Declan McKenna isn’t like most teenage songwriters. Instead of penning whimsical tales of underage drinking and having his heart broken, the 17-year-old from Hertfordshire prefers tackling “taboo subjects”. Last year he released his debut single ‘Brazil’, a massive indie-pop crossover tune that doubled up as a searing indictment of the alleged corruption at the heart of the country’s football World Cup in 2014. Now, with appearances on US chat shows and a record deal under his belt, it seems like he’s about to take his songs mainstream.
“I think it’s cool if young people look up to me as someone who likes to speak out about these things,” McKenna says of his position. While his last single ‘Paracetamol’ challenged media stereotypes of transgender issues, his latest track ‘Bethlehem’ wades into the controversial discourse on religion. “I don’t know why I end up writing about such heavy topics,” he admits, yet his DIY twist on these subjects has already made him a cult figure with teenage fans.
He raises the point that, rather than leading the conversation, he’s merely articulating his peers’ thinking. “A lot of people don’t understand how intelligent young people are and how much they think about these topics,” he says.
After years of recording songs in his bedroom, McKenna’s hooking up with super-producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals, Haim) to make his debut album. He’s also set to return to play his second show at Glastonbury next week – he won the festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in early 2015, which undoubtedly kick-started his career. “It’ll only really hit me on the day whether I’m really fucking nervous or not,” he says of his impending slot on The Park stage. But with an arsenal of new tunes, a brand-new backing band and something genuine to say, McKenna’s on the path to something special.
Declan McKenna: The Details
Buy It: All three singles are available to buy now
Live: The Boileroom, Guildford (June 22), Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff (June 23), Glastonbury Festival (June 24), Latitude Festival, Southwold (July 17), Deer Shed Festival, Thirsk (July 23), Kendal Calling, Hackthorpe (July 28), Standon Calling, Hertfordshire (July 29)
Fact: Following ‘Brazil’, Declan appeared on Sky News to discuss the FIFA corruption scandal.