By Sabrina Ovan (Scripps College).
Gianna Nannini is an Italian singer and songwriter known primarily for her rock ballads and her signature coarse, sensual voice. She is the first of a very small number of Italian women rock stars, and produced a great number of popular hits through the 1980s and 1990s. Her career is still very active: her latest work, Amore Gigante (2017, 19th studio album!) combines the rhetoric of greatness (“Fenomenale”, “Amore gigante”) with minimalism and delicate tones (“Piccoli particolari).
When Nannini was Born in Siena in 1956, she was not to become the only celebrity in her family: her brother Alessandro was a known Formula 1 pilot. She received her formal musical education at the Lucca Conservatory, but never graduated. In 1975 she dropped out and moved to Milan to pursue an independent career as a musician and songwriter. In those years the Milan musical scene offered a young, talented artist the chance to meet famous musicians, so Gianna started writing her own songs and taught herself guitar. Her music was influenced in the beginning by the rock and punk sounds that were popular at the time, but it is the combination of the latter with more traditional sounds (coming from opera, classic Italian songs) that made her a unique presence in the Italian musical scene.
Gianna Nannini published her first two albums, Gianna Nannini, and Una Radura (A Clearing) in 1976/77. Her first real success, though, came in 1979 with the hit single America, included in her third album California. The album, which included controversial songs and catchy rock ballads, launched Nannini’s career, both in Italy and abroad (she is has a solid fan base all over Europe as well as in Russia). She held on to her foreign success with the following albums Sconcerto Rock and Latin lover (1982).
After consolidating her Italian and international fan base in the early eighties, Nannini definitely became a rock icon between 1984 and 1986 with the release of the albums Puzzle and Fotoromanza. The two works, undoubtedly the product of a more mature musician, included immensely popular hit singles with haunting refrains, that are still very popular to these days: “Bello e impossibile” (“Handsome impossible”), “I Maschi” (“Males”), “Fotoromanza” (“Photo Love Story”). In the same years, Nannini conquered the public with incredibly successful tours, in Italy and Europe. She participated in prestigious musical events like the Montreux Jazz Festival. Her 1986 Italian tour included more than 40 major cities, and totals circa 300.000 concert goers. Furthermore, thanks to a memorable, hypnotic video – directed by Michelangelo Antonioni – and a hyper-catchy tune (the unforgettable refrain questo amore è una camera a gas/un palazzo che brucia in città “This love is a gas chamber, a palace burning in the city”), the single Fotoromanza managed to stay on top of the Italian charts for over 2 months, while the album Puzzle remained in the top ten for six months. In 1984, Nannini also won the Festivalbar, the itinerant summer festival/competition that each year awarded the songs dominating the Italian charts.
Shortly after, Nannini released the greatest hits album Maschi e altri (Males and Others, 1987), which includes the hit single “I Maschi” and sold over a million copies in Europe. As a consequence, the single “Hey bionda”, and the album Malafemmina (Bad Girl, 1988) were released internationally, all over Europe. In 1990, together with songwriter Edoardo Bennato and composer Giorgio Moroder, Nannini wrote the single Un’estate italiana (Italian Summer), official anthem of the1990 FIFA World Cup hosted in Italy. All the earnings from this single were donated to Amnesty International.
In the 1990s, Nannini published 4 more Albums: Scandalo (1990), X Forza e X amore (Perforce and for Love, 1993), Dispetto (Spite, 1995), and her second anthology Bomboloni (Cream Puffs 1996). In 1995, Gianna Nannini shocked the public and the press with her participation in the biggest operation led by Greenpeace in Italy. With a group of activists, she climbed on top of Palazzo Farnese in Rome, home to the French Embassy, to protest the nuclear tests run by the French government.
In 2010 Gianna Nannini released her first interview on her private life, while pregnant with her daughter. The magazine Vanity Fair published her interview and a photoshoot of the pregnant singer. The article attracted great controversy in Italy, not only because of Nannini’s age (54 at the time), but also because of her revelation of details about her non-traditional family (Nannini is raising her daughter with her partner Carla; the family lives in London in order to stay out of the spotlight). Interestingly, much of the criticism toward the singer came from the Italian LGBTQ community, who felt that, over the years, Nannini had not been as supportive of their cause as she could have. During her pregnancy, Nannini released the album Io e te (2011) dedicating her the title track to her daughter, Penelope.
In 2012 Nannini collaborated with Tiziano Ferro for the album Inno (Hymn), and released two greatest hits albums in the following years (Hitalia in 2014 and Hitstory in 2015). Amore Gigante (Giant Love), released in 2017, is her 19th original album.