This story challenges your assumptions.
I’ve kept this article on the back-burner for years. Had I published it 10 years ago it’d have had a different, less astonishing ending.
I had many doubts about making my findings public; but I’m convinced that sunlight is always a good thing, especially when dealing with a subject that is distressing and possibly dangerous. Please, read the entire piece before passing a judgment: I’m a rational person, I don’t chase ghosts.
This is the story of a scandal that never erupted.
A story from 15 years ago.
First of all, let’s set the stage. The Festival di Sanremo (Sanremo Music Festival) is a 5-days (!) pop music competition and the most important event of Italian television, hovering around a 50% share or slightly north of 10 million viewers from prime time to midnight. For a week the entire country is talking about it, including people like me who don’t watch it and pepper the social media with protests against others talking about it…
The rest of the media cave in and obsessively cover the Festival from any possible angle.
In the Italian culture, this Festival represents a reference point for traditional, somewhat stale and flavorless pop music. For instance, the most iconic song for the Festival is probably Nilla Pizzi’s Papaveri e Papere (Poppies and Ducks) from 1952, the most inconsequential song about a duck that happens to be too short when compared with poppy plants… In 1989, I remember the Italian rapper Jovanotti at the end of his perfomance filled with artificially juvenile poses and gestures, suddenly regaining a composure and making a bow in front of a theater filled with elegant middle-aged couples… his change of pace sounded something like “Ok ladies and gentlemen, I know you’re not my public; I finished my gig, enjoy your evening”
There’s been some modernization, but rhymes like cuore-amore (heart&love) abound in the typical lyrics. With a few exceptions, the contestants are singers that could use some popularity boost, i.e. young and emerging or old and declining. In recent years the young talent-show replicants are slowly replacing the old-style has-beens.
This TV event actually seems to have become centered on everything that gravitates around the music competition: comedians, international guests, controversies about outrageous compensations, and of course, fabricated scandals. Including, but not limited to, assorted gossip, the indispensable street protests, a revealing wardrobe malfunction (notable examples, Patsy Kensit and Belen Rodriguez), a fake suicide attempt in the theater, a (fake) pregnant singer dancing in black latex (Loredana Berté, 30 years before Lady Gaga)…
Reporters are always craving for a little controversy to fill the pages.
Of the entire music landscape, this is the least likely place where you’d expect to find satanic verses. Nonetheless, it’s a perfect venue for someone who wants to create a bombshell scandal.
Valentina Giovagnini participated in the 2002 edition, taking part in the rookie competition.
A beautiful next-door-girl type, with a typically Tuscan visage, a sweet and delicate voice.
She placed second, even though many, myself included, protested that she deserved to win. The song is catchy and fresh, as you can hear from the clip above.
She subsequently published her debut album, titled Creatura Nuda (naked creature) that IMHO represented one of the most promising development in Italian music of those years. Many artfully crafted songs.
But when you stop for a moment to contemplate the lyrics, something doesn’t add up. Here’s my translation from the song Il passo silenzioso della neve, presented during the Sanremo 2002 competition:
Initially you may think this is a love song about a woman who left a guy who didn’t deserve her.
But the title conveys a disturbing meaning: “My heart is cold“.
The lyrics seem intentionally obscure, but ask yourself: how would Lucifer, aka Satan, describe his banishment from Heaven, together with the rebel angels? Jesus Christ in Luke 10,18 says:
I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven
What about this counterpoint:
I dress up as an angel who knows he’s got new freedoms under his wings and I carelessly show I’m flying away from you…
[…] An eagle that by now has no heaven and falls in flight……
Now you see it. The loser finding excuses, saying: “I didn’t really fall; let’s say in the fall I flew away, finally free”.
“I paint my lips with another identity”: you may think this phrase is about a woman starting a new life after a heartbreak. But what if it isn’t? Lipstick isn’t an identity. What about: “I’m starting to lie, to pretend I’m something else”. Which is fitting if it represents a song where the true meaning is hidden under the surface.
Spooky, huh? Even the music video now makes sense: barefoot in the woods at night, like a witch.
“Your body never” may refer to the Eucharist; refusing to be applauded in a farce may express a sneering attack against good Christians doing the Lord’s bidding.
Up to this point, you may still think it’s just my imagination playing tricks. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the words fit so perfectly. In fact I myself didn’t notice anything suspicious at the time.
Down the rabbit hole
Analyzing the album titled “Creatura nuda” I made some interesting findings.
There’s a song titled “La formula” where they inserted a song played backwards, twice: in the intro and again mid-song.
I styled myself as a fan. I wasn’t eager to find something creepy in there, nor to belittle this nice girl; plus I never dabbled with this sort of stuff. What opened my eyes was the fact that I could also hear a faint, hushed voice in the opening track, “Senza Origine” (without origin), whispering unintelligible words.
How could this be, I asked myself. Two subliminal messages in a mainstream music record?
Note on subliminal and/or satanic messages (you can skip it if you don’t have time)
Even the most effective subliminal messages aren’t really capable of conditioning people (that’s why they fell out of fashion); backmasked audio tracks, where a message is recorded in reverse inside a piece of music, can’t even be classified as such, since they are perceivable only to dedicated fans that are looking for them by playing a record backwards. In many cases the alleged phrases aren’t even there: they are a figment of imagination, trying to find a meaning to jumbled noises based on human voice. Some artists, though, did in fact insert backmasked clips, but it was mostly in the form of pranks, promotional messages or jokes (for instance, a couple of Beatles songs point to the conspiracy theory of a premature death of Paul McCartney and his secret replacement with a lookalike.) Nonetheless, there were some notable examples where due to their catering to a certain public, a band or artist decided to at least pose as satanists; this is a phenomenon we can’t ignore because, under the pretense of being more edgy, free and provocative, many young fans were conditioned into identifying with evil (although those who suffer significant consequences are typically subject to a number of different negative stimuli, I’m not trying to assert that a certain music genre or band may brainwash a generation into becoming moral degenerates or satanists!)
As for the specifics of a backmasked prayer, there’s not much room for interpretation: take the famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. A satanic ritual is accompanied by a spine-chilling music, actually an Orthodox religious song played backwards. This is not just Hollywood: the notorious 19th century satanist Aleister Crowley is credited with teaching a “law of inversion”, according to which an occultist performs a number of action in reverse to acquire a magical power; in particular, a Christian prayer recited backwards would evoke Satan.
It was planned.
That’s why I convinced myself there was a plan behind Creatura Nuda.
From an interview published on the now defunct valentina-giovagnini.com personal website, I found a question about the backmasked song. Here’s the answer that the singer herself gave:
It’s a phrase from a religious song in Latin, played backwards, but at the moment I don’t remember the exact words… I’ll let you know! Anyway, their meaning has nothing to do with the meaning of the whole song; I just liked the effect, it feels magical and mysterious!
A surprising answer. Here Valentina:
1. knows exactly what this is all about and how to respond
2. tends to minimize everything
3. portrays the whole experiment as an innocent choice, to create a “magical” atmosphere.
Are we to believe that this is the real explanation, and neither her, nor her authors or anyone in the production or the record company, knew anything about backmasked messages and inverted prayers?
They knew full well what this was about, but they were playing dumb.
This was clearly meant to be a publicity stunt. Yet, paradoxically, no one noticed it! On the contrary, Valentina received even less public attention that what you’d have expected based on her talent…
It was an ambitious plan, but the devil lies in the details… What do you do if you bait the hook but no one bites?
Audio track analysis: help wanted!
I tried to analyze the two songs with the audio editing software Audacity, but I’m a total noob for this kind of things…
⇒ In La Formula played backwards there’s a clear, undistorted chant by a female choir, probably in Latin (I may have identified only the word “femina”=woman).
⇒ In Senza Origine I couldn’t isolate the whisper from the music. It’s very difficult to make out what it says, it seems in Italian, possibly something along the lines: “E’ il momento buono” (This is the right time).
Which would fit perfectly with a publicity stunt.
If you are still unconvinced: back to the lyrics.
The lyrics of Senza Origine probably describe a witches’ sabbath, under the guise of talking about dancing.
“Dance until there’s peace”; “Twirl around me, sing with me”; and in the closing verses: “pyramids revolving in a trick of the light / don’t you ever stop / in this timeless ritual”…
Of course, using archetipal images, words with multiple possible interpretations, you run the risk of believing you unearthed stuff no one put there to begin with. That’s why I recently wrote about the danger of blowing out of proportion the significance of mere coincidences, or about how it’s tricky to interpret images. But the amount of evidence here is preponderant.
In a song titled Metamorfosi a sensual dialogue (supposedly) with a lover turns out to be downright creepy and sinister:
(in the form of a) silent scarab
I’ll drink the tears from your face
and I’ll live!
[…] as a snake I’ll wrap around your mind…
Beyond the inevitable reference to the snake, you could at the bare minimum describe this word choice as peculiar: at the height of erotic passion, a “lover” self-identifies with a horrible insect, secretly hiding on your face and feeding on your pain!
But the most egregious example of satanic content is of course the piece titled La Formula, which we already discussed for the presence of the prayer song played backwards.
Heaven and sneering at those (or the One, here the Italian language is ambiguous) that are “selling it” i.e. want your salvation, may be a common theme for many songs that pretend to be edgy. But the distant souls at the bottom of a city appear a clear reference to hell.
But really, you are left to wonder how no one could see that the refrain, that is repeated again and again through the song, is describing a witches’ sabbath, a satanic ritual, where the light of the full moon is coming down like milk on their naked bodies.
There’s a key element that was necessarily lost in my translation: in Italian the word Saturday is rendered sabato, which is derived from the Hebrew sabbath; a witches’ sabbath is called sabba. If you truncate, while listening, the last verse, sa-ba-to becomes sa-ba, hence “in this Saturday (of boredom)” becomes “in this sabbath”
So that the entire refrain becomes:
“What formula, what magic words could light up the darkness in this (witches’) sabbath?” And the answer comes immediately afterwards: a backward prayer!
Could they possibly make this whole imbroglio less subtle?!? What could they do, add some giant red arrows with a neon sign: “Look, satanism here!!!”?
I even tried visiting the personal website of the author of the lyrics, to better understand the issue.
Of course it’s been years, today his site looks completely different.
It must have been circa 2004. His red and black pages advertised, among other things, a book he wrote about Dante’s Inferno (hell). You don’t say.
Let’s be clear: he’s a successful author, with important projects and collaborations under his belt, spanning multiple disciplines, not just music. A clever, eclectic guy, well-connected in the entertainment elite: definitely not the gullible fanatic who thinks a black mass could give him mysterious powers.
He’s probably fascinated by the figure of Satan, and even if his little experiment may have got out of hand, he could still convince himself everything is OK and he just wanted to see what reaction in the public this sort of provocation could elicit.
I even examined a few (confused and splotchy) paintings he was proudly displaying on the site back then (nowadays he’s into abstract daubs) that insisted on the same theme.
One next to the other: The dance of the odalisques, (I’m translating the titles, of course) where everything about the scene screams “witches’ sabbath”, and a painting with a naked woman next to a full moon…
Angels and bottles: again, the angels look weak, the black figures may as well be demons more than bottles.
In The philosophic truths the subject is a black and blue fish, but for all the chaos in the image, you can make out that there’s a second red-orange fish figure, closer to the bottom. You’d think the truths here represented would be about two opposite entities pit against each other. Of course the fish is an ancient symbol of Jesus Christ…
The last painting displayed on the page was titled Inferno.
First conclusion: the scandal that never was.
Now you may understand why I was struck by the odd nature of this story. During the broadcast of the Festival at least 10 million people saw the performance twice; moreover, consider how the songs from the album were played repeatedly on TV, radio, youtube… many more millions of people listened to those satanic lyrics… and yet I’m the only one who took notice!
That’s why I described the situation as “The Devil hidden in plain sight”.
I can’t help but think that Valentina and her authors/producers were literally bracing for a deluge of reactions and polemics; phone calls, interviews, special tv reports… Wait for it! Wait for it!
I bet they were astonished.
They thought they were so clever in paving the road for a resounding success.
But Valentina lost to an arguably inferior contender, collecting 7633 votes, only 21 less than the 7654 for the winner, Anna Tatangelo, who went on to have a brilliant career, becoming a star. Valentina’s instead went almost nowhere, even if she tried again and again in subsequent years. It seemed like something was blocking her from reaching success.
This is where my article would have ended, had I published it 10 years ago.
A few years ago I reopened the file containing the draft of this article; I decided to complete it, so I went for a quick update on the internet and I was astonished to discover that the young singer had already died!
Valentina Giovagnini died after a car accident in the early afternoon of January 2, 2009, on a deserted road near her village of Foiano della Chiana in the Province of Siena. The small hamlet where the accident occurred is called Santa Luce (Holy Light).
Some reports said that she lost her life just when her career seemed finally on the brink of a breakthrough.
At the time I found a Facebook conversation among some fans, where they expressed dismay and astonishment for her accident, since allegedly the car ran off road in a straight, weather conditions were good and the road wasn’t slippery. A freak accident? None of them could think of what you are thinking right now.
The site allmusicitalia is actually reporting a more mundane explanation: the cause was a slippery road due to snow and ice. I don’t know about snow, but ice is a possibly convincing explanation, because those were cold days, even though this was in the afternoon.
(The same article points out she encountered many stumbling blocks slowing down her career, “some were really inexplicable”…)
You be the judge. I can’t rule out anything. Remember: it’s easy to be swayed by imagination. But you should admit that, as a parable about the risks involved in flirting with the Devil, this story is really compelling.
Bear in mind: I’m not saying that the car accident was caused by Satan. Even more so I wouldn’t dare attribute it to a divine punishment!
And yet… We can’t say we know all the consequences of our actions.
I believe Satan exists, but only as a minor implication of my belief in God. I’m not scared by him, I’m only afraid of what I could do in my life; which, of course, includes falling for temptations.
Satanism is just a tiny bizarre phenomenon for deeply disturbed people; it doesn’t deserve our glamorizing it.
But even an atheist should admit, in the name of mental sanity, that dabbling with black magic, superstitions and rituals involving evil intent could only do harm.
Those in the entertainment industry that exploit such subjects to strike a pose and get publicity are irresponsible and deserve our deepest contempt.
As for this ill-fated beautiful girl, there were testimonies from people who knew her that show a completely different side of her. I’d do her a grave injustice if I didn’t stress the fact that she will, and should, be remembered as a talented and sweet young woman. Her family even created a charity in her name to do some good in the world.
But not wanting to ruin the memory of a deceased person cannot stop us from acknowledging the bitter, ugly fruits of recklessness. Let this story serve as an admonishment.
In closing, here’s the lyrics of a song Valentina sang in 2004. Its harrowing nature tells you there was a reason for her not gaining admission to the 2004 Festival: something was off, and the jury selecting the candidates couldn’t ignore it, even if they had no clue about what the problem was.
The first time I read it I felt really bad, you can guess why.