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Text Silvia Novelli

«Despite all the changes, I still belong to myself» – Tiziano Ferro said on stage at the Teatro Ariston last night. It applies to him, but also to the Festival: for the last seventy-six years Sanremo has been everything and its opposite, still Sanremo is Sanremo, ever-changing yet always the same, deeply rooted in the country’s fabric with the same stubbornness detected in all Italian contradictions.

Since 1951 Sanremo has evolved, has changed its hosts and its artistic directors, venues and judging panels, never ceasing to divide the public opinion and to make headlines – always, in every way, whether good or bad – between the festival’s fans and the ‘radical chic’ who on social media proudly declare they stopped watching the Sanremo festival back in 1984 adding: there’s a very good film on that other channel tonight, check it out.

In any case, Sanremo is here, also this year, punctual and inexorable like a flaw.

Eleven ‘established’ singers competed on the opening night (the other eleven performed last night). It’s a little odd seeing Fiorella Mannoia perform in between Lodovica Comello and Alessio Bernabei, or Clementino sing right after Ron, but that’s the way it is.

The “Sanremese” category is a sociological grouping per se, where the number of an artist’s appearances at the Festival is inversely proportional to the circulation of their tracks on the radio or on You Tube, that is, IRL. The “Sanremese” category includes two basic elements: pleasant-sounding tunes and lyrics that blend words like love and beloved. Such expressive means come natural to many performers – like Albano -, a little less to others, but to tread the boards at the Festival a few more rhyming couplets it’s not that big a deal. There are also singers, but it’s rare, who unbelievably walk on stage of the Ariston without showing any conformist or challenging attitudes, but stay true to themselves, like Samuel out of Subsonica did last night, opened by a tribute from Tiziano Ferro to Luigi Tenco, who took his like in Sanremo in 1967. Ferro’s cover of “Mi sono innamorato di te” was heartwarming, but emotions were palpable later on that night when Tiziano performed a duet with Carmen Consoli: two genuine artists with their unique sensitiveness, a perfect connection of sounds.

As for the other guests, Ricky Martin sparked up things with his timeless catchy hits (and never mind if someone commented he looked like a zumba instructor: we would all be glad to have a zumba instructor like him, and he is 47).

And, finally – or, better, at the beginning – there she was: Maria De Filippi, aka #QueenMary, this year’s new host alongside our own Carlo, a bipartisan duo, as ironically underlined by comedian Maurizio Crozza.

Let’s focus on #QueenMary and on the fact that in this edition of the Festival there are no brunette or blonde ‘assistants’, (to tell the truth someone nastily tweeted that this edition’s assistant is indeed Carlo Conti – deep down people need to talk, all the time, and what people say, in particular on Twitter, is either unconditional love or disapproval). If we really want to bring up the theme of the so-called female empowerment, #QueenMary is a case in point. It’s true, back in 1986 the Festival was hosted by Loretta Goggi and more recently by Simona Ventura and Antonella Clerici, but there’s something more this year: an almost total lack of opulence, of gowns and trains, of sparkle, and the lack of the legendary “descent from the staircase”, used last night as “Maria’s step” (De Filippi usually sits on a step in some of her TV shows, Translator’s note), and not as a means for a cult, triumphal entrance (#QueenMary’s habit of sitting on a step triggered countless comments on Twitter starting with a dedicated account: @scalinodimaria).

Whether you like it or not, Sanremo is Italy’s best representation: almost everyone watches the show but disregard it in public, going: come on! You’re not watching Sanremo, are you? Sanremo is our best-known, globally recognized show, yet we feel almost ashamed about it. We’re not American or French at all. We might be ‘national-popular’, as in low-brow, but not nationalists. We are Italian, so we are rather good at brutally badmouthing each other while we persistently keep on doing the very things we criticize.

Images of photographer Marco Piraccini