Roman band Måneskin have a thing for bucking trends. They should be one-hit wonders but aren’t. They’re often credited with reviving rock, a moribund genre. Perhaps most remarkably they’ve managed to export Italian pop. Throughout a show that’s both too long and more entertaining than it has any right to be, this bilingual glam rock four-piece gleefully pile tired trope upon antiquated rock cliche – and somehow remain doggedly likable too.
The schoolfriends burst into renown in 2021, having won Eurovision with Zitti e Buoni (Be Quiet and Behave), a hard-hitting Italian rap-rock song. Charisma, great hair and the band’s louche, vintage rock fashion sense were key supporting factors. Tonight, Måneskin dispense with that hit early on.
As singer Damiano David stalks the stage in leather trousers and a fishnet shirt, suited-and-booted guitarist Thomas Raggi plays his instrument behind his head. A cheer goes up every time bassist Victoria De Angelis, draped in a black feather boa, appears on the screens. Both bassist and guitarist will crowdsurf at least three times each before the night is over, playing their instruments all the while.
Contrary to most precedents, Måneskin have stayed in renown. Few European groups since Abba have parlayed a Eurovision success into an international career. Few Italian musicians other than a couple of tenors, the late Ennio Morricone and, arguably, Giorgio Moroder have made such a transatlantic splash as this outfit. Tonight’s sold-out 20,000-capacity O2 Arena show follows a sold-out European tour, with a world tour to come and more European dates being added. Last year, Måneskin played approximately 80 shows internationally; they’re on about 72 so far this year and it’s only May. Their third album, Rush!, produced in great part by pop powerhouse Max Martin and released in January, has only cemented their viability with a rash of lurid earworms.
Their viral load is hefty, too: Måneskin’s 2017 cover of the Four Seasons’ Beggin’ sparked a rash of more recent TikTok reels; it has been streamed more than 1bn times on Spotify. David, now bare-chested, sings the northern soul staple gutsily; the overall tattooed effect faintly suggests Amy Winehouse fronting the Black Keys.
The US website Pitchfork’s despairing 2/10 review of Rush! noted Måneskin’s penchant for songs that sound like stadium chants. Once heard, the proximity of their thumping drums and earwormy guitars to the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is hard to unhear, even though the parallels are more in spirit than in detail.
But that magpie versatility is key to Måneskin’s consolidation. They may dress glam, with David’s heels being higher than De Angelis’s, but tonight they prove their command of melody and riff across genre. Their soft-rock ballads – such as Time Zone and The Loneliest – sound like an emo take on Aerosmith. Heavier, sulkier tunes, most often in Italian, effectively channel Rage Against the Machine.
In English, David’s lyrics often deal with desire: one of the most retro, and the most Italian, things about them is their willingness to hump microphone stands, write songs about how sexy sex is, or, in the case of De Angelis, play her bass on her knees while the gurning Raggi takes a solo. Tracks such as In Nome Del Padre and La Fine, however, grapple with traditional Italian conformism and David’s personal struggles, erudite in a way the English-language songs can’t match.
The hoary old rock v pop binary is a cause Måneskin are happy to take up – even though to some critics they can seem like a pop band cosplaying rock for a largely non-rock audience. On the cringey Kool Kids, David sets his band apart from the “trap and pop” in currency now. Amusingly, Bla Bla Bla namechecks the Smiths and channels the early 80s – bands such as DAF – more than it does hard rock.
Måneskin, then, seem wildly popular with an overlapping set of constituencies. There’s a lot of love for them among LGBTQ+ fans. Drummer Ethan Torchio identifies as queer; so does De Angelis, who has her own cult following. When 30 or so fans come on stage for Kool Kids, a devoted crush of girls forms around the bassist. The crowd tonight is brimming with expat Italians.
Måneskin – larger-than-life extroverts with fine bone structure – sound familiar and fun; and thanks to K-pop and the Spanish-language influence on the US charts, the foreign language barrier is less high than it once might have seemed. They are also whatever people need them to be. They’re retro, but progressive (the two straight male band members shared a kiss on stage in Poland in 2021 to protest that country’s rising levels of homophobia). They are also, weirdly, regressive: Rush!’s ill-judged album cover sees the band looking up a young girl’s skirt with varying reactions.
They are rock, but also pop, plastic (dressed by Gucci, happy to break bread with Max Martin) and organic, having busked regularly after forming at school. Their offering is louche, but the band are wallflowers in an era-appropriate way, keen to avoid associations with hard drugs. The band’s Eurovision win was marred by accusations of cocaine use, which David swiftly rebutted by taking a drug test. Most pertinently, though, with just a tiny bit of stage fire and a dynamic lighting rig overhead, they keep an arena rapt for two hours. When the band played Florence the other week, they went go-karting afterwards.