Forty years ago, Israel took home its first ever Eurovision win, with Izhar Cohen’s “A-ba-ni-bi.” Twenty years ago, it repeated that victory with Dana International and Diva.
But it’s not just a mathematical prediction that has people thinking Israel could continue its 20-year-interval winning pattern in 2018. Across Europe, the buzz surrounding this year’s entrant, Netta Barzilai, and her song, Toy, have left everybody wondering if the 25-year-old from Hod Hasharon will take the whole contest.
Will she? Anything is possible, but let’s take a look at all the facts.
Ever since Toy was released in mid-March, Israel has been sitting at the top of every pre-Eurovision betting charts – and it hasn’t budged once. While the countries making up the top 10 have been moving around in the predictions, Israel has stayed firmly rooted in the No. 1 slot.
What is so appealing about Toy? Its message of female empowerment is certainly hitting the right notes in the age of #metoo: “Wonder Woman don’t you ever forget/ You’re divine and he’s about to regret,” sings Barzilai. The song is undeniably weird – there are chicken sounds, after all – but it balances its kitsch with its sweeter moments, and is certainly a catchy dance hit.
And Barzilai herself is a louder-than-life personality and plus-sized role model who has made a great many fans around the world. On the Eurovision YouTube channel, Toy has more than 17 million views – making it the most viewed song of 2018 by far. The second most-viewed entry, Spain’s “Tu Cancion,” (Your Song) has only been seen just over 5 million times.
Barzilai and her team headed to Portugal last week to start settling in, holding rehearsals and getting ready for Tuesday’s semi-final, which will be broadcast live on Kan 11. She did receive a small blow earlier this week, when it was revealed that the she’ll have to perform without her trademark “looper” – the instrument that she uses to record and playback her voice live on stage. The tool will reportedly still be on stage, but only as a visual aid.
But Barzilai is soldiering on regardless, rehearsing and seeing the sights of Lisbon with less than a week to go until her Eurovision semifinal. Barzilai will appear in the first semifinal round on May 8, and then almost definitely in the finals that are to be held on May 12, also to be seen live on Kan 11.
SO WILL Barzilai bring the prize – and the competition – home to Jerusalem? (The winning country generally hosts the following year’s competition.) Will she become Israel’s fourth Eurovision winner – and the first to not be of Yemenite descent? In short: maybe.
It’s important to note that the betting charts aren’t everything. Last year, less than a week before the Eurovision opened, the oddsmakers predicted that Italy would come in first place, followed by Bulgaria and then Portugal. But when the winner was announced, Portugal took the top prize, and Italy came in only sixth place. In 2016, Russia was the odds-on favorite, but Ukraine took home the win.
It’s really impossible to predict who will be the big winner, in part due to a voting and point system complicated enough to need an advanced degree to decipher. In short, the system – only in place since 2016 – allows each participating country to award two sets of points – 12 points, 10 points and then 1-8 points – to the entries of their choice. One set is decided upon by a jury selected by Kan, and the other comes from telephone voting. The points are all added together to select a winner.
While the event is about music and artistry, there are inevitably geopolitical motivations at play. Many countries regularly vote for their neighbors, and Ukraine’s 2016 win was attributed in part to its political, anti-Russia message.
Israel’s song might be popular around the world, but Israelis know quite well that the country doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation. If Israel can’t get Natalie Portman to Jerusalem, can it get the entire Eurovision competition?
One hopeful sign came in the third ever “Israel Calling” unofficial Eurovision preview event, which brought 24 international contestants to the country last month to tour and perform – and court goodwill. Of course, with 43 entrants this year, voting could go any way imaginable.
But Barzilai said that she already feels like a winner, when she spoke during an Israel Calling press conference last month.
“In my opinion I already won,” she said. “I got to inspire so many young women – so many little girls and little boys – with the song, so I don’t care about the results. I wish I will win, but seriously, there are so many talented people here and so many deserve it, so really it doesn’t matter.”