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How Maneskin’s glamorous escapism revived Italian rock

Can the Eurovision winners continue their artistic progression as they climb the UK charts?

Maneskin, in typically restrained mood Photo: Marco Piraccini/Archivio Marco Piraccini/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images
Maneskin, in typically restrained mood.

Credit: Marco Piraccini/Archivio Marco Piraccini/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

“Rock ‘n’ roll never dies!” It was the last thing anyone expected to become the defining soundbite of Eurovision in its triumphant post-Covid comeback year. But 15 years after Finnish cartoon metal band Lordi triumphed, Måneskin – four early twentysomethings from Rome – brought rock back to the competition with their winning foot-stomper Zitti e buoni (Shut Up and Behave), prompting frontman Damiano David to make that declaration of immortality. 

Flamboyantly clad in matching red leather catsuits by iconic Italian fashion house Etro, the band seemed to have single-handedly brought a classic rock sound and aesthetic back into the limelight. Earlier this month, they also brought rock back to the British charts in a big way.

In the second week of July, Måneskin’s cover of the Four Seasons’ Beggin’ peaked at No. 7, while the seductively repetitive I Wanna Be Your Slave, sung in appealingly wobbly English, hit No. 5. They are the first Italians to break the British Top 10 since Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma at the height of Italia ’90. 1990 was also the last time Italy won Eurovision, some 10 years before any of Måneskin were born. 

The video for I Wanna Be Your Slave finds the band seen in various states of undress and degrees of physical proximity, while David sports women’s underwear. It is a riot of knowing, near-Spinal Tap levels of trashy camp.
Måneskin’s appeal certainly isn’t hard to understand. Quite possibly the best-looking band to ever walk the face of the earth, they are a study in Italian gorgeousness that puts the average snaggle-toothed, spotty British rocker to serious shame. David is a living advert for Italian dentistry and has features more chiselled than his namesake of Michelangelo’s manufacture, while cat-eyed Victoria De Angelis is a reminder of why Suzi Quatro’s bass-and-catsuit combination went down so well in 1973.

They weren’t always so fashion mag-ready. Måneskin came to prominence via X Factor Italia in 2017, looking incredibly young – guitarist Thomas Raggi was just 16 – and like typical hippyish European backpackers. Their audition song, the self-penned Chosen, suggested they had been listening to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers and was as adolescent as they were (“This is not music, this is life,” the lyrics earnestly asserted). 

But David’s charisma was electric and Måneskin ultimately went all the way to the final, only to come second to bearded crooner Lorenzo Licitra. Chosen went straight in at No. 2 on the Italian charts and over 20 singles since have given them six Top 10s while both their albums, Il ballo della vita (The Dance of Life) (2018) and Teatro d’ira: Vol. I (Theatre of Wrath) (2021), hit No. 1, the former going triple platinum. 

Måneskin now stand astride Italian rock as its most globally recognisable protagonists, and while they bear the influence of British rock, from the massive riffs of Led Zeppelin to the angular syncopation of Franz Ferdinand, they also stand on the shoulders of the giants of the Italian rock of the 1990s. They have claimed several such bands as influences, as well as looking to the vibrant Italian prog scene of the 1960s and ’70s for inspiration.

The band’s X Factor mentor was Manuel Agnelli, frontman of moody alternative rockers Afterhours, who emerged from Milan in the late 1980s. Their debut single My Bit Boy (1987) found Agnelli engaged in a full-blown Lou Reed impression (the band’s name was inspired by the Velvet Underground song), but they had reverted to their mother tongue and absorbed the influence of grunge by the time their double album Hai Paura Del Buio? (Are You Afraid of the Dark?) appeared in 1997. Mixing psychedelia, noise rock and hardcore punk, it is one of the classics of Italian alternative rock.

Afterhours were part of a larger rock revival in the 1990s which included the Sonic Youth-inspired Marlene Kuntz, with their heavily existential lyrics, and the stonerish Verdena, who variously sounded like Nirvana, the Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins – their hit single Luna (2004) was notably reminiscent of the latter. Agnelli co-produced their second album, Solo un grande sasso (literally Just A Big Rock) (2001).

But whether Måneskin have the artistic ambition of these predecessors is yet to be seen. Their first album was a radio-friendly bit of everything, including funk, Latin, rap and reggaeton. While their second album dealt more plainly in classic 1970s rock riffs and more contemporary rock-rap aggression, and they had writing credits throughout both, they were produced by X Factor musical director and Sony A&R man Fabrizio Ferraguzzo. This suggests they may not yet be exercising full creative freedom, and could be accused of simply raiding rock’s dressing-up box. 

But this is a band with much ahead of them and they have come at a crucial moment, crowning the year Italy staged a comeback after becoming the first European victim of the pandemic, and anticipating their country’s Euros win. If Måneskin represent anything, it’s glamourous escapism – and that’s a much-needed commodity. 

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