The Aftermath: What does Israel’s win mean for the image of Eurovision?

It has been less than a month since Israel topped the table and took out their fourth Eurovision win, yet in this short amount of time, this year’s winner Netta and Israel’s win as a whole has definitely caused a stir both in the Eurovision bubble and beyond.

Picked as the bookmakers favourite immediately after the song was released, Netta remained the favourite to take out the competition this year with her song Toy for most of the lead up to the contest. It wasn’t until the rehearsals came along that nations like Norway and Cyprus pushed their way forward, with the latter turning out to be Netta’s biggest threat.

Despite being the favourite to win for months, many in the Eurovision bubble still didn’t see Israel as a winner. It proved to be one of the most divisive Eurovision songs in recent history, with some fans hopping onto the bandwagon, and others questioning what the big deal was about Israel’s boisterous entry.

The commonality between those two categories of people is that both are made to accept that Israel has won the Eurovision Song Contest this year.

The fans may be ecstatic, but I can’t help but think that Israel’s win is going to have an impact on the image of the Eurovision Song Contest, regardless of the message of the song.

I’m not going to sit here and criticise Netta as an artist. I think she is an incredible performer with incredible talent, and although I wasn’t the biggest fan coming into the contest, she proved her vocal talents the minute she stepped onto the Eurovision stage for the first time. To some extent it’s not even about the song. It’s not like the lyrics have been a mystery to us for all this time, she has explained the meaning behind the song and it’s true that it has a strong message of social justice.

But despite that, for the regular viewer who does not get as invested as we do as Eurovision fans, it is completely inevitable that Toy will be seen as a joke entry. Since returning back home from the contest, I have been faced with the same three responses:

  1. What is with the chicken noises?
  2. It is all about the gimmicks
  3. Australia was ripped off!

Although I completely agree with number 3, I’m going to put that aside for a moment and focus on 1 and 2. We have to detach ourselves from the Eurovision bubble for just a moment to realise that a significant proportion of the 200 million viewers worldwide are not involved with Eurovision outside of the three broadcasts. These people don’t know the story of the songs, they most likely haven’t seen any information about the contest or watched any performances. Perhaps the only source of real time information during the broadcasts is the commentary provided by each nation, and as there is no standard commentary, the information given would vary depending on the nation, and possibly be infiltrated by the biases of the commentators themselves.

We know Israel won the overall televote, so it obviously does have support from enough of the public (plus, as we have just found out, within such a short amount of time, the official video of Toy has now become the most watched video on the official Eurovision YouTube channel, which is a huge deal for a song that only came into existence a handful of months ago), but it is unsurprising that majority of these ‘regular viewers’ of Eurovision in my real life are questioning me as to why a song with chicken noises won the contest.

If we filter through the top news with the keywords of ‘Netta’ and ‘Toy’ on Google, it’s interesting to see what comes through. One of the top and most notable articles of over 200 thousand results states, ‘Israel’s entry has a hidden message’ which puts forward the assumption that the message is not straightforward and it would take more effort to understand the message of the song, more than just listening to it for the 3 minute duration. There are also terms such as ‘Poultry Pop’ used to describe her entry, and many would have seen the accusations that she has used cultural appropriation as part of her performance.

In the way that her stage performance overshadowed the meaning of the song, the press she, and Israel for that matter, are getting is to some degree overshadowing her win of the contest. Instead of the focus remaining on her messages of body positivity and social justice, the song will likely remain memorable solely for the chickens. This can also be seen by looking at the comments left on the winning performance on YouTube, which has currently been seen over 1.3 million times, with almost 50% dislikes. After a brief scroll, it seems that half the comments are congratulating the winner, while the other half are commenting on the chickens. Well, it is ‘Poultry Pop,’ after all…

Why is this such a big deal? Well, over the last few years, we have finally seen the contest reach a point where the quality of music is for the most part on par with the music landscape external to Eurovision.  This year proved to be one of the best Eurovision years in terms of the music quality, but there was still the diversity that Eurovision is proud to deliver. We saw some high quality pop music coming from Sweden, Austria, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Australia, just to name a few but we also saw some really great alternative and rock songs, think Hungary, Bulgaria, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

As someone who has watched the contest come out of the dark ages, i.e. pretty much all of the 2000’s, there is no denying that the contest is finally becoming contemporary not only in production values but certainly in terms of music.

Again, if we look from the perspective of a regular viewer, sometimes these high quality songs are being disguised with unnecessary props and gimmicks. As much as it was controversial at the time, Salvador’s commentary on the contest after his win last year holds a lot of truth. It’s not all about the fireworks; sometimes we need to let songs shine for themselves. With Portugal choosing to omit LED screens this year, we saw a lot of nations overcompensate by bringing their own props, and perhaps that defeated the original purpose of the broadcaster’s decision to build a stage without LED screens.

This opens a whole can of worms that we can discuss in a future post, but let’s bring it back to Israel. Out of the 26 finalists, the winner was not only aurally the most distinct, but the stage performance was one of the most, if not the most over the top. For the regular viewer, the message of the song is never going to get across in those 3 minutes when we have lucky cats, chicken dances, fireworks, bubbles and a (faux) looper to contend with. Objectively and quite obviously, it was the complete opposite of the winner from last year.

Unfortunately the conclusion I’ve come to is that the image of Eurovision often takes one step forward, but two steps back. As someone who acts as a middle (wo)man between those in the Eurovision bubble to those who could be described as occasional viewers of Eurovision, I finally reached a place where I wasn’t defending both myself and the contest from the criticisms that the contest is all one big joke. After Israel’s win, I am back in that position where I feel as if I need to defend the contest once again. It’s not all about gimmicks, and the contest does now feature such great music, but unfortunately it’s not the other 42 songs that the occasional viewers will remember, it’s the one that won that will be remembered.