How Mahmood's ‘Soldi’ Became Israel’s No. 1 Hit

Although it missed winning the Eurovision Song Contest in May, coming in second, Israelis think it’s a real winner

Italian singer Mahmood performing at Eurovision's Israel edition, May 2019.
Avshalom Halutz

It’s been a month and a half since the Eurovision Song Contest ended. Few Israelis who watched the competition that was held in Tel Aviv are still humming the songs from Switzerland or Russia. They also probably have a hard time recalling the winning song from the Netherlands. But there is one song that Israelis just can’t get out of their heads. “Soldi,” by the Italian singer Mahmood, has become a huge hit in this country.

You hear it on every radio station, in every clothing store, at every party. And last week, for the fourth time running, it topped Army Radio’s Galgalatz music station’s chart of international hits.

Some people are already calling it the biggest hit of the summer. That includes broadcaster and music programmer Noy Alooshe, who started playing the song on his Galgalatz show back in February. On his weekly chart, which combines figures from 10 sources (including YouTube, Spotify and the radio), “Soldi” has been in the top spot for six weeks.

“The first time I heard it, what grabbed me was the production and how it doesn’t seem to have any large chorus,” Alooshe said.

“It’s built on superb production and the gimmick of the clapping of hands. The integration of Italian with pop and modern hip-hop also does it. The fact that the song is in Italian and not in English or even French, which we’re already used to hearing in Israel, grabs the ear. It speaks to the emotions even when you don’t understand the words. Mahmood and his producer said: ‘All the rappers sing about how they want money and I sang about my father leaving me when I was a kid because he wanted money.’ People feel the emotion. They hear the darkness there,” Alooshe explained.

Italian singer Mahmood performing at Eurovision's Israel edition, May 2019.
Avshalom Halutz

He says another reason the song is so popular in Israel is that it also has an Arab vibe. “When he sings ‘waladi’ [my son] and ‘habibi’ [my love], these are words that every Israeli understands. There’s something in it that speaks to Israeliness. This part, which really appeals to the young generation also goes hand in hand with a fondness for Italian music that has existed in Israel for a long time. You see a lot of older people who also love the song because there was a time when the San Remo Festival was a big deal here. I also think that the fact that he’s a son of immigrants with an Arab name [makes it ] very easy for Israelis to relate to him. He reminds people of current Israeli stars. They have the same vibe, the dark skin, close-cropped hair…. There’s something very Israeli about it.”

Eurovision Song Contest specialist and content adviser Daniel Dunkelman says even though “Soldi” came in second in the competition, in many ways it turned out to be the big winner. “It’s clearly the most remembered song and it’s more successful in Israel and Europe than ‘Arcade,’ the winning Dutch song. Also, you have to remember that the studio version is sometimes better than the live performance. And there are so many factors in the competition – different tastes, geopolitics and, of course, corruption when it comes to awarding points. The true victory is not necessarily who wins first place but how successful the song is in the world after the contest.”

Eurovision songs rarely become hits in Israel and usually get very little radio play. Galgalatz director Nadav Ravid says this is not because of any deliberate policy. He says the station’s playlist is based on different platforms, such as Shazam and YouTube, and the international charts.

“It’s not just a matter of how well it fits in, but how much the audience wants to hear it. Last year there was Belgium’s song, ‘A Matter of Time,’ that people really liked, and it was proposed at the playlist meeting, but it didn’t make it because there were other pop songs that had a bigger coalition behind them. There’s a sense that the songs quickly fade after the contest. In 2015, we played ‘Heroes,’ the winning song by Måns Zelmerlöw, which belonged on the playlist, but it didn’t sweep the country. It wasn’t that big of a success,” Ravid explained.

He thinks one reason “Soldi” has been such a huge success here is because this year’s Eurovision was held in Israel. “If you look back, you see that songs like ‘Genghis Khan,’ which is a song that is still played and is very iconic, was also part of a Eurovision held in Israel – in 1979. I think it was more successful here because the Eurovision was held here, and more people heard it and were exposed to it during the broadcast.”

Alon Amir, who served as a spokesman for various Eurovision delegations, remarked: “If the contest hadn’t been held in Israel, I doubt the radio stations would be playing the song. It’s the same every year. For years I’ve been fighting to get Israeli radio stations to play great songs from the contest, but the word Eurovision scares them because of incorrect stigmas that have become attached to it. It’s the Israeli audience’s loss. From the moment that digital platforms came into our lives, radio stations became a lot less relevant and interesting. There are always hits that come out of the competition. The Israeli media ignore them out of narrow-mindedness. Every year there are five or six really good songs in the contest. Galgalatz didn’t play the song ‘Euphoria’ that won for Sweden in 2012. It’s considered one of the biggest hits to ever come out of the contest and was No. 1 in Europe.”

Dunkelman adds: “Some of the songs that represented Britain in the 1990s were ranked at the top of the charts in the world, such as Frances Ruffelle with the song ‘We Will Be Free’ from 1994 and Gina G with ‘Ooh Aah... Just A Little Bit,’ which came in eighth in the 1996 Eurovision but a year later was on the Billboard chart in America and was even nominated for a Grammy for Best Dance Song. There are plenty of examples among the classics, too, but the biggest of course was Domenico Modugno’s ‘Volare’ for Italy. It only came in third in the 1958 Eurovision, but it went on to become a colossal hit around the world with hundreds of cover versions over the years.”

Italian singer Mahmood performing at Eurovision's Israel edition, May 2019.
Avshalom Halutz