The Lefsetz Letter: Declan McKenna At The Novo SuperNayr


The World Series was the least watched ever. It averaged 9.11 million viewers, a 23% decline from 2022’s 11.78 million. In a country of 331.9 million.

That’s right, not even 10% of Americans watched the World Series. As a matter of fact, only 3.6% of Americans watched the Series. And you know oldsters are into baseball, so we can’t count them out. And sure, there are babies who won’t watch, but theoretically baseball crosses all demos. Yet for some reason, the Series was not a priority.

Now the scuttlebutt is it was two wild card, minor market teams. Which is like saying no one in America watched the ski race because Mikaela Shiffrin wasn’t participating. In other words, very few people are interested in watching ski racing, and very few are interested in watching baseball.

This is not to rag on baseball. I only went to one game this year, but the changes were palpable. I’m a traditionalist, I still can’t get over the designated hitter, but if you’re losing purchase with the audience you’ve got to change up the game. The endless stepping away from the mound and the batter’s box, the endless shenanigans with a runner on first…these didn’t happen, these abominations, stretches of the rules, had to be excised. Now all we need is automatic umpires. They’ve got them in tennis.

But the reason I mention the World Series is not to rag on baseball, but to illustrate it’s niche. There are plenty of alternatives, on network, cable, streaming, social media… There used to be very few choices. So if you’re a passionate baseball fan, you tune in. If not, you’re fine avoiding the whole damn thing. And it’s not like baseball is in your face 24/7, that’s Taylor Swift. But that’s the same damn thing, how many people are really interested in Taylor Swift? A lot fewer than you’d estimate reading the calcified news with no perspective.

Music is in bad shape. There, I said it. You can deny it, but if you want to know which way the wind blows, you certainly don’t put on a record. I think we will ultimately be saved, then again the entire paradigm has changed. Used to be you and me, our band against the world. We rehearsed in the garage, we played for free, we got into the clubs, we drove within 50 miles and if we had success, we expanded our horizons. It was all done in a stealth way, not by choice, but because nobody else cared. You built it, hoping that someone with bucks, influence and relationships would come along to make you rich and famous.

But now if you’ve got anything to say, you immediately do so online. You don’t woodshed, you get it right out there. You don’t discover who you are, you troll for dollars from day one. Even worse, just like the World Series, you’re competing for everybody’s attention, and it’s nearly impossible to get anybody to focus on you.

So, with so much effort involved, with so few guaranteed returns, there are few bands anymore. It’s all solo artists. But still, there hasn’t been anything new under the sun in eons. Howard Stern featured the Struts. They were actually very good, but I couldn’t stop laughing at their appearance, the leather jackets and long hair. God, the sixties are over, even the seventies and eighties. Even James Hetfield cut his hair. Do you really expect anybody to buy your act, do you expect to have any influence? To do so, you’ve got to do it differently.

And one thing is for sure, Declan McKenna was doing it differently.

I went to hang with Cliff Burnstein. I too had never heard of Declan McKenna. But when I emerged from the bowels of L.A. Live, all I could see were girls. A plethora of them. They certainly couldn’t be going to see Declan McKenna, there are a lot of options on campus. But doggone it, they were! You could barely get near the place. It wasn’t only women, but I’d put the ratio at about six or seven to one.


That’s the question, this is my business, I’m paying attention, the managers are my friends, and I was completely out of the loop.

And I’d done some research. Declan had one number with nearly half a billion streams on Spotify, one with just over a hundred million, and then nothing close. Don’t forget, streaming numbers on Spotify, the ones I’m quoting, which are public on the desktop app, are cumulative, over the life of the record. Which means if you’re complaining about getting ripped off for 100,000 streams, that you should make bank, adjust your mentality, the numbers keep going up and up, but not for everybody.

So what happened here?

“Brazil” had been used in a TikTok video, it had gone viral. Was it worked, did the label use connections? No, it happened serendipitously. And not yesterday, McKenna’s been at it for nearly a decade. I mean you heard one song on TikTok, really just part of a song, and you were so infected that you became a fan of McKenna, listened to everything that came after?

Turns out so. Otherwise, how did all these people know every word. This wasn’t the Beatles, but they literally knew every word, they were standing singing along.

So what was the act?

I didn’t see a single tattoo on stage. Reminds me of being in college, when even the nerds had long hair. I cut mine. During Thanksgiving vacation, when a barber was near. People thought my parents made me do it. Not my parents. Maybe your parents. Yes, long hair once meant something. If I see a musician loaded up with tattoos today, I laugh. It doesn’t mean you’re dangerous, mostly that you’re a conformist. And music was built by those who did not conform.

And the lead guitarist was a woman. Wearing baggy painter’s pants and a baggy jacket. In other words, she was not trading on her sexuality. That was also a revelation.

As was the energy.

The late seventies punk/new wave scene in L.A. The English ska scene from the same era. And then the one hit wonder English bands on MTV. They were all about the same thing, rejecting the past and letting their youth and energy fly, they were infectious. You could not go to a ska show and not feel the vibe and dance, even if you abhorred the dance floor.

That’s what Declan McKenna and his four bandmates were providing. Endless energy, the performance was upbeat, not dreary.

Declan was wearing a beige suit, with a tie and no shirt. The sartorial choices were different from the usual suspects, only the English seem to be able to do this.

So how did this happen?

Well, a Q Prime person discovered Declan McKenna on Bandcamp. Cliff and Peter listened with weary ears, but were stunned, they believed the song was a hit. They flew to England and signed him. Then they brought the band over to play minor markets, and when girls lined up to buy tickets at nine a.m. in Buffalo, they knew they had something. That was the plan, to play out of the way places, not the major markets. And to play venues in the suburbs, because that’s where the audience was. Young people whose parents might be afraid of letting them go downtown.

Declan even played some acoustic numbers at high schools.

Then again, I got Cliff to admit that as good as his efforts had been, he didn’t really know how it had all happened.

Ain’t that the truth. All the tried and true methods not only don’t work, you’re not in control of those that do.

And Declan played for an hour and forty five minutes, no one could complain they did not get their money’s worth, unlike in that “Wall Street Journal” article. Declan’s got fans, and unlike the nobodies from nowhere who pop on to the Spotify Top 50, they’d definitely come the next time around. Declan isn’t dependent upon hits, they’d help, but they’re not necessary. He’s got an audience.

Do I think Declan McKenna will be the new Sam Smith, nowhere to somewhere overnight? No. Then again, I’m not sure anybody can do that anymore. And if I sat here and told you that Declan McKenna was unique, an absolute star with A+ material, I’d be lying too. You never know what someone will develop into, but right now Declan appears to be a journeyman.

In the old days, journeypeople were subsidized by the record label. Today, you do it yourself, on the road.

So, is Declan McKenna’s success an inspiration or is it depressing?

You can spin it either way.

You can have success, make a good living, almost completely outside the major system. But that’s all you may get.

And no one seems to know exactly how to break a new act these days.

But one thing I have to say for sure, Declan McKenna wasn’t doing it exactly like everybody else. He didn’t have a featured rapper. He wasn’t writing bland pop tunes. He was speaking his truth, and it resonated with some people.

Yes, Declan is cute, and that never hurts.

But no one could exactly say why all the girls were there.

But they were.

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