The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
Additionally, the below editorial does not endorse the use of illegal drugs, and the below editorial stands by the EBU and Måneskin’s assertion that no illegal drugs were consumed on the evening of May 22, 2021, and that the band’s members did not engage in any inappropriate conduct that would sully their deserved victory.
Hard rock and metal had a rough few years before the pandemic went and stuck its boot in. Rock music, faced with declining success and festivals being dominated by ever-greyer decades long established acts, lost considerable ground in the 2010s as the youth flocked to other music genres. Though exciting new young acts in rock have come up, none were at the level to replace the arena acts that dominated the genre from Black Sabbath to Slipknot, with only Ghost being the new arena kid in the 2010s (and Ghost’s creative force himself is pushing 40).
However, the end of 2020, after almost a year without live music shows and seeing some of our favorite venues shutter for good, felt like a hammer blow as two titans of rock, Van Halen’s Eddie Van Halen and Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho, passed away. Two guitar gods felled in the space of two months, two fabulously talented guitar maestros who also had the rare ability to pair their technical chops with songcraft. Very few guitar greats had the ability to blow away their audience with searing guitar solos while at the same time writing accessible, hook-laden anthems like “Jump” or “Are You Dead Yet?”
So in what has felt like a dismal few years for rockers and metalheads, you will have to forgive some of us as we see the possible green shoots of a turn-around for a flagging genre in the results for Eurovision 2021, and the launchpad for future rock gods to replace the ones we have lost. Van Halen and Laiho represent the end of an era; we need someone to lead us into the next one.
But is Italy’s Måneskin – vocalist Damiano David, bassist Victoria De Angelis, guitarist Thomas Raggi, and drummer Ethan Torchio – the Pied Piper to lead us into a new rock future, or just a well-regarded X Factor winner who had the perfect song at the perfect time to win a song contest?
To address this, we should compare how Måneskin’s win at Eurovision 2021 compares to past rock ‘n roll (and even some pop) moments that changed the fortunes of a genre, and compare whether Måneskin have the charisma and the ability to generate the folk lore necessary for a legendary rock ‘n roll origin story.
And in asking the question “is rock music back?,” we will also look at Blind Channel’s “Dark Side,” which you can easily argue is a success for not just rock but a country who’d gone stray at Eurovision since their 2006 win in Finland.
The argument will largely focus on Måneskin, even though many of the arguments for them could also be applied to Blind Channel to some degree.
Eurovision 1974, Dionysus of the Sunset Strip, and some other movements
First off, we should look at a past Eurovision where the winner created a sea change in popular music immediately. It is tempting to say Domenico Modugno’s 3rd placed “Nel blu dipinto di blu” (AKA “Volare!”) at Eurovision 1958 did so, but as great as this whimsical masterpiece is, its success in the United States was ephemeral in a similar manner to Luis Fonsi’s 2017 smash hit “Despacito.” A song for the summer, but no impact beyond its few months in the sun.
There have also been what you would call alignment moments – Eurovision syncs up with popular music and sentiment in a special way – such as Eurovision 1965 (Luxembourg and France Gall’s “Poupée de cire, poupée de son“) and Eurovision 2006 (Finland and Lordi’s “Hard Rock Hallelujah“). But they tended to benefit Eurovision more in the long run than the genres both artists represented.
Here, we are looking for a Eurovision that takes the popular music landscape and smashes it, and the obvious starting point is ABBA’s historic Eurovision 1974 winner for Sweden in “Waterloo.”
ABBA’s knack for melancholy in a slick, bright package was a breath of fresh air in 1974. It was a formula that ABBA’s members had been tweaking on individually and in various pairings since 1965 and a couple of Melodifestivalen try-outs. Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were influenced by the upbeat melodies paired with deeper-than-you-think lyrics from 1960s Motown (think of The Marvelette’s nominally cheery and chipper “Please Mr. Postman” about a girl waiting for a letter from a distant lover – little wonder it became a huge hit in 1961 as the Vietnam War draft pulled young American men to a war thousands of miles away). Additionally, they modernized Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production techniques to perfect a sound that, in Dolly Parton’s famous words, “took so much effort to sound so cheap.”
“Waterloo” was a smash hit across Europe, North America, and most of the world, and ABBA continued to dominate the pop music scene in the 1970s. Countless disco acts were influenced and many more careers launched off of ABBA’s success. The next time you want to gripe to your Volvo driving uncle about Phil Collins, remember that Anni-Frid Lyngstad gave him the producer and songwriter gig on her 1982 solo album that in turn helped him launch his own successful solo career.
Looking at Måneskin, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many similarities with ABBA apart from the couple of years pre-Eurovision work in X Factor and some individual quirky origin stories. So in terms of band aesthetics and the channeling of the Dionysian, let’s skip ahead a few years from ABBA.
On June 12, 1979, a “Disco Demolition Night” was held at Comiskey Park, Chicago. Between a double-header game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers (some days two Major League Baseball games are played, with one starting in the afternoon and the other in the evening), a Chicago DJ named Steve Dahl had asked White Sox fans to bring disco records to the game so that they could be put in a big pile in the middle of the pitch and blown up. In what is one of the more despicable public displays of racism and homophobia of recent times, the blowing up of disco records turned into a full-on riot. It felt like a visceral backlash, and though disco carried on for a few years, safe sanitized pop that would not worry those old fogies who shout at clouds “just wanting to listen to their old time rock ‘n roll” began to dominate.
Meanwhile, on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip, several “hair metal” bands had formed and generated radio success and music video popularity on America’s new MTV. A throwback to the 1970s glam rock bands, but with more hairspray and less charisma, groups like Poison and Mötley Crüe rocked the scene with songs about smoking in boys’ toilets and rattling off a list of strip clubs they’d visited. Boring, safe, non-threatening rock, totally incongruous with the dark side of Hollywood that they played in.
From the opening moments of Guns N’ Roses’s 1987 masterpiece, “Appetite for Destruction,” you get the sense of the chaos to come. Axl Rose’s infamous banshee howl, a harbinger of doom and a sign that this band is going to turn the rock world upside down.
Not since the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin had a charismatic frontman with a mystic guitarist and a gonzo drummer assaulted the sensibilities of the music world. Add a bassist from the punk scene and a rhythm guitarist with techniques steeped in the American blues, and you have a formula that created from what critics would call, from roughly 1987 to 1992, “the most dangerous band on Earth.”
Though Guns N’ Roses rode to the top of the charts with “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City,” it is largely “Welcome to the Jungle” that has stood as the band’s mission statement. A band that celebrates excess while skirting dangerously close to disaster, a band that lives big but has no illusions about the squalor and the violence of the seedy underbelly from where they came.
They blew away the fluff of the scene, with both existing and newer bands coming along having to either adapt or still have something interesting to say (including White Lion, a socially conscious hair metal band with a charismatic front man who once bombed for Denmark at Eurovision 1978).
The snarling combination of hedonism and anger drove Guns N’ Roses to be a commercial juggernaut until their own excess caused them to implode. The popularity of thrash and groove metal, with similar levels of anger but none of the high life, with the likes of Metallica and Pantera pummeling the public in the early 1990s, and another new movement (hint: with the lights out, it is dangerous) helped hasten their demise. But for a few years, millions of rock fans were under the spell of a leather-panted banshee and his band of n’er-do-wells.
However, it would be remiss of me to forget that a few miles away from the lights of the Sunset Strip, another group of disaffected young men put to record one of the most searing indictments of the establishment that has ever existed, and still has relevance today.
In South Central Los Angeles, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy-E, Arabian Prince, DJ Yella and MC Ren formed N.W.A. and released their classic 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton,” a masterpiece of angry minority youth telling their stories of struggles in an urban ghetto where hope had long been extinguished by racist and incompetent bureaucrats, with callous policies (e.g. prison sentencing ratios of 10-to-1 for crimes involving crack cocaine over crimes involving cocaine) carried out with violence by a brutal, sociopath-stocked police force in the LAPD.
It didn’t just bring awareness to issues mainstream America had largely forgotten about, but also changed the sound of hip hop. Up until 1988, hip hop and rap had largely been harmless party music, parallel to Poison and Mötley Crüe, largely concerned with ladies and liquor. That’s not to say rap didn’t bring real life – Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines” being an early example – but “Straight Outta Compton” thrust the issues in the face of a shocked establishment that long ignored their plight.
And the establishment took notice, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation clutching their pearls at “F%$& the Police” and sending angry letters to N.W.A.’s label. But they should have heeded what N.W.A. said as the Los Angeles riots of 1991 – in response to the acquittal of Police officers who had brutalized Rodney King during what should have been a routine D.U.I. (driving under the influence of either alcohol or drugs) arrest – were the predictable outcome of what N.W.A. had clearly laid out in their lyrics.
N.W.A. gave a voice to the previously voiceless, as legions of rappers from other urban centers from New York City, Atlanta, Houston and St. Louis began to express their disaffection with their lives and formed their own local rap scenes. The so-called “gangster rap” phenomenon spread, its influence lasting decades as the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean have picked up the baton and continued to demand that African Americans be recognized and heard.
Around the early 1990s, rap groups also earned fandom from young disaffected white, Hispanic and mixed race working class youth. The punk movement that had supposedly represented them in the ’70s and ’80s had migrated to “academic” issues that only Upper East Side New York City “liberals” cared about and that absolutely no-one else did. The D.I.Y. aesthetic of the punk movement remained and young artists in the early ’90s added the drum and bass elements of hip hop to create entirely new genres – hardcore and nu metal. Lyrically, the songs were about hopelessness in the Rust Belt and other non-major urban areas, about being a “loser” cast adrift from those deemed “popular” by the establishment.
Hardcore blended punk and hip hop, whereas nu metal blended hip hop and metal, with Brazilian groove metal giants Sepultura being originators of this scene. Their 1993 anthem “Refuse/Resist” brought N.W.A.’s social consciousness to metal; as someone who lived in Apartheid era South Africa, the very specific concerns of Sepultura, which included environmental devastation and a Police force that was a paramilitary arm of a non-democratic fascist state, resonated.
Influenced by both N.W.A. and Sepultura, a group of kids from the rundown neighborhood of Oildale in Bakersfield, California, fused their love of hip hop with their love of metal and created a new genre that would later be called nu metal. It took a few years, a couple of albums, and tours in support of bands like Sepultura and pioneering industrial-metal band Fear Factory.
But it was in February 1999 when it all came together for Korn with the release of “Freak on a Leash” from their third album “Follow the Leader.” It only hit number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 6 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts (many US radio stations refused to play it due to the song’s unorthodox build and release being too different from the rest of the songs on rotation). However, it was on MTV where the song took off, with a memorable music video with opening animation by renowned comic book artist Todd McFarlane and a CGI bullet that rips through the animation into the real world, causing property damage while narrowly avoiding bystanders.
Suddenly, the boy bands that held court on shows like MTV’s Total Request Live were being pushed off by ugly guys from ugly cities who were not afraid to express their insecurities in as angry a manner as possible. Though nu metal had been bubbling up the past two years, it was with “Freak on a Leash” where the scene took off, with large arena concert tours (Korn’s own Family Values Tour and OzzFest, in particular) being massive events. It was a remarkable achievement, especially considering how unusual the composition of the song was relative to not just pop but its genre mates (a slow, intricate build, Jonathan Davis’s “scatting” at the bridge and that part’s ending in “Go!” resulting in an explosion of Munky Shaffer and Brian “Head” Welch’s down-tuned guitars).
Korn kicked off a movement, with the likes of Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Deftones, Slipknot, Mudvayne and Soulfly (the influential Sepultura’s ex-frontman Max Cavalera’s new band) gaining traction with much larger audiences. And unlike some of the other movement songs listed, the nu metal bands often stressed community and a feeling of belonging, with the bands often referencing the fanbase and its properties in their own songs, whether it be the self-depreciating Slipknot’s “Pulse of the Maggots” or the racial and ethnic unity of Soulfly’s “Tribe.” The camaraderie between people considered outsiders at best and scum at worst certainly helped nu metal stick around for years longer than its many detractors had hoped.
Pre-Eurovision 2021: Did anyone see Måneskin’s win coming?
I will split this question into two: did the ESC fan gatekeepers see this coming, and did the ESC casual fanbase see this coming?
The answers would be no and yes, respectively.
By ESC fan gatekeepers, I am talking about sites like ours. ESC United writers and editors are Eurovision gatekeepers in the sense that we guide the talking points going into the contest. This will be a point of contention between many writers here, but we have the same institutional bias as jury members do. Every wonder why, despite juries changing members year by year, you can almost predict what the juries will or will not like?
It comes from a mindset of judging an act based on checking off criteria. Breaking down an act into individual elements and assessing success and failure in each. And a site such as ours, we borrow that mindset because our readers want to try predict how those music industry professionals with the clipboards will rate their act. And with that mindset, we are never going to see a movement coming until the tsunami hits us all.
And we saw that in the debate leading up to the Grand Final. We instinctively knew that Italy would do well, but it did not seem like they were in the discussion for victory. The gatekeepers saw “Zitti e Buoni” as an Italian “Spirit in the Sky” (KEiiNO’s career has certainly not seen lightning strike twice for them even though they’ve maintained a decent fanbase), at best. A “cool” retro-ish rock song a la Greta Van Fleet, something the fans will dig but not in numbers required to win.
But most of the chatter from the gatekeepers were on the juries’ top three: Switzerland, France, and Malta. (Curiously, Italy only came two points behind Malta’s jury votes of 206.) The questions asked were if Gjon’s Tears could connect with enough people (I’d be curious on age breakdowns, as anecdotally we saw huge discrepancies in opinion based on age), if Barbara Pravi’s oh-so-French would connect in the Eastern half of Europe, and if Destiny was let down by a combination of song choice and stage.
It’s not quite accurate to say the gatekeepers were obsessed with rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but it is hard for gatekeepers who are interested in getting into the heads of jurors to quantify a movement song. We’ll get into the impetus for the fans love in a minute, but there’s no grade for release felt in hearing a song at the tail end of a year long pandemic and being cooped up. Dionysus doesn’t get graded (except for his outfit, in which case expect an editorial from our own Connor Terry shortly), and his followers aren’t noticed until they’ve hit your town and are partying on your lawn.
But the gatekeepers surely should have noticed something was happening in the comments. On our Livestreams, we were constantly peppered with questions and comments about Italy. During other countries’ segments. The Portuguese and the Greek fans only showed in force on our Livestreams when their countries were discussed, but having a peek during our Livestream when discussing how much Vasil’s “Here I Stand” makes you cry or how big the demographic of people who fantasize about a shirtless Uku Suviste washing their Mercedes-Benz is, the fans were talking Italy. And we chalked it off to Italian stans being Italian stans, who always come out in force and are vocal and helped propel Italy to seven Top Ten placings since their return in 2011 and prior to Måneskin’s win.
A big clue that Måneskin’s win could begin a movement is that the gatekeepers did not see it coming. The music media did not predict some Sunset Strip dirtbags would dominate the charts for five years and spawn many drugs and sex and rock and roll legends and imitators. The music media did not predict that six rappers from Los Angeles’s poorest neighborhood would let them know loud and clear what was happening there and that they weren’t going to take it any more. It was only when they landed that they and their legions of fans made the media largely take notice.
You could argue a similar fate happened to ABBA, though only juries voted at Eurovision 1974. A fact that everyone remembers is that none of the United Kingdom’s ten jurors gave a point to “Waterloo.” It must be with some amusement then that ABBA views that fact, considering the United Kingdom is most certainly the country where ABBA had the most impact in their decade long career after the win.
In another odd coincidence, the United Kingdom awarded no jury points to Italy and three points from the televote. “Zitti e Buoni” entered the UK singles chart at Number 17 this week.
Zitti e Buoni is the first song in italian to smash into the official UK chart in the last 30 years, We are #17.
No words can describe how happy and honoured we are.
Our music is spreading through more than 30 charts all over the world and this is literally insane.@BBCR1 pic.twitter.com/zT6x0qrmfS
— ManeskinOfficial (@thisismaneskin) May 28, 2021
Some other notable facts from the televote figures:
- Televoters from every single Eurovision country gave points to Italy. The Netherlands was the lowest with 2, and the United Kingdom and Sweden with 3.
- Italy got the same number of 12 points as Lithuania, Serbia, and Ukraine. 13 countries gave Italy 10 points, though, allowing them to open up a huge televote lead over those rivals.
- Finland received televotes from every country except Georgia, whose jury awarded Italy 12 points and televoters 8 points. Which is odd considering Georgia’s joint-highest position at Eurovision to date was Eldrine, a nu metal band, in 2011.
So why exactly did Italy and Finland do well with the televoters especially? As mentioned earlier, you can’t put a score on that feeling of release from being cooped up for a year because of a global pandemic. And let’s be honest, the bands themselves just about nailed their mission statements to the doors of the Rotterdam Ahoy Arena a la Martin Luther.
“Zitti e buoni,” loosely translated as Shut up and be good, is an anti-conformist manifesto. What better anthem for people whose faith in public health officials who forced them indoors and dithered on vaccine delivery was shredded? It’s a simpler, but more raw and less constructed “Welcome to the Jungle” performed by four good-looking Italian kids who exude sexuality for all, a rare combination of personnel that straight and LGBT alike can fawn over. Any one of them knocks of your door and asks if you want to come with them to party, you grab your Stoli and run off with them. As a pressure valve to release the anxiety and frustration of an entire continent, you could not ask for a better song to come along.
Finland, while also appealing to that rebellious instinct, also have the Korn appeal. The gatekeepers thought Italy and Finland would beat each other up, but one key difference is that Finland’s shrewd “Join” messaging (recall the hand sticking out the door while host Edsilia Rombley was talking to the broadcasters up in the Ahoy’s attic). A lot was made of Blind Channel’s “27 Club” references, but those versed in nu metal are familiar to those well-versed in the working class despair from where most of the genre’s fans come. “Dark Side” was a blatant rallying call to disaffected misfits, and it worked well enough to get enough metalheads to come out in numbers and vote.
But now that these two have our attention, will they be able to build a movement and have impact beyond this contest?
The Folk lore has already begun
I will repeat this point made earlier in ALL CAPS: ESC UNITED FULLY SUPPORTS MåNESKIN AND THE EUROPEAN BROADCASTING UNIONS ASSERTION THAT NO ILLEGAL DRUGS WERE CONSUMED BY THE ITALIAN BAND AT ANY TIME DURING THE EUROVISION 2021 GRAND FINAL.
No drugs were used by Italian winners Måneskin in the Green Room.
— Eurovision Song Contest (@Eurovision) May 24, 2021
That being said, and I do feel for Måneskin if they are sensitive to this particular issue, I think the cocaine comments are going to be part of the legend of their winning. But not from the sour pusses who wanted them disqualified (P.S. grow up if you’re still whinging about Måneskin’s win). No, I think a large set of their fans will pass down the story as a “rock ‘n’ roll moment.”
The look of joy on the band’s members faces was beautiful to watch. They were clearly and genuinely surprised and honored, but that was almost wiped out when rumors began to surface that Damiano David did what some described as a line of cocaine, when in reality he was bending over to pick up a champagne glass that had fallen over. But the cocaine myth persisted, and will probably continue to persist despite the most forceful support of an artist the European Broadcasting Union has ever done. But it is doubtful the link will have a long lasting negative impact on the band’s reputation.
For better or for worse, cocaine and narcotics is tied in with the image of rock ‘n’ roll. Several bands from the Allman Brothers to Fleetwood Mac to Guns N’ Roses have cocaine myths built into their stories. This perception is largely perpetuated by the likes of the late comedian Bill Hicks (Warning: Video below linking drugs to rock ‘n’ roll contains graphic language).
And on the flip side, even if you assume the drug rumors are true, shaming and hectoring Måneskin would be very counterproductive.
But even taking drugs out of the equation, there will remain the perception that Måneskin stormed through the gates of the Ahoy to snatch victory from the establishment’s Top Three. Rock ‘n’ Roll proving victorious over focus-grouped, calculated pop performed by technically flawless artists.
We will likely see more rock acts at Eurovision in coming years, but the biggest beneficiary is likely to be rock ‘n’ roll and metal. The rock genres were flagging, but a group of Italian kids emerged to be the very heroes we needed in 2021 and the ambassadors that the genre needs to thrive heading into the 2020s.
Do #YOU think Måneskin will be a phenomenon that lasts beyond this year’s contest? Or do #YOU think they are a flash in a pan and a footnote, at best, in Eurovision history? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, or in our forum.