Netta is nobody’s toy. But she is unquestionably Israel’s darling.
Netta is Netta Barzilai, the singer and musician who will be performing the Israeli entry, TOY, at the upcoming Eurovision competition in Lisbon. Eurorvision, for the uninitiated, is the popular music contest that pits mostly European countries (plus a few others like Israel) in a mammoth display of national pride, glitzy costumes and a heavy dose of kitsch. This year, 26 countries will compete for the title.
And Netta hopes to be the fourth Israeli to bring home the big prize.
Israel won its first Eurovisionat the 1978 competition in Paris with A-Ba-Ni-Bi. Sung by Izhar Cohen and AlphaBeta, the lively tune tells how two young people express their love using their own “secret” form of Hebrew. Think Pig Latin for the Holy Tongue.
Israel pulled off a coup by winning again the next year, this time before a hometown crowd with the very memorable Hallelujah performed by Gila Atari and the band Chalav Udvash. After its 1979 success, Israel spent a few years out of the winner’s circle – until 1998. That’s when a singer named Dana International scored big with her song Diva.
Since then it’s been a Euro-drought for Israel with the country coming closest with a number four finish in 2005 for Shiri Maimon’s “HaSheket SheNish’ar.”
Netta – TOY – Israel – Official Music Video – Eurovision 2018
And now there’s Netta and TOY.
Written by Doron Medalie and Stav Beger, the song draws on the theme of female empowerment. According to writer Medalie, “There’s a message here to say, ‘I’m not your toy, you can not play with me, we play in the toy room when we were kids and I’m moving on.’”
Somewhat distinctively, the song is mostly in English, “I’m not your toy / You stupid boy,” with a line in Hebrew “A-A-A-Ani Lo buba!” (I’m not a doll) along with a couple of lines which are clucked (yes, clucked), “Pam pam pa hoo, Turram pam pa hoo … His baka-bakum, bak-bak bakumbai…” Why clucking? In addition to the comic relief, Medalie says it furthers the message of the song that, “girls are not simply’”chicks’ without inner substance, and some boys may act like cowardly ‘chickens’ when it comes to women’s equality.”
As for Netta, she first turned heads as a contestant in Israel’s Rising Star competition, where she “consistently wowed the judges and audience with her unusual costume choices and introduced a new vision of what a pop-star can look like in today’s world.”
“‘My message is that you don’t have to fit the normal standard model of how a person should look, think, talk and create in order to succeed. We’re only here for a minute — we better enjoy the ride.’” she told Wiwibloggs.
How To Dance “TOY” By Netta
Netta’s performance has taken the country by storm with so many people trying to copy her moves that she’s released a How-to video (arm motions included.)
When Netta and TOY were announced as Israel’s official entry in March, they were proclaimed the favourite with 7/4 odds. Since then, their chances have declined to 2/1 with some criticism over the live staging of her performance.
But even some of Israel’s toughest critics seem taken. Israel’s Foreign Ministry shared the video on its Arabic-language Facebook page, which has 1.5 million followers. As noted by Haaretz, “Several users declared that they hate Israel but nevertheless wished Barzilai success. ‘Good luck, girl,’ wrote Hamad. ‘Morocco is with you.”
Yonatan Gonen, who heads the Arabic desk in the Foreign Ministry’s digital diplomacy department, told Haaretz that certain elements of the clip particularly appealed to Arab women. “The singer is made up with very heavy makeup,” he noted. “The fact that she’s wearing large pieces of jewelry and sings part of the song with middle eastern musical arrangements created a feeling of identification among both male and female viewers.”
TOY, Africa style
But my favourite outpouring of support comes from unexpected quarters. As noted at the 21c website,the Ugandan dance group Spoon Youth has posted a choreographed dance to “TOY” on its Facebook page. “For us the song already won!” the group wrote on its video.
That leaves Netta Barzilai her biggest challenge: finishing number one at Eurovision.