RUNWAY: Even if you’re not familiar with the musical sensation that is Måneskin, there’s a better than good chance you know that Angelina Jolie and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt were among the 70,000 fans who gathered to see the band play at the Circus Maximus in their hometown of Rome a few weeks ago because TikTok and the tabloids had a field day reporting it.
If introductions are in order, Måneskin (pronounced “moan-eh-skin”) is an Italian rock band with a Danish moniker (meaning “moonshine”). It was formed in 2016 by bassist Victoria De Angelis (who is half Danish, which explains the band name), guitarist Thomas Raggi, lead singer Damiano David, and drummer Ethan Torchio.
The foursome participated in a local talent contest and busked in Rome prior to competing on Italy’s X-Factor in 2017, where they placed second. Three years later they won the San Remo Festival and then the Eurovision Song Contest with an explosive and glam performance—complete with laced aubergine leather, platform boots, bare chests, and heavy eyeliner—that brought the house down. It was May 2021, the world was coming off a year in lockdown, and the band’s sense of fun was infectious. Not long after, they received an invitation to open for the Rolling Stones in L.A.
They’re back in America this week for a SiriusXM Small Stage performance, and it’s fortunate that all of Måneskin’s members have reached the legal drinking age because they have a lot to cin cin. Their hit single “Supermodel,” produced by Swedish hitmaker Max Martin, is currently number one on alt-radio and is on track to becoming the song of the summer. On top of that, it was just announced that the band is up for two MTV Video Music Awards (best new artist and best alternative). All that and a Gucci wardrobe via Alessandro Michele himself.
Theirs is not a gritty rag-to-riches story, though it follows roughly that of the apocryphal American dream that so many Italians left to pursue in the States. “We’re living a dream, that’s for sure,” conceded frontman David on a Gucci-clad visit to Vogue, “but in a different way. We don’t feel like we’ve been discovered. We dug every inch of this hole we’re in. We worked a lot to get here, so of course we are happy, but on the other side, pardon if I’m a bit cocky, but we feel like it’s well deserved.”
Deserved, yes (the band’s devotion to its craft is revealed in their 2018 documentary)—but also seemingly out of left field. An Italian glam punk-rock band? Who would have thunk it? Italy is known for many things—fashion, artistry, food, and fabrics, among them—but youth culture not so much. And at least outside of Italy, it’s not at all known for rock and roll. Måneskin surprises at every turn, defying expectations again and again. Whether it’s your taste or not, David’s bluesy voice cannot be denied, nor can the band’s sheer joy in what they’re doing. In a short time they have manifested their rock-star dreams, transitioning from playing a role to owning it.
At first sight, what most marks Måneskin as Italian is their Guccification. But in almost every other way, they have flipped the script. So much that is exported from Italy is given the stereotypical and nostalgic dolce vita spin—it’s all Roman Holiday, Sophia, Gina, and Michelangelo’s David. Måneskin’s viewpoint is more global, particularly anchored in a guitar-heavy 1970s sound in the style of British and American rockers. David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Slade, and the New York Dolls come to mind.
Though Måneskin channels the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll vibe developed in the dive bars and gritty environs of New York’s Lower East Side, the four have a more evolved attitude toward health and self-preservation. Artificial stimulants don’t seem to be part of the equation, despite a tempest in a teapot at Eurovision. (A photo of David leaning over a table led to allegations of cocaine use. He denied the claim, and a voluntary drug test confirmed that.) Unlike the anti-heroine of their summer hit, the band members, who have been constantly on the road and in the spotlight, are in need of a vacation, not rehab.
The song, by the way, is not about a specific person but a composite of poseurs the band met during their time in Los Angeles. “A lot of people think that the song is actually about a supermodel, but it’s not,” David stresses. “The supermodels in the ’90s…are supercool, supersmart, super focused. They were living this weird, crazy lifestyle, but it was authentic and natural [to them]. The song is about people faking to be supermodels. We saw a lot of people who had no money, no skills, no nothing, pretending to have money, skills, and networks, and that was super funny for us. They were actually pretending to be supermodels.” While we were on the topic, I asked each member to identify their real-life favorite ’90s super. De Angelis, Raggi, and Torchio are all team Kate Moss; David’s pick is Carla Bruni.
Fame is now part and parcel of the lives of all the Måneskins, and maintaining a personal life is challenging, says David. There’s also the matter of sustaining the person and the persona; fashion and heavy eyeliner are important parts of the latter. This foursome is a ’70s-style fever dream, with a preference for tattoo-revealing open shirts and flared pants. They don’t shy away from some BDSM in their wardrobes or lyrics, either—listen to “I Wanna Be Your Slave” from the band’s second album and the remake featuring the Me Decade icon Iggy Pop for proof.
In some ways, fashion and society today are very close to the ’70s, a decade defined in part by fights for social justice, feminism, and sexual liberation. “There were a lot of artists then in the rock or punk scenes who were trying to break the norms through their music. In style and aesthetics they were very revolutionary, also for society, not just for fashion,” notes De Angelis. “Unfortunately you still have to fight for many of the same topics from that time. They’re still actual now, and you still have to stand up and speak up for them.”
Gen Z’ers all, the band wants to communicate a message of freedom. They also want to share their passion for classic rock with their fans. As David said in a 2017 interview, “Our band is a translation of music from the past into modernity.” Consider the version of Elvis Presley’s 1968 hit “If I Can Dream” they did for the Baz Luhrmann Elvis movie. Måneskin’s cover of the Four Tops’ 1967 song “Beggin’” has more than a billion listens on Spotify.
Covers remain an important part of their performances, even as the band writes and performs original work. It’s an approach that syncs with their mission of bridging old and new and, in the context of their upbringing, seems to have a particularly Roman slant. Everywhere in the capital city, antiquity is in dialogue with the present. At the same time, nostalgia has never been more of a force in popular culture, both before the pandemic and today. De Angelis suggests that their loud, raucous form of play was the post-lockdown antidote many needed. On top of that, their glitter and glam speak to the escapist party mood many designers are now exploring.
Though Måneskin promotes a message of acceptance and works a genderfluid aesthetic, their world contains some basic binaries: new-old, Italian-English, public-private. Which leads me back to that person-persona divide. For David, the two coexist: “I think it gets back to the [idea that] two different things can live at the same moment and be equally real in the same way. I feel like I’m completely a different person onstage and offstage, but I don’t feel like I am faking anything in either situation. It’s just a part of me that comes out. When I’m offstage I’m very introverted, and onstage I’m crazy. It’s just two parts of me that are equally true and real. It’s just the context that changes.”
De Angelis’s reaction is the opposite of David’s: “I feel it’s always me, but [onstage] that’s the moment where I feel like I can express myself fully and just be free of any inhibitions and just enjoy the moment. Sometimes we play in front of 60,000 people, and you think of when you played the exact same song on the streets. It’s crazy to see the whole journey, and only we know all the things we’ve been through, so it’s something very emotional, and in that moment it really makes sense.”
Torchio’s response is more measured. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot, actually, and I don’t have an answer yet,” he explains. “But probably it’s not about who or what I am onstage or offstage. It’s more about living in the moment, and lately I’m trying to live the present. Of course it’s always me onstage. I think that the clue is living in the moment.”
For his part, Raggi is mad for performing live. “I think that is one of the most true things that you can [experience], especially for an artist,” he says. “You can feel free onstage, and it’s something special because you have no filter with your crowd. Basically it’s a direct connection, so it’s something crazy. For me, it’s the best thing. I will stay forever onstage.”
And perhaps he will; as David victoriously announced at Eurovision: “Rock and roll never dies.”