Anyone that performs live on National Television wearing a T-shirt that reads ‘GIVE 17 YEAR OLDS THE VOTE’ isn’t here to just look pretty and sing. Meet Declan McKenna, 20-year-old indie sensation with a seriously strong message to share, and believe me, he’s not your average Joe.
His debut album What Do You Think About The Car proves that the young musicians of this generation are really pulling through with seriously impressive music based around social and political themes, speaking the mind of their generation, which is exactly what this album portrays.
Since entering his track “Brazil” (written about the corruption in FIFA) into Glastonbury’s talent competition in 2015, things have taken a positive turn for McKenna. Having won the opportunity to play at the festival twice that year, it subsequently got the ball rolling for the indie teen. He has since been named the ‘voice of his generation’ and a fearless performer as he writes and argues about matters concerning his youth.
One of his latest singles and hits off of the album is “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home” which really highlights his incredible songwriting ability as he challenges perceptions of the younger generation, arguing that teenagers are way more intelligent than people of older generations often presume.
The track was named ‘hottest record in the world’ by Radio 1 DJ Mistajam, where Declan admitted in an interview that the track was “generally about the frustrations of being a young person in the modern world. There are a lot of scary things going on that people are concerned about, it’s about finding hope and looking towards the future”.
The track is certainly one of the biggest and most meaningful tracks on the album, taking inspiration from the Paris attacks in 2015 and portraying the powerlessness that young people can often feel whilst watching those in power fiddle around with their future.
Although his music focuses on such topics, he admits he hasn’t experienced many bad things in his own life, but he enjoys writing about these types of tracks so he is forced to look elsewhere. But that’s not to say that more personal aspects are missing from his debut album, where a sound clip is featured of him and his sister as young children discussing whether or not they like the car, including snippets of his past.
His stand out and most touching track that initially highlighted him as a serious talent, was the self-released track “Paracetamol“, written about the stereotypes of transgender issues, inspired by a case where a 17-year-old transgender female from Ohio committed suicide, which further led to McKenna being invited to write a blog for The Guardian to explain his intentions.
Admitting his main thought process throughout his musical career is “what would David Bowie do?”, it is evident where his inspirations have come from as he so often performs with glitter sprinkled around his face and in his hair with fluorescent eye shadow dabbed around his eye lids and poorly painted nails, looking androgynous as Bowie did and singing about similar subjects to him too.
He has bravely admitted that he doesn’t identify himself as gay or straight and wants to be a part of encouraging social change and opinions about these topics, which ultimately inspires his writing and makes him an important figure in the music industry.
Track “Listen To Your Friends” deeply highlights his perception on certain topics, combining issues of the NHS, expensive train fees and not allowing kids to go on holiday during school time – designing a perfect representation of the country’s current position.
To be able to create such beautifully silky music with strong intentional messages, written about serious subjects like religion, transgender stereotypes, police brutality and corruption all at such a young age with insane maturity, really proves his intelligence as a young artist.
His latest Glastonbury performance just last month has really highlighted his progression as an incredible performer alongside his band members, and this album is a reflection of that too. He has an established and unique style and is aware of exactly who he is and who he wants to be without trying to clone other artists in the industry – he really is a breath of fresh air.
Declan McKenna’s What Do You Think About The Car? is out now via Sony Music UK, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Mia Woloszczynska