There is something perfectly calibrated — a kind of planetary alignment — about Israel’s choice of Eurovision contestant in the run-up to the country’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
Like Israel, Noa Kirel is precocious.
At just 21, she’s already a household name, having debuted her first single at 14 and has since won numerous awards.
But at this ambivalent time of division and celebration, she captures the mood of a country that wants to forget its troubles, have a week off and dream of Eurovision glory.
“What is amazing about music, about the Eurovision, is that for one night we are putting all our differences to the side and I am representing my country,” she tells the JC.
And despite her youth, her uncomplicated affection for her motherland could do much to heal angst-ridden hearts and minds.
“I love my country,” she says. “I believe in my country and represent it proudly, and we focus on the music because I believe music is connecting people and it’s all about that in the Eurovision.”
Topically — given the profound disagreements that have gripped Israel in recent weeks — her Eurovision song, Unicorn, addresses what happens when your identity comes under fire.
“Unicorn is about self-empowerment, it’s the freedom to be who you are, to dance how you want, to say what you feel,” she says.
“I believe that today everyone has things to say about you, about everything, and it’s all about who I am, what I want to say, what I want to do in my life, to embrace that feeling yourself, and believe in yourself and to be a Unicorn. It’s the most basic thing in the world, but it’s important.”
With Kirel there always an affirmation of her own complicated identity and pride at being an Israeli. “I love the warm people in Israel, the food and the culture, like we are very mixed — I am half Moroccan and half Austrian. I love it all, the beaches and everything. It’s all about that mix, that’s what makes Israel so special,” she says.
She couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the upcoming Eurovision contest, which will be in Liverpool this year.
“I am very excited, I once went to London when I was 15, and I can’t wait to go back to England. I am obsessed with the Beatles.” Despite the fierce competition — she will be up against the UK’s Mae Muller (who has said she is very proud of her Jewish roots) — Noa is determined to give Israel a fifth win. And she says she can count on former Israel contestants for advice to calm her nerves.
“Netta and Dana International are good friends of mine, and it’s fun that I have people who have given me some tips and advice. The best advice I got was to put the background noise on the side, there’s a lot going on. I need to focus on my song and my performance and myself and to stick with it.”
Israel’s last win was five years ago when the unforgettable Netta blasted onto the scene with Toy, but that came a decade after Dana International’s triumph with Diva in 1998. Israel won twice more after that; in 1979 with Hallelujah by Milk and Honey; and then in 1978 with Ab-Ba-Ni-Bi by Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta.
Kirel says one of her wishes is to meet Dua Lipa in order to teach her about Israel. She says: “I love Dua Lipa as well, I know she’s not too much about Israel, it’s a good thing [that] maybe one day I can sit with her and explain Israel to her.”
Kirel is a role model for younger kids and admits sometimes it can add to the pressure, but she says she tries to do good with her fame.
“The things I am saying give me so much power, and I love the fact I can empower young girls. But it does put a lot of pressure on me. I am not thinking about it too much, especially on social media, I am aware of this power and I put it to good use.”
Despite the fame, the girl from Raanana never forgets her roots and her love for Israel.
She says: “I am so proud to have been part of the IDF and to have served my country. I was able to manage my career, and to give an example to the younger generation that you can still have your career and keep doing your thing and to be part of something so big and important. I had the most amazing experience of my life.
"I performed to soldiers with my songs in bases all over the country and I was so proud to have been part of the IDF.
A final message for her fans? “First of all vote for Israel. Love yourself and don’t be afraid to be who you are and who you want to be, and just be a unicorn.”