“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” -Banksy
The exquisitely dressed group pictured above is the Italian rock band Måneskin. Originating from the city of Rome, it consists of lead vocalist Damiano David, bassist Victoria De Angelis, guitarist Thomas Raggi, and drummer Ethan Torchio. The four of them firstly met in high school and decided to start a band in 2016. The name was decided upon when while brainstorming, half-Dutch bassist Victoria was asked to say random danish words and they agreed on Måneskin which translates into “moonlight”. Since their impressionable participation in the Italian Xfactor in 2017 which won them 2nd place, the band released many covers, songs in both Italian and English, an EP(“Chosen”) and two studio albums (“Il Ballo Della vita” and “Teatro d’Ira: Vol.1”). In March 2021 they won the Sanremo Music Festival 2021 with the song “Zitti e Buoni”, but they did not become a household name until they won the 65th annual Eurovision song contest 2021 on Saturday 22nd of March, representing Italy.
Their very unique presence -at least for the standards of most of the previous Italian participations- caught the eye of the audience as well as the critics from the very beginning. Måneskin were bringing forth a very promising participation with a rock and roll song that divided the opinion of the crowd from its very first presentation. The title Zitti E Buoni roughly translates to ‘Shut Up And Behave’ in English. Lead singer Damiano David told Eurovision presenter and Dutch influencer Nikkie Tutorials that the song is a defiant track about "being yourself and not caring what other people are saying to you". Which, if we are judging from what I am going to get into right now, is quite ironic.
Despite underwhelming points from the jury, the viewers were captivated by their performance and helped catapult it to the top of the table with 524 points. As an avid fan of both the band and generally rock music, I read and discussed a lot about this diversion of opinions between not only the jury and electorate but the viewers themselves as well. Most (not all) of the adults I talked with as well as a good amount of mainstream media seem very hesitant or dare I say repulsed by the song, the ensemble outfits and particularly the band’s behaviour.
The interesting question that motivated me to write this article is this: Why was the appearance of Måneskin so divisive, while other rock appearances i.e. Finland were not perceived so intensely?
A factor we can surely draw out is the lyrics of the song. Even if it was in Italian and contained some heavy language in parts, it still promoted the message of self-confidence and belief in your powers and dreams, in a time when most artists are trying to advocate it (a lot of the ESC2021 songs as well). If we compare it to the Finnish rock song I mentioned above, which is in English and therefore more easily understood lyrically by the majority of the audience, the latter has way more prevalent rude behaviours and intense attitude.
Some may say that the diversity of the genre itself from other participations and the general spirit of Eurovision which fixates more on pop songs or ballads could have turned the older audience away. Except maybe for Lordi that won in 2006 with “hard rock Hallelujah”, it is fair to say that the Eurovision Song Contest isn’t normally associated with the genres of metal or rock music. However, there have been numerous previous examples of artists attempting to infiltrate the traditional pop music influenced competition with edgier styles and have had a generally favourable response from the audience, with their songs topping charts even years after their appearance in the contest. So if neither the lyrics nor the genre, ergo the song itself is not what divided the viewers of this years ESC, what was?
It is safe to say that their leather stubbed outfits and especially the fashion choices of the lead singer were the first to cause a reaction to the older audience. As well accustomed as Gen-Z is in unisex use of nail polish, piercings, heavy eyeliner, heels and a plethora of tattoos by many artists of our pop culture (i.e. Harry Styles or Jesse Rutherford of ‘The Neighbourhood’), this was one of the first times these trends made an official appearance on a popular ‘household name’ event and most importantly won first place thanks to popular vote rather than jury points. Additionally, the kiss Damiano and Thomas shared during their post-win performance of the song, surely caused a rage of controversy.
But it doesn’t stop there. The peak of the negative preoccupation of certain minds against their win was when the lead singer was accused of substance abuse during the event by the French press. Despite the whole band concretely denying any connection or support of these kinds of substances, the explanation of the lead singer that his actions in the clip in question were caused by his fellow band member breaking a glass on the floor (the shards of which can be clearly seen in later scenes of the event) as well as voluntarily taking a drug test that came out negative, the celebratory magic of their win was largely overthrown by ill-willed suspicion.
“The last few days had been hard, lot of things to deal with and I just realized that I didn’t take some time to understand what is really happening. So take a breath, you just did it, little boy.” Writes the lead singer in a recent Instagram post.
So was it the edgy fashion sense, the broken stereotypes broadcasted in a huge event, the kiss of the two band members or the substance abuse allegations that turned a huge number of the audience against the band and their win in both the duration and the aftermath of the event? Probably all of them.
However infuriating it is, to see a talented group of young artists with a dream being criticised because of looks, lies others have told about them or their music genre choice, it is not the first nor the last time this happens. What Queen did with their very controversial music video of “I want to break free”, what Kurt Cobain did by wearing a skirt in concerts, what Harry Styles began with the entire aesthetic of his solo career, Måneskin brought to a pop-culture European event and -as all the other artists before and hopefully, after them- they looked amazing doing it. It matters not the criticism they receive but rather the attitude they have towards it which has been more than respectful and honest, to say the least.
Music grows every day as its members discover new barriers to break, new stereotypes to destroy, new ways to shine, be original and make a difference in a world where conventional standards of attraction in all forms are still heavily endorsed. Måneskin are continuing what bands like Queen and Nirvana started before them, and anybody who stands in the way of these kinds of artists just needs to Zitti e Buoni. Much like their predecessors and inspirations (namely Arctic Monkeys, Harry Styles, Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chilli Peppers), the future seems bright and fruitful for the four Italians.
In all this Renaissance of mainstream events, only one thing is for sure and Damiano David made it very clear in his acceptance speech: “Rock and roll never dies”.