MILAN — Seeing Italian singers Mahmood and Blanco on and off the stage are two completely different experiences.
The intensity they channel when singing their hit “Brividi,” the romantic ballad that had no competition in claiming the victory at the Sanremo music festival and that the duo is now to bring to the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, contrasts with the cheerful and fun attitude they have during press commitments.
“We’re getting ready to give our best. Many people know we like to joke, but when we’re onstage we’re completely focused on the music and on creating the right harmony between us,” said Mahmood. “We’ve both sung ‘Brividi’ on our respective tours for the past few weeks, without each other, but when we sing it together, the impact is so strong,” he added.
The artists met last summer at the studio of music producer Michelangelo — who will be onstage with them playing the piano — and immediately clicked, deciding to collaborate right away. “We provoke each other, joke a lot and it happens that we argue, too. But we share great mutual respect and we are very happy to have faced this adventure together,” said Blanco, aka Riccardo Fabbriconi.
The chemistry between the two singers contributed to making the song relevant for the local audience since the beginning. With a title translating into “Chills” in English, the ballad is about love with a focus on the fear and vulnerability in exposing one’s feelings to someone, with the lyrics intentionally remaining vague on the parties involved or the kind of relationship described to better enable everyone to relate to the words. The song’s universal message, the harmonization of their voices, as well as the simple staging, made for a powerful trifecta the artists hope will resonate with Eurovision’s international audience, too.
Even if they represent different generations — Mahmood is a Millennial, Blanco a Gen Zer — and have different backgrounds, musical styles and personalities, the artists are both part of a new wave of local music talents promoting a fresher and more inclusive image of Italy, also by offering different takes on masculinity.
This approach inevitably percolates into their fashion choices, with Mahmood often opting for tailoring with an unexpected twist and Blanco showing his tattooed chest through sheer shirts (when not half-naked).
“Fashion is certainly a very important language, it is a way of communicating that has a great relevance…it offers me another way to express myself,” said Mahmood.
While he likes to experiment with different brands — from Burberry to Prada — Blanco has been a loyal Valentino man for the past year, having been tapped by the brand for the Boiler Room music project in 2021 and wearing Valentino outfits on many occasions, including at the Sanremo music festival. Most recently his charismatic and anarchic personality shined in Valentino’s “Portrait of a Generation” advertising campaign photographed in London and strategically released in the lead-up to the Eurovision contest. At the same time, Calvin Klein welcomed the artist during his first New York trip by taking him to Joe’s Pizza, challenging him to jump into the fountain of Washington Square Park in his jeans and running around Times Square in his branded underwear.
While both singers wanted to keep under wraps the details of their performance on Saturday, during their appearance at the contest’s semifinal earlier this week Mahmood went for power tailoring in a Prada gray coat, while Blanco wore a total white look by Valentino.
Blanco underscored that the duo has arrived in Turin “without too many expectations not to ruin this incredible experience” and is just glad “to have the chance to sing our song in front of such a vast and international audience and represent our country.”
Yet the pressure on their shoulders is big: being the local entry after Måneskin — who will return as special guests at the final, after winning last year — is not an easy task, as comparisons and expectations to match that level of success inevitably flooded social media and piled up under the “Brividi” official video on YouTube that already counts more than 55 million views.
“Social networks are key tools for those who do our job, but it is equally important to be able to give them the right [importance] without being influenced too much by the constant opinions received,” noted Blanco, who has 2.1 million followers on Instagram.
“We still feel everyone’s fondness. We don’t particularly feel the pressure because we are not facing this event as a competition but an opportunity to put ourselves out there and bring our song to as many people as possible,” echoed Mahmood. He also praised Måneskin and the success they had abroad, underscoring that “their victory has played a very important role for all the Italian artists who would like to reach an increasingly international audience.”
Yet Mahmood has already witnessed the benefits that come with the European contest firsthand, taking part for the second time after winning the silver medal in 2019. At the time, he gained international popularity thanks to his hit “Soldi,” which was about his upbringing, marked by his Egyptian father abandoning him when he was a child. The video of his performance of the song at Eurovision reached 27 million views on YouTube, while the official clip of the song was played 193 million times.
“I owe everything to that experience, it allowed me to open up to an international audience and do my first European tour,” recalled Mahmood, defining it “an honor” to represent Italy a second time at the contest.
“I want it to be like the first one. I want to have the same vibes as Riccardo [Blanco] and approach everything with the same sense of discovery. In this way, I will enjoy it more, just like it happened with Sanremo,” he added.
Asked if he had any tips for debutante Blanco, Mahmood said, “there is no advice, he’s already good at what he does. I just can tell him to stay relaxed, I think the best way to go through this experience is with a complete sense of freedom.”
Anticipation for the other contestants’ performances is also building, with the duo admitting “there are many songs we like, but if we have to choose, we think Kalush Orchestra [from Ukraine] are very strong,” said Mahmood.
“Yesterday they came to meet us and we sang together,” continued Blanco, addressing a video the Ukrainian band shared on Instagram about the encounter. “It’s been really emotional, something we won’t forget also for all that they are representing in this historic moment.”
Born with the full name Alessandro Mahmoud in 1992, just like Måneskin, the singer also auditioned for “X-Factor Italia’s” but in 2012, and was eliminated after three episodes. He returned to the music scene by winning the “Giovani” category of Sanremo — dedicated to emerging talents — in 2018 before taking the trophy of the main competition at the same music festival in 2019 with “Soldi.” He has scaled the music charts ever since thanks to his distinctive music style blending hip-hop, pop and Arabic influences and his personal lyrics, as proved by hits “Gioventù Bruciata,” “Rapide” and “Inuyasha.”
On the other hand, Blanco’s rise to fame was super fast. In just a year the singer, who was born in 2003, became a sensation among younger generations in the country thanks to his anarchic attitude and successful string of hits released one after the other, including “Notti in Bianco,” “Paraocchi” and “Mi Fai Impazzire.” But with the song “Blu Celeste” and his performance at Sanremo, he revealed a softer, more personal side that made him a heartthrob for both teenagers and their mothers alike.
After Eurovision, both artists will resume their respective tours, which recently saw Mahmood performing in London and Paris’ Bataclan and Blanco touching base in all the major Italian cities.