Early December, a tchotchke shop in Brooklyn—an employee advises me about which novelty socks to pair with which comical greeting card for a friend. Then her voice, previously curious and chatty, gains a sudden seriousness. She tells me about a concert she went to the night before. The band was Italian, it was saving rock and roll, and it’d play in the city again, that night. I suddenly understood the difference between a salesperson and an evangelist. The woman gave me an order: You must go see Måneskin.
I didn’t go, but I did know who Måneskin was. I first became aware of the group while attending a watch party for the 2021 Eurovision Song Competition. No one at the party could understand why a bar band in burgundy leather, playing what sounded like a Rage Against the Machine song edited for a Chevy ad, ran away with the top prize. Eurovision is known for ABBA-style spectacle, silly and bright. Måneskin is all about scowling, and guitars that sound like carburetors. But clearly, the band had sparked passion somewhere—the kind of passion that, it turns out, converts listeners into proselytizers.
That fire can be traced back to their home country, where the quartet of then-teenage buskers finished second in the 2017 season of X Factor Italia. After the Eurovision win, the band became a worldwide fascination. Måneskin’s cover of the Four Seasons’ “Beggin’” became inescapable on U.S. radio—and, as notably, was globally TikTok’s second-most-played song of 2021. Some of the group’s biggest influences—Iggy Pop, Tom Morello—have become collaborators and fans, and next month, Måneskin may well win the Grammy for Best New Artist. The rise of a capital-r Rock Band in an era driven by hip-hop and electronic pop raises a question: Is Måneskin’s popularity a fluke, or is it a sign of some deeper shift in mainstream tastes?
Certainly, Måneskin makes music out of bold ingredients. Its lead vocalist, Damiano David, sing-raps with a kind of grouchy smoothness, and the guitarist Thomas Raggi and the bassist Victoria De Angelis favor tones that spark and spit nervously. The drummer Ethan Torchio keeps time sternly, adding flourishes that give the impression of impending chaos. The band’s signature tracks—including “Beggin’” and the Eurovision single “Zitti e Buoni”—are simple tunes played to feel spontaneous, even dangerous. Måneskin’s 2021 album, Teatro D’ira: Vol. I, gave off a pleasantly lurid vibe, like that of a head shop outfitted with the most tasteful black light and incense.
But Rush!, Måneskin’s first largely-in-English album out Friday, does not make a very strong case that the band’s appeal is its music. On song after song, Torchio and De Angelis lay down a samey punk-disco thump, over which Raggi’s in-your-face scribblings and David’s blustering vocals sit like a funny hat. The lyrics about partying, sex, and the superficiality of the music industry are mostly half-hearted attempts to shock and annoy (“I’m a lion tamer / Of indecent behavior / Making love with danger”). A few vibrant instrumental passages, such as the Led-Zeppelin-goes-industrial breakdown of the vaguely anti-Putin anthem “Gasoline,” provide a welcome thunderbolt. But for the most part, the band’s classic influences—the Stooges, MC5—come to mind less often than knockoffs such as Cold War Kids and Jet.
Indeed, the album’s redundancy has the odd effect of calling into question the guitars are back! narrative that the band seemingly invites. Certainly, some rock aesthetics have shown up on the pop charts lately, including new takes on indie rock (Steve Lacy), emo (Olivia Rodrigo), and Mick Jagger cosplay (Harry Styles). But Måneskin’s songs are so plainly recycled, so brazenly mediocre, that the notion of the group igniting some culture war between rock and pop—and with it, stereotypes about realness and phoniness, passion and product—seems tragic at best.
So why is Måneskin breaking out? “They are a television phenomenon,” the Italian journalist Andrea Andrei explained to The New York Times in 2021, and the diagnosis seems right: On X Factor, on Eurovision, on TikTok, the band’s appeal is clearer. Their eyes ringed in raccoon smudges, their androgynous clothes perpetually falling off their Cybertruck-angular bodies, the four members wield their hotness with aplomb. During live performances, they execute floppy choreography that plays on our primal need to care for people who seem likely to fall over. Lest you think any of this is incidental, the band’s attractiveness is a frequent subject of their songs. On the Rush! track “Kool Kids,” David addresses the men in the audience ogling De Angelis: “I know you think she’s a hot chick / But I’m sorry she prefers hot chicks.”
Image, antics, flirtation—these have long been tools of successful acts in pop and rock alike. Perhaps what’s new about Måneskin’s rise is what it demonstrates about our fragmented listening culture. Artifacts such as singing competitions and Billboard charts encourage thoughts of different sounds and styles warring with one another, but the truth is that streaming’s near-endlessness of offerings has made that paradigm obsolete. Niches are everywhere. Fascinations are specific. Rock can bubble up in the same way that Kate Bush or Disney show tunes can: through memorable televisual exposure. To Måneskin’s credit, the band members tend to choose their words carefully when asked whether they represent a tidal shift or just some random, sexy eddy. “Nobody is ‘keeping [rock and roll] alive,’” David told NME last year. “It’s just impossible to kill.”