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Declan McKenna is the best thing to happen to indie-pop

The young singer-songwriter exemplifies a new era of musical activism

<p>At just 22 years old, British singer-songwriter Declan McKenna has achieved a lot.&nbsp;</p>

At just 22 years old, British singer-songwriter Declan McKenna has achieved a lot. 

At just 22 years old, British singer-songwriter Declan McKenna has achieved a lot. He won Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015 — an achievement that launched him into the spotlight and prompted a subsequent bidding war between labels to sign him. 

When he was just 16 years old, he self-released “Brazil,” a song devoted to fierce criticism of FIFA’s ignorance of social inequality in Brazil. For being only 16, McKenna’s “Brazil” showed a maturity and conscious understanding of the world that many established artists lack. The song garnered a lot of attention, even leading McKenna to be invited to perform it on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and “Conan” soon after the song’s release. 

"I started hearing things about the FIFA World Cup and the corruption around it,” McKenna said in an interview with HumanHuman. “I don’t really know why or how it happened, but I ended up writing a song about it and it turned out to be the one that I recorded and released …  I was just seeing all this stuff around and like most songs, I was hearing so much about it that I couldn’t really avoid writing about it.”

However, this song is only the tip of the iceberg for McKenna’s career. Another standout is the song “The Key to Life on Earth” from his 2020 album “Zeros.” It features McKenna’s musings on suburban life and class differences, with elements of psychedelic '70s-leaning pop that hooks you in from the start. 

His best song, though, is his 2019 single “British Bombs,” where McKenna voices his unwavering, bold opinion on Great Britain’s role in the international arms trade. Featuring upbeat full instrumentation, McKenna’s songwriting shines exceptionally well on this track. He sings, “Get real, kid, your country’s been at war since birth now / And if it’s not a fucking outrage, / what’s it all about, babe?”

So what makes McKenna the best thing to happen to indie-pop? It’s his determination to use his voice for change. He does not shy away from talking about difficult issues to be politically correct — McKenna not only speaks about these issues but uses his songwriting, production and instrumentation to do these difficult topics justice.

However, McKenna takes this a step further and makes his actions reflective of what he sings. His political activism with respect to the environment, LGBTQ+ rights and police brutality demonstrates that he is someone who cares about these issues beyond the desire to make money and seem “woke.” McKenna’s actions both in and out of the studio reflect his genuine desire to make a difference in the world. 

The variety of subjects McKenna touches on is significant too. From discussing the harrowing suicide of a transgender teen and the way the media treats LGBTQ+ individuals on “Paracetamol” to police brutality on “Isombard,” McKenna uses his platform to give a voice to many individuals. In doing so, he not only calls attention to social issues but also encourages others to join his fight for social justice as well. 

McKenna’s lyricism aids this mission to make a difference and call attention to social issues. Clever songwriting is present on a wide array of tracks, as McKenna sings with scathing cynicism and hostility on some songs like “The Key to Life on Earth” to being more serious on others like “Paracetamol.” His awareness of the nuances of the issues he sings about sets him apart from other artists his age because he balances his musical creativity and sometimes satirical songwriting style with maturity for the subject matter at hand. 

By no means does all of this suggest that McKenna is flawless, though. On some tracks, the instrumentation can get stale as McKenna employs a similar electronic, psychedelic glam-pop sound on his tracks. However, what he sometimes lacks in instrumentation he makes up for with his mature songwriting — rarely is it trite, and never is it meaningless. 

McKenna’s discography shows an artist at the top of his game, one who has forged a new era of socially conscious music. Armed with clever songwriting and impressive instrumentation, McKenna shows that he has both substance and style as he crafts indie-pop hit after indie-pop hit. He has proven that he’s an artist in every sense of the word — musically, artistically and politically — and uses his voice to impact the world. Give him a listen — you won’t be disappointed.