Eurovision winners aim for the world

By Elisabetta Povoledo

When the rock group Maneskin won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, it was little known outside Italy. Then the competition catapulted the band in front of 180 million viewers, and propelled its winning song “Zitti e Buoni,” or “Shut Up and Behave,” into Spotify’s global Top 10, a first for an Italian band.

The song has been streamed on Spotify more than 100 million times. With nearly 18 million listeners in the last month, Maneskin was performing better on the streaming service in the same period than Foo Fighters or Kings of Leon.

Eurovision acts typically disappear from the spotlight as soon as the competition wraps, yet Maneskin’s members are hoping to build upon their existing fame here and newly won international interest to become a rare long-term Eurovision success story.

A post-curtain controversy that dogged the group last month has only increased the band’s notoriety. On the night of the Eurovision victory, rumors spread on social media after a clip from the broadcast went viral, showing the lead singer, Damiano David, hunched over a table backstage. At a news conference later that evening, a Swedish journalist asked if David had been sniffing cocaine on live TV, and the singer denied any wrongdoing.

David took a drug test, which came back negative. The European Broadcasting Union issued a statement saying that “no drug use took place” and that it “considered the matter closed.”

So it has been quite a world-stage debut for a foursome whose combined ages add up to just 83. (David is 22; Victoria De Angelis, the bassist, is 21; and the guitarist Thomas Raggi and the drummer Ethan Torchio are 20.)

“For us,” De Angelis said in a recent interview, “music is passion, fun, something that lets us blow off steam” — no surprise to anyone who has seen Maneskin perform live. The band is a high-octane powerhouse of onstage charisma and youthful energy.

One Italian music critic compared Maneskin — which means moonlight in Danish and is pronounced “moan-EH-skin” — to the Energizer Bunny. That may in part explain why “Zitti e Buoni” has transcended what could have been an insurmountable linguistic barrier (though there is already a cover version in Finnish).

The song celebrates individuality and marching to the beat of one’s drum, or guitar riff. The refrain repeats: “We’re out of our minds, but we’re different from them.”

With its stylish androgynous nonchalance — accessorized with high heels, black nail polish and smoky eyes — Maneskin breaks down gender barriers and champions self-expression.

The band was formed in 2015. David, De Angelis and Raggi knew each other from middle school in Rome. Torchio, whose family lives just outside the city, joined the group after responding to an ad in a Facebook group called “Musicians Wanted (Rome).”

There weren’t many venues here for fledgling rock bands, so they busked on the street, played in high schools and in restaurants “where you were expected to bring your own paying public,” David recalled. Small battle-of-the-band competitions “ensured that at least we’d be playing front of an audience,” he added.

“These are the kinds of dynamics that toughen you up,” said Torchio.

After a couple of years of struggling to find gigs, the band went on the 2017 Italian edition of the talent show “The X Factor.”

Anna Curia, 24, said “it was love at first sight” when she saw the group’s audition song on the program; a few weeks later, she founded the group’s official fan club. “From the first, they had a distinct style and sound,” she said. Other fan clubs soon followed. There’s even one, called Mammeskin, for women of a certain age.

Manuel Agnelli, who was one of the “X Factor” judges in 2017, took Maneskin under his wing. At first, the band members weren’t musically mature, he said, “but I saw in them characteristics that can’t be taught, it’s something you’re born with, it’s personality.”

“Their image is a big part of who they are, their sexuality, their charisma, their bodies. It’s part of rock, it’s part of performance,” said Agnelli.

Maneskin didn’t win “The X Factor,” coming second to Lorenzo Licitra, a tenor whose style is more in sync with the Italian penchant for big melodic ballads. Yet the program proved to be a springboard.

“They are a television phenomenon,” said Andrea Andrei, a journalist with the Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero. “Without ‘The X Factor’ and the machine behind it that churns out products ready for mainstream success, Maneskin would have struggled for a lot longer, like other rock bands have.”

The real surprise, for many Italian commentators, was Maneskin’s win last March at the Sanremo Festival of Italian Song, the national event that finds Italy’s Eurovision act. Until a few years ago, Sanremo had mostly attracted Italians whose musical heyday predated Woodstock, but recent editions have reached out to younger audiences by involving the winners of talent shows like “The X-Factor.”

“Nothing could be further from rock than Sanremo,” said Massimo Cotto, an Italian music journalist and radio DJ.

So there, too, Maneskin broke ground. “Italy has never had an idyllic relationship with rock music, it never became mainstream,” said Andrei. “Maneskin’s win was unexpected, because they are a real rock band.”

Merchandise associated with the band’s most recent album sold out. It lent its music to a Pepsi commercial. And earlier this month, the band parted ways with Marta Donà, its manager since 2017. Some newspapers here wondered whether an Italian management agency had begun to feel too tight for Maneskin’s international aspirations, and the name of Simon Cowell, the mastermind behind “The X-Factor,” came up as a possible successor. The group has not announced who will replace Donà.

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