ROME – When rock group Maneskin won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, little was known outside of Italy. Then the competition catapulted the band in front of 180 million viewers and catapulted their winning song “Zitti e Buoni” or “Shut Up and Behave” into Spotify’s top 10 worldwide, a premiere for an Italian band.
As of Wednesday, the song had been streamed more than 100 million times on Spotify. With nearly 18 million listeners last month, Maneskin outperformed Foo Fighters or Kings of Leon on the streaming service over the same period.
Eurovision acts usually fade from the spotlight once the competition is over, but Maneskins members hope to build on their existing fame here and attract newfound international interest to become a rare long-term success story for Eurovision.
Post-curtain controversy that haunted the group last month only raised the band’s notoriety. On the night of the Eurovision victory, rumors spread across social media after a clip from the show went viral with lead singer Damiano David bent over a table backstage. At a press conference later that evening, a Swedish journalist asked if David smelled cocaine on live television, and the singer denied any wrongdoing.
David took a drug test that came back negative. The European Broadcasting Union issued a statement stating that “there has been no drug use” and that it “considers the matter closed”.
So it was quite a world stage debut for a foursome whose combined age is only 83 years. (David is 22; Victoria De Angelis, the bassist, is 21; and guitarist Thomas Raggi and drummer Ethan Torchio are 20.)
“For us,” De Angelis said in a recent interview, “music is passion, fun, something that lets us let off steam” – no surprise for anyone who has seen Maneskin live. The band is a high-octane powerhouse with stage charisma and youthful energy.
An Italian music critic compared Maneskin – which means moonlight in Danish and pronounced “moan-EH-skin” – with the Energizer Bunny. That may partly explain why “Zitti e Buoni” has overcome a potentially insurmountable language barrier (although there is already a cover version in Finnish).
The song celebrates individuality and marches to the beat of your own drum or guitar riff. The chorus repeats, “We’re crazy, but we’re different from them.”
With his carefully curated, stylish androgynous casualness – equipped with high heels, black nail polish and smoky eyes – Maneskin overcomes gender-specific barriers and advocates self-expression.
The band was founded in 2015. David, De Angelis and Raggi knew each other from high school in Rome. Torchio, whose family lives just outside town, joined the group after responding to an ad on a Facebook group called “Musicians Wanted (Rome)”.
There weren’t a lot of venues for young rock bands here, so they street music, played in high schools and restaurants, “where you’d expect to bring your own paying audience,” David recalled. The little battle of the band competitions “made sure we at least played in front of an audience,” he added.
“That’s the kind of dynamic that toughens you up,” said Torchio.
After a few years of looking for gigs, the band took part in 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. “They had their own style and sound from the start,” she said. Other fan clubs soon followed. There is even one called Mammeskin for women of a certain age.
The “X Factor” stint also caught the attention of Veronica Etro from the Etro fashion brand. “They had something,” says Etro, the brand’s creative director for the women’s collections. “I was very enchanted.”
The fashion house reached out to the group and began dressing its members for album covers and videos. The collaboration evolved to provide the outfits for Eurovision, where the group’s studded, laminated red leather looks made people “think Jimi Hendrix meets Velvet Goldmine,” Vanessa Friedman wrote in the New York Times .
“What I love is the way clothes are mixed for women and men,” Etro said in a telephone interview. “They have something very revolutionary about them, that they are not afraid and that they enjoy clothes.”
Manuel Agnelli, who was one of the “X Factor” judges in 2017, took Maneskin under his wing. At first their members were not musically mature, he said, “but I saw qualities in them that you cannot teach, that is something you are born with, it is a personality.”
“Your image is a big part of your personality, your sexuality, your charisma, your body. It’s part of the rock, it’s part of the performance, ”said Agnelli.
Maneskin didn’t win “The X Factor” and came in second behind Lorenzo Licitra, a tenor whose style is more in line with the Italian preference for great melodic ballads. But the program turned out to be a stepping stone to bigger things.
“You are a television phenomenon,” said Andrea Andrei, journalist for the Roman daily Il Messaggero. “Without ‘The X Factor’ and the machine behind it, which creates products that are ready for mainstream success, Maneskin would have fought much longer than other rock bands have.”
The real surprise for many Italian commentators was Maneskin’s victory last March at the Sanremo Festival of Italian Song, the national event that hosts Italy’s Eurovision Act. Until a few years ago, Sanremo mostly attracted Italians whose musical heyday predated Woodstock, but recent editions have reached a younger audience by including winners from talent shows like The X-Factor.
“Nothing could be further from rock than Sanremo,” says Massimo Cotto, an Italian music journalist and radio DJ
So here, too, Maneskin broke ground. “Italy never had an idyllic relationship with rock music, it never became mainstream,” said Andrei. “Maneskin’s victory was unexpected because they are a real rock band.”
During the interview, David firmly denied allegations that he was caught on camera with drugs at Eurovision, complaining that speculation overshadowed their victory.
The allegations are childish and underhanded, he said. And they got nothing because drug tests were negative. “We know we are clean. We have nothing to hide, ”he said.
Aside from the allegations, there have been a few changes since the Eurovision win.
Merchandise for the band’s latest album sold out within minutes. It lent its music to a Pepsi commercial. And earlier this month the band split from Marta Donà, their manager since 2017. Some newspapers here wondered whether an Italian management agency had become too small for Maneskin’s international endeavors, and the name of Simon Cowell, the mastermind behind “The X- Factor ”as a possible successor. The group has not announced who will replace Donà.
Agnelli, the Italian “X-Factor” judge, gave the quartet some advice to build on their current dynamic: tour as much as possible, gain experience and stay yourself.
“That’s their greatest strength,” he said.