Declan McKenna delivers purposeful pop on debut album



Declan McKenna is one hot commodity, but he’d like to put a popular rumor to rest.


“For some reason or other, someone said that about 40 managers were interested in me when I started out,” McKenna tells The News. “Somehow that changed to 40 labels. And definitely in about 20 interviews I’ve been asked, ‘So, about 40 labels were interested in you…’ and that’s really not true.”


It’s a laudable attempt to humble himself, but also a nod to the overwhelming hype surrounding the 18-year-old’s budding pop stardom.


McKenna has already ticked off an impressive list of accomplishments for someone many years older: go viral with a song that criticizes former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, play Glastonbury, get signed by Columbia Records, make a dent on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, appear on BBC’s “Sound of 2017” list and win plaudits from influencers like NPR’s Bob Boilen.



This Friday, McKenna will be able to tick off yet another considerable feat when he releases his debut album, “What Do You Think About The Car?


The record contains 11 hooky, ambitious pop songs anchored by McKenna’s wise-beyond-his-years lyricism and his Beatles-esque knack for melody.


Brazil,” his Sepp Blatter screed that serves as Track No. 2 on the new album, introduced McKenna as a 16-year-old viral sensation in 2015.

Declan McKenna will release ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ on July 21 via Columbia Records.

Declan McKenna will release ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ on July 21 via Columbia Records.

(Columbia Records)


A lot has changed since that particular song took off on McKenna’s Bandcamp page.


“I had no expectations,” McKenna says. “I just made the songs.”


Something that hasn’t changed is McKenna’s impulse to use music to explore weightier issues.


“I think — maybe because of insecurities, maybe because of a number of reasons — I’ve shied away from anything overtly about my own life” McKenna reveals. “If it is there, it’s quite disguised.”


While many younger songwriters tend to be more comfortable writing from personal experience, McKenna shares that “there’s so much out there in the world to be written about.”



For example, “Paracetamol” was inspired by transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life in 2014, while “Isombard” tackles police brutality and features a nod to Martin Luther King, Jr.


It’s truly purposeful pop without pretense filtered through McKenna’s precocious perspective.


The album’s title is a nod to youthful innocence and McKenna’s early self-confidence.


On a home video — one that’s sampled in album opener “Humongous” — of the McKennas checking out the new family car, Declan’s older sister asks, “Dec, what do you think about the car? Do you like it?”


“I think it’s really good and now I’m going to sing my new album,” a 4-year-old Declan responds.

McKenna prefers to write about weightier issues rather than personal stories: "If it is there, it's quite disguised."

McKenna prefers to write about weightier issues rather than personal stories: “If it is there, it’s quite disguised.”

(Columbia Records)


Looking back, McKenna views that statement half-seriously as a prophecy.


And while it’s difficult to know exactly what the future holds, it’s a safe bet that the preternaturally gifted British songwriter is only getting started.


Declan McKenna plays The Studio at Webster Hall on August 8.

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