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Declan McKenna: Tiny Desk Concert

It'd be easy to look and listen to this young English singer and think he's just another sensitive songwriter with a guitar, singing about his troubles. But Declan McKenna writes about a much bigger world than you or I might expect from a singer who only recently turned 18. He came to NPR this past summer, a bit nervous but passionate. He stripped down three of his songs to their musical essence, and the power of their words eclipsed the hooks for which they're equally known. "Bethlehem" tackles religion:

Because I'm in Bethlehem
I've got a seat in heaven
And though I'm heaven sent
I can do as I want and you don't have the right to choose

McKenna's most famous tune, "Brazil," is a song about football, money and poverty that also touches on religion.

I've been reading about the early years of Leonard Cohen in the wake of his death — reading about the poet before the singer, thinking about how young artists blossom. When they're good, their songs and ideas are spare and boiled down to their core. I'm enjoying Declan McKenna, and should you have missed his extraordinary past year or so, this is a good introduction. But I'm eager to fast-forward to where this young poet takes us.

Download and stream Declan McKenna's single "Isombard." (iTunes) (Spotify)

Download and stream Declan McKenna's LIAR EP, featuring "Brazil." (iTunes) (Spotify)

Set List

  • "Bethlehem"
  • "Brazil"
  • "Isombard"
  • Musicians

    Declan McKenna (vocals, guitar)


    Producers: Bob Boilen, Niki Walker; Audio Engineers: Suraya Mohamed, Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Claire Hannah Collins; Production Assistant: Sophie Kemp; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR.

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    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

    In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.
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