Eurovision winners on drug controversy: ‘We know we are clean. We have nothing to hide’

Italian band Maneskin want to become a rare long-term Eurovision success story

Maneskin: Victoria De Angelis, Ethan Torchio, Damiano David and Thomas Raggi. Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times

Maneskin: Victoria De Angelis, Ethan Torchio, Damiano David and Thomas Raggi. Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times

 

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

As of Wednesday, the song had been streamed on Spotify more than 100 million times. With nearly 18 million listeners in the last month, Maneskin were 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 in Italy and newly won international interest to become a rare long-term Eurovision success story.

A postcurtain controversy that dogged the group last month has only increased the band’s notoriety. On the night of the Eurovision victory, rumours 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, and that came back negative. The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the competition, 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.)

Maneskin: David is the band’s lead singer, Raggi plays guitar and De Angelis is on bass. Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times
Maneskin: David is the band’s lead singer, Raggi plays guitar and De Angelis is on bass. Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times

“For us,” De Angelis says, “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 compares 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 (although 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.”

Maneskin: for Eurovision, the band channelled glam rock. Photograph: Ilvy Njiokiktjien/New York Times
Maneskin: for Eurovision, the band channelled glam rock. Photograph: Ilvy Njiokiktjien/New York Times

With its carefully curated, stylish androgynous nonchalance – accessorised with high heels, black nail polish and smoky eyes – Maneskin break down gender barriers and champion self-expression. The band formed in 2015. David, De Angelis and Raggi knew each other from school in Rome. Torchio, whose family lives just outside the city, joined after responding to an ad in a Facebook group called Musicians Wanted (Rome).

There weren’t many venues in the city for fledgling rock bands, so they busked on the street and played in schools and in restaurants “where you were expected to bring your own paying public”, David recalls. Small-time battle-of-the-band competitions “ensured that at least we’d be playing front of an audience”, he adds. “These are the kinds of dynamics that toughen you up,” Torchio says.

Maneskin: the band didn’t win the Italian X-Factor in 2017, but the show offered a springboard. Photograph: Romano Nunziato/NurPhoto via Getty
Maneskin: the band didn’t win the Italian X-Factor in 2017, but the show offered a springboard. Photograph: Romano Nunziato/NurPhoto via Getty

After a couple of years of struggling to find gigs, the band went on the 2017 Italian edition of The X Factor. Anna Curia, who is 24, says “it was love at first sight” when she saw the group’s audition song on the programme; a few weeks later she founded the group’s official fan club. “From the first, they had a distinct style and sound,” she says. Other fan clubs soon followed follow. There’s even one, called Mammeskin, for women of a certain age.

Manuel Agnelli, who was one of the X Factor judges in 2107, took Maneskin under his wing. At first they weren’t musically mature, he says, “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,” Agnelli says.

Maneskin: ‘For us,’ says De Angelis (far left), ‘music is passion, fun, something that lets us blow off steam.’ Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times
Maneskin: ‘For us,’ says De Angelis (far left), ‘music is passion, fun, something that lets us blow off steam.’ Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times

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 programme proved to be a springboard to greater things. “They are a television phenomenon,” says 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,” says 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,” Andrei says. “Maneskin’s win was unexpected, because they are a real rock band.”

Maneskin: Torchio’s look of androgynous nonchalance is typical of the band’s style. Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times
Maneskin: Torchio’s look of androgynous nonchalance is typical of the band’s style. Photograph: Valerio Mezzanotti/New York Times

David soundly rejects the accusations that he was caught on camera using drugs at Eurovision, complaining that the speculation overshadowed their win. The allegations were both infantile and underhanded, he says. And they came to nothing, because drug tests came up negative. “We know we are clean. We have nothing to hide,” he says.

Allegations aside, there have been some changes since the Eurovision win. Merchandise associated with the band’s most recent album sold out in minutes. They lent their music to a Pepsi commercial. And, earlier this month, the band parted ways with Marta Donà, their manager since 2017. Some newspapers in Italy 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 have not announced who will replace Donà.

Agnelli, the Italian X-Factor judge, offers the quartet some advice for building on their current momentum: tour as much as possible, get experience under their belts and continue to be themselves. “It’s their greatest strength,” he says. – New York Times

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