Is Måneskin the Last Rock Band?
The Italian group has become a global sensation by giving Gen Z a taste of a genre that might have already taken its final breath.
The American visitor to Rome arrives with certain preconceptions that feel like stereotypes but turn out to be basically accurate. There really are mopeds flying around everywhere, and traffic seems governed by the principle that anyone can be replaced. Breakfast is coffee and cigarettes. Despite these orthopedic and nutritional hazards, everyone is better looking — not literally everyone, of course, but statistically, as if whatever selective forces that emerge from urban density have had an extra hundred generations or so to work. And they really do talk like that, an emphatic mix of vowels, gestures and car horns known as “Italian.” To be scolded in this language by a driver who wants to park in the crosswalk is to realize that some popular ideas are actually true. Also, it is hot.
Damiano David and Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin perform at Sanremo Music Festival 2021 at Teatro Ariston in Sanremo, Italy on March 6, 2021.
The triumphant return to Rome of Måneskin — arguably the only rock stars of their generation, and almost certainly the biggest Italian rock band of all time — coincided with a heat wave across Southern Europe and the temperature hit 42 °C (107 °F). The Tiber looked thick, rippled in places and still in others, as if it were reducing. By Thursday morning the band’s vast management team was officially concerned that the night’s sold-out performance at the Stadio Olimpico would be delayed. When Måneskin finally took the stage around 9:30 p.m., it was still well into the 90s — which was too bad, because there would be pyro.
Ethan Torchio, Damiano David and Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin perform at the Global Citizen Live 2021 at Parc du Champ-de-Mars in Paris, France on September 25, 2021.
There was no opening act, possibly because no rock band operating at this level is within 10 years of Måneskin’s age. The guitarist Thomas Raggi played the riff to “Don’t Wanna Sleep,” the lights came up and 60,000 Italians screamed. Damiano David — the band’s singer and, at age 24, its oldest member — charged out in black flared trousers and a mesh top that bisected his torso diagonally, his heavy brow and hypersymmetrical features making him look like some futuristic nomad who hunted the fishnet mammoth. Victoria De Angelis, the bassist, wore a minidress made from strips of leather or possibly bungee cords. Raggi wore nonporous pants and a black button-down he quickly discarded, while Ethan Torchio drummed in a vest with no shirt underneath, his hair flying. For the next several minutes of alternately disciplined and frenzied noise, they sounded as if Motley Crüe had been cryogenically frozen, then revived in 2010 with Rob Thomas on vocals.
Ethan Torchio and Thomas Raggi of Måneskin perform at Lollapalooza 2022 at Grant Park in Chicago on July 31, 2022.
Damiano David of Måneskin performs at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, California on November 1, 2021.
That hypothetical will appeal to some while repelling others, and which category you fall into is, with all due respect, not our business here. Rolling Stone, for its part, said that Måneskin “only manage to confirm how hard rock & roll has to work these days to be noticed,” and a viral Pitchfork review called their most recent album “absolutely terrible at every conceivable level.” But this kind of thumbs up/thumbs down criticism is pretty much vestigial now that music is free. If you want to know whether you like Måneskin — the name is Danish and pronounced MOAN-eh-skin — you can fire up the internet and add to the more than nine billion streams Sony Music claims the band has accumulated across Spotify, YouTube, et cetera. As for whether Måneskin is good, de gustibus non est disputandum, as previous Italians once said: In matters of taste, there can be no arguments.
Måneskin performing at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on October 27, 2021.
Damiano David and Thomas Raggi of Måneskin perform at the 2022 MTV VMAs at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on August 28, 2022.
You should know, though, that even though their music has been heard most often through phone and laptop speakers, Måneskin sounds better on a football / soccer field. That is what tens of thousands of fans came to the Stadio Olimpico on an eyelid-scorching Thursday to experience: the culturally-if-not-personally-familiar commodity of a stadium rock show, delivered by the unprecedented phenomenon of a stadium-level Italian rock band. The pyro — 20-foot jets of swivel-articulated flame that you could feel all the way up in the mezzanine — kicked in on “Gasoline,” a song Måneskin wrote to protest Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. From a thrust platform in the center of the field, David poured his full emotive powers into the pre-chorus: “Standing alone on that hill/using your fuel to kill/we won’t take it standing still/watch us dance.”
Måneskin perform at The Underworld in London on October 6, 2022.
Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin performs at Lollapalooza Stockholm 2022 at Gärdet in Stockholm, Sweden on July 1, 2022..
The effect these words will have on President Putin is unknown. They capture something, though, about rock ’n’ roll, which has established certain conventions over the last seven decades. One of those conventions is an atmosphere of rebellion. It doesn’t have to be real — you probably don’t even want it to be — but neither can it seem too contrived, because the defining constraint of rock as a genre is that you have to feel it. The successful rock song creates in listeners the sensation of defying consensus, even if they are right in step with it.
Damiano David of Måneskin performs at MGM Music Hall at Fenway in Boston on November 26, 2022.
Thomas Raggi of Måneskin performs at Maçka Küçükçiftlik Park in Istanbul, Turkey on July 23, 2022.
The need to feel the rock may explain the documented problem of fans’ taste becoming frozen in whatever era was happening when they were between the ages of 15 and 25. Anyone who adolesced after Spotify, however, did not grow up with rock as an organically developing form and is likely to have experienced the whole catalog simultaneously, listening to Led Zeppelin at the same time they listened to Pixies and Franz Ferdinand — i.e. as a genre rather than as particular artists, the way older generations experienced jazz. The members of Måneskin belong to this post-Spotify cohort. As the youngest and most prominent custodians of the rock tradition, their job is to sell new, guitar-driven songs of 100 to 150 beats per minute to a larger and larger audience, many of whom are young people who primarily think of such music as a historical artifact. On September 21, 2023, Måneskin take this business on a multivenue tour of the United States — a market where they are considerably less known — whose first stop is Madison Square Garden.
Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin performs at the 2022 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival in Indio, California on April 17, 2022.
Ethan Torchio of Måneskin performs at Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, Netherlands on February 27, 2023.
“I think the genre thing is like ... ” Torchio said backstage in Rome, making a gesture that conveyed translingual complexity. “We can do a metaphor: If you eat fish, meat and peanuts every day, like for years, and then you discover potatoes one day, you’ll be like: ‘Wow, potatoes! I like potatoes; potatoes are great.’ But potatoes have been there the whole time.” Rock was the potato in this metaphor, and he seemed to be saying that even though many people were just now discovering that they liked it, it had actually been around for a long time. It was a revealing analogy: The implication was that rock, like the potato, is here to stay; but what if rock is, like the potato in our age of abundance, comparatively bland and no longer anyone’s favorite?
Thomas Raggi and Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin perform at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan, Italy on July 24, 2023.
Which rock song came first is a topic of disagreement, but one strong candidate is “Rocket 88,” recorded by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythym band in 1951. It’s about a car and, in its final verse, about drinking in the car. These themes capture the context in which rock ’n’ roll emerged: a period when household incomes, availability of consumer goods and the share of Americans experiencing adolescence all increased simultaneously.
Victoria De Angelis, Ethan Torchio and Damiano David of Måneskin perform at the Pre-GRAMMY Gala in Los Angeles on February 4, 2023.
Although and possibly because rock started as Black music, it found a gigantic audience of white teenagers during the so-called British Invasion of the mid-1960s (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who), which made it the dominant form of pop music for the next two decades. The stadium/progressive era (Journey, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner) that now constitutes the bulk of classic-rock radio gave way, eventually, to punk (the Ramones, Patti Smith, Minor Threat) and then glam metal: Twisted Sister, Guns N’ Roses and various other hair-intensive bands that were obliterated by the success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam in 1991. This shift can be understood as the ultimate triumph of punk, both in its return to emotive content expressed through simpler arrangements and in its professed hostility toward the music industry itself. After 1991, suspicion of anything resembling pop became a mark of seriousness among both rock critics and fans.
Victoria de Angelis and Damiano David of Måneskin perform at Times Square in New York City on September 15, 2023.
It is probably not a coincidence that this period is also when rock’s cultural hegemony began to wane. As the ’90s progressed, larger and again whiter audiences embraced hip-hop, and the last song classified as “rock” to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 was Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” in 2001. The run of bands that became popular during the ’00s — the Strokes, the Killers, Kings of Leon — constituted rock’s last great commercial gasp, but none of their singles charted higher than No. 4. Let us say, then, that the era of rock as pop music lasted from 1951 to 2011. That’s a three-generation run, if you take seriously rock’s advice to get drunk and have sex in the car and therefore produce children at around age 20. Baby boomers were the generation that made rock a zillion-dollar industry; Gen X saved it from that industry with punk and indie, and millennials closed it all out playing Guitar Hero.
Victoria De Angelis and Thomas Raggi of Måneskin perform at P28 in Hanover, Germany on September 3, 2023.
The members of Måneskin are between the ages of 22 and 24, situating them firmly within the cadre of people who understand rock in the past tense. De Angelis, the bassist, and Raggi, the guitarist, formed the band when they were both attending a music-oriented middle school; David was a friend of friends, while Torchio was the only person who responded to their Facebook ad seeking a drummer. There are few entry-level rock venues in Rome, so they started by busking on the streets. In 2017, they entered the cattle-call audition for the Italian version of “The X Factor.” They eventually finished as runners-up to the balladeer Lorenzo Licitra, and an EP of songs they performed on the show was released by Sony Music and went triple platinum.
In 2021, Måneskin won the Sanremo Music Festival, earning the right to represent Italy with their song “Zitti e Buoni” (whose title roughly translates to “shut up and behave”) in that year’s Eurovision Song Contest. This program is not widely viewed in the United States, but it is a gigantic deal in Europe, and Måneskin won. Not long after, they began to appear on international singles charts, and “I Wanna Be Your Slave” broke the British Top 10. A European tour followed, as well as U.S. appearances at festivals and historic venues.
Damiano David of Måneskin performs at Stadio di San Siro in Milan, Italy on July 24, 2023.
This ascent to stardom was not unmarred by controversy. The Eurovison live broadcast caught David bending over a table offstage, and members of the media accused him of snorting cocaine. David insisted he was innocent and took a drug test, which he passed, but Måneskin and their management still seem indignant about the whole affair. It’s exactly this kind of incongruous detail — this damaging rumor that a rock star did cocaine — that highlights how the Italian music-consuming public differs from the American one. Many elements of Måneskin’s presentation, like the cross-dressing and the occasional male-on-male kiss, are genuinely upsetting to older Italians, even as they seem familiar or even hackneyed to audiences in the United States.
Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin performs at Mediolanum Forum di Assago in Milan, Italy on April 4, 2023.
“They see a band of young, good-looking guys that are dressing up too much, and then it’s not pure rock ’n’ roll, because you’re not in a garage, looking ugly,” De Angelis says. “The more conservative side, they’re shocked because of how we dress or move onstage, or the boys wear makeup.”
She and her bandmates are caught between two demographics: the relatively conservative European audience that made them famous and the more tolerant if not downright desensitized American audience that they must impress to keep the ride moving. And they do have to keep it moving, because — like many rock stars before them — most of the band dropped out of high school to do this. At one point, Raggi said that he had sat in on some classes at a university, “Just to try to understand, ‘What is that?’”
Damiano David and Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin perform at Nashville Municipal Auditorium in Nashville on October 3, 2023.
There is a perspective that reflects the post-’90s rock consensus (PNRC) that anything that sounds too much like a mass-market product is no good. The PNRC is premised on the idea that rock is not just a structure of song but also a structure of relationship between the band and society. From rock’s earliest days as Black music, the real or perceived opposition between rocker and society has been central to its appeal; this adversarial relationship animated the youth and counterculture eras of the ’60s and then, when the economic dominance of mass-market rock made it impossible to believe in, provoked the revitalizing backlash of punk. Even major labels felt obliged to play into this paradoxical worldview, e.g. that period after Nirvana when the most popular genre of music was called “alternative.” Måneskin, however, are defined by their isolation from the PNRC. They play rock music, but operate according to the logic of pop.
Damiano David and Thomas Raggi of Måneskin perform live at RUSH! World Tour at Movistar Arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina on October 29, 2023.
The sheer number of older and more experienced professionals involved in Måneskin introduces a tension between the rock conventions that characterize their songwriting and the fundamentally pop circumstances under which those songs are produced. They are four friends in a band, but that band is inside an enormous machine. From their perspective, though, the machine is good.
“There’s hundreds of people working and talking about you and giving opinions,” De Angelis said. “So if you start to get in this loop of wanting to know and control and being anxious about it, it really ruins everything.” Here lies the conflict between what the PNRC wants from a band — resistance to outside influences, contempt for commerce, authenticity as measured in doing everything themselves — and what any sane 23-year-old would want, which is to have someone with an M.B.A. make all the decisions so she can concentrate on playing bass.
Thomas Raggi of Måneskin performs at Nashville Municipal Auditorium on October 3, 2023.
The other way Måneskin is isolated from the PNRC is geographic. It became clear that they had encyclopedic knowledge of certain eras in American rock history but were only dimly aware of others. Raggi, for instance, loves Motley Crüe and has an album-by-album command of the Los Angeles hair-metal band Skid Row, which he and his bandmates seemed to understand were supposed to be guilty pleasures. But none of them had ever heard of Fugazi, the post-hardcore band whose hatred of major labels, refusal to sell merchandise and commitment to keeping ticket prices as low as possible set the standard for a generation of American rock snobs. In general, Måneskin’s timeline of influences seems to break off around 1990, when the rock most respected by Anglophone critics was produced by independent labels that did not have strong overseas distribution. It picks up again with Franz Ferdinand and the “emo” era of mainstream pop rock. This retrospect leaves them unaware of the indie/punk/D.I.Y. period that was probably most important in forming the PNRC.
The question is whether that consensus still matters. While snobs like Larson are overrepresented in journalism, they never constituted a majority of rock fans. That’s the whole point of being a snob. And snobbery is obsolete anyway; digital distribution ended the correlation between how obscure your favorite band was and how much effort you put into listening to them. The longevity of rock ’n’ roll as a genre, meanwhile, has solidified a core audience that is now between the ages of 40 and 80, rendering the fan-versus-society dimension of the PNRC impossible to believe. And the economics of the industry — in which streaming has reduced the profit margin on recorded music, and the closure of small venues has made stadiums and big auditoriums the only reliable way to make money on tour — have decimated the indie model. All these forces have converged to make rock, for the first time in its history, merely a way of writing songs instead of a way of life.
Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin performs at Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy on March 21, 2023.
Yet rock as a cluster of signifiers retains its power around the world. In the same way everyone knows what a castle is and what it signifies, even though actual castles are no longer a meaningful force in our lives, rock remains a shared language of cultural expression even though it is no longer determining our friendships, turning children against their parents, yelling truth at power, et cetera. Also like a castle, a lot of people will pay good money to see a preserved historical example of rock or even a convincing replica of it, especially in Europe.
In Milan, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees, and Måneskin’s show at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza — commonly known as San Siro, the largest stadium in Italy, sold out that night at 60,000 — was threatened by thunderstorms instead of record-breaking heat. Fans remained undaunted: Many camped in the parking lot the night before in order to be among the first to enter the stadium. One of them was Tamara, an American who reported her age as 60½ and said she had skipped a reservation to see da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in order to stay in line. “When you get to knocking on the door, you kind of want to do what you want,” she said.
The threat of rain was made good at pretty much the exact moment the show began. The sea of black T-shirts on the pitch became a field of multicolored ponchos, and raindrops were bouncing visibly off the surface of the stage. David lost his footing near the end of “I Wanna Be Your Slave,” briefly rolling to his back, while De Angelis — who is very good at making lips-parted-in-ecstasy-type rock faces — played with her eyes turned upward to the flashing sky, like a martyr.
The rain stopped in time for “Kool Kids,” a punk-inspired song in which David affects a Cockney accent to sing about the vexed cultural position of rock ’n’ roll: “Cool kids, they do not like rock/they only listen to trap and pop.” These are probably the Måneskin lyrics most quoted by music journalists, although they should probably be taken with a grain of salt, considering that the song also contains lyrics like “I like doin’ things I love, yeah” and “Cool kids, they do not vomit.”
“Kool Kids” was the last song before the encore, and each night a few dozen good-looking 20-somethings were released onto the stage to dance and then, as the band walked off, to make we’re-not-worthy bows around Raggi’s abandoned guitar. The whole thing looked at least semichoreographed, but management assured me that the Kool Kids were not professional dancers — just enthusiastic fans who had been asked if they wanted to be part of the show.
Ethan Torchio of Måneskin performs at the Oakland Arena in Oakland, California on October 13, 2023.
The regular kids, on the other hand, were available and friendly throughout. In Rome, Dorca and Sara, two young members of a Måneskin fan club, said they loved the band because, as Sara put it, “they allow you to be yourself.” When asked whether they felt their culture was conservative in ways that prevented them from being themselves, Dorca — who was 21 and wearing eyeglasses that looked like part of her daily wardrobe and a mesh top that didn’t — said: “Maybe it turns out that you can be yourself. But you don’t know that at first. You feel like you can’t.”
Damiano David and Victoria De Angelis of Måneskin perform at the Oakland Arena in Oakland, California on October 13, 2023.
Here lies the element of rock that functions independently from the economics of the industry or the shifting preferences of critics, the part that is maybe independent from time itself: the continually renewed experience of adolescence, of hearing and therefore feeling it all for the first time. But how disorienting must those feelings be when they have been fully monetized, fully sanctioned — when the response to your demand to rock ’n’ roll all night and party every day is, “Great, exactly, thank you.” In a culture where defying consensus is the dominant value, anything is possible except rebellion. It must be strange, in this post-everything century, to finally become yourself and discover that no one has any problem with that.
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