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Declan McKenna: ‘Everyone needs pop songs’

In this week’s Big Issue, fans grill young indie star Declan McKenna. He tells us it’s important to use your platform for good – but don’t forget to have fun too

When we sat down to chat to Declan McKenna, the man behind hits like Brazil and Beautiful Faces, we knew there was no one better to pick his brains than his fans.

You sent us your smart questions for the indie hip kid in droves – covering everything from how to stay eco-friendly as a working musician to whether he’s team Blur or team Oasis.

When the Enfield-born, Hertfordshire-raised talent released Brazil when he was just 16, he took aim at FIFA bosses for corruption and the displacement of poor Brazilian communities. It secured his place as both a commercial smash and one of British music’s most interesting commentators.

And political commentary has stayed a consistent theme in his material ever since. That’s why fan Clara McCourt asked via email why this was something he chose to focus on in his writing, and if it continues into new album Zeros due out next month.

“It’s definitely there. That’s always been a part of what I do,” McKenna said.

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“Even when I was 12 or 13, I knew there were things I observed about the world that I thought were unfair. As I realised more and more of the artists I was listening to were lacing their work with social commentary, it inspired me to keep planting those little seeds in what I put out into the world.”

But whereas on the first album a lot of what he said was taken quite literally by fans, he looked to subvert that on the new release, making sure the music and storyline does as much work as the underlying message of a song.

“It’s different to a song like British Bombs [2019 track criticising the British arms trade] which is really direct. This album’s at the other end of the spectrum – it’s more character based.

“I’ve tried to take things that have been on my mind – like environmental issues which have been really pressing – and sprinkle that throughout the album. And it’s a lot about the way people understand, or misunderstand, each other.”

McKenna told The Big Issue he does think it’s important to do some good with whatever platform one is afforded – but emphasised that not everyone is well-placed, or even obligated, to write social commentary.

“I’ve always been somewhat outspoken as a person, which is why my music’s like that, so it would be a bit unfair of me to point fingers and say someone isn’t writing the right kind of songs or saying the right kind of things when they might just be different,” he said.

“A lot of the time people reflect culture in a way that isn’t directly political and I think that’s valuable too. Plus it’s important that people just have fun.

“Sometimes people expect me to be quite militant about it and say we should be campaigning all the time – but everyone needs an escape. Everyone needs pop songs, everyone needs love songs. It’s important to be responsible when you have a platform, absolutely, but I’m not going to be out here calling people out for not being quite so direct.”

This is just a snippet of our fan Q&A with McKenna. To read the full interview, buy a copy of this week’s magazine from your local vendor.

Alternatively, you can buy one-off issues or subscriptions from The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

You can also get a copy in stores. Head to Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, Co-op, Asda or WH Smith to grab the latest issue.

The Big Issue is a weekly magazine sold by homeless, vulnerably housed or long-term unemployed people to earn an income. They buy copies of the magazine for £1.50 and sell for £3, keeping the difference to help lift themselves out of poverty.

If you cannot buy from a vendor, copies can be ordered online here

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