On a January day in a drab, deserted hotel in Rome, the four members of Måneskin are back at work after a brief holiday following a whirlwind 2022 that saw the young Italians vault into rock stardom.
Last year, the band opened for the Rolling Stones; grabbed a nomination for best new artist at the Grammy Awards; wrote and recorded songs with Max Martin, the most successful hitmaker of the past 25 years; and lit up some of the world’s biggest stages, including the Coachella, Lollapalooza, Rock in Rio and Global Citizen festivals. And in a triumphant homecoming concert last July, they performed for more than 70,000 people at Rome’s Circus Maximus — the ancient chariot-racing stadium — just a few miles from the middle school where three members of the band first started playing together.
But perhaps most significantly, Måneskin is the rare traditional rock band to break through at this level. The most unusual part of it is that they’re from Italy, which is hardly renowned as a hotbed of international rock talent.
“At a certain point the narrative switched,” says singer Damiano David, 24, who, like the other band members, spoke to Variety in Italian. “It wasn’t ‘Why can’t we become something?’ It became, ‘Why not?'”
Of course, that kind of success comes at a cost, even for people in their early 20s. “With all this work, we hardly ever see our friends. So for us, being in Rome means recharging our batteries,” says 22-year-old guitarist Thomas Raggi. “It gives us a chance to go back to a normal life.”
But not for long. Late last month, the group released “Rush!,” their third studio album and the first since they broke out globally as surprise winners of the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2021. With razor-sharp hooks, arena-sized choruses and driving riffs, the album is poised to be the one that truly pushes them over the top. The songwriting and production are much tighter than that of their earlier albums — Martin’s formidable track record includes hits performed by everyone from Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to Taylor Swift and the Weeknd — and although the songs are mostly fist-pumping rock, the album is musically diverse: “If Not for You” and “The Loneliest” are straight-up power ballads, and “Bla Bla Bla” is like a mean-spirited “Shake It Off,” with an intentionally simplistic melody that starts off as comically mocking but ends up furious. The album is filled with bleacher-stomping choruses that are big and direct without being dumb.
The band members are not shy about analyzing why they’ve hit big. “Objectively, what were we missing?” David asks. “We know how to play our instruments. We know how to write songs. We’re lucky to be good-looking. What was there to stop us before, except for that provincial thought, ‘We’re not going to make it outside Italy’?”
“I always had a feeling that we had the potential,” adds 22-year-old drummer Ethan Torchio. “I knew it was musically right for people around the world.” To wit, the band’s 2017 cover of the Four Seasons’ hit “Beggin'” has racked up more than a billion streams on Spotify alone.
The new celebrities have a similarly nonchalant attitude towards controversy they’ve generated, which ranges from outspoken support for Ukraine (David shouted “Fuck Putin!” at Coachella in 2022) to their pansexual swagger, which evokes everyone from David Bowie to Mötley Crüe. Måneskin are gender-fluid natives — at least two band members are openly bisexual or, as Torchio puts it, “sexually free.” They maintain a sense of humor about themselves and their image. At the American Music Awards in November, all four, including 22-year-old bassist Victoria De Angelis, wore comically thigh-baring formal suits with garters.
This is an aspect of their lives they don’t analyze too much. “Maybe it’s become more uncommon in the past 10 years,” David says, “but there are others who’ve done it before me and better than me: Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, David Bowie. But we do it our way.”
Måneskin officially formed in 2015, when David, Raggi and De Angelis were all teenagers in Rome’s middle-class Monteverde Vecchio quarter. The band’s name, pronounced “MON-eh-skin,” is Danish for “moonlight.” (De Angelis’ mother is Danish; the band asked her for some interesting words, and they liked that one.)
Even then, the band members had a rebellious attitude. “I had a soft spot for Victoria, but she really threw me into despair,” says Paola Morille, De Angelis’ former literature teacher. “She looked like a bad boy, with her hair always ruffled. It was pretty rare for her to hand in her homework.”
De Angelis has a characteristically irreverent take on how the band formed. “I was in a punk band with Damiano. He sucked, so we kicked him out: ‘Ciao, bello!’” she says, and the other band members crack up. “Then I formed a different band with Thomas, but we needed a singer and a drummer. Meanwhile, Damiano had written to me and said, ‘Can we please re-form the band?’ I said OK, and we found Ethan on Facebook.”
With the lineup in place in 2015, the group began busking on the streets of Rome. One of several videos that can be found online shows the group on the sidewalk of the Via del Corso performing “Chosen,” their first single and the song they performed on “X Factor Italia” in 2017.
Singer-songwriter Manuel Agnelli, the “X Factor” judge who coached the band on the show, recalls not being overly impressed by the song — but he was blown away by their personalities.
“The first thing I noticed about Måneskin was that they managed to hold up in unimaginable situations,” he says, citing David doing a pole dance on the show while wearing a thong and high heels. “He pulled it off perfectly — if anyone else had done it, they would have been laughed off.”
The group came in second, but the appearance led to them signing a record deal with Sony Italy. The band launched its first tour in 2018, intentionally playing 35 dates in relatively small 300-400-capacity venues. Clemente Zard, CEO of promoters Vivo Concerti, says, “They could have already played larger venues, but they wanted to cut their teeth instead — and the result is that today they are amazing.” A few months later, they released “Torna a Casa,” a ballad that became their first hit single in their home country.
The group came in second, but the appearance led to them signing a record deal with Sony Italy. A few months later, Måneskin’s first album, “Il ballo della vita” (“The Dance of Life”), delivered the band’s first hit single in Italy, the ballad “Torna a Casa.” While the group initially played in a funk-pop style, they shifted to hard rock for their second album, “Teatro d’ira: Vol. 1” (“Theater of Wrath”), which set up the two game-changing months in 2021 that sent the group onto the global stage.
That March, Måneskin won Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival, the country’s top-rated TV event, with the rebel anthem “Zitti e buoni” (basically a sarcastic “Shut up and behave”). “The song was very explicit in explaining who they are — their sense of rebelliousness that gives rock meaning again,” says La Repubblica music critic Gino Castaldo. “Just a few years earlier, their victory at Sanremo would have been unthinkable.”
Shortly after that win, the group released the single “I Wanna Be Your Slave” and its sizzling S&M-themed video, which featured the band members stunting in Gucci fishnets and corsets and groping each other provocatively. Video director Simone Bozzelli recalls, “They walked around in their underwear, practically naked, and had fun playing around, touching each other, doing erotic things. They were making fun of each other and laughing when they watched the [footage].” The song became the first by an Italian band to reach the top 10 in the UK singles chart, and a remix featuring Iggy Pop was released a few months later.
Then, in May, came Måneskin’s resounding Eurovision victory with “Zitti,” which put the band in front of 180 million international viewers. Soon after, the group joined forces with Arista Records, a Sony Music subsidiary in the US
“I saw them on Eurovision and was very struck by their energy and charisma,” says Arista CEO David Massey. “I got on a plane to Rome to get to know them, and that’s when I heard ‘[I Wanna Be Your] Slave’ and ‘Beggin.’ I committed to them on the spot, with the objective of really broadening it out in the US and the world, and also contributing on the A&R side.”
To that end, along with Martin, “Rush” features contributions from such proven hitmakers as Justin Tranter, Rami Yacoub, Jason Evigan and Sarah Hudson, who between them have written songs for Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Maroon 5 and many others. “They’ve already got more than 5 billion streams globally, and ‘Rush’ is really their first English-language album,” Massey concludes. “It’s been amazing watching them grow.”
Of course, with success comes haters, and the new album’s “Bla Bla Bla” is directed at them. David says of the song, “I would like to say to them: ‘Sorry, we’ve done a song with Iggy Pop, we’ve opened for the Rolling Stones, we’ve been the first to win this and that. What else do I have to do to get respect? What more can I do to be respected by Peppino from Molfetta?,” he says, referring to an imaginary person from a small town in southern Italy.
The haters, however, are in the minority. “I don’t think they fully realize at their age the incredible journey that they’ve been on,” says Agnelli. “After what happened to Måneskin, when an Italian teenager starts playing guitar, they can think about playing all over the world.”