It’s almost 1 am, and my friends and I are anxiously gathered in front of the TV, waiting for the official number of the audience votes. When the presenter finally announced that Switzerland did not get enough votes to get above Italy, we just looked at each other in disbelief. “Italy is the Eurovision 2021 winner!”
On the screen, screen Damiano – the lead singer and lyricist of the rock quartet that shook Eurovision‘s stages in Rotterdam – looked as incredulous as we felt. After a couple of seconds, realization hit, and the joy and enthusiasm that followed could only be compared to the widespread feeling after Italy winning the 2006 World Football Cup. If you know anything about Italy, is that few things unite us Italians and let us forget our regional differences like football does, so to say that the atmosphere is similar to that of 15 years ago is certainly quite something.
Italy has a long and complicated history with the Eurovision Song Contest. After the Second World War, Italian journalist Sergio Pugliese suggested adapting the already in use singing competition format from the Italian national contest Sanremo for a European show, which would help promote stronger ties among the different countries. The idea was well-received by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and thus in 1956 the Eurovision Song Contest was born. At the time, the countries participating were Belgium, France, West Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy. In the following decades, many others joined the competition.
Given that Italy inspired Eurovision, you would think the country would have a vested interest in participating actively in the competition. And for a while, it was what happened. Nel blu dipinto di blu by Domenico Modugno, which still is a masterpiece known internationally, only scored third place in 1958. Italy’s first win happened finally in 1964 with Gigliola Cinquetti’s Non ho l’età (per amarti). In the following years, Italy kept seeing ups and downs. In 1981 the national broadcasting station RAI decided not to participate anymore in the contest, citing a “lack of general interest from the Italian audience.” In the 80’s Italy would go on participating only from 1983 to 1985, and then coming back to the competition in 1987. In 1990 came Italy’s second win with Insieme: 1992, sung and composed by Totò Cutugno.
Because of the politically tense situation in 1991, with the first Gulf War in its most dramatic moments, the competition was held in Rome, in a way that was seen as “poorly improvised” by the other European countries. Italy went on to participate in the contest only until 1994, when they decided once again to abandon Eurovision because of “lack of interested audience in Italy.” After EBU’s pressuring Italy to return to the competition, in 1997 Jalisse went on stage to represent Italy, arriving in fourth place. Both the editions of 1993 and 1997 however are to this day clouded in controversy. It appears, from rumors and commentary by the then-presenters, that RAI had no interest in hosting the Eurovision, as they were afraid of the financial weight of Italy’s potential victory. Jalisse declared that they were victims of a “witch hunt” after returning from the European competition. and not allowed to reclaim their space on the Italian scene afterward.
For 14 years since 1997, Italy did not participate in Eurovision. In 2008 Raffaella Carrà lit up again the debate about Eurovision, hosting and presenting a tv segment with guests the past Eurovision participants from different countries. In 2011 finally RAI announced the decision to finally come back to the competition, and Italy came back as one of the Big Five, the five countries that had the most influence over Eurovision and would proceed directly to the finals. In 2015 came the decision of selecting Sanremo’s winner as the participant in the Eurovision Song Contest. Il Volo, a pop opera trio, performed Grande Amore, arriving in third place even after a record high number of audience votes. The fact that the special jury had such control over whoever won Eurovision was at the center of controversy, and the voting system was altered already the following year to reflect a 50% weight coming from the special jury votes and the other 50% assigned by the general audience.
From 2016 the general Italian interest in the competition grew, also thanks to RAI broadcasting it on its main channel Rai 1. In recent years, although many great acts performed on the Eurovision stage – among which are Gabbani, Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro, Francesca Michielin, and Mahmood – none snatched a victory. 2019’s artist Mahmood came the closest, only 27 points below Duncan Laurent’s Arcade. With the increasingly popular right-wing parties on the rise in Italy, having Mahmood represent Italy at an international competition was seen had certainly a strong impact. The raw social anger in Soldi and its line in Arabic which won Sanremo nudged the Italian music scene towards a more open-minded future.
And it’s exactly this open-minded future we are seeing represented in Italy’s win with Måneskin: the eldest member of the band, Damiano was born in 1999, with the youngest, Thomas, being born in 2001. The unapologetic track Zitti e Buoni that stole Europe’s hearts is really the polished angry voice of the younger generations in the country, tired of a society that tells them to “shut up” and just put up with it. Coming right at the end of such a troubled time for Europe, this heavy rock song conquered Eurovision, winning by 26 points over second-place France. 31 years after Italy’s last win, Måneskin brought home the third win to their country, standing out for their authenticity and raw energy.
Right after the official announcement, it is custom for the Eurovision winner to perform an encore of their track. As we listen to the uncensored, full version of Zitti e Buoni, with Damiano challenging Italian homophobes by kissing both of his male group members and Mäneskin just thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage, I cannot help but be thankful to them.
Later, we will worry and debate over which city in Italy will be able to host the European competition, and which political party will use Eurovision as a propaganda tool for this or that campaign. Many Italians even took to Twitter wishing the current PM Mario Draghi, famous for his austerity measures, good luck in finding the necessary funding.
At 3 am, as the enthusiastic feeling of victory finally sinks in and I prepare to go to bed, one last thought goes to Damiano, Victoria, Ethan, and Thomas. As a fellow Roman, I know the streets they used to busk in at the beginning of their careers. What Roman has never been to Via del Corso, the main shopping street where they held this famous street performance? I am beyond proud of Måneskin and what they have achieved throughout these years. They challenged Italy’s most popular singing competition and brought a rock track to a contest that had always favored mainstream light pop music.
Mäneskin gave a voice to the Italian youth, creating their own space on stage.
“Rock and Roll will never die!” shouted Damiano right after receiving the trophy. Through all the hardships we had to face, Måneskin proved that in football or music, Italy comes together as a country. And that Italy’s pride too, will never die.
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