experimented with." He said he was "learning about a lot of things". He was not being coy, he said, just honest about where he was in his life. In a second interview with Attitude in May 2020, McKenna said of his sexuality he "couldn't put a label on it" but that pansexual may come close, stating "I would never have really said my sexuality is restricted to any gender or anything ... I might call it pansexual, depending on who I’m talking to. I struggle to imagine it in any other way." He stated in that same interview that he was in an open relationship, but did not say to whom.
McKenna acknowledges that he is seen as a "political" or "protest" singer. He does not see himself as someone "leading the conversation" but rather as a person singing about things his peers are already talking about. For much of his initial work, McKenna said he tried to find inspiration for lyrics and topics in his private life. He felt his own life to be so uneventful, however, that he turned to political and social issues which he felt needed to be discussed. For his second album, however, McKenna feels that he has had so much happen that he can draw on more personal experiences for his lyrics.
- McKenna, Declan Benedict. "ASCAP Ace Search". American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Retrieved 26 November 2016.
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- Aubrey, Elizabeth (19 August 2019). "Exclusive – Declan McKenna opens up about his politically charged new single 'British Bombs'". NME. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- Declan McKenna [@DeclanMcKenna] (18 December 2019). "album is mastered and ready. artwork shoot today went hard. holy crapola. she's alive. happy holidays x" (Tweet). Retrieved 19 December 2019 – via Twitter.
- "Declan McKenna announces new album 'Zeroes'". DIY. 30 January 2020. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
- "Declan Mckenna on Instagram: "'Be An Astronaut' is out everywhere now - link in bio!! The live video premieres on Friday 7th, what a joy to have the band back together…"". Instagram. 5 August 2020. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
- "Declan McKenna Live @ The Future is Here – Extinction Rebellion in London (October 7th)". YouTube. 7 October 2019. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
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- VICE News (11 October 2017), Liam Gallagher's Weekly Music Corner Ep. 3 (HBO), retrieved 10 April 2018
- Norris, John (15 August 2017). "With Politics, Eye Makeup and That Album Cover, Declan McKenna Goes Bold". Billboard. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
- "Singer Declan McKenna On Ditching Labels: 'I'm Here to Be Experimented With'". Attitude. 3 July 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
- "Declan McKenna can't put a label on his sexuality – but pansexual might come close". Attitude. 21 May 2020. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
- Behr, Adam (18 June 2018). "Labour Live: why even Jeremy Corbyn struggles to sell a pop and politics mashup". The Conversation. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
- Declan McKenna [@DeclanMcKenna] (12 December 2019). "just voted for labour and now barnet is drenched in a red hue, there's still a few hours for you to go and vote too! get Boris the Liar out x" (Tweet). Retrieved 10 September 2020 – via Twitter.
- "Ban Conversion Therapy on Instagram: "Our letter to government urging for a ban of conversion therapy has complete backing from some incredible #LGBTQ+ public figures and…"". Instagram.com. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
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