Declan McKenna: Glitter & Politics

Seeing the same artist perform two times within the span of a little over a year can show major growth within their performance; on Monday night, I experienced this growth firsthand at Declan McKenna’s headlining, sold-out show at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN.

At only sixteen, McKenna introduced himself into the commercial realm of music with a strong political message brought to life by his song “Brazil,” detailing the corruption of FIFA’s World Cup and the Brazilian government’s spending while their poverty rates rise. After his high school education was through at St. Mary’s Church of England High School, he entered the Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition, of which he was declared the winner in 2015. The song “Brazil” was then re-released, and sparked his popularity on the XM radio station Alt Nation, his song remaining on the charts for multiple weeks.

After he decided to sign to Columbia Records his most recent project, “What Do You Think About the Car?”,  was released on July 21st, 2017. In the album, topics range from the uprising generation resisting conformity to the troubles transgender teens face in the public eye.

I first saw Declan McKenna when he opened for The Head & The Heart in 2016. Even sitting a ways away, I felt as though the stage somewhat swallowed McKenna and his band—but that did not stop the crowd from going crazy, dancing and reaching out for him, a rarity at the Ryman Auditorium. Due to the response, I downloaded Brazil the next morning, and ended up sending it to everyone I knew. For someone so young to be so talented and political, so unafraid—I had a feeling he would find popularity quickly in the United States.

Walking into his headlining show, I had no idea what to expect; surely it wouldn’t be solemn, because the album doesn’t sound solemn, regardless of its depth. I stood near the back with my friend Carlie, who had scored us the coveted tickets. As the lights went out and he came out on stage, he glittered—quite literally. Under his eyes were coats of gold glitter, peering out from underneath his messy, chocolate-colored hair. His attire suits him well, just a plain white t-shirt with a black blazer. Classic.

Opening with his popular sing, “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home”, was a smart move. It got everyone in the mood to dance, and led seamlessly into his next song “Make Me Your Queen”. Throughout the set, he made small talk, most of it consisting of him making quick-witted remarks, followed by “Just joking, guys”. He made the crowd not only believe it was his birthday, but that he had been offered a role in the new hit Netflix series “The End of the F****** World”. In defense of the audience, he would have been a perfect fit for the role and has an uncanny resemblance to the real actor.

I noticed an entire shift in McKenna’s stage presence from when I saw him at the Ryman. His countenance had more flair, more confidence. So daring as to even toss his half-used plastic water bottle into the crowd, hungrily snatched by some adoring fans. After touring much of last year, this is probably learned behavior. He is well loved by those who listen, and they must also be listening well, because his voice was joined by hundreds to every lyric of every song throughout the night.

Waiting for our Uber in the cold, Carlie and I discussed the moments from the show that stood out to us. Carlie has been listening to Declan since he began releasing music, and felt proud having been able to watch him grow into such success. “He’s not like anyone else right now,” she commented—and I couldn’t agree more. When asked to describe McKenna’s music, most speak to some sort of alternative Brit-pop, but I would argue it’s more unique than that. At points it can be a messy listen, but it’s supposed to reflect life, an undoubtedly messy endeavor.

McKenna’s underlying universal theme of unraveling youth’s complexities and struggles with societal standards are bound to keep pushing him outside the box, and further into the hearts of listeners who need someone to represent them. Monday’s show ended with a garbage bag packed with balloons emptied into the crowd, which is exactly how I want to portray his music to others: a burst of color where you least expect it.

You can download “What Do You Think About The Car?” here:



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