Barely a decade ago, Italian radio stations were time machines. Tune in and you’ll be treated to old greats like Renato Carrosone and Jimmy Fontana, or perhaps a saccharine pop ballad by Tiziano Ferro. Today, the country music landscape couldn’t be more different.
T started with Eurovision. In 2019, Italian representative Mahmoud missed out on first place (much to his fans). He enthralled audiences with his original song “Soldie”, which combined hip-hop beats with his Egyptian heritage.
It was a resounding response from far-right opponents, who questioned the 26-year-old’s stunning victory at Sanremo – the Italian competition that decided that year’s Eurovision contestant.
Despite opposition from figures such as former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, Mahmoud excelled on the global stage, while “Soldi” topped the charts in four countries.
Two years later, it was Maneskin’s turn. Outrageous and flamboyant, the rock band performed a voluminous stage presence that sent shockwaves around the world long before rehearsals began.
Their song “Zitti a Buoni” was a guitar-grinding, head-banging track that made them Eurovision champions last May. Less than a year later, Variety was crediting him with reviving rock’n’roll in America.
Menaskin and Mahmud are just two cases of how breaking tradition has turned Italy into a world of goodness. “The Italian music landscape has changed a lot in the past five years,” music journalist and founder of Italia Music Export, Noor Al Habash, told me.
“Our charts used to be dominated by established pop legends like Laura Pausini or Tiziano Ferro – artists who started their careers in the nineties or even earlier – and successfully resisted market trends for nearly 20 years. and Then, in a matter of months, they were all overtaken by a new generation of rap and trap artists.”
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Italy’s music scene is now dominated by these acts – Sfera Ebbasta, Ghali, Capo Plaza, Rondodasosa, Madame, Anna – which are gaining attention in the UK, US and the rest of Europe.
Al Habash says, “If you’re a rock fan looking for the next menskin, I’m sorry to say those guys are unique in our music scene.”
The genre that is most flourishing in Italy is undoubtedly rap. Al Habash cites an “overwhelming amount” of up-and-coming drill and trap-influenced acts from all corners of Italy, often incorporating their music with regional influences.
“The more good news is that, finally, a new generation of young female artists are taking the stage,” says Al Habash, a community of women and gender minorities working in the music industry. “In a few years’ time, I believe we will have a long list of influential female hitmakers.”
As of 2021, Italy now ranks among the top 10 countries with the largest global music share, against heavyweights including the US, Japan, Canada and France.
Al Habash credits this growth with younger audiences becoming the majority of the market: “People listening to music, buying records and attending gigs are now mainly under 30.”
Meanwhile, artists who were once confined to the underground circuit are being pulled over by major labels.
Anna Xue, Operative Director of Linecheck Music Meeting & Festival, says, “After years of talent shows providing the mainstream with new artists, there has been a change of (former) indie/rock artists coming into the world of pop music and TV ” in Milan.
“The grassroots and free spirit people have finally realized that it may take mainstream exposure to reach enough people to make a decent living out of it”.
She says the shift to streaming has helped solve what was once a major piracy problem in Italy, and that success is also thanks to some large organizations that realize that broader grassroots teams are often a performer. play a role in its success.
“They provide those teams — managers, agents, small labels — with the cash they need to get things done instead of turning artists away or splitting teams up,” she says. “There are also a lot of new small and medium festivals following the more established ones. [with] An independent approach to live music. ,
Festivals such as Ypsigrok are prominent, which takes place in the picturesque medieval town of Castellbuono, Sicily. Its organizers have made a habit of not booking the same act twice, and to date have hosted artists from overseas including The National, Fat White Family, Bipolar Sunshine, Fontaine DC and Let’s Eat Grandma.
But what it takes pride in is promoting domestic talent with an international appeal.
“It’s unusual to experience a festival with established artists like The National or The Flaming Lips this year,” says Ypsigrock organizer Vincenzo Barreca.
In recent years, the festival has been attended by a younger demographic with curious international music fans.
“Festivals like ours, which have positivity” [global] Tastemaker reputation is important [in introducing local] Talent for international artists, media, industry and of course the audience … so Italian artists are embedded in a natural international context,” says Barreca’s collaborator, Gianfranco Raimondo.
Now, in 2022, Italy is in fierce competition with not one but two Italian acts. Duo Mahmoud and Blanco are representing the country with their touching ballad “Brividi” (“Chill”), while Italian artist Aquile Lauro is entering San Marino this year.
Already well established in his home country, Lauro has demonstrated a departure from his usual booming pop-rock sound. Titled “Stripper”, it draws heavily on the singer’s breathless rock vocals, chugging riffs, and an all-out chorus that pays homage to the eighties’ hair band.
Unlike the UK and Ireland, which often send complete unknowns as delegates, Italy knows what impresses Eurovision audiences. Its competitors are professionals when it comes to both live performances and recording studios – not to mention that they already have an army of fans ready to please. Clearly, there’s something in San Pellegrino.