Hot on the heels of Eurovision Song Contest favourites this year, Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra, are two of the biggest names in Italian music right now: Mahmood and Blanco. The duo, who are hoping to repeat the success of their country last year with their song Brividi, are currently second favourites, according to leading bookmakers on fan site Eurovisionworld.
If they beat Ukraine to the trophy, they would create history by winning the longest-running international TV music competition for a second year in a row for Italy. Last year's lederhosen-clad rockers Maneskin, who triumphed with Zitti e Buoni, have gone on to earn global fame.
Mahmood, 29, has been making winning a habit ever since his star turn at the Sanremo Festival, Italy's renowned music contest, in 2019. Winning the award guaranteed him a spot as his country's representative at the Eurovision Song Contest that year, where he came second.
Mahmood won the Sanremo Festival again this year, this time for his duet with singer and rapper Blanco, earning the duo a place at Eurovision.
Who is Mahmood?
Born Alessandro Mahmoud in Milan to an Egyptian father and Italian mother, Mahmood's parents separated when he was five years old. Determined to make it in the music world, he auditioned for his country's version of The X Factor in 2012 and made it to the third episode before he was eliminated. The following year, he released his debut single Fallin' Rain.
Mahmood has participated in the Sanremo Festival since 2016, eventually winning the competition in 2019. His song, the very personal Soldi, which translates to 'money', is a stirring tune about relationships. In it, Mahmood sings about his father's absence during his childhood, describing him as a man who disappears and reappears as he pleases. A verse in Arabic — “waladi habibi ta’aleena” (my son, my love, come here) — recalls his memories of his father calling him from the playground.
The Italian song is a global hit, and has been streamed more than 200 million times on Spotify. After it won second place at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019, it became the most-listened-to Italian song in Spotify’s history.
Brividi, Mahmood's duet with Blanco, is already the most streamed song from this year's contest. Translated as 'chills', the song speaks about the end of a relationship, and is notable for the singer's passionate live renditions.
Mahmood, whose debut album, Gioventu bruciata, was released in 2019, says his RnB, rap, trap and hip-hop sound is also heavily influenced by Arabic music.
“I listened to both Italian and Arab music growing up. That Arab influence is very much present in my music and I really feel it when I’m writing," he told Time magazine in 2019.
However, he added that his true sound is hard to categorise, so he's called it “Morocco pop.”
“People wanted to put my music in a category at all costs, but I don’t really know what it is,” he said, “So that’s what I came up with.”
Mahmood's rise to prominence has been noticed even beyond the music world. Last year, he starred in a campaign for British brand Burberry.
“Mahmood is a rising star in more ways than one. He has an incredibly sophisticated understanding and appreciation of different cultures, beliefs, and languages, which comes across in his music, his videos, his performances," Burberry chief creative officer, Riccardo Tisci, told Vogue. "He also has a confident and brave sense of style. He knows what he likes and is not afraid to take risks in anything he does, and this, along with the fact that he is one of the kindest people I know, is something which makes him an amazing collaborator.”
Scroll through the gallery below for pictures of this year's Eurovision contestants: