Italy (Final) - Ilya Marin

On Saturday, , February 9th, we saw the culmination of a week long celebration of Italian music, as the 69th edition of the Festival di Sanremo came to a close.

As a kid growing up in Italy, I started watching Sanremo way before discovering the wonders of Eurovision (at the time, most Italian had never even heard of Eurovision). While nowadays I am a fan of both shows, the two productions could not be more different from one another. For starters, the pace of Sanremo is much slower than that of Eurovision. The hosts are never rushed, and the songs are not limited to three minutes in time. You can imagine that, with 24 competition acts, Saturday’s show lasted a solid four hours, ending at 1am – way past my bedtime!

Sanremo is less about the glitzy acts and more about the music, as evidenced by the presence of a classical orchestra to accompany each act. However, much thought is put into making the show entertaining as a whole – by way of guest artists, costume changes, comedy skits, parodies, and of course, the hosts and their personalities. On this final night, Virginia Raffaele, one of the three hosts, performed a hilarious (and spot-on) medley of songs imitating famous Italian singers Malika Ayane, Giusy Ferreri, Patty Pravo, Fiorella Mannoia, and Ornella Vanoni. 

The evening’s special guest was Elisa, who sang “Anche Fragile” from her latest album and performed a touching duet with Claudio Baglioni. Every year the show’s hosts and guest artists have the honor of making a grand entrance onto the stage by walking down an infamous set of stairs, a staple element in the Sanremo stage design. In this edition the stairwell was much less prominent and only appeared as needed, which I found disappointing.

There was quite an eclectic mix of genres in competition – from ballads and up-tempo pop to rock and hip-hop. It was also a combination of Italian music legends that have been around for decades, like Patty Pravo, and relatively new discoveries like Einar. All female contestants were given a bouquet of flowers after their performance, which I thought was a very sweet gesture.

Loredana Bertè, a well-known artist in Italy, came back to Sanremo for the 8th time, with “Cosa ti aspetti da me.” She delivered a powerful performance with her signature raspy voice, sporting a striking look with her electric blue hair. While she came in fourth place, many felt she was the true star of the show, and her performance was met by a standing ovation. During the announcement of the votes, as Loredana’s ranking was revealed, the audience went berserk, starting to whistle in protest and chanting Loredana’s name. Such strong reaction from the audience has never happened before.

The surprise winner of the festival was Mahmood, who triumphed with a rhythmic “Soldi”. The song talks about Mahmood's relationship with his father, who left his family when he was a child. This victory came as a surprise to many, who expected the fan favorite Ultimo to take the trophy. While Ultimo came first in the popular vote, Mahmood won both the expert jury and the press jury votes. I've got a feeling that Mahmood’s song will be a hit among the Eurovision crowd.

Traditionally, the Sunday after the final, all contestants appear on the popular DomenicaIN variety show. This year, however, Loredana Bertè, Ultimo, among others, were noticeably absent, apparently unhappy with the results. In the week following the contest, a controversy ensued around the televote / jury vote split. The Italian public seems to be divided between wanting to revert to a 100% televote (like in the old days) or keeping the current voting system as is. So what’s going to happen in the future? We’ll just have to wait until the 70th edition to find out.