Måneskin: Ten Talking Points

A critical, intergenerational perspective on the Italian band's victory at the Eurovision.

Måneskin concert in Florence
A Måneskin concert in Florence. Maneskin@Obihall - Firenze, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by Valentina Ceccatelli.

Congratulations! It is always good to win and God knows Italy can use a check in this column, no matter how they get it, but as things stand, a win in the Eurovision contest is about as good as it gets. I mean, there are other ‘wins’ that would be more important: an end to the pandemic, a strengthening and diversifying economy, a cleaner and healthier environment, a rising fertility rate, a reduction in poverty and an expansion of the middle class, an overall more equitable distribution of the goods and bads of a modern society, but you take whatever fate deals you.

Spectacle. Måneskin is definitely nice to look at. They are young, they are cute, they have lots of energy, they like each other and they have fun. Guy de Bord, however, who wrote a book on the problem of spectacle, would recognize in them all of the hallmarks of late 20th and now early 21st century society, a period that is troubled by the question of authenticity. What is real and what is a representation? What is genuine and what is fake? What is full and what is empty? What has value and what does not?

Transgender. This theme informs at least the appearance of the group, or at least their representation of it. Male rock stars wearing eyeliner and nail polish is nothing new: punk, glam, metal, Bowie (a real original) and others have long sported the look and it adds to their artistry. The Talking Heads had a woman on bass. Heart featured two sisters, at least one of them on guitar. The history of Italian popular music is loaded with talented female singers and musicians. These transformations on the four guys in jeans and t shirts theme may result in a soft gender bending in one register of popular music and fashion, but I wonder if it begins and ends there. I don’t know the group’s music well enough to know if this is really something they care about or if it is just a contrivance. Lady Gaga started out with outlandish visuals but has since moderated her look. It is for the better, I think, because now her pure talent shines through. Mina combined the two in her no eyebrows and Non Credere phase. And believe me, I managed apartment buildings in San Francisco’s Tenderloin in the 1990s, so I know transgender. What Måneskin is doing, as far as I can tell, is just a surface treatment (see Spectacle above).

Talent. Beyond the strength in performance, which is spectacular, and not just in the sniffy Guy Debord way, are the members of Måneskin talented? Can Damiano really sing? How good is Thomas as a guitar player and lyricist? What would a De Angelis solo sound like? If we isolated Ethan’s drum work from the other tracks, what would we hear? Let me say right away that they would all sound better than anything I could produce, but I didn’t win the Eurovision Song Contest. My job as a spectator is to sit on the sidelines and make critical comments.

Romance. Milva. Oh Milva, how I miss you. I am thinking here of her performance of Mediterraneo at San Remo in 1972.

Innamorata, innamorata

Non ero stata mai

Rossa è la rosa

Ma chi ti sposa

Se bianca non sei più?

In love, in love

I had never been

Red is the rose

But who will marry you

If you are no longer white?

Now, I realize that these lyrics present quite a few problems from a contemporary social perspective that privileges individuality and a rethinking of gender roles (see Transgender above), but nearly fifty years later the song still retains a power and a beauty that seems not only timeless but also universal. Moreover, you can hear Milva sing the words in her beautiful Italian over an arrangement that highlights the individual contributions of each musician and instrument, including the flute and mandolin. It is due at least partly to the current style and technology of popular music, especially rock, but I don’t hear the same level of musicianship in Måneskin. Maybe it is there, but I just don’t or can’t hear it.

Lyrics. I think Thomas Raggi is a competent lyricist as far as his use of rhyme and meter go, but I am not sure I can quite make out what he is saying. I gave you the refrain from Mediterraneo (songwriters Luigi Albertelli and Enrico Riccardi) so I will do the same with Zitti e Buoni, the song that Måneskin sang to win Eurovision 2021, so that we stay apples to apples.

Sono fuori di testa, ma diverso da loro

E tu sei fuori di testa, ma diversa da loro

Siamo fuori di testa, ma diversi da loro

Siamo fuori di testa, ma diversi da loro

I’m out of my mind, but different from them

And you’re out of your mind, but different from them

We are out of our minds, but different from them

We are out of our minds, but different from them

I realize that you have to consider the refrain within the context of the entire song to derive any meaning from it, but even when I do that, I am not sure what the song is about apart from a general sense of angst, especially one that arises in a young person as they are trying to get their life sorted out. All of the themes and images are there: life seems crazy and people are hypocritical. It seems to be a ‘me against the world’ song until it turns into a ‘we against the world’ song so in that sense it is a romance of a kind (see Romance above) but imagery is quite brutal: nicotine stained fingers, nights on the street, being hassled by drug dealers, kicking in locked doors. In Mediterraneo we have smiles hidden under veils, roses, oleanders, olive trees, prickly pears, faces reflected in water fountains; in other words, a much richer and more beautiful tapestry of images. What happened to beauty? Doesn’t it matter anymore?

Authenticity. I am not sure why Måneskin is so angry. If anyone has reasons to shout her pain and disappointment it is Milva, who grew up in wartime Italy, in the small town of Goro, on the northern Adriatic coast, the daughter of a fish peddler. The members of Måneskin are all in their early to mid 20s and, while I do not know the details of their individual biographies, nor those of Albertelli and Riccardi, I can only conclude that the members of Måneskin had comparatively normal upbringings in the middle class suburbs of Rome. I realize that anger comes from many fonts, and not just those of the socio-economic kind, and it seems that what Zitti e Buoni is about is the crushing conformity that society imposes on people as they leave adolescence and have to find their place in the world, so I get it. And I realize that comparing lived experiences is somewhat problematic since Milva had her life and Raggi has his, but I just believe Milva (and Albertelli and Riccardi) and her (and their) quest for love more than I believe Måneskin and their anger about the pains of growing up (see Spectacle above).

Politics. Again, maybe my comparison is unfair or maybe comparison itself is a fool’s game, one that has no place in a discussion of art. It seems that Måneskin in their song Zitti e Buoni (Silent and Good) are saying that the message that society gives young people is this: if you want to get ahead in life, keep your head down, sit down and shut up, join the system, or get left out in the cold. It is a fair enough lament and a good theme for a song, and certainly the music matches the theme with its heavy industrial mesh driven by De Angelis’ angry bass line and punctuated by David’s screaming vocals. And it fits with De Angelis’ responses to journalists who ask her about people who are struggling with discrimination. Fair enough, this is all consistent with the prevailing zeitgeist of 2021, but also 1971. I am curious to what extent this perspective resonates with people their age, why it was so successful at Eurovision this year, and where the group will go from here.

Alienation. One change I see ahead is their confrontation with their own success. It is hard to maintain your anger against society and your sense of alienation after achieving a huge win in your early twenties (see Authenticity above). Taking a broader view, I wonder how far society, especially the liberal progressive wings in modern industrial democracies, will push for ever greater individual liberty and what the implications are for the collective and conceptions of it. Will they soften their sound, lighten their make up, maybe diversify their appearance? What would a Måneskin Unplugged look and sound like?

Complimenti! What can I say? Despite everything, I like the song. And I look forward to seeing where Måneskin go from here as they develop as musicians and lyricists.

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