He won Festival di Sanremo 2017 with his catchy song and broke the internet from the hype surrounding his dancing gorilla. But there’s much more to Francesco Gabbani’s song “Occidentali’s Karma” (“Westerners’ Karma”) than the ape. Look beneath the colour and fun, and you’ll see a lot is going on.

The charming 34-year-old songwriter conquered the televote thanks to a super fresh and catchy song and simple and likeable choreography. It even grabbed the attention of press outside Italy — UK media Metro and Digital Spy have also been swept up in “Ape-Mania”.

But the moves and the sex appeal are not the only qualities that make “Occidentali’s Karma” so memorable. The lyrics — that deviate from the usual sanremese themes of pathos, love and tears — cleverly reference both science and philosophy.

In the first two lines of the song we immediately meet William Shakespeare and Erich Fromm. The iconic “To be, or not to be” — the opening phrase of a soliloquy spoken by Prince Hamlet in the so-called “nunnery scene” of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet — merges with Fromm’s book To Have or to Be, published in 1976.

In his work, the German psychoanalyst mentions modern society’s rush to materialism and how people prefer “having” to “being”. Gabbani uses the same concept as a major theme of “Occidentali’s Karma”.

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When he sings of the internet phenomenon, Francesco cites Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the international mutual aid fellowship, the purpose of which is to help alcoholics “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”. But he hints that those having to be helped nowadays are actually selfie addicts. You’ve felt the urge, haven’t you?

And what about “panta rhei” (“everything flows”)? The motto — spoken by pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus — reminds us that in life “everything changes and nothing remains still, you cannot step twice into the same stream” because “ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.”

The chorus takes us into a mystical dimension, full of references to Buddhism. “Nirvana” has nothing to do with the grunge band who slayed the charts in the ’90s. As many of you will already know, it represents the highest summit to aspire to after losing all contact with passions and mortal desires.

“Mantra” is instead a sacred utterance that must be repeated many times during meditation and that can help the believer to regain stability and lost mental strength. At the same time “karma” is the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (the cause) influence the future of that individual (the effect).

“Namaste” is a respectful form of greeting in Hindu custom, usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest.

The “single line” and the “recreation time” refer to yoga lessons. It’s Francesco himself who describes the meaning of that part — and how hypocritical we can be: “We do yoga to find a balance between body and mind” — he says — “But if we don’t wear fashionable clothes, then we do not go to yoga classes!”

The key part of the song is undoubtedly “the naked ape is dancing”, the answer to the dancing gorilla that’s breaking the internet.

The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal is a 1967 book by British zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris, who makes use of the term to refer to the human species, considered the most evolved version of monkeys, in this case devoid of the heavy coat of hair.

Last but not least, Karl Marx. The German-born socialist appears with his famous quote “Religion is the opiate of the masses”. The lines written by Gabbani are also related to the use of social networks — the drug of our days.

Fabio Ilacqua, the man who wrote “Occidentali’s Karma” together with Francesco, better explains the overall meaning of Italy’s entry.

“It describes the situation of Westerners, their models and their way of seeking refuge in the Oriental rituals for comfort. It’s a pretext to observe how are we as modern humans. Westerners are turning to oriental cultures like tourists who go into a holiday village. Oriental cultures are seen as an escape from the stress, but they were not born for this. It’s the trivialisation of something profound”.

Putting a dancing ape on stage next to the singer is not a random idea: “Behind the ape there’s the modern human being, one of the 193 species of apes described by Desmond Morris, the only one without hair. We are clothed men but inside we still have lots of characteristics deriving from cavemen”.

“Occidentali’s Karma” lyrics – Francesco Gabbani (Italy, Eurovision 2017)

“Occidentali’s Karma”

Essere o dover essere
Il dubbio amletico
Contemporaneo come l’uomo del neolitico
Nella tua gabbia 2×3 mettiti comodo
Intellettuali nei caffè
Internettologi
Soci onorari al gruppo dei selfisti anonimi
L’intelligenza è démodé
Risposte facili
Dilemmi inutili

AAA cercasi storie dal gran finale,
Sperasi
Comunque vada, panta rei
And “Singing in the rain”

Lezioni di Nirvana
C’è il Buddha in fila indiana
Per tutti un’ora d’aria, di gloria (ale!)
La folla grida un mantra
L’evoluzione inciampa
La scimmia nuda balla
Occidentali’s karma
Occidentali’s karma
La scimmia nuda balla
Occidentali’s karma

Piovono gocce di Chanel
Su corpi asettici
Mettiti in salvo dall’odore dei tuoi simili
Tutti tuttologi col web
Coca dei popoli
Oppio dei poveri

AAA cercasi umanità virtuale
Sex appeal
Comunque vada, panta rei
And “Singing in the rain”

Lezioni di Nirvana
C’è il Buddha in fila indiana
Per tutti un’ora d’aria, di gloria (ale!)
La folla grida un mantra
L’evoluzione inciampa
La scimmia nuda balla
Occidentali’s karma
Occidentali’s karma
La scimmia nuda balla
Occidentali’s karma

Quando la vita si distrae
Cadono gli uomini
Occidentali’s karma
Occidentali’s karma
La scimmia si rialza
Namaste, ale!

Lezioni di Nirvana
C’è il Buddha in fila indiana
Per tutti un’ora d’aria, di gloria (ale!)
La folla grida un mantra
L’evoluzione inciampa
La scimmia nuda balla
Occidentali’s karma
Occidentali’s karma
La scimmia nuda balla
Occidentali’s karma
Om

English translation

To be or to have to be
Hamlet’s doubt
As current as the Neolithic man
Get comfy in your 2 x 3 cage
Intellectuals in cafés
Internet experts
Honorary members of the selfie-addicted anonymous
Cleverness is out of fashion
Easy answers
Pointless dilemmas

AAA grand endings wanted
Hoped for,
Whatever happens, panta rhei
And “Singing in the Rain”.

Nirvana lessons
There’s Buddha in single line
Recreation time for everyone, a moment of glory (ale!)
The crowd is shouting a mantra
Evolution stumbles
The naked ape is dancing
Westerners’ karma
Westerners’ karma
The naked ape is dancing
Westerners’ karma

Drops of Chanel are pouring
On aseptic bodies
Save yourself from the smell of your own kind
All know-all with the web
Cocaine of the masses
Opiate of the poor

AAA virtual humanity wanted
Sex appeal
Whatever happens, panta rhei
And “Singing in The Rain”

Nirvana lessons
There’s Buddha in single line
Recreation time for everyone, a moment of glory (ale!)
The crowd is shouting a mantra
Evolution stumbles
The naked ape is dancing
Westerners’ karma
Westerners’ karma
The naked ape is dancing
Westerners’ karma

When life is distracted
Men drop
Westerners’ karma
Westerners’ karma
The ape gets back on its feet
Namaste, go!

Nirvana lessons
There’s Buddha in single line,
recreation time for everyone, a moment of glory (ale!)
The crowd is shouting a mantra
Evolution stumbles
The naked ape is dancing
Westerners’ karma
Westerners’ karma
The naked ape is dancing
Westerners’ karma
Om

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think about the lyrics to “Occidentali’s Karma”? Share your thoughts below!

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Yurena
Guest
Yurena

I adore this song and this singer’s cheeky smile can not fail to put another smile on whoever is watching his video. Intelligent lyrics, interesting voice and different from almost everything else playing on the radio these days.
I would have loved for him to win Eurovision but that Portuguese boy… his performance was magical.
Yurena from Tenerife (Canary Islands)

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

Also, I think it should be pointed out that the voices in the background going like “ooh, ooh” resemble monkey’s whooping sound.

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

I would like to add that “(cerca, sì)”, which means “go search/look for, yeah” is to be read as “yeah, right- keep on looking (it either suggests you’re unlikely to come to anything- so you won’t find any hint of humanity there- at all or even you are looking but won’t really try and actually change anything at all. But it’s mostly the former meaning.
Same goes when he says “hope, yes” = you can hope all you want, but there’s nothing left to hope for, no last-hurrah story to be found.

Ranjan Leakey
Guest
Ranjan Leakey

Namaste from Brazil! Thanks for providing us English translation! I am an anthropologist and Buddhist! I agree with you when you tell the lyrics encompasses both science and philosophy. You have tried well to explain the lyrics. Here, I would like to exaggerate some points which are needed to re-explain. 1) Namaste is not just used among the Hindus but among all the Indian religious groups like Hindus, Buddhists, Jain, and Sikhas. However, Hindu is primarily a geographical term. All those who live in the east of Indus River (where Indus Valley Civilization flourished) are called Hindu. 2: Buddhism played… Read more »

Paul Ryan
Guest
Paul Ryan

My italian teacher told us that “Quando la vita si distrae
Cadono gli uomini” is from Dante, possibly from Divina Commedia. Anyone confirm??

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

It’s from Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

Also, “Per tutti un’ora d’aria, di gloria” was inspired by Andy Wharol. But really, there are SO MANY quotes of SO MANY works etc. You can’t really name them all. The more you listen to it, the more quotes you will find.

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

You should probably explain to non-Italian speakers how AAA is used in notices when looking for a job, for an employer, for a house etc. in order to appear first in lists, as announcements are usually published following the alphabetical order, so we started opening our entries with “AAA” in order to appear before other announcements.

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

That is, because I’ve noticed that most listeners from other countries did not get the reference.

James
Guest
James

Thanks Jasmine, that’s extremely helpful.

We do a similar thing in the UK but it wasn’t obvious that that’s what the AAA in the song is meant to mean, so thanks for pointing it out.

(I think it’s a great song and brilliantly-written lyric, but the English translation on this site isn’t accurate, unfortunately.)

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

Yup, the lyrics might happen to be filled with too many references to philosophy, literature, art, etc. for a proper translation to be given while still maintaining the upbeat external veneer I guess… It’s very ironic a song too, so yeah it’s kind of difficult to deliver a proper translation, as most of it is clear thanks to differences in intonation and pace at different times in the song.

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[…] wish I could dance like him! If you don’t speak Italian, fret not! Here’s a detailed backgrounder on the song, along with the lyrics and English translation side by side. There’s more to the […]

serbianka
Guest
serbianka

Occidentali’s Karma is making my days better, I put the Youtube video on Loop and enjoy 🙂 It’s fun, dancy, singy (?), meaningful, satyrical but not pretentious, and Francesco is unbelievably charismatic, and he actually put thought into the song after being touched by a book. I mean wow. So what if he had a gorilla on stage? It’s withing the context of the song, it’s funny, has meaning. We had a bearded man-lady win, ice-skaters, Lordi, grandmothers baking. His act is very much above all those gimmicks. Most of ESC songs are either Love, Love, Peace, Peace or something… Read more »

buskyta
Guest
buskyta

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts , such is the duty of the true artist.” ~ Robert Schumann In a fake sad world all we need is a powerfull musical messages to illuminate our consciousness and to inspire humankind evolution… Francesco had the talent and courage to guide and inspire us trough this incredible journey!! In psychology terms, we call the “ape” the “human shadow”. Our personal and emotional maturity is related to the ability to recognize this aspect of our humanness, and so, the overall performance with the ape on stage, is a strong symbolic message… Read more »

Tanja Sikic Serbia
Guest
Tanja Sikic Serbia

Thank you, Cristian Scarpone! How happy and enlightened we`ll all be if all texts about ESC will be written like this one, above and many more on the site Wiwibloggs.com!

NotHereAnyway
Guest
NotHereAnyway

Very spot-on. The guy is ridiculing the Western fascination with all those whimpical and essentially empty things.
Quite nice that he sings it in perfect Italian. Most of the numb-brained youngers won’t understand anything. Will be dancing just like those apes. XD XD XD

Bruno
Guest
Bruno

Mi dispiace non possa essere reso il gioco di parole “…Buddha in fila indiana…” in un altro linguaggio: mettere Buddha (indiano) in fila indiana (Pellirossa) dimostra come storicamente l’occidente ha fatto sempre tanta confusione con quel che era l’oriente, tanto da confondere l’America con le indie, l’ovest con l’est.

Pierre
Guest
Pierre

in francese : mettre Bouddha dans la file indienne

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

Verissimo.
In pratica dovresti diluire tutto e ci perderebbe :/
“Buddha (India) in single file (= fila indiana = lit. “Indian file”)” = Westerners’ culture can’t even name the differences between the Indians of America and the actual Indians in Asia.

whowho
Guest
whowho

I read most of the comments and I am happy to be 50 year old.
You guys are simply pathetic. Many of you don’t understand a bit, just surface, you are now a big thing made just of surfaces and not substances.

Enjoy life till you have batteries.

Agnesani Patrizia
Guest
Agnesani Patrizia

“in the opening soliloquy he declares his true intent”

UK person
Guest
UK person

This song is more JESC and not ESC. Also is 100% overrated.

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[…] to the song again and again and read the translation of the Italian lyrics (along with the interpretation as published by Wiwibloggs), the more I fell in love with it and realize this is a rare work of genius.  Let me explain […]

buskyta
Guest
buskyta

I agree with your review of Francesco Gabbani´s Occidentali’s Karma. A phrase that in my opinion, describes this song more accurately “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” by Pablo Picasso This song is like an oyster: a popular catchy shell and inside a pearl! Francesco is a very eclectic, multifaceted and talented musician, songwriter and singer, with a never ending passion for music. I had the opportunity to watch many of his live performances on youtube and get goosebumps from it!! It´s really touching and puts me tears in… Read more »

Agnesani Patrizia
Guest
Agnesani Patrizia

Powerful, meaningful, “in the opening soliloquy he declares his true intent-talent. I am proud to be or have to be italiana, creativity at the core or “cuore”
Francesco sei un grande! AMEN andiamo tutti in pace con un amen

Luca
Guest
Luca

those who believe in evolution will have a big surprise in the end of times when they will found out that this world has a Creator.
I hope for many of you who praise this song which bring the conception of evolution and Buddhism that day will not find you unprepared.I am not saying this to criticise you but just to ask you to find the truth for yourself not for the sake of religion but for the sake of eternal life.

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

I am a practicing Catholic. Even though this song has that book about the Naked Ape as a starting point, believe me: it is not about evolution. I can be well-liked by both those who believe to that theory and the ones who believe in Creation. The lyrics cannot be reduced to just that.

dm
Guest
dm

this song is fire

dm
Guest
dm
ron swanson
Guest
ron swanson

I’m actually Zach Galifinakis.

Jeffrey Persky
Guest
Jeffrey Persky

This song is straight fire

brandus
Guest
brandus

About the above translation….. The phrase ????? ??? (panta rhei) is ancient greek means “everything flows” …. it was spoken by philoshopher Heraclitus….

Betty
Guest
Betty

Thank you very much for the translation! So helpful with this song.

Can I suggest one change? I think that “asettici” is probably “ascetic” (“characterized by severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons”) rather than “aseptic” (“free from contamination caused by harmful bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms; surgically sterile or sterilized”)

LOL and all that… Rock on!

Annarita
Guest
Annarita

Asettici=/= ascetici
the above translation is accurate.

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

NOPE. Asettico = aseptic;
Ascetico = ascetic.

Bsk
Guest
Bsk

What makes the song so brilliant is that he is criticizing the west’s appropriation of estern philosophies as a way of just “feeling good” without much thought as to the deeper significance behind thos appropriations while wrapping up his deep though lyrics into a feel good souding pop tune with a catchy hook. It’s a double irony: People are entertianed by the hook, the gorilla, the beat, without paying attention to what the song is actually saying which is that we are entertained by hooks, a gorilla, a beat without actually thinking what the deeper meaning of the lyrics. Quite… Read more »

MistressP
Guest
MistressP

I love the merchandising of the song. Perfect to wear to yoga class….

trackback

[…] never mind that he is singing this pretty heavy and biting song about the West’s usurping of Eastern values for commercial purposes. That’s why the ape is there. He’s calling us all dancing monkeys. It sounds much prettier in […]

Philip
Guest
Philip

The dancing monkey is You, hypocrites. He is showing “yourself” to you, makes you watch “yourself”. He is mocking you. To me personally, it is ridiculous how dated this is, but some dumb-ish people are just (not) realizing it, and think, oh this must be some new trendy stuff, so we better get on it, to be cool and In. Honestly, it’s pathetic.. and it is ridiculous to actually see you’re discussing his voice, or the music or whatever narrowmind-ishly stuff you’re doing. Step back and see the big picture, see how ridiculous you are europe, and that uncomfortable pain… Read more »

Dr. U.R. Murty
Guest

We are now living in a hypocritical civilization which is perhaps an essential evil. We perhaps cannot go back. We are locked in.

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[…] Francesco Gabbani Song: Occidentali’s Karma Theme: Here’s a very good analysis of Occidentali’s Karma (in […]

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[…] Bet aš ? tai labai nesigilinsiu, kad neišvargin?iau j?s? aky?i?, be to, be man?s t? jau puikiai padar? ir eurovizijos fan? wiwibloggsai blogas, tai ten ir pasiskaitysite, jei jau […]

Fernando
Guest
Fernando

When life is distracted Men drop The ape gets back on its feet. This sentence sums up the meaning of this song. It is just a reflection of our decadence as a civilization, how we are destroying ourselves with all this technology that is isolating and distracting us from the real problems and the things that really matter. Great song. Kind regards from Spain.

paolo
Guest
paolo

I am Italian so I understood this song immediately even if it is not so clear, but it is an extremely clever song, not stupid at all. After a long article it is very simple to recognize how is true this song. There is not any comments how the author see the young social network addicted western generation(.Agree or disagree?) For this generation is important to find a yes or copy oriental culture or to has to be. What is important if the music is catchy and the lyrics don’t mind it takes too much time to understand the meaning… Read more »

ME
Guest
ME

It’s not about a generation. I’m 23 and I barely turn on my phone on regular days… My mom, nevertheless, is always there with the damn phone plastered onto her face!

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[…] [Traduzione dell’articolo pubblicato dallo stesso autore su Wiwibloggs] […]

chessguy99
Guest

The biggest obstacle will be singing this to a backing track, instead of a live orchestra as he did at Sanremo. The orchestra’s participation as backing vocals was an important element to the song presentation, something that set it apart from most of the other contending songs. They can try to compensate for that with on-stage backing singers. Also, Francesco will have to attend as many pre-parties as possible, pushing the audience participation aspect of the song at those events.

AngieP
Guest
AngieP

There’s no use comparing Francesco with Loreen or Conchita! Every year is different, either we’ll have a clear favourite or the songs will be similar and we won’t be able to say “this is definetely the winner”. So wait until you see. As for the language, I believe there’s no need to change the lyrics in English. There are already some phrases and words everyone can understand. Apart fom that, the music will catch the viewer’s attention and then the lyrics. And don’t forget, before every song the commentators say a few words about the song and what it is… Read more »

Colin
Guest
Colin

@Talia AG. – This song is not ABOUT Buddhism, lol. It’s just using some Buddhist iconography to make fun of everyone. It’s a really smart and funny song at the same time. Bravo, Italy!

Purple Mask
Guest
Purple Mask

Great article. It explains yet more reasons why Italy could have a runaway winner this year. Maximum points from juries as well as the “gimmick” aspect giving the song massive televotes = big lead. The competition are going to struggle to beat this.
By “competition,” I’m realistically looking at Sweden, Australia, Russia, Greece… actually that might complete your top five this year! Are there any other big entries on the cards? (Well, maybe Portugal…)

Talia AG.
Guest
Talia AG.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED WITH THAT RULE ABOUT NOT SUBMITTING SONGS WITH RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL CONTENT?
This one because it’s Buddhism, makes it OK? No.
And what about “1944” too??
ESC is losing its essence about being a neutral contest year after year, what a shame.

Bastian
Guest
Bastian

Alex, where can we listen to Demy’s song?

Alex
Guest
Alex

One thing is for sure, Italy and Greece, together in Top 5. Really possibly fighting for the trophy.

Italy will absolutely be on Top 2-3 of Televoting, while Greece can score as good at the same part. Italy has more chances winning the Jury vote as well.

Don’t forget, it’s partly Finland 2006 and Ukraine 2007 in a good way, and additionally the tune is one of the most up-lifting ones over the past decade, and keep in mind, this is the most appealing part in Eurovision. Not to mention his invincible charisma! Bravo Italia!

Justin K.
Guest

Thanks for the analysis! I was thinking there’s some bits in the Italian that we won’t get in the English. I didn’t realize Italy’s odds for winning were slashed to 6/1 (at the time of the Metro article)!

I think it’d be OK to keep the lyrics in Italian—do most broadcasters have a “red button service” like the BBC with lyrics/translation on screen? If not, the Eurovision app would have that kind of info…

Music is the key
Guest
Music is the key

Chales and Olsi…I agree 🙂

I think that is why I choose this nick…Music is he key…and what matters in ESC

Charles
Guest
Charles

@MTD: And that is exactly I have always had a problem with televoters … and so many fans … almost nobody bothers to actually listen … it’s all a jump-wagon of easy entertaiment to distract our ears with a gorilla on stage … the metaphor and the meaning get lost in translation because everybody is just laughing out loud with the god damn gorilla. Italy trying to be Eurovision 2000 … have mercy!

Charles
Guest
Charles

Let’s focus on the meaning of the song …. and leave the god damn annoying gorilla out of this …. this is Eurovision SONG contest and not your desire to be 6 again and having another school trip to the zoo.

Jasmine
Guest
Jasmine

You clearly couldn’t grasp the meaning of the song then.

Slaytina
Guest
Slaytina

I dont like the song at all but it gives me very good vibes thanks to its singer. I don’t see winner alert, I see the 2017 winner.

Olsi
Guest
Olsi

@Music is the key

U are right! For this is called Eurovision SONG Contest. Not only music one or Beauty contest. This lyric is for humanity.

MTD
Guest
MTD

All cool, but when this is performed in Italian in Kyiv, nobody will actually understand the lyrics (except the Italian speakers) and all what will they see is a dancing gorilla and “that sexy Italian man with a mustache”.

Yes. You know it damn well that it will be case.

So, as Charles around here said it (not with these words) – Italy went against ESC in the 90s because it transformed itself into a “parody” and nowadays, takes the same path that once hated it.

Gotta love the hypocritical world that we are living in. 😛

Peninsula
Guest
Peninsula

Out of all the songs confirmed so far, this one is the best. I have a feeling the judges will underrate it though.

Music is the key
Guest
Music is the key

Sadly, some ESC-fans are more into discussing wind machine, dresses and “hot men” (at least the gay male fans) than lyrics in ESC….a shame! Lyrics are way more important of course! And often an unfairly overlooked factor. Of course there are some “cliche lyrics” (like Georgia this year, a horrible song). But there are some great, innovative and poetic lyrics every year. For instance, i did love the Swiss lyrics last year. The song was maybe so-so, but it had philosophical and “intellectual” lyrics. I have to say I quite became curious about the lyrics here, because he sings about… Read more »

GG
Guest
GG

Oops…Grazie mille Italia!

GG
Guest
GG

This entry will stand out and hopefully finish in the top 5! It’s so different,clever and it conveys so much energy! Grazzie mile Italia!

cheesecake
Guest
cheesecake

Good article, good lyics, good song.

Erasmus
Guest
Erasmus

I seriously can’t see what people see in this song… for me it the worstso far. I loved Italy in 2016,2014 and in 2013.. but this is just cheap for me. I lovelove Italian so please keep it that way, but I still hate the song it’s so annoying.