Italy’s Festival di Sanremo breathes controversy like air — it’s a near-constant!
Every year the national music contest is surrounded by criticism, more or less founded, but never before has the atmosphere around the contest been so heavy.
It’s a tad surprising this year because Amadeus — the host and artistic director of the 2020 edition of the kermesse — has always been appreciated by the general public and insiders during his long television career. He’s frequently described as a polite, spontaneous and funny professional.
Just one step from his consecration at the Ariston Theatre, the 57-year-old presenter has been in the middle of several controversies launched by the media over the last few days.
In some cases, he didn’t do himself any favours — as when he revealed the names of 22 of the 24 competing artists to a single newspaper (La Repubblica), a week before the planned announcement. That created a lot of discontent among journalists and bloggers.
The criticism grew more fierce after the first official press conference for the Festival, on January 14th.
— Ufficio Stampa Rai (@Raiofficialnews) January 14, 2020
Presenting one of the co-hosts — Francesca Sofia Novello, the girlfriend of motorcycle road racer Valentino Rossi — Amadeus admitted:
“I chose her for her beauty, but also for her ability to stand next to a great man, always being one step behind him.”
He was promptly accused of sexism, and there was no mention of anything else on Italian social media for hours.
The case has led many celebrities to lash out at the artistic director. Among them are two former Sanremo hosts, Claudia Gerini and Michelle Hunziker.
“A man in the center, who speaks, and has the right to speak… The women as a contour of beautiful statues, worthy to sit there because they are beautiful while the man does not need beauty, incredible, despite being 50 years old. This is unacceptable” — Gerini wrote on Instagram. “Women are still scary and it’s better that they stay one step behind! I hope that a heartfelt apology and correction will follow.”
Amadeus then publicly apologized in a statement for the press:
“I was misunderstood. That step behind referred to Francesca’s choice to stay out of the spotlight, which inevitably is aimed at a champion like Valentino. Another girl could perhaps have ridden so much popularity and instead Francesca chose to be more discreet, to remain more out of the spotlight. But Sanremo is also this, I have learned that you have to be careful with every word.”
“I am the least sexist person on the face of the earth: I have been happily in love for 18 years, I have a mother I adore, a daughter who is proud of me,” he added later. “In 57 years no one has had anything negative to say about me, I must have said something silly and I apologize. But if someone wants to make me look like someone I’m not, I don’t accept it.”
“Mr. Amadeus and I met months ago, assuming a project together. Unfortunately, for major reasons, we did not succeed in our goal. I wish him and his team a good Festival and hope for another chance in the future.”
It is not over yet. Argentine model Georgina Rodriguez, life partner of the Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, may not be in Sanremo either.
The fee she requested — 100,000 euros — is considered rather high compared to the rest of the personalities we’ll see at Ariston. So RAI is ready to give up on having her.
Will Junior Cally be disqualified from Sanremo 2020?
The controversy has also affected the cast of singers. Especially the rapper Junior Cally, who was attacked by all Italian political parties — starting from Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini — for the lyrics of the song “Strega” published in 2017. In them the artist uses vulgar words and talks about the killing of a woman.
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) January 19, 2020
“Her name is Gioia, but she drinks then swallows
She dances half naked, then she fucks with you.
She’s called Gioia because she’s a slut
Yes, to Mom and Dad’s delight.
This girl, bro, doesn’t know what she’s saying
Holy shit, how much fucking talk is that?
I killed her, I ripped her purse off…
and then I covered my mask with it.”
Marcello Foa, president of RAI, also spoke on the subject and said that “it is ethically unacceptable for Junior Cally to participate”. The disqualification of the singer seems imminent.
We should bare in mind, however, that in the Sanremo regulations there is a clause prohibiting the exclusion of a competitor: the penalty is substantial compensation for the injured party.
In the meantime two of the 24 Sanremo 2020 competing artists — Levante and Francesco Gabbani — have defended their colleague.
“In 2001 there was Eminem at the Festival and we know his lyrics well, now why all this ruckus about Junior Cally, then?” — says singer-songwriter Levante — “It sounds to me like an excuse to keep feeding a controversy that doesn’t exist. If you don’t like the artistic direction, you should have talked about it before, not just a few days before the beginning.”
“It’s paradoxical that there are those who ask to exclude someone for songs he has previously sung, I disagree” — adds Eurovision 2017’s act Gabbani — “I believe that freedom in art must be there by definition or it wouldn’t be art, just as on the other side there is the freedom of the listener to criticize and not to listen.”
Sanremo can’t actually find peace. Even one of the special guests, rapper Salmo, called by Amadeus to open the Festival, has chickened out.
“I will not be at Sanremo” — Salmo said on Instagram. “I don’t feel like it, I would feel uncomfortable. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. I would like to tell you that between the two saints, Sanremo and San Siro [the largest stadium in Italy, venue for numerous concerts], I choose San Siro. If you want to come in the right place, with the right people, come to San Siro on June 14th.”
Last but not least, further attacks arrived for Amadeus from a couple of singers who tried to participate in the festival, but whose songs were refused. Marcella Bella and Lisa openly argued with the host on their social profiles.
Bella, who has nine participations at the contest behind her, and in the last two years took part as a judge in the talent show Ora o mai più, presented by Amadeus himself, wrote on Facebook:
“It always hurts to suffer an injustice, especially when it comes from someone you don’t expect (…) I hope that the new year will take away forever some people who I thought were loyal and sincere friends and who stabbed me in the back.”
Lisa, who took part in Ora o mai più as well, but as a competitor, winning the first edition in 2018, threw a lot of shade at Amadeus, also implicating Elettra Lamborghini, who will sing “Musica (E il resto scompare)” in Sanremo 2020:
“Even though I presented an interesting song, I won’t be part of this Festival! — she tweeted. “For the next Sanremo 2091 I decided to learn how to twerk and use autotune… yay!”