It’s an hour before midnight, and I can’t take my mind off what tomorrow afternoon has to reveal: the beginning of the Italian New Year – Night One of the Festival di Sanremo 2022. I want to talk mostly about Mahmood in this piece so I’ll start by saying there was never an artist in Eurovision I’ve seen who compelled and confused me as much as he did outright. The lyrics of the first song I heard from him had me learn in seconds that he is a storyteller by birth.
“In periferia fa molto caldo, mamma stai tranquilla sto arrivando.”
In 2019, When Mahmood’s single Soldi was the song to win this honorable contest, I was immediately siphoned into this fresh, white hot soundscape of tantalizing beats and prevailing personalities. As if flying through a prism, this dimension of brilliance was colored by a wonderworker of contemporary R&B, rap, and pop of Bella Italia. It might be reductive of me to say that the crowd-catching double-clap in his song enamored me alone, but it might have just been true. In the three pristine minutes of Mahmood’s entry, I sensed a rhythm and melody that were distinctly modern, which shone at the cusp of time itself – this was radiantly fresh. A star was caught at this artist’s fingertips.
Fast forward to the night of the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel; where our friend ascended the stage to win for Italy. By a margin of just 27 points, Mahmood came runner up to our winner and Dutch balladeer, Duncan Laurence with his song, Arcade. Duncan dazzled Europe and the rest of the world with his heartfelt melody, and ultimately, he brought the contest to Rotterdam. The 2021 contest was a hard fought battle, and with Måneskin, we saw Italy garner the trophy from the country that was for a moment their rival in the final seconds of the televote sequence in Israel. The new winners, who were quick to become pop sensations, were for the contest’s sake, shown to be pioneers of modern rock n’ roll. I had never experienced such a pop-culture whiplash moment as intense as their win was in my life: there was nothing like witnessing people in my country fall in love with this inventive, visionary Italian rock band that I saw win the Italian selection just a few months prior.
In this Sanremo year, a visionary in the same caliber as the previous winners is accompanied by equally adventurous rapper and singer Blanco. Mahmood is in the running once again, but to get how far?
Before the contest, the Italian runner-up released Gioventù Bruciata – his debut studio album where Soldi was the flagship single. Topping the charts in Italy and making a sweep of Europe, this experimental collection of 11 songs went to enthrall the R&B, pop, and rap listeners of the world; culminating in one crucial mark: this singer has a vigorously distinct sound, despite being confined to genre.
His sophomore album, Ghettolimpo, was not as popular as its predecessor. Even so, you see a nearly exponential shift in the second-by-second subtleties that already made Mahmood’s music intellectually enchanting. Singles like Kobra, Rubini, and Rapide among plenty others each individually display his unobjectionable gravity toward a sound that’s always new, inventive, and devoid of the need of approval from anyone else. In just the handful of songs he’s put out since Eurovision, I’ve come to see Alessandro Mahmood as a pure, rare genius.
What could the feature with Blanco sound like for us, at the end of the day? Is the song Eurovision-ready, and most importantly of all, do the styles of the artists of Inuyasha and Blu Celeste mesh well? I’ve got just hours to hear the song, and grow just a few centimeters closer to finding that answer. I won’t get it on the first listen, I’m sure. One thing I can say is a certain quality for both artists is that they are masters of the studio and poetry – the production and lyrics wrapped to every song feel dedicated and driven by detail and transformation. They illustrate brilliance in motion – nothing that would be fitted to a single play of their songs. These artists write pieces that are as flexible and secret-bearing as a chameleon’s skin. Zooming out and looking at their co-competitors, if one thing feels absolutely certain so far, it’s that nothing should be taken at face value in the Festival. This is sure to be a gleaming selection because Italian music is on its own… gleaming. Mahmood and Blanco will at the very least give us a slice of the mysterious puzzle that gives Sanremo its own charm. Can they win Sanremo? I won’t be too hasty to declare anything so soon.
The title of the track I most anticipate from tonight is Brividi, which translates to “Chills” in English. No matter the victor at the end of this tumultuous week, I’m ready for a fantastic show, and a feeling of Brividi no matter the singer or singers who bring that arresting sensation toward us.