Raffaella Carrà: the Italian pop star who taught Europe the joy of sex
From the 1950s onwards, Carrà was a triple treat who could sing, dance and act equally well, and she had an unrivalled influence in Italian music and pop culture (English was not her first performing language, making her more of a cult figure in the UK). Technically speaking, Italy had far more vocally accomplished singers, who combined range with dramatic flair [...]. Carrà outpaced them all.
When, in 1968, youth culture became more politicised and her peers gathered in protest, Carrà travelled to America and saw the musical Hair each night for a month. She returned home with the conviction that Italian entertainment needed a jolt of energy. “She was the first pop icon, but housewives always liked her. She revolutionised TV entertainment,” wrote journalist Anna Maria Scalise in 2008. Carrà herself said in 1974: “I do not get my inspiration from anyone: I speak to children, to sports-watching dads, to wives, so to TV-watching Italian families.”
Her stomping ground was the Italian variety show, which featured Broadway-inspired singing and dancing sequences. She first rose to fame during the 1970 edition of the variety show Canzonissima, where she was a co-host: the show plugged her original songs directly into its dance and music numbers. She sang and danced the opening credits, the fanfare-like Ma Che Musica Maestro, wearing a two-piece set complete with a crop top – the first time that someone dared expose their midriff on national TV. The Vatican and the conservative management of RAI, the national Italian TV station where Canzonissima was broadcast, were scandalised. “The queen of so-so” was how TV host Maurizio Costanzo panned her.
[...] With the dancer Enzo Paolo Turchi, she performed the jazz-like song Tuca Tuca: one performer touches the other on different body parts as the song progresses. They had to shoot it half-facing the camera to show Italian families watching that they were not fondling or groping each other. The song is notable for its focus on female agency. “Ti voglio”, she sings – I want you – and then “L’ho inventato io”: I invented this dance.
The general public was happy to have choreography that did not require much proficiency, but censors axed the routine after the third time they performed it. Italian movie star Alberto Sordi saved the day, demanding that, upon his appearance on Canzonissima, they reinstate the dance, cementing its mainstream success. Still, the press still pegged Carrà as a one-hit wonder, equating her to champagne gone flat.
Carrà wouldn’t stop fizzing, however. [...] She taught women that having agency in the bedroom was not scandalous, that it’s OK to fall for a gay man, and that not all relationships are exactly healthy. [...]
In 1976, she sang her major international hit A Far l’Amore Comincia Tu (be the one initiating sex), a call to action for women to make their lovers understand what they want in bed.
Curiously, A Far L’Amore Comincia Tu was released alongside Forte Forte, a ballad with the opposite message: she relishes being submissive in a relationship full of rough sex. Carrà acknowledges that pleasure can come from taking the lead, and from being led. [...]
When colour TV had finally made it into Italian households, she was made the host of variety show Ma Che Sera (Oh What a Night). The opening-credit song Tanti Auguri (Best Wishes) became an anthem to sex and sexuality. She sang “ma girando questa terra io mi sono convinta che non c’è odio non c’è guerra quando a letto l’amore c’è”, which translates as “by travelling this world, I became convinced that there’s no war nor hatred when things are hot in the bedroom”. Another line claimed it was great to have sex anywhere south of Trieste. [...]
Most of her sex-positive pop anthems are a product of 70s Italian TV, but they’re not relics from the past: Italians still know the lyrics by heart, and belt them out as soon as the occasion arises (Tanti Auguri was the alarm sound on my tacky mid-noughties Motorola Razr). Her zenith happened before Donna Summer’s hedonistic I Feel Love and Cher’s sex-positive disco anthem Take Me Home, almost a decade before Cyndi Lauper’s masturbation anthem She Bop, and 15 years before Madonna’s Erotica. The Spice Girls’ “Tell me what you want, what you really really want” was reminiscent of Carrà urging countless southern European women to be the ones initiating sex. [...]
Angelica Frey, The Guardian
Raffaella Carrà (18/03/1943 - 5/07/2021)
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