Josh Shron
Israeli Music Expert, Host, & Podcaster

Go, Netta. Go!

The flamboyant artist, her 'looper' thingamabob, and her viral 'Toy' have made Eurovision relevant again
Israel's Netta Barzilai performing 'Toy' in the first Eurovision 2018 semifinal, May 8, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Israel's Netta Barzilai performing 'Toy' in the first Eurovision 2018 semifinal, May 8, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Suddenly, Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is relevant once again.

I say that because over the years, I’ve found that most Israelis I’ve spoken with couldn’t care less. With so much amazing culture surrounding you at all times, who really cares about one (usually bad) Israeli song competing in some far-off land overseas?

But for some reason, watching the fun from thousands of miles away, keeping up with Israel’s performance has long been a fun pastime for me.

Perhaps it’s because the Israeli Eurovision entry used to be so Israeli. My first exposure to the contest came at a time when Israel would hold an annual Pre-Eurovision Song Contest, at which 12-15 of Israel’s best and brightest singers would compete for the honor of representing the country in the Eurovision. All of Israel’s top singers competed. EVERYONE watched. EVERYONE cared.

And the result? Some of the best songs Israel’s ever released! “Halleluyah” by Chalav U’dvash. “Abanibi” by Yizhar Cohen. “Kan Noladeti” by Orna and Moshe Datz. “Chai” by Ofra Haza. “Shara Barechovot” by Rita. “Hora” by Avi Toledano. “Natati La Chayai” by Kaveret. Singers such as Ilanit, Yardena Arazi, Dana International, Sarit Hadad, Harel Skaat, Shiri Maimon, and dozens of others have all represented us in the ESC.

It’s well-known that Israel won the contest three times (in 1978, with “Abanibi”; 1979, with “Halleluyah”; 1998, with Dana International’s “Diva”). But most other years, the Israeli entry often fell near the bottom of the list, and Israel has tried nearly everything to reclaim the glory. From sincere messages of peace (“There Must Be Another Way” by Noa and Mira Awad in 2009) to bizarre messages of war (“Push the Button” by Teapacks in 2007); from Hebrew lyrics (last heard in Harel Ska’at’s beautiful “Milim” in 2010) to English (pretty much the norm for the past several years); from selection of the song by committee at the Israel Broadcasting Authority to selection of the singer through a television reality show…Israel has struggled to make a splash in the Eurovision.

Until 2018.

Enter Netta Barzilai, a flamboyant, colorful personality who competed in (and won) the reality TV series, “HaKochav Haba L’erevision,” and took the country by storm. Netta and her “looper” thingamabob brought the Israeli competition one of the most interesting contestants it has seen in years, and the Israeli public loved her. And days after her reality show victory, Netta introduced the world to the song she planned to take to the Eurovision: “Toy”.

I shared the video on Israel Hour Radio’s Facebook page on Sunday, March 11th, moments after the song was released. Some comments:

Oy. I’ll stop there.”
“Halleluyah it ain’t.”
“Beyond weird.”
“Can I nominate this for the ‘worst in Israeli music’ category?”

Most of us simply couldn’t make heads or tales of it. Netta clucking like a chicken? Odd-looking dancers performing equally-odd dance moves? What the heck WAS this song, anyway?

Within hours, the nay-sayers learned that they were clearly the minority. The song was VERY well received around the world. People couldn’t stop singing along. A special dance went viral. Countless parodies (including one in YIDDISH!) began to appear on YouTube. And…it soon became the odds-on-favorite to win the competition.

Suddenly, Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is relevant once again.

On Tuesday night, Netta competed in the first semi-final of the contest, and easily earned the privilege of competing in Saturday night’s final round. And while Cyprus suddenly has edged Israel out of first place in the odds, Israel’s entry remains one of the most popular and most admired songs of the year.

Love it or hate it, “Toy” is the first song in years that has a real chance of bringing the gold — and next year’s competition — to the land of Israel. Its “girl power” message, a nod to the #MeToo movement, and even a reference to “Wonder Woman” (the other big Israeli cultural export of the year) all make “Toy” a strong contender for this year’s Eurovision crown.

Go Netta Go!

Do you think Israel has a chance to win this year’s Eurovision Song Contest? Tell us in the comments below!

About the Author
Josh Shron is host of Israel Hour Radio, a weekly radio show and podcast devoted to Israeli music and culture. Since 1994, he’s made it his mission to help English speakers around the world develop a stronger connection with Israel through Israeli music, or in his words, “build a stronger Israel, one song at a time.” He recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of making Aliyah, and has been living in Modiin, Israel with his wife and four of his five children - the oldest promises to join them soon - since August 2023. Josh's highly-acclaimed presentation about the Israeli music of October 7, "A Musical Hug From Israel," is currently touring worldwide.
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