In a contest that embraces eccentric Viking corpse costumes, a Genghis Khan-themed disco and a camp troupe of singing air stewards – one of the UK’s more unforgettable entries – there’s always a reason to try and stand out from the crowd at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Happily, this year’s entry for Israel is no exception. With clucking noises, quirky vocal sounds and flapping chicken dance moves, Netta Barzilai hopes to win over the voting public with her song, Toy, by Doron Medley and Stav Beger – the same songwriting team who penned Israel’s past two Eurovision entries.
Riding the wave of #MeToo, the global campaign against sexual harassment, the track includes references to Wonder Woman, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot.
The chorus states: “Wonder Woman don’t you ever forget, you’re divine and he’s about to regret. I’m not your toy, you stupid boy.”
With just days to go before the grand final in Lisbon, Netta’s song has garnered a staggering 19.7 million views on YouTube and is hot favourite to win.
So what does the wide-smiled 25-year-old, with a penchant for big hair and brightly-coloured clothing, make of her song’s runaway success?
“I knew we were making something unique and different, but never in a million years did I think the song and the video clip would get such a strong, positive response,” she enthuses.
Netta was chosen to represent her country after winning The Next Star, a popular Israeli reality singing contest, having wowed the judges and audience with her singing, rapping and skills on the looper, a mobile recording device that allows her to layer multiple vocal sounds on top of each other.
In the year in which Israel marks its 70th anniversary, she also reveals feeling “very proud to represent my country and the diversity, dynamic and colourful vibe it stands for”.
Netta was born in Hod HaSharon in central Israel and at a young age moved for her father’s career to Nigeria, where the family lived for nearly five years before returning home.
She recalls being musical from a young age and knew it was a passion she had
People should vote for Toy because it has an important message
“I think you don’t choose a career in music, music chooses you,” she tells me. “I’ve been doing music ever since I can remember and always wanted to evolve in that direction. I play the looper and I love it, because it gives me the creative freedom to express my crazy musical ideas.”
Netta describes her music style as having “changed and evolved” over the years. She explains: “I started with soul music and icons like Aretha Franklin and Etta James and then moved to R ‘n’ B and artists such as Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Electronic music came later on, when I was in high school. I was really influenced by artists like Skrillex and Major Lazer.”
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As for her Eurovision entry, she describes Toy as a fusion of “contemporary pop, K-pop and hip-hop, with the contagious Middle Eastern sound and beat”.
Critics have already drawn comparisons between Netta and the smash-hit song, Gangnam Style, although this one is also all about girl power and not just catchy dance moves.
“People should vote for it because the song has an important message – the awakening of female power and social justice, wrapped in a colourful, happy vibe.”
Then there’s the quirky noises, tongue-tripping and hen clucks.
“Being quirky, different and staying true to who you are is part of my agenda,” she smiles.
Israel has won Eurovision three times, with A-Ba-Ni-Bi in 1978, Hallelujah in 1979 and Dana International’s Diva in 1998. Now with her sights firmly set on the final this Saturday, could Netta make it a fourth victory for Israel?
“Honestly right now I’m just focused on doing the competition and not the outcome. I’m just working really hard to bring my best to the main stage in Lisbon – but winning would be such an amazing ending to this unbelievable journey.”
- Netta will perform Toy in the Eurovision Song Contest grand final on Saturday, 12 May, 8pm, BBC One. Follow Netta at instagram.com/nettabarzi