Israeli singer Netta Barzilai didn’t give a cluck — until she did. Now bookies the world over have her as the favorite to win the Eurovision Song Contest, the longest-running international singing competition, with hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.
Barzilai, a relative newcomer, burst on to the scene after winning “HaKochav Haba L’Eurovision” (The Next Star for Eurovision) an Israeli realty singing competition, whose winner goes on to represent the country on the European stage. When it came time to record her entry for the competition, “Toy,” Barzilai decided to wing it, making chicken sounds throughout the track.
“People are really connecting with the clucking,” Barzilai told TheWrap. “It’s uplifting.”
For reasons that no one can quite explain, the song took off, garnering an unprecedented 18 million views on YouTube and another 4.5 million on Facebook since its release in March. In the process, it became an unlikely #MeToo anthem of sorts, thanks to snappy lyrics like, “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy,” and “Barbie got something to say.”
“We knew we were creating something special,” Barzilai said. “But we never thought it would be this crazy.”
The song’s co-writer, Doron Medalie, told TheWrap he’s been getting fan mail from all over the world since the song was posted on YouTube, including from the U.S. and several Arab countries, which have nothing to do with Europe.
“The Eurovision usually has the same cliche-ridden themes about peace and love,” Medalie said. “There aren’t a lot of songs using toys as metaphors for men.”
The winner of the Eurovision contest will be named May 12. But betting sites already have Barzilai as the odds-on favorite to win, with “Toy” taking up the No. 1 spot with bookmakers according to ESC Daily, a site dedicated to covering the Eurovision contest “as the Olympic Games of music.”
“She’s light years ahead of of anyone else,” said Gal Uchovsky, who served as a judge on the show “Kokhav Nolad” (A Star Is Born) for five seasons. “It’s a great song and it’s very current.”
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, it came in 17th on the list of the most listened-to songs on iTunes in Spain, 36th place in Poland, and 46th in the Netherlands.
“I don’t remember a song that has received that much buzz that long in advance of the contest,” said Ron Jacobsohn, a journalist who’s covered the Eurovision for years. “It’s hitting the right nerve. It’s a song that talks about girl power and does it in a humorist way, despite being dead serious.”
Started in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest is the longest-running international singing competition, with more than 200 million viewers, according to organizers. It’s largely considered the precursor for singing contests like “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
The 2018 event, held in Lisbon, Portugal this year, also airs in the U.S. For the third consecutive year, the show will be broadcast on Logo. The Viacom network will carry the live finale on May 12.
The internet has made Eurovision popular well outside Europe. Last month, a Ugandan dance group, Spoon Youth, choreographed dance to “Toy.” It has more than a quarter of a million views.
It also got a super-Jewish Yiddish spoof by a singer calling herself “The Kosher Diva.”
The winning Eurovision country also gets to host the following year’s competition. The honor doesn’t come cheap — Ukraine forked over about $24 million for last year’s event, according to the Kyiv Post.
But hosting the live event can boost a county’s image and tourism. Stockholm, which hosted the Eurovision in 2016, saw a boom in international visitors and generated about $30.5 million in revenue, according to the city, which it said was the equivalent to 175 full-time jobs.
Israel has won three times — in 1978, 1979 and 1998. But there are no guarantees the 2019 Eurovision contest will be held in Jerusalem. Last year, the Italian song was favored to win, but ended up sixth after the final tally came in.