Friday, December 1, 2023

More than a sound: Declan McKenna discusses activism through music

Arts and CultureMore than a sound: Declan McKenna discusses activism through music

Co-Managing News Editor

Co-Managing News Editor

When the song he wrote at 15 years old began gaining hundreds of millions of streams, Declan McKenna found himself on the map in the world of indie pop music. “Brazil” currently has 382 million streams and counting on Spotify, as the now-24-year-old musician continues to grow in fame and impact.

Though McKenna is known for producing youthful, cheery tunes, there is often more to each song than what can be gleaned by the rhythm and chords alone, as political themes and activism lace his lyrics.

“If you’re getting a message across, it doesn’t always work to smack people in the face with it,” McKenna said. “When I’m listening to music, most of the time I’m not directly thinking about the words. … There’s a feeling there, without the message, and then the message sinks in the more people live with the track.”

The popularized “Brazil” recently went viral on TikTok for its upbeat tempo, despite the fact that the song addresses the heavy issues surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Throughout the song, McKenna discusses the social and economic inequality that Brazil faced during the time of the World Cup, as well as the corporate and oligarchical management of FIFA. 

The song features the lyrics, “I’ve got a mission and my mission is real, because you’ve had your chances, yeah you’ve had enough. I’m gonna burn your house down to spread peace and love.”

The “mission” that McKenna is discussing is his own desire to help bring awareness to those in Brazil who are struggling from the side effects of the FIFA World Cup. To prepare for the event, Brazil tore down many homes and communities, claiming it was necessary for World Cup infrastructure projects. McKenna points out the irony in this as “peace and love” are common themes promoted by FIFA.

When asked about his tendency to add deeper meaning to jovial tunes, McKenna explained that this mission has a lot to do with the artists he listened to in his youth.

“I always thought of music as a way to change the world,” McKenna said.

Growing up, the European musician found himself frequently listening to Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and The Beatles – artists that are all known for their cultural impact through lyricism. McKenna still finds himself inspired by the style and messages of these artists when he writes.

Despite his dedication to activism, McKenna’s songs are also motivated by a passion for music itself. Consequently, McKenna states that his songwriting process is equally driven by both passion and activism.

“[Music] was always a personal passion for sure, but I think throughout high school, more and more, I’d always had this ‘stick it to the man’ attitude in some respect,” McKenna said.

Aside from “Brazil,” the performer has written breezy tunes about LGBTQ+ representation, the destructive aspects of organized religion and the damaging tendencies of partisan news media.

Although his discography is loaded with advocacy and protest, some of his happy songs are just that: happy songs. This is especially true of music he has been working on recently.

“I almost wanted to just make a record where I wasn’t thinking about it too much,” McKenna said. “Through that, you find your little messages, but really I just want it to be a release for people. I want people to feel good when they’re done listening to music or at the end of the show.”

Although there can be various takeaways from a deep dive into McKenna’s lyrics, he explained that the self-expression shining through his songs is intended to have a much more specific purpose – one that transcends particular notes of activism.

McKenna communicated that he creates his best music when he drowns out the outside voices and does what feels best for him. 

To this day, he is proudest of his work when he continues to let the songwriting talent he has had since childhood happen naturally without thinking about how others may perceive it.

“It’s more of the feeling that [listeners] can be themselves and that nothing for them is going to work other than speaking your mind,” McKenna said, addressing the overarching message of all his songs. “I think that’s the ultimate goal, generally: that people feel free to be themselves.”




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