Declan McKenna: Paracetamol

Wonderland meets Declan McKenna, the 17-year-old who’s collab with Matt Lambert looks at the need to fight for the rights of the trans community.

The discrimination and misrepresentation of the transgender community is still a prominent issue desperate to be overcome and fully accepted by the whole of society. Countless cases of teens struggling with confidence and lack of support when dealing with the backlash they face are all too often broadcasted in the media. The recent case of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager in the US who committed suicide was what triggered seventeen-year-old Declan McKenna to write the lyrics of his new track about the many misconceptions facing the transgender community.

The winner of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition, McKenna has released ‘Paracetamol’ in relation to transgender experiences from the perspective of the media, subtly undercutting its own arguments to reveal the lack of LGBT narratives without minimising the trauma this causes. An attempt to relay the false impression of the media, the lyrics reflect the hyperbole and misunderstanding often found in the reporting of these sensitive cases.

The delicately shot video opens up these narratives and draws on the real life experiences of the 15 year old teens recruited from Hackney, resulting in a stark, natural and moving clip telling the story of friendship, struggle and escape and features a cameo appearance by cult drag artist David Hoyle. Shot between London and Brighton, and directed by Matt Lambert, he showcases an unapologetic approach, which is an honest depiction of the track’s powerful backstory. Exactly what is needed.

You were inspired by the case of Leelah Alcorn: tell us more about that. How did the song come about – what was the writing/creative process like and why did you feel compelled to respond this way?

It was really weird. I write it all in pretty much one day. It just kind of happened, the melody was one I’d had fro ages and all the stuff I was thinking about seemed to match it. I don’t really know why but I guess it just hit me hard so it happened.

What does the “Paracetamol” of the song’s title refer to – suicide? A general pain, or something else altogether?

It refers to transgender conversion therapy, it’s a metaphor for someone saying that there is a cure for being who you are.

How did you go about meeting Matt Lambert and what was it like to work with him?

It was great, I’d only spoken on the phone with him prior to the shoot, but he did such a great job with it. He’s got a lot of great ideas and is just a really cool guy. Working with him was rad – it ‘s great to see someone who genuinely cares about the stuff they’re making.

Much of the video is driven by the casts’ experience. Did you come to producing the film with a set idea of what was going to happen or did it grow organically throughout the process?

You’d probably have to ask Matt really, I wasn’t there for the whole shoot, but from the initial ideas to the finish product, I’d say we had a loose base for the video which was developed on as the filming went on.

Who influences you musically and in terms of your goals as an artist?

I guess Sufjan Stevens, Jeff Buckley, The Beatles, Massive Attack, David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar and so on, there are a lot of musicians who inspire me, I love so much music out there its hard to pick a few.

How would you like people to respond to the song and video and what do you hope to achieve through your music generally?

I only make music because I love doing it, but if someone hears a song or sees a video and it genuinely makes them feel good or it makes them think about something which they thought wasn’t important then that’s awesome.

You wanted to challenge the kind of LGBT narratives perpetuated by the media through your lyrics: what do you think media is getting wrong in their discussion of Trans teenagers?

There are a lot of little things out there that are just wrong. Even if they are trying to be helpful, they almost always end negatively, and they very frequently don’t understand what being transgender actually means. For example, TV shows like “Girls to Men” which lacks an incredible amount of understanding just from the name. We wanted to make a video that didn’t tell trans people about all the horrible things that life is gonna throw at them, we didn’t want it to end in a tragedy either, because life doesn’t end in tragedy. I think the world needs more positive narratives because it’s just no example to give to young people that everyone is gonna oppress them and their life is gonna suck. It’s not true and it’s not fair.
The project is set to make a big impact, but what’s the next move for you?

I guess just a load more songs and shows. There’s no grand plan as such, just go with the flow and keep enjoying it.

Francesca Lee
Declan McKenna: Paracetamol

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