We are very pleased to present you the English translation of this original article: IL VOLO: le ragioni di un successo globale. UNO SU MILLE CE LA FA: perché solo pochi artisti italiani sono “esportabili” all’estero? published by Trishadria on her blog “Italia Riunita”. Special thanks to Susan for your outstanding job! – English translation
Siamo molto lieti di presentarvi la traduzione in inglese di questo articolo originale: IL VOLO: le ragioni di un successo globale. UNO SU MILLE CE LA FA: perché solo pochi artisti italiani sono “esportabili” all’estero? pubblicato da Trishadria sul suo blog “Italia Riunita”. Un grazie speciale a Susan per il suo incredibile lavoro!
IL VOLO: le ragioni di un successo globale. UNO SU MILLE CE LA FA: perché solo pochi artisti italiani sono “esportabili” all’estero? – di Trishadria su “Italia Riunita”
IL VOLO: The reasons for a worldwide success. ONE IN A THOUSAND MAKES IT: Why are so few Italian artists “exportable” abroad? – by Trishadria on “Italia Riunita” – Translation by Susan
“The beauty of the singer’s voice touches us in a place that’s as personal as the place from which that voice has originated. If one of the weird things about singers is the ecstasy and the surrender they inspire, another weird thing is the reaction of the demystification a singer can arouse once we’ve recovered our senses. It’s as if they had fooled us into loving them, had won our resistance by cheating, found a vulnerability we thought was protected. Falling in love with a singer is like being a teenager every time it happens.”
This is an excerpt from Jonathan Lethem’s introduction to the Greatest Singers of All Time featured in the November 27, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone, available in the digital archive. A panel of 179 experts ranked the vocalists.
Even today, among the experts, there are many still asking themselves the reasons for the enormous success that Il Volo have obtained abroad and now in Italy. A few journalists ask the question directly to the members of Il Volo, who usually answer that it is probably due to the fact the public is drawn to the novelty of a classical repertoire proposed by very young people and because they interpret the “bel canto” and the traditional Italian melody, which are the only musical genre to be appreciated abroad.
This could be partly true, but the reason is much more mundane and simple: they like them because they have incredible voices, they can sing and thrill in a way that very few know how. Full stop.
It is interesting to note that no foreign journalist asks this questions because they all arrive prepared for the interviews, having already seen clips of their concerts therefore, and so if they had initially had this doubt, after hearing them sing, they would obviously have their answer. Here, it seems difficult to understand that great vocal capability and interpretive skills are behind the global success of any singer, in every place and every era. Strangely, however, our experts express doubts only about our own artists because none of them would ever think to ask the reasons for the success of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion or Whitney Houston, to name some of the overseas singers famous for their beautiful voices and memorable performances.
It is certainly the capability and the talent of the two tenors Piero Barone and Ignazio Boschetto and the baritone Gianluca Ginoble that have captivated the millions of fans from every corner of the planet and the public who enthusiastically praise them with standing ovations for every performance of any of the songs that are sung by these three talented young men, in Italian, English, Spanish or French, whether pop, opera or melodic. The three boys receive approval from the English public for their versions of the classic American and English songs like “My Way”, “Smile”, “Memory” or “Delilah” but also for the current songs like “Beautiful Day” and “Little things”.
The beauty of a voice does not reside only in the ability to emit acute or impetuous warbling but also in tone and in the way that it is modulated to transmit warmth and passion. Singing is not just a technical exercise but it is the transmission of an emotion from one person to another. And it is this that hits you when listening to these boys perform because they all possess these characteristics: the gift of having extraordinary voices, powerful and thick and the talent of knowing how to use them to arouse passion and feeling. Their live performances are characterized by the mastery of the execution, combined with a naturalness and ease which make expression possible, while vocalists who sing well, from a stylistic point of view, tend to be expressionless because they are overcome by technical concerns. The perfect acoustic equilibrium of their voices is also captivating, different but complimentary, when they come together in perfect harmony, in which each member has equal importance and they are inter-independent, that is, each is independent but contributes to the creation of the final result which acoustically is superior to the sum of the single voices.Another of their attributes is versatility. Like Andrea Bocelli, they are not tenors (and baritone) “of operatic school”, unlike Pavarotti, for example, who had a more structured lyrical and rigid voice, therefore less suited to pop. Each of them is capable of masterfully interpreting songs as soloists requiring different tonality and feelings. Ignazio fascinates when singing a Pino Daniele medley but also when performing an unparalleled version of “Memory”. Piero is superb both in his execution of “E’ lucevan le stelle” but also when duetting in “My Way”. Gianluca touches deep chords both when interpreting “Aranjuez” and when he charms with his “Bridge over troubled Water”. Now that they are studying opera singing, they could lose, in part, this flexibility.
Clearly the voice alone is not enough to declare the beauty and success of a performance, and the choice of music is fundamental for enhancing the vocal talents of those who sing. This is also where the skill of the trio lies and that of their producer and manager who prefers melodic and classic songs best suited to their vocal style. Many Italian singers, however, although gifted with an interesting voice, often opt for songs that demean their skills while appearing “original” and “modern”. In any other country, a beautiful voice, harmonious and, above all, formed and “educated” arouses admiration, while in Italy, where the “bel canto” was born, it’s a quality that nowadays is almost despised. Probably, we would have considered Susan Boyle (1) old time. Even in the international pop music world, those who are songwriters but know they are not singers entrust their songs to the professionals. Overseas, there is a continuous classification of the best vocalists, as in the Eurovision Song Contest where in 2015 Il Volo took the first three places. Here, such a practice would become an object of ridicule for the usual experts, proponents of a misunderstood “modernity”.
Many critics and self-appointed Italian “connoisseurs” continue to consider them as a freak phenomenon that offers a retro, old-fashioned image of our country. It’s bizarre that the classic songs of our musical tradition are re-proposed with great success by foreign artists, such as the international group “Il Divo”, famous all over the world and virtually unknown to us, or Josh Groban or Michael Bublè who often sings in Italian and lately has revived an Italian-English version of “Quando Quando”, achieving great success. On the other hand, the melodic-romantic genre – which includes most of the songs that make up the repertoire of the trio – which here is considered “less contemporary” or “old- fashioned” while in the rest of the world (including the much copied United States) is considered an evergreen, forever timeless and ageless. Il Volo’s style is original, modern and has an international flavor; for this reason it’s appreciated by people in every country and of every age. “Many try to imitate what comes from the Anglo-Saxon world, but we start from Italian tradition and we taint it with pop and rock. It’s our own formula that distinguishes us at first hearing” explains Gianluca. Il Volo puts an emphasis in the song which is far superior to other classic pop opera groups like “Il Divo”. The professionalism of these guys is also demonstrated by the fact that they all study music and play the piano. Ignazio also composes songs (2) but they do not feel ready to present themselves to the public in a different way yet, because they know that any new commitment requires experience and long preparation, and hard work to improve in every area. “We receive many songs written by various authors, those we like, we perform. Sooner or later, the time will come for our own compositions. When we have a really strong one, we will put it in a CD” they reveal. Few Italian musicians possess this humbleness and artistic maturity not to offer a product that’s not perfect from every point of view.
It seems, on the contrary, that here we have most artists assuming that the melody and the singing is the last thing we should be paying attention to. Aside from the pitiful Italian-style imitations of imported music such as rock, blues, metal and rap, that don’t stand a chance against the originals and can maybe obtain just once, local success, the problem is that most of the Italian singers love to call themselves singer/composers and focus mainly on the lyrics, instead of the musical arrangement. The notes accompanying the words seem to have been stuck at random in order to give the song its title. When it’s not a harsh mixture of sounds that screeches at the listener’s senses and the dissonant chords are unpleasant to the listener’s ears, the reasons are nearly always boring and repetitive. It’s only natural that these songs cannot be appreciated by a foreign audience who doesn’t understand and cannot assess the lyrics, and is too accustomed to written melodies – or at least reworked – by professional composers and sung by talented performers. This doesn’t mean that the lyrics are unimportant, far from it, but the elements must blend with the music to form a perfect combination making the song smooth, rhythmic, and nice to listen to.
One should also add that every language has a musical genre to which it is best matched; the Italian for its sweetness blends well with the melodic and romantic, as well as Spanish, which is more lively and also suitable to the more rhythmic styles, English is perfect for rock and rap while these kinds of music clash with the softness of ‘Italian” and many homegrown versions become almost caricatures. German, for its harshness, it is so difficult to match to the music that it is preferable only as instrumental.
The parameters that make a song worthy of being “exported” are the relevance and originality of melody and the adequacy of the instrumental arrangement, which must emphasize the psychological mood of the song and adapt to the voice of the singer; the instruments must be at the service of the song and not of the musical fashion. The adherence of the music to the text and vice versa is also fundamental, the notes must accompany and enhance the lyrics to create a harmonious moment, emphasized by the tone and voice modulation of the interpreter, a harmony which will be perceived by the listeners even if they do not understand the language. Unreleased songs performed by Il Volo were quashed by critics, including “Grande Amore”, the text of which is judged as trivial. Instead it has been a success because it has all the necessary characteristics to make it a winner: the originality of the melody, easy to remember, the harmony between notes and words, the attention to the arrangement and the skillful musical execution. If you were to compile a list of the important elements in a song, in fact, music and singing are in first place (I would add of course, otherwise it becomes a recitation).
The meaning of the lyrics appeals to our intellect, it can rejoice or sadden, can awaken pleasant or painful memories, or make us reflect or identify ourselves with, but a song is primarily music and the music must be able to vibrate chords deep in the human soul. The Italian intellectual snob instead prefers the “busy songwriter” and social comments, using the word “catchy” in a derogatory sense, as if it was indicating poor quality, while all the classic songs have become famous and immortal are, in fact,” catchy” on first hearing and they all have the characteristics to remain imprinted in the mind and to be easily hummed. The Italian public is also accustomed to appreciate mostly the lyrics, without paying much attention to the music and singing technique, however, it still has a cultural education and a “historic” musical sensibility so it experiences, naturally, the charm, harmony and beauty of a perfectly executed piece that joins the different elements. And this is the reason for the great success achieved by the trio at home.
Referring to our home example, the belief is widespread amongst the Italians that their overseas idols are authors of the songs they sing. In fact, another of the frequent criticisms, thrown at the trio by their critics, is that their repertoire in made up of “covers” and songs not written by them. Many will, therefore, be surprised to learn that famous world stars who write and compose their own songs can be counted on one hand and that the majority of the great English artists sing “covers”. Just think of songs like “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, and “Without You”, written in 1972 by Harry Nilsson, interpreted by an infinite number of vocalists including Mariah Carey, or “Smile” written by Charlie Chaplin, made famous by the interpretation of Barbra Streisand but also Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and countless others. The translations of Neapolitan classics like “O Sole Mio” which became “It’s now or never” or “Torna a Sorriento” transposed in “Surrender” were made famous by Elvis Presley in America. Everyone should know that the icons of pop music such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Michael Bublè are not the authors of the songs that they have made immortal with their performances.
Behind every international star rotates an abundance of professionals who write, compose, arrange. Most ghostwriters create their songs with the artist who will perform the song in mind, and therefore, adapt it to the vocal characteristics. The ability of a good singer is to do his part and deeply “feel” the words and the music, and then transmit these emotions to the listener. No one can deny that this is a form of art. On the other hand, it is extremely rare that a person has both the ability and skills to compose music and lyrics as well as having the right voice to sing them. It’s like thinking every great actor has the ability to write the plot and the script of the film in which he stars. Everyone has their own specialty.
Il Volo is the only Italian reality whose CDs are released simultaneously in more than 50 countries, immediately climbing to the top of the charts in different continents. But apart from them, and other very rare exceptions (5), the fame of most of the other Italian singers at home does not cross the borders of our country. It’s strange that no-one seems to ask or find a convincing reason why. Some attribute it to the difficulty in understanding our language. This is what Emma Marrone’s fans argued, at the disappointing result in the Eurovision 2014 when she did not even make the first 20. Most of the comments were “she was penalized because she sang in Italian”. This was proven wrong a year later with the triumph of Il Volo in the tele voting (1. Italy – 366, 2. Russia – 286, 3. Sweden – 279) with “Grande Amore”, a result later overturned by the jury who put the trio only in third place. Il Volo, on this occasion, also won the prestigious Marcel Besancon Award which is given to the best participant, voted by the press and media during the competition. On the other hand, this argument had already been contradicted by the global success of Andrea Bocelli and Pavarotti. It is, in fact, not necessary to understand the words to appreciate a piece of music; if not, only those who know English or Spanish would admire the countless foreign vocalists famous all over the world.
What decrees the universal success of an artist, a song or a piece of music is simply its ability to satisfy the desire for beauty and harmony that is inherent in each of us and that goes far beyond current fashion tastes.
“Beauty is truth, truth is beauty. That’s all you know on earth and all you need to know” (J. Keats)
(1)- Who is Susan Boyle: : https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Boyle. It really happened at the talent show “The Voice of Italy” (February, 2016) where the candidate Brian Grisetti – a teenager with powerful voice – sang “Io che non vivo” and was excluded as judged “antiquate” by the “judges” Max Pezzali, Raffaella Carrà, Dolcenera and Emis Killa. “You could sing with the guys of Il Volo” Carrà commented with sarcasm at the end of the performance. The 4 coaches – in fact – explained that the choice for such a traditional song, given his young age, had penalized him.
(2)- Ignazio Boschetto wrote and composed the song “Hablando de ti” in Spanish and performed it as a soloist in some of the 2016 concerts, with great success.
(3)- It must be made clear to everyone that the icons of pop music such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion or Michael Bublè are not the authors of the songs that they made immortal with their performances.
Maybe someone will be surprised to learn that Patrick Leonard is the author and ghostwriter who has worked with Leonard Cohen and is also the author of Madonna’s songs in which her contribution to the lyrics is minimum.
Justin Bieber declared that only with his album “Purpose”, he did feel free to decide what to sing because before the songs were imposed on him by others. (“The 21-year-old said: “I was really young and I had people telling me what to record, giving me songs and stuff.”). His name now appears among the authors of the songs that he sings but looking at the list which sometimes has 14 or 15 names, it is difficult to understand what his actual contribution is.
Many believe that Beyonce’s songs are autobiographical, but it’s Linda Perry (4) and other songwriters, writing them, although she often takes the credit.
Not to mention the shock of many fans discovering that the touching lyrics which made the songs of Reginald Dwight, alias Elton John, timeless classics were written by his partner Bernie Taupin. A winning couple, as were Battisti and Mogol. And maybe the young fans of One Direction will be disappointed to learn that Julian Bunetta is the author of the songs performed by the boy band since 2012.
Many songs by the Nobel prize winner, Bob Dylan were remakes of the old folk songs and dances, for example, “ A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is constructed on the folk ballard, “Lord Randall”. In addition, the beautiful voice of Joan Baez, who invited him on stage to sing with her, and with whom he recorded some of his first songs, was instrumental in bringing Dylan to national and international success.
The famous My Way, Frank Sinatra’s “pièce de résistance”, was originally a French song called “Come d’habitude”. Paul Anka rewrote the words in English without changing the music.
(5)- Zucchero, Laura Pausini and Eros Ramazzotti are among the few Italians famous abroad and “exportable” because of the originality of the melody and for the great attention to the musical arrangement. Also, they have performed duets with famous foreign artists because of their exceptional voices, among them Anastacia and Pavarotti.
(6)- Video of Gigi Marzullo’s program on RAI 1 dedicated to Il Volo.
(7)- Sia is one fo the biggest songwriters and most requested by the big of music. Here is a list of his most famous songs and the interpreters:
73..“Godzillionaire”by Brooke Candy
72. “Guitars and Microphones” by Kate Pierson
71. “We Are One (Ole Ola)” by Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte
70. “Pop Rock” by Brooke Candy
69. “Matrix” by Kate Pierson
68. “Acid Rain” by Alexis Jordan
67. “Any Day Now” by Cheyenne Jackson
66. “I Will Get Over You” by Prischilla Ahn
65. “These Hands I Hold” by Bo Bruce
64. “Gentlemen” by Jessica Sanchez
63. “Crush Me With Your Love” by Kate Pierson
62. “Bound to You” by Christina Aguilera
61. “God Made You Beautiful” by Beyoncé
60. “She’s Pretty, She Lies” by Cheyenne Jackson
59. “Freeze You Out” by Marina Kaye
58. “Rise Up” by Beyoncé
57. “Knock You Out” by Bingo Players
56. “Don’t Look at Me” by Cheyenne Jackson
55. “Kill, F—k, Marry” by Nikki Williams
54. “Rock Bottom” by Marco Mengoni
53. “Unite” by Jessie J
52. “Bottoms Up” by Kate Pierson
51. “Stronger Than Ever” by Christina Aguilera
50. “You’re Mine” by Lea Michele
49. “Opulence” by Brooke Candy
48. “Mister Sister” by Kate Pierson
47. “Break the Walls” by Fitz and the Tantrums
46. “Strange Birds” by Birdy
45 “Radioactive” by Rita Ora
44. “Round Your Little Finger” by Katharine McPhee
43. “Tears Fall” by Jacquie Lee
42. “Breathe” by Jessie J
41. “Firecracker” by Cheryl
40. “You Don’t Know” by Will Young
39. “The Game” by Kelly Rowland
38. “You Lost Me” by Christina Aguilera
37. “Bring Your Arms” by Kate Pierson
36. “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)” by Ne-Yo
35. “All I Need” by Christina Aguilera
34. “Green Card” by Oh Land
33. “Standing on the Sun”by Beyoncé
32. “Invincible” by Kelly Clarkson
31. “Loved Me Back to Life” by Celine Dion
30. “Utopia” by Belinda
29. “Time Wave Zero” by Kate Pierson
28. “Flashlight” by Jessie J
27. “Cannonball” by Lea Michele
26. “Who Am I?” Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Quvenzhané Wallis
25. “I Am” by Christina Aguilera
24. “If You Say So” by Lea Michele
23. “Let Your Tears Fall” by Kelly Clarkson
22. “I Am Me” by Willow
21. “The City’s Yours” by Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis
20. “Try Everything” by Shakira
19. “Passenger” by Britney Spears
18. “Pulls You Under” by Kate Pierson
17. “Sexercise” by Kylie Minogue
16. “Throw Down the Roses” by Kate Pierson
15 “Expertease (Ready, Set, Go)” by Jennifer Lopez
14. “Opportunity” by Quvenzhané Wallis
13. “Diamonds” by Rihanna
12. “Making the Most of the Night” by Carly Rae Jepsen
11. “Chasing Shadows” by Shakira
10. “Get Over U” by Neon Hitch
9. “Blank Page” by Christina Aguilera
8. “Brightest Morning Star” by Britney Spears
7. “My Heart Is Open” by Maroon 5 featuring Gwen Stefani
6. “Double Rainbow” by Katy Perry
5. “Kiss Me Once” by Kylie Minogue
4. “Battlefield” by Lea Michele
3. “Boy Problems” by Carly Rae Jepsen
2. “Perfume” by Britney Spears
1. “Pretty Hurts” by Beyoncé