2021 was Italy’s year. In addition to winning the coveted Euro Cup football tournament and lots of other small arts, entertainment, and sports competitions, Italy won the Eurovision song contest thanks to Roman rock band Måneskin.
Following Måneskin’s win, the group went on to be the darlings of contemporary Italian music. They opened for the Rolling Stones in Las Vegas and were the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Måneskin mania took over Instagram and Twitter, with fans sharing photos of the band in their glammy costumes. Frontman Damiano David, with his eye makeup and prominent chest tattoos, has become particularly popular with the paparazzi.
Måneskin won the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest with the Italian-language song Zitti e Buoni, a harder-rocking track than the usual fluffy fare of Eurovision. But they have had even more success on the world stage thanks to their English-language songs. These include I Wanna Be Your Slave, which reached the top 5 of the UK Singles charts, and their cover of Beggin’, originally sung by Italian-American group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in 1967.
Måneskin’s success, however widespread, has yet to translate into international success for other Italian musical artists. Which is a shame! Because there are so many Italian artists and bands that deserve a listen.
Italy’s musical talent will be in the spotlight again in 2022 when the country hosts Eurovision 2022 in Turin. Here are some to keep your ear on, whether you plan to follow Eurovision or just want something new for your playlist.
Mahmood & BLANCO
Representing Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2022 is the duo of Mahmood and BLANCO, who won the Sanremo Music Festival. Mahmood actually represented Italy at Eurovision 2019 with his song Soldi, finishing second and scoring a hit throughout Europe. The half-Egyptian, half-Sardinian Mahmood is also known for his Arabic/northern Africa-influenced sound on songs like Barrio and Ghettolimpo.
In 2022, Mahmood has teamed up with young hitmaker and fellow Lombard BLANCO to sing the ballad Brividi (Chills). It’s a catchy song. But in my opinion, it’s nowhere as good as some of BLANCO’s other hits, including Sai Cosa C’é and La Canzone Nostra.
La Canzone Nostra, released by producer Mace and also featuring rapper Salmo, topped the Italian FIMI charts for seven weeks and was certified quintuple platinum in Italy. Coincidentally, it’s this song that gives me chills more than Brividi. It also references another Sanremo winner in its chorus:
Sono sotto la pioggia come la prima volta
A cantarti "Nel blu dipinto di blu"
Era la canzone nostra
There will be three Italians competing in the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin: the duo of Mahmood and BLANCO and Achille Lauro, who was chosen to represent San Marino after winning the microstate’s Una Voce Per San Marino contest.
Look—Achille Lauro seems pretty ridiculous. But his song Stripper, as well as his unclassifiable stage presence, are so over-the-top camp that he could finish very well.
In 2019, Achille Lauro’s track Rolls Royce—much more of a bop than Stripper—placed ninth. He also competed in Sanremo in 2022 with the song Domenica (which sounds like a rearranged Rolls Royce). Lauro’s pared-down ballad Marilù shows a completely different, and softer, side of him.
The world of Italian music is, unsurprisingly, interconnected, which is how you can transition from campy Achille Lauro to gritty and earnest Coez. Both acts have worked with the Rome-based production duo Frenetik&Orang3 and Coez has featured on several Achille Lauro songs, including Je t’aime.
Silvano Albanese, who goes by the stage name Coez, seems to come out with a heart-string-pulling ballad or catchy pop hit every year. He has collaborated on more than a dozen songs with other Italian artists, including Salmo, Marracash, Gemitaiz, Subsonica, and Clementino. Coez tends to be turf-agnostic, working with Italian musicians up and down the peninsula. He also seems at home in multiple genres. I like to say that he is (Italian) rap-adjacent.
What I really like about Coez is his ability to evoke a kind of street melancholy, as is evidenced by his latest beautiful track Come Nelle Canzoni. You can also hear Coez’s personal style in past hits like La Luci della Città, La Musica Non C’è, Faccio Un Cassino, Jet, and Ali Sporche.
When my Spotify Wrapped comes out in December, I am 99% sure that Marracash will be listed as one of my top artists.
Sicily-born, Milan-based Fabio Bartolo Rizzo, known by the stage name Marracash, has been a big player on the Italian rap scene since 1999. But his latest album Noi, Loro, Gli Altri (Us, Them, The Others), which came out in mid-November 2021, was deemed one of the best albums of 2021 almost immediately by fans and critics alike.
The first track off of Noi, Loro, Gli Altri was Crazy Love, an uptempo song with both rap verses and a ballad-like chorus. It’s easy to see where Mahmood (who calls his style “Morocco Pop“) found his musical inspiration. Although, despite what many may think, Marracash has no Moroccan roots.
Instead, it is a play on words of his childhood nickname, “Marocchino (Italian for ‘Moroccan,’ jokingly because of his Sicilian origins), as a pun on the name of Marrakesh.
Quand’era bambino, a Milano lo chiamavano “Marocchino”, e a Nicosia lo chiamavano “Milano.”La Repubblica
I’ve always liked Marracash but I never paid attention as I have with this album. The production quality here is top-notch, particularly on the opening track Loro, which combines plaintive sentiment and social critique with Marra’s very compelling rhyming scheme. As an aside, the video, as well as the album cover photo, also seem to be inspired by the HBO-hit Succession.
Another “love” track on the album, featured above, is a collaboration with longtime Marracash associate Gué (aka Gué Pequeno). Having both grown up on the harsh streets of the Milan periferie, Marracash and Gué rap about coming together as a community on ? LOVE.
? LOVE – Italian (chorus only)
Gioielli e fama
Vuitton e Prada
Non conta nada
Se tu non sei con me
Qualcuno in meno
Qualcuno è in Cielo
Ho il cuore pieno
Non voglio nuovi friends
Love, per gli amici veri che ho
Per tutte le storie che so
Per chi nuota ancora nei guai
Chi vuole scappare e non può
Per tutte le strade in cui sto
Le donne che ho avuto e che avrò
Pregherò per tutto l’amore che dai
Sempre più di quello che do
Love, love, love
? LOVE – English translation
Jewelry and fame
Vuitton and Prada
Don’t count for nada
If you aren’t with me
Someone in heaven
My heart is full
I don’t want new friends
Love, for the real friends I have
For all the stories I know
I will pray
For those still swimming in troubled waters
Who wants to escape but can’t
For all the streets I’ve been in
All the women I have had and will have
I will pray for all the love you give
Always more than what I give
Love, love, love
I’m writing this post on International Women’s Day, yet didn’t include any female artists on this initial list. I’m sorry. But to be honest, I don’t listen to many Italian female artists at this particular moment.
Nevertheless, there are quite a few on my various playlists: Elodie and Elisa, Noemi and Annalisa, Ana Mena and Giusy Ferreri. Stay tuned and I might just write another post on Italian music.