How Måneskin revived rock ’n’ roll for Gen Z
Even through a screen, Måneskin are disarming. A cadre of smoky eyes, easy charm and sincere belief in the power of rock ‘n’ roll, the Roman quartet have shot to fame over the last 20 months for their collective magnetism as much as their catchy, carnal sound. Huddled together on a cloudy afternoon in LA, members Damiano David, Victoria De Angelis, Thomas Raggi and Ethan Torchio are caught between the last big push of 2022 and the start of another busy year. They have one date of their sold-out North American tour left to play before they head home for the holidays for some family time and a well-deserved moment of pause. It’ll be brief, though — their anticipated third album RUSH! drops in January.
Animated and assured in a red T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “ITALIANS DO IT BETTER,” bassist De Angelis is contemplating the group’s unlikely rise. “We had such a difficult time trying to do rock music in Italy. Everyone was telling us ‘It’s not gonna work’ and shit,” she says with her legs curled up on an office chair, adding further weight to the internet’s theory that bisexuals can’t sit down properly. “So when it happened, we felt so empowered, like the underdogs that had made it.”
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A ’70s-inspired band of wildly charismatic Romans in their early 20s, Måneskin have bucked one expectation after another. They went from busking on the outskirts of Rome to success in mainland Europe, disrupting the charts amid a mass of native trap stars and international pop exports. They won the traditionally dance and folk-heavy Eurovision Song Contest in 2021, becoming the first heavy act to do so since Finnish monster-metallers Lordi in 2006, and the first contestants since ABBA to achieve such rapid, global acclaim. Fast forward 18 months and they’ve racked up over 6.5 billion streams, conquered the U.S. and demonstrated a young interest in hard rock that industry heads in the 2010s claimed didn’t exist. In fairness, it wasn’t a banner decade for commercial guitar music. EDM womped into the mainstream, Latin and K-pop became more established and hip-hop began to outsell rock for the first time. In such an anarchic landscape, it’s no wonder the traditional four-piece failed to get a riff in edgeways. But just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. As a Gen Z band catapulted to superstardom by a largely Gen Z audience, Måneskin have given young rock fans the chance to show themselves.[Photo by Francis Delacroix]
“If you think of the good bands that are coming out now, it’s usually very niche, and it’s often people older than us,” De Angelis continues. “So it gets hard for people at labels with no rock background to relate to it because they won’t know, you know? But I think doing what we’re doing and having such a big buzz with our fans shows that young people do like rock music. It’s not true that it can’t be done [successfully].”
Vocalist David takes a drag of a cigarette and exhales in agreement. “Exactly,” he says, smiling as he recalls the vindication that came with winning Eurovision. “Before that, we were going through some tough moments because most of the people we were working with didn’t believe in the kind of music we were making at the time. For us, it felt like being right after a year of fighting.” Their victory was made even sweeter by the fact that it was achieved not through winning over the juries of traditional industry professionals, but with an unprecedented landslide vote from the public. “People with taste!” De Angelis chimes in with a laugh.
Måneskin’s Eurovision performance was an instant cultural shift. The buzzsaw riff and marching bass drum of their now multi-platinum single “Zitti E Buoni” kick in to reveal the band head-banging and slutdropping in matching wine-stained leather outfits — the roof promptly blew off. Social media went nuts for “the sexy Italians” who commanded the stage like it was theirs, and served an androgynous cocktail of fetwear, tasteful linework tattoos and bedhead that was completely out of step with anything the competition had seen before. It was cool, provocative, mysterious — a wake-up call to what modern rock should be. Beamed directly to a fun-starved, chronically online audience mid-pandemic, their lives were altered in three-and-a-half minutes.
“It was hard not to notice [that something was happening] because we’re getting screenshots of the charts changing. It was under our nose,” David reflects. “But I think it was fun, the way that we lived it. We were just happy, and it didn’t bring any pressure to us. I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but we lived that as the reward for [all the work] we did. It was such a fulfilling feeling.”
The group’s success has taken them a long way from Rome, where they began their journey in 2015 as childhood friends playing to anyone who would listen. Their first gig was at an osteria — a traditional Italian family restaurant — and attended exclusively by their friends, plus a few unsuspecting diners who left as quickly as possible. “There wasn’t supposed to be a band there. We brought all our gear, and we were literally playing in between tables, and [the staff] were like, ‘Can you lower the volume, please?’” De Angelis recalls, cracking up. Guitarist Raggi joins in laughing and describes the scene as “iconic”. Afterward, they all got drunk to celebrate and were paid in plates of pesto pasta with fresh tomatoes. Their second gig was no less memorable, taking place in a high school in the middle of a student occupation (a long-running Italian tradition that sees teenagers camping out in classrooms, campaigning on issues like student welfare and driving mopeds down the corridors). Now, Måneskin are so recognizable that their presence in a restaurant of any size would likely see the building pulled apart by fans.
Today the foursome are casually dressed and down to earth, oozing the same effortless style and camaraderie as they do onstage in full glam and nipple pasties. They seem a little worn out, but that’s unsurprising. The last year has been relentless, kicking off with a debut performance on SNL and ending with a Best New Artist nomination at the 2023 Grammys via a slew of major festival slots. That’s on top of opening for the Rolling Stones, accumulating a list of accolades longer than one of De Angelis’ bell sleeves (18 diamond, 235 platinum and 47 gold records, according to their latest press release), and contributing a soulful cover of “If I Can Dream” to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis soundtrack. Still, if the tumult of their lives comes through anywhere, it’s in the contents of RUSH! — a 17-track, box-defying epic produced by monster hitmaker Max Martin, which reflects the emotional intensity of their ascent and marks their first album written predominantly in English.
“We always try to find a common ground between the four of us and stick to it and create everything around that, but this time we did the opposite,” David says of their approach. “We tried to embrace the differences between us.” The upshot is an elusive grab-bag of hard rock, new wave, mainstream dance and more that embraces genre fusion by amplifying their individual personalities. Raggi’s classic-rock and metal influences come through in the horsepower riff of “La Fine” and the John Frusciante-influenced “Supermodel.” Torchio’s broader palette (he’s currently having a hip-hop fusion moment, name-checking Missy Elliott and Ms. Dynamite while rocking a Red Hot Chili Peppers long sleeve) anchors the melodies in dexterous, relentless backbeats. David is the opposite, rarely becoming obsessed with an artist’s entire oeuvre but taking “the best of everything I listen to, be it Guns N’ Roses, John Mayer or Labrinth,” resulting in a voice that sounds just as invigorating lamenting lonely nights as it does growling “ROTTERDAM MAKE SOME NOISE!!!”
De Angelis is a classic rebel raised on a diet of David Bowie, Blondie and the Runaways. She’s particularly inspired by the new wave of post-punk artists coming out of the U.K. and Australia — IDLES, slowthai, Amyl and the Sniffers — which has its fingerprints all over “Kool Kids.” Penned directly after Eurovision, the song is a homage to the brattiness of modern punk as much as “a big fuck off” to the industry assumptions that beleaguered Måneskin at the start of their career. “Kool kids, they do not like rock/They only listen to trap and pop/And everybody knows that rock ‘n’ roll is shit, but I don’t give a fuck…” David rails, adopting a boot boy attitude and a mockney accent. There are also a few cheeky nods to their rowdy mythology in the limelight, from false accusations that David did a bump under the table at Eurovision (“Kool kids, they do not use drugs/Only weed ‘cause it’s not that strong…”) to the discernable bisexual panic over De Angelis’ appearance (“I know you think she’s a hot chick/But I’m sorry, she prefers hot chicks!”).
Drawing from personal experience more than usual, David uses RUSH! as a platform to fully express himself without “the fear of being judged or losing fans.” On heartfelt ballads like “If Not For You,” “Don’t Wanna Sleep” and “Timezone,” he probes the flipside of fame — the empty parties, the longing for home, the weight of having so many unfamiliar eyes on you. His lyrics intentionally counter the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” narrative that has been mapped onto Måneskin since Eurovision. The band might project a classic bravado with their love of bondagewear, assless chaps and rebellion, but offstage, they’re far from Mötley Crüe. They’re just doing what a good rock ‘n’ roll band should be doing: selling a fantasy. Laughing off David’s cocaine-snorting allegations, the band claimed the frontman barely even drinks. “He’s such a sfigato, a dork,” Raggi told The Guardian at the time. “He goes to bed at 11 p.m. with his chamomile tea.” Watch back the viral footage of David spraying a bottle of champagne at the Eurovision press conference and you’ll notice that he takes one swig before sitting to answer questions with an empty glass.
“There’s been a buildup of this way of portraying us as having this kind of Sex Pistols lifestyle, but I’m way different than that,” David says of his laid-bare approach. “I’m a very simple guy, and I live a very simple life. I wanted to describe that and talk about my values and how much I care about the people that I love, and how much I miss them through these years where we’ve had to travel a lot.”
This is especially clear on “The Loneliest,” an anthemic torch song with a ripping solo that sounds like Slash hopped in the studio with Harry Styles. The video — one of their most cinematic to date — is like My Chemical Romance’s “Helena” by way of Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain,” depicting a funeral march that takes a surreal turn. The first ballad they’ve ever written in English, De Angelis describes its release as “a very emotional moment” for the band.
Elsewhere, the lyrics turn outward and take aim at society. “Gossip,” a stomping dance-punk collaboration with Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, is a critique of societal grindset that demands peak performance from everyone at all times. “Mark Chapman” — named after the man who shot John Lennon — is about a murderous stalker, but delivers straight criticism of obsessive fandom as well as commentary on pop culture’s recent romanticization of serial killers. “In the last few years, the mainstream media has made serial killers cool. That’s what’s happened with Charles Manson and Dahmer and many of the worst people who ever lived,” David says. “We’re saying that this is shit, and we should stop idolizing serial killers and talk about them as they were.” Then there’s the smart and sexy “Bla Bla Bla” and “Mammamia,” which will satisfy fans desperate to hear David’s coquettish moan flanked by lyrics like “They ask me why so hot? ‘Cause I’m Italiano!”[Photo by Ilaria Ieie]
The group has previously described themselves as “a translation of the music of the past into modernity,” and RUSH! — their first album release since fame struck — cements that into fact. At their core, Måneskin are a classic four-piece plugging their instruments into amps turned up to 11. But it’s their liberated approach to sound and style that’s regenerating rock ‘n’ roll for the 2020s. Raggi springs to life when talking about meet and greets, where fans often tell him the band have inspired them to pick up an instrument. De Angelis beams while explaining that, when they announced the Morello collaboration, she saw comments from young women who had discovered and fallen in love with Rage Against the Machine as a result. You could say that Måneskin have started a dialogue between today’s teens and rock history, creating a new language using the foundations of the past and the politics, aesthetics and sounds of today. They’re becoming a gateway band — the first great rock love for those growing up in a landscape defined, by and large, by other genres.
“I think what makes the difference is that we’re not scared of coming out of the pure rock ‘n’ roll box,” De Angelis suggests. “In both our music and our style, we don’t feel labeled or limited in any way. If we get a fucking good pop melody, then we don’t care to mix it up with a heavy-ass instrumental and make something new and cool.”
David agrees, adding that drawing boundaries for what rock ‘n’ roll should or shouldn’t be is what stopped it from growing in the first place. “I think we’re starting to lose the labeling mindset,” he says. “Now you can have hip-hop mixed with Latin music, Latin music mixed with pop, and pop is taking from everywhere. In 10 years, we’ll stop talking about genres and just be talking about good music or trash music.”
Considering the ever-increasing space in the U.S. and U.K. charts for music that isn’t just in English, from Rosalía to BTS to Måneskin’s own mammoth singles that made them the first band to have multiple Italian-language songs chart within the U.K. Top 20, it’s an exciting time to be a gang of Gen Z rock stars. When asked what connected them to rock ‘n’ roll growing up the way people are connecting to them now, Torchio — mostly quiet and reserved until this point — places his hand on his chest and taps it. “It’s like it’s already synchronized with your body,” he says earnestly. “High frequencies over the distortion pedal, electric guitars… We just feel it, and have since we were very little.”[Photo by Fabio Germinario]
David adds, “We talked with Tom [Morello] yesterday, and I think he expressed this very well. He said, when you step on a stage and you put a distortion on and you strum the guitar, the feeling that that sound gives you, and the feeling that the crowd gives you back, is very unique to rock ‘n’ roll music. That feeling, that ego, that emotion. It’s a mixture of so many things, but it’s so unique.”
For Raggi, it’s “literally power. You break the wall between the artist and the audience.”
Of course, you don’t get a success story as massive and sudden as Måneskin’s without a thriving fanbase working overtime to make it happen. What ultimately sets them apart from other bands, whether it’s Red Hot Chili Peppers or Amyl and the Sniffers, is the phenomenon of modern fandom. That unpredictable spark that flies off a cultural moment, lands in the right place and sets the world alight. It’s incredibly rare for an act that began on Eurovision to go on to widespread acclaim. Regardless of how good someone is, the competition comes with a hint of novelty and the expectation that any success will be flash in the pan. Måneskin have already broken both of those curses. RUSH! might be their first shot at demonstrating staying power on an even playing field, but at this point, they’re running out of points to prove.
“Everything we’re doing is thanks to the people that believe in us,” De Angelis says. “The main thing we’ve learned to value even more these last years is the connection we have with our fans, and the impact our music can have on people. When we meet fans in real life and they tell us, ‘You’ve helped me through a hard time with your music,’ or ‘You’ve helped me accept myself with this’ — that’s when you realize how much fucking difference just a song can make.”
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