There are plenty of phenomena that you just can’t explain to an American, but the Eurovision Song Contest might well be the most difficult of all. If you’ve never devoted a Saturday night in May to watching a succession of local superstars emoting for their country, followed by a voting system that rivals the Brexit process in its complexity and political intrigue, then your cultural life is truly lacking.
Following Netta Barzilai’s victory in 2018 — Israel’s fourth Eurovision win — the contest final is being held in Tel Aviv on May 18th, with semi-finals on the 14th and 16th. Among the hosts is supermodel Bar Rafaeli. And just in time, a new gay bar has opened in the city. What more reason do we need to celebrate some of Israel’s most iconic Eurovision style moments?
11978: The Best Jewfro Ever
Ah, the 70s. At the height of disco, Izhar Cohen & Alphabeta captured the moment with the song “Ah-Bah-Nee-Bee,” along with some slick dance moves and open collar shirts that sparkled with silver star embellishments. Cohen represented Israel again in 1985 but failed to repeat the trick, finishing in 5th place.
Fast forward to 2019, and if your wardrobe is craving a necklace sprinkled with a little Eurovision stardust, then you’re in luck: Cohen has established a new career as a jewelry designer. The hair, meanwhile, is as luxuriant as ever, although it’s more ringlets these days.
21979: The Milk & Honey Suspenders
Truth be told, the melodic “Hallelujah” — an instant classic! — is more memorable than anything that the band Milk and Honey might have worn to perform it. Still, they looked pretty dapper when they clinched the second of Israel’s back-to-back victories in 1979. You cannot argue with the rightness of a bow tie and suspenders.
31983: The Israeli Madonna
When Ofra Haza took second place in Munich in 1983 with a rousing performance of “Chai,” it was both gloriously cheesy and impossibly moving in the way only Eurovision can be. Few could have guessed that Haza would go on to become a critically-acclaimed poster girl for world music. But that’s exactly what happened when she returned to the music — and traditional clothing — of her Yemeni roots with her Yemenite Songs album. The track “I’m Nin’Alu” was later sampled on Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” and an international icon was born. Dubbed “the Israeli Madonna,” Haza was mourned around the world following her death at the age of just 42.
41998: The Haute Couture Diva
Dana International (real name: Sharon Cohen) struck a blow for diversity as the first transgender winner of the competition in 1998. At the time, there was some controversy over her Jean Paul Gaultier dress. An explosion of multicolored feathers, it was worn by Dana during the dress rehearsal but deemed too OTT for the actual performance. Luckily, Dana won — which meant she could change into this couture creation for her winner’s performance of Diva and give Eurovision one of its most enduring fashion images.
52018: All About Empowerment
Netta’s quirky feminist anthem “Toy” struck a chord when it won the contest in 2018. A catchy ode to female empowerment, it mixed Girl Power lyrics (I’m not your toy/You stupid boy) with a chicken dance to bring the spirit of #MeToo to Eurovision. Since returning the title to Israel, Netta has been busy making inroads into the fashion world too. In March she walked the runway in a bright yellow bathing suit for the Banahot show at Tel Aviv Fashion Week, bringing size diversity into the mainstream.