Israel Eurovision hero releases song on newfound fame

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli pop star Netta Barzilai, winner of last year's Eurovision song contest, released a new single Friday which she says reflects the highs and lows in the year since her shock victory shook up her life.

Barzilai, 26, spoke to The Associated Press ahead of the release of her new song "Bassa Sababa." She says the song, Hebrew/Arabic slang for "Bummer, that's cool," speaks to the thrills and challenges of her past year.

Barzilai's signature chicken dance and catchy pop anthem inspired by the #MeToo movement, "Toy," catapulted her to Eurovision fame last year, transforming her into a national celebrity. The official YouTube video has racked up over 100 million views in the last year.

Since the win, she has found her role both terrifying and empowering.

"This past year I've experienced so many obstacles," she said. "I used to sink under my problems, but not anymore."

In her typically exuberant fashion, she sported giant heels, glittery eyeshadow and an electric blue jacket, purchased abroad because she said Israeli chain clothing stores don't carry her size.

"Was I intimidated by the expectations after the smash hit? Sure, I'm a human," Barzilai said this week at her publicist's apartment in central Tel Aviv. "Of course I was afraid."

Her new music video, filmed in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, features a defiant pink rhino charging at a man who has abandoned her at the altar. She says the song presents a more "raw, real" version of female empowerment than last year's upbeat anthem.

Barzilai says that since her Eurovision victory, she's faced overwhelming pressure, both personal and political. "With all this love obviously comes a lot of hate," she said, especially from those who see her as nothing more than a "one hit wonder, a hit-maker," with ridiculous dance moves and outrageous clothes.

But she says she's trying to become the feminist role model her fans expect, adding that her win not only changed the course of her career, but altered the way she sees herself.

"After this experience, the people made me into some kind of idol for empowerment, self-acceptance and love," she said. "But what they don't know is that's actually what empowered me."

She seemed to play the part of idol well, imparting inspirational quotes about body positivity and recalling how she rejected an advertising campaign for a well-known brand when she discovered they didn't sell plus size clothing. "When a girl like me, my size, maybe even more, she sees me on the billboard sign and can't even find clothes in her size, that's tragic," she said. "It's OK to be different. It's crucial to celebrate yourself as a human being."

But Barzilai says that political activism is one mantle she's not willing to adopt. Supporters of the BDS movement, a pro-Palestinian campaign advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, have been ratcheting up their calls for artists to pull out of this year's Eurovision competition that will be held in Israel.

Earlier this week, a group of British cultural figures called on the BBC to press for the Eurovision contest to be held in a country other than Israel because of "Israel's systematic violation of Palestinian human rights."

"I'm not a political person," Barzilai said. "Eurovision isn't the place for politics. It's a place for coming together and spreading light."

When asked to offer up an opinion, Barzilai said she thinks "boycotting isn't an answer," but that "protest" and "healthy dialogue" may have a place.

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