Declan McKenna (born 24 December 1998) is a British singer, songwriter, and musician best known for winning the Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition in 2015. His first single, the self-released "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 stayed there for three weeks. The song so far had reached number 16 on Billboard magazine's Alternative Songs chart dated 16 April 2016.
Life and career
McKenna was born 24 December 1998 and raised in Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. He attended St Mary's Church of England High School in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England. He began taking his GCSE exams in the summer of 2015.
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. New Musical Express 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 same management company that also represents British indie rock band Foals, amongst others). More than 40 record companies vied to sign him, with McKenna going with Columbia Records.
In August 2015, McKenna self-released his first single, "Brazil". 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. McKenna was interviewed on Sky News to discuss his views on football's relationship to 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 on 30 January.
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, he self-released his second single, "Paracetamol". The 5 and a half minute song discussed how transgender teenagers are misrepresented in the media. Matt Wilkinson of New Musical Express called "Paracetamol" McKenna's second break-out hit. Although it wasn't likely to receive radio airplay or top out the charts, Wilkinson argued that the song showed that McKenna wasn't 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."
In early December 2015, McKenna released the B sides for Brazil and Paracetamol, "Basic" and "Brew", on the streaming radio station Spotify.
The influential American music industry trade magazine, Billboard said McKenna was "making inroads in America" with Brazil. The song 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 is slated to play 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, United Kingdom in May 2016; the Standon Calling festival in late July 2016 in Standon, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom; and the Field Day music festival in London in June 2016.
McKenna will make his North American debut at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on 11 March 2016. He is then scheduled to play three sets at South by Southwest Music on 15 March 2016.
McKenna writes his own songs and usually performs all his own instruments.
An anonymous reviewer at BBC News called "Brazil" an extraordinarily mature song for a 16-year-old songwriter. Matt Wilkinson at New Musical Express 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", but also noted that it was "a sharp critique on sports, money and power."
Some music critics have tempered their praise of McKenna. Critic 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" but still displayed "lots of early, ragged promise".