Italians have a strange fascination with Sanremo, the annual song contest that famously inspired the format for Eurovision. It might be accused of being passé by some but as a cultural event it is still an oddly poignant showcase for the country’s social shifts.
This year’s edition is a case in point. The festival runs until tomorrow but the cultural clashes began early. During a press conference, Sanremo presenter Amadeus (pictured, on right) introduced one of his co-hosts, Francesca Sofia Novello (also the girlfriend of motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi), by praising “her ability to stand next to a great man, always being one step behind him”. A row ensued, followed by another debate on the deliberately provocative and misogynistic lyrics of rapper and contestant Junior Cally (he wound up performing a different song). Once the festival began, journalist and co-host Rula Jebreal sought to redress the balance by delivering a strongly worded feminist speech.
There are some people who would wish such controversies away; people who think that these occasions should be treated as carefree celebrations. The cheesy tunes, comfortingly predictable comedy and a taste for the kitsch might be the main reason why we watch Sanremo (and Eurovision for that matter) but wishing politics away from the stage is pointless because everything – even the outfits – can be political. Take a look at contestant Achille Lauro’s amazing glittery onesie and you’ll understand why his performance was a big step in a country that still struggles with discussions about gender and sexuality. It’s about time these issues took centre stage.