Who cares if Madonna was flat? Thanks to Eurovision, viewers will think of Israel differently

Nathan Jeffay spent the song contest partying with the fans at the Expo Tel Aviv

May 19, 2019 15:32

The queen of pop was out of tune. So what? Nothing could dampen the party atmosphere in Tel Aviv last night.

The crowd at Expo Tel Aviv, where I stayed until the early hours of this morning, was in heaven. Madonna could have yodled a kabbalistic incantation or sung Wheels on the Bus for all people cared.

Some 26 acts had just sung their hearts out on an Israeli stage for the world’s biggest song contest, presented by one of the world’s top models, Bar Refaeli.

Just before Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot shared what she loves about Tel Aviv, the best-selling female artist in the world wanted a piece of the action.

With her eye patch and cape she looked less diva and more Moshe Dayan on Purim. Madonna’s decision to have one dancer with an Israeli flag and another with a Palestinian flag was odd, but not so noteworthy. It was hardly the politicising act that the oversensitive European Broadcasting Union thinks it was.

Most people will forget that Madonna was out of tune, but they will remember that, after steering clear of Eurovision for her whole career, she raced there when it was in Israel.

They will remember that the Netherlands won and that Israel knows how to put on a good show — and forget that just two weeks before it Eurovision 2019, the whole thing was cast in to doubt by rocket fire from Gaza.

As for protests, Iceland’s act Hatari were the most effective party poopers and all they managed was to wave Palestinian banners on camera for a few moments.

At the venue fans screamed, journalists danced, and police officers tried to keep up with the voting tallies. It was the cheesy spectacle that people anticipated, and the outfits were as outrageous as expected. Cyprus’s performer Tamta either showed her crotch or wore an outfit that made it look like she did, and Iceland brought a leather-clad BDSM act.

We were reminded of just how much the contest has changed when Israel’s 1979 winner Gali Atari returned to sing her song, Hallelujah. A different era, a different tempo, and certainly different outfits back then.

That said, there was some genuinely emotional content.

During one of the semi finals the Shalva Band, a musical group consisting of Israelis with disabilities, performed A Million Dreams. Ms Refaeli was holding back the tears and Eurovision’s organisers said that the group are talented musicians and “inspire us to think differently about challenges and acceptance.”

Australia’s entry was unusually touching for a Eurovision song. Kate Miller-Heidke wrote Zero Gravity, a ballad about recovering from post-natal depression, and performed high up above the stage on a five-metre “sway pole.”

The quality of Eurovision’s acts was never in Israel’s hands, but I did become worried about an aspect of the show that was a few days before the contest launch.

The Israeli broadcaster in charge of the show, Kan, made an utterly cringeworthy video showcasing the event, full of inside jokes and even humour about the attitude of Jews to money. It made me wonder whether the same team was behind the “postcards” — short clips about different tourist sites in the host country, shown before each act.

The postcards were actually stunning. The singers from each country were filmed dancing at an Israeli site, in many cases joined by Israelis. They made Israel’s tourist spots look vibrant and exciting.

Israel is not about to see an influx of visitors who rushed from watching Eurovision to book flights.

But Eurovision fans are likely to think of Israel as more than a land of conflict — and the postcards give them a bigger library of mental images to conjure up when they hear Israel mentioned.

May 19, 2019 15:32

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