On first glance, the Italian band Måneskin looks like a holdover from that period when melodic hard rock was briefly resurgent — the foursome has a swagger reminiscent of so many bad-boy (and girl) bands, their long limbs clad in form-hugging leather, their eyes rimmed with black kohl. When they performed at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, held in Rotterdam in May, they stuck out, with their Sunset Strip-ready shimmying and their grinding guitars starkly contrasting with the vocal showcases, nods to traditional music, and upbeat synthpop offered by other countries.
With an overwhelming show of support from viewers watching around Europe and a not-insignificant number of nods from the show’s juries, which are divided by country, Måneskin wound up as triumphant oddballs, taking home the 2021 Eurovision title for Italy. After a brief controversy over whether or not frontman Daviano David was hunched over a table because he was taking a celebratory sniff of something — he wasn’t, he claimed, and the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the multi-country celebration, backed him up — the band returned to the stage, thrashing through their winning song “Zitti e Buoni” (translation: “Shut Up and Be Good”) as the ceremony closed.
Then came the more improbable development: success in America, thanks to the band racking up numbers on streaming services. Måneskin — the name means “moonlight” in Danish, a nod to the heritage of bassist Victoria De Angelis — currently has one song on the Hot 100, a cover of the Four Seasons’ desperate “Beggin’” that sits at No. 35. It’s No. 5 on Spotify’s Top Songs USA chart and No. 3 on Tokboard, an independent audit of songs popular on the video-sharing app TikTok, as of this writing. Another single, “I Wanna Be Your Slave,” is in Spotify’s Top 50 as well.
“Beggin’” first appeared in Måneskin’s repertoire in 2017, when the band competed on the 11th season of Italy’s “The X Factor.” (They came in second on the show.) The version vaulting the charts calls back, oddly enough, to the brief era when funk-metal — a fusion of thick basslines, crisp riffing, and the occasional rapped verse — was on American pop culture’s radar in the early ’90s thanks to songs like Faith No More’s surrealistic “Epic” and Public Enemy and Anthrax’s reimagination of the former’s thundering “Bring the Noise.” It takes up less sonic space than those two maximalist songs, and David’s nasal whine is going to make listeners either go bananas or lunge for the “skip” button. Still, the appeal of “Beggin’,” even in nu-nu-metal form, is obvious; just ask the Norwegian duo Madcon, who had a 2007 hit with a jittery, yet gym-playlist-ready take on the track.
While Americans have had awareness of Eurovision since it started in 1956, the country’s interest in the contest’s specifics was broad. In recent years, though, obsessives have been able to indulge more deeply thanks to the Internet — including illicitly streamed broadcasts and YouTube posts of songs and performances, as well as deep-dive podcasts like “The EuroWhat?,” a serious, yet not self-serious look at the contest cohosted by Somerville resident Ben Smith.
In recent years, it’s finally made its way over to TV: The Viacom cable channel Logo aired the Eurovision final live from 2016 to 2018, while Netflix let users watch the contest on demand in 2019. The next year, that service released “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” a cheeky, Will Ferrell-led movie musical. In 2021, people who wanted to watch Eurovision live without downloading VPN software were able to do so via Peacock, Comcast’s subscription streaming service, which streamed the semifinals and finals this year live.
Whether it’s the streaming availability, the novelty after a year-plus of COVID-related lockdowns, the tie-in with NBC’s forthcoming 50-states competition “American Song Contest,” the idea that the current pop-punk revival isn’t the only resurgence of rock, or just another TikTok-spawned trendlet, America’s awareness of Eurovision’s music is on an upswing: “Arcade,” the snoozily dramatic 2019 winner representing the Netherlands and performed by singer-songwriter Duncan Laurence, has been bobbing around the Hot 100′s bottom half since the broadcast. (It’s at No. 57— its peak — as of this writing.) It’s enough to make one wonder what the American chart fate would have been like for previous Eurovision winners of note — like Sweden’s 2012-winning synth anthem “Euphoria,” belted by Loreen — or standout runners-up like Norway’s 2013 entrant, the storming Margaret Berger showcase “I Feed You My Love,” if streaming had been more entrenched back in the day.
Måneskin’s success likely won’t match that of the Swedish pop juggernaut ABBA, who rode “Waterloo” to Eurovision success for their home country in 1974 and reeled off a slew of hits that were the backbones for stage and screen musicals. (Although the Italian band has time — all their members are between the ages of 20 and 22.) But even if the foursome was to drop off the face of the earth, Måneskin’s American media presence says something about how the borders of pop are shifting.