Declan McKenna

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Declan McKenna
Declan McKenna, Patterns, Brighton (Great Escape 2018) (40780741260) (cropped).jpg
Background information
Birth nameDeclan Benedict McKenna
Born (1998-12-24) 24 December 1998 (age 20)
Enfield, Greater London, England
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • keyboards
  • mandolin
Years active2014–present
Associated actsSuperfood, Feet, Etchells, Zimmo, Scors, Osquello, Clairo

Declan Benedict McKenna[1] (24 December 1998) is an English singer, songwriter and musician. 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. It gained recognition after its re-release in August 2015. It 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, number 45 in Japan and number 135 in France. His popularity attracted the attention of many major music labels; he eventually signed to Columbia Records in 2016.

McKenna continued to write and record music for his debut studio album during 2016. During this time, he also performed concerts and appeared at festivals. He released What Do You Think About the Car? through Columbia on 21 July 2017. Songs that appear on the album that were released as singles prior to the album’s release include "Paracetamol", "Isombard" and "The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home", which peaked at number 84 on Belgium's Ultratop Flanders chart. Also during 2017, he made appearances at the Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals.

Life and career[edit]

1998–2015: Early life and breakout with "Brazil"[edit]

Declan McKenna was born in Enfield, Greater London,[2] on 24 December 1998[3][4] and grew up in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire,[5] where he attended St Mary's Church of England High School.[6] He began taking his GCSE exams in the summer of 2015.[3][7][8] 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.[4]

In 2015, McKenna entered the Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition. The festival named him the winner of the contest in April 2015,[7][9] for which he was awarded a £5,000 prize and a slot on the festival's William's Green Stage.[10] NME called him "one of the most sought-after new acts" in the United Kingdom after his win,[11] shortly after McKenna signed a management contract with Q Prime (the management company that represents British indie rock band Foals, amongst others).[5] More than 40 record companies vied to sign him, with McKenna choosing Columbia Records.[3]

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.[12]

In August 2015, McKenna self-released his first single, "Brazil". It was originally released through his own YouTube channel on December 2, 2014.[13] 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.[11] 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."[11] "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.[3][11] "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,[14] and repeated as number one a week later, on 30 January.[15]

2015–present: EPs and What Do You Think About the Car?[edit]

McKenna spent the remaining months of 2015 playing a wide range of British and Irish music festivals and concerts in venues throughout London.[16] He played the Somersault Festival in North Devon, England, in July;[16] the Boston Big Gig festival in Boston, Lincolnshire, in July;[17] the Electric Picnic music festival in Stradbally, County Laois, Ireland, in September,[18] and the Mirrors music festival in London in October.[19]

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.[3] 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."[20] 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.[5] Jon Lyons of the music Web site said the song showed a maturity that clearly indicated McKenna was not "just a teen dream or a one hit wonder."[21] 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.[22]

McKenna stayed quiet for much of 2016, writing songs in his bedroom for his debut album,[23] but released "Bethlehem" that year, and in late August, his fourth single, "Isombard", which treated right-wing media.[4] He played at several music festivals in England: the NME Awards in February 2016;[24] the Live at Leeds festival over the 2016 May Day bank holiday;[25] The Great Escape Festival in Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, in May 2016;[26] the Standon Calling festival in late July 2016 in Standon, Hertfordshire;[27] and the Field Day music festival in London in June 2016.[28] He made his North American debut at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida, on 11 March 2016.[29] He then played three sets[22] at South by Southwest Music on 15 March 2016. [30] In October 2016, he was confirmed to play at the 31st edition of Eurosonic Noorderslag in Groningen, Netherlands.[31]

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.[4] 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.[32] McKenna played at various festivals in 2017, including Coachella,[33] Lollapalooza,[34] Glastonbury Festival[35] and Reading and Leeds Festival.[36]

In 2017, McKenna won the BBC Music Award for BBC Introducing Artist of the Year.[37] He also appeared at the Pilton Party 2017 with Bastille.[38]

On 17 January 2018 McKenna released a music video for "Make Me Your Queen".

Critical response[edit]

McKenna writes his own songs, but is supported by a band on tour currently consisting of Isabel Torres (guitarist), Nathan Cox (bassist), William Bishop (keys) and Gabrielle Marie King (drummer), although he has previously played all of his own instruments.[9] In terms of the development of his musical style, he says he would most like to emulate David Bowie's career.[12]

BBC News called "Brazil" an extraordinarily mature song for a 16-year-old songwriter.[7] 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.[5] Jon Lyons of called "Brazil" "a catchy song no doubt", and also noted that it was "a sharp critique on sports, money and power."[21]

Some music critics have tempered their praise of McKenna. Matt Wilkinson called McKenna's London gigs surprisingly good, if "rough around the edges".[5] 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."[21] Andy Welch, music critic for the Bristol Post, said McKenna was "one to watch", displaying "lots of early, ragged promise".[3] Grammy winning singer Adele commented in an interview "He's so talented. I praise him for work so hard and doing so well at such a young age."

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".[39] Liam Gallagher has also been critical of McKenna's music, commenting that it was simply "not for me".[40]

Personal life[edit]

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.[23] 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.[12] 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.[41]

McKenna says he feels good about being a role model.[23] 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.[41]

After adopting a somewhat glam rock visual style for his live performances (which included extensive use of eye makeup and glitter),[12] McKenna addressed questions about his sexuality with Attitude magazine by declining to label himself. "I'm young. I'm here to be experimented with", he said, and told the interviewer that he is "learning about a lot of things". He was not being coy, he said, just honest about where he was in his life.[42]


Studio albums[edit]

List of studio albums
Title Details Peak chart positions


What Do You Think About the Car? 11 130 26 8 7

Self-released albums[edit]

List of self-released albums
Title Details
  • Released: March 1, 2014
  • Format: Digital album
I've Made It Further Than You (no, not you)
  • Released: July 12, 2014
  • Format: Digital album

Extended plays[edit]

List of extended plays
Title Details
  • Released: March 4, 2016
  • Label: Because Music
  • Format: CD, LP, streaming
  • Released: May 20, 2016
  • Label: High Quality Popular Music
  • Format: Download, streaming
  • Released: April 13, 2019
  • Label: Columbia
  • Format: 10" vinyl


List of singles, with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
Title Year Peak chart positions Album




"Brazil" 2015 135 45 12 16 41 What Do You Think About the Car?
"Bethlehem" 2016
"The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home" 84
"Humongous" 2017
"Why Do You Feel So Down?"
"Make Me Your Queen" 2018
"Listen to Your Friends"
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Guest appearances[edit]

Title Year Other artist(s) Album
"In Blue"[54] 2019 None MOOMINVALLEY (Official Soundtrack)


  1. ^ McKenna, Declan McKenna. "ASCAP Ace Search". American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f Welch, Andy (12 December 2015). "Glastonbury Festival competition winner Declan McKenna is one to watch". Bristol Post. Archived from the original on 20 December 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d Smyth, David (6 January 2017). "Declan McKenna, interview: The voice of Generation Z". The Evening Standard. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Wilkinson, Matt (22 November 2015). "New Music of the Day: Declan McKenna – Paracetamol". NME.
  6. ^ "Waltham Cross summer fair provides eclectic entertainment: Slideshow". Hertfordshire Mercury. 7 June 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  7. ^ a b c "New Talent at Glastonbury". BBC News. 23 June 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  8. ^ Sweeney, Chris (8 January 2016). "Declan Mckenna kicks off his career with Brazil track". The Sun. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  9. ^ a b Brinsford, Brinsford (17 April 2015). "10 Reasons Why Glastonbury 2015 May Be the Greatest Show on Earth". Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  10. ^ Britton, Luke Morgan (13 April 2015). "Teenager Declan McKenna wins Glastonbury's Emerging Talent Competition". NME. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d Milton, Jamie (29 October 2015). "The astounding early days of Declan McKenna". DIY. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d Savage, Mark (13 April 2017). "Declan McKenna: Bringing back the protest song (without being a bore)". BBC News. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  13. ^ "Declan McKenna – Brazil". YouTube. 2 December 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  14. ^ Sam, Doric (25 January 2016). "Declan McKenna top the Alt 18 with Brazil (1/23/16)". Sirius XM. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  15. ^ Sam, Doric (1 February 2016). "Declan McKenna top the Alt 18 with Brazil (1/30/16)". Sirius XM. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  16. ^ a b King, Ruth (23 July 2015). "Somersault Festival: Saturday line-up". North Devon Journal. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  17. ^ "Big plans ahead for Big Gig 2017". Boston Standard. 30 January 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  18. ^ Hynes, Robert (31 August 2015). "Electric Picnic 2015: Stage times announced for this weekend's festival". Irish Mirror. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  19. ^ "Mirrors Festival: TRAAMS share their 'Brief Guide to 2000s Indie Revival Live Favourites That Never Made the Album' playlist". DIY. 28 October 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  20. ^ Bedian, Knar. "Interview: Declan McKenna". Sound of Boston.
  21. ^ a b c Lyons, Jon (23 November 2015). "Meet 16-Year-Old Declan McKenna and His Incredible Song "Brazil"". Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  22. ^ a b Caulfield, Keith (4 March 2016). "Tomorrow's Hits: She Is We, Declan McKenna & Colours". Billboard. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  23. ^ a b c Smith, Thomas (13 June 2016). "Declan McKenna Interviewed: 'A Lot Of People Don't Understand How Intelligent Young People Are'". NME. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  24. ^ Bargiela, Sarah (1 December 2015). "NME Awards Shows 2016 revealed". Entertainment Focus. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  25. ^ "Live at Leeds line-up revealed". Yorkshire Evening Post. 28 January 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  26. ^ Taylor, Sam (2 December 2015). "Dilly Dally and Tuff Love among first confirmations for The Great Escape". Upset Magazine. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Everything Everything, Suede, Swim Deep to play Standon Calling 2016". DIY. 1 March 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  28. ^ "First acts announced for Field Day 2016". Crack Magazine. 26 November 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  29. ^ Cridlin, Jay (16 February 2016). "The Struts, Front Bottoms set free concert at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg". Tampa Bay Tribune. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  30. ^ Graff, Gary (9 March 2016). "Naughty by Nature, Jenny Lewis & More Lined Up for Rachael Ray's SXSW Feedback Party: Exclusive". Billboard. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  31. ^ "First European Artists Confirmed for Eurosonic Noorderslag – Eurosonic Noorderslag". Eurosonic Noorderslag. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  32. ^ "What Do You Think About the Car? (2017)". iTunes. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  33. ^ "Lineup". Coachella. Archived from the original on 20 March 2017. Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  34. ^ "Lollapalooza 2017: Chance the Rapper, Lorde, Arcade Fire top 170-band lineup". Chicago Tribune. 22 March 2017. Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  35. ^ "Declan McKenna and Alt J on living up to the Glastonbury 'wow-factor'". BBC. 30 March 2017. Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  36. ^ "Line Up Poster". Reading and Leeds Festival. 30 March 2017. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  37. ^ "BBC Music Awards 2017 announce Declan McKenna as BBC Music Introducing Artist Of The Year". BBC. 6 December 2017. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  38. ^
  39. ^ Paine, Andre (24 May 2017). "Declan McKenna, tour review: Not quite the voice of a generation". Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  40. ^ VICE News (11 October 2017), Liam Gallagher's Weekly Music Corner Ep. 3 (HBO), retrieved 10 April 2018
  41. ^ a b Norris, John (15 August 2017). "With Politics, Eye Makeup and That Album Cover, Declan McKenna Goes Bold". Billboard. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  42. ^ "Singer Declan McKenna On Ditching Labels: 'I'm Here to Be Experimented With'". Attitude. 3 July 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  43. ^ "Declan McKenna : full Official Charts history". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  44. ^ a b "Discografie Declan McKenna". Ultratop (in Dutch). Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  45. ^ "Official Irish Albums Chart Top 50 : 28 July 2017 – 03 August 2017". Official Charts Company. 28 July 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  46. ^ "Official Scottish Albums Chart Top 100 : 28 July 2017 – 03 August 2017". Official Charts Company. 28 July 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  47. ^ "Heatseekers Albums Chart Search". Billboard. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  48. ^ "Declan McKenna - Record Store Day". Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  49. ^ "Discographie Declan McKenna". (in French). Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  50. ^ "Japan Hot 100 Chart Search". Billboard. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  51. ^ "Declan McKenna – Adult Alternative Songs chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  52. ^ "Declan McKenna – Alternative Songs chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  53. ^ "Declan McKenna – Rock Songs chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  54. ^ "MOOMINVALLEY (Official Soundtrack) by Various Artists". 19 April 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2019.

External links[edit]