While I didn’t attend this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, I can safely assume that the entire budget for that international pop extravaganza equaled the funds spent on the floral arrangements for the event at Tel Aviv’s Reading 3 venue last week.
Like the entrance to a temple of a Greek goddess or a spiritual leader, the guests were welcomed by two 16-foot-high posters of the night’s star – a Russian-Israeli socialite known for being the reality-TV star girlfriend/fiancé of an oligarch, as well as the owner of a Tel Aviv fashion boutique aimed at the 1 percenters, and Sara Netanyahu’s bestie. Above them, her name – Nicol Raidman, spelled in English of course – in massive capital letters.
I’m not mentioning any of this in cynicism or bitterness. Neither I, nor anyone else present, expected anything less of the launch of Ms. Raidman’s singing career, with a guest list that included Mrs. Netanyahu herself, former Knesset members, Israeli reality stars, actors, singers, PR managers, stylists, businesspeople – and of course the man who financed it all, Uzbekistan-born billionaire Michael Chernoy, a close friend of none other than the kingmaker of Israeli politics, Avigdor Lieberman. In other words, the crème of Israel’s rich and infamous packed into one place.
To better understand our heroine, we only need look at how Raidman describes herself in the title of her first new song (written by the person who brought us the 2018 Eurovision winner, “Toy”): “A Small, Powerful Woman.” This Hebrew-language ditty includes lines such as “To ascend from the bottom / From the garbage that I came from / To reach the sky / Glitter between my legs” as well as “Only galloping forward / I account to no one … Where does one fly here? Where does one shop here? Where does one get a picture taken here?” And for dessert, the line that opens the rousing chorus: “My life is beautiful.”
Inside the venue, approximately 400 people worked feverishly, preparing fresh sushi on the spot. The cocktails flowed like the fountain of youth, amid stands piled with sculptured sweets. Above, three video screens, once again featuring a gigantic image of Raidman, at one point replaced by the logo of “Raidman Airlines” and a schedule of takeoffs to various destinations: Kiev, Odessa, Florence, Paris, Venice, Bangkok – all of which later turned out to be the locations of her music videos, over nine months and 80 outfits in the making.
Her three new videos, which cost millions, were shown on the three huge screens prior to Raidman taking the stage. Together, they presented a narrative that begins with herself as a flight attendant who fantasizes about life as a wealthy woman and continues with the fulfillment of her dreams. The videos were impeccable, including non-embarrassing dialogue, self-awareness and even humor, replete with action scenes where Raidman flies through the air (wearing the most perfect dress possible) wielding two submachine guns, Matrix style.
It could be interesting to ponder the image of the fantasizing flight attendant, considering guest of honor Sara Netanyahu, who was sitting in a sterile zone that wasn’t really sterile (And why should it be? She was there at home with her base). Raidman later joined her as well as her personal stylist and look-alike Sandra Ringler and Haaretz senior editor and fan of the Netanyahus, Benny Ziffer (who also acts with considerable poise in one video).
The audience didn’t know who to stare at – Raidman, strutting around in a 70-meter-long dress around the world’s most luxurious locations on the huge flickering screen above Sara, or at Netanyahu herself. Some looked on in visible admiration, others maybe trying to catch hints of how she felt following the election results.
As a seasoned political commentator, I can report that she was totally in her element, beaming with happiness, looking good, perhaps celebrating being part of something she soon might not be part of anymore.
Had this event taken place deep within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term of absolute rule, or had he received a majority of Knesset seats allowing him to form a coalition government, it would have been experienced entirely differently. It would have stirred in me a suffocating sense of siege witnessing this shameless Roman orgy where the top 1,000th percentile celebrated its indomitable hegemony.
But even if Bibi goes to prison or forever vanishes from the political map, the richest Israelis aren’t going anywhere. A government headed by Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz would still be far from a social-democratic regime. And yet, the relief and hope for change dwarfed the aggressive vibe of the event. I looked around at what can only be described a site-specific installation entitled “everything here is made of money,” thought about my messy apartment and the cigarettes I’d buy at the kiosk on the way home and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. As someone who grew up on punk and anarchism, this oligarchic-Banana Republic-Caligula-Last Days of Pompeii atmosphere, of which Nicol Raidman is the ultimate icon, is as far from me as east is from west.
As I was leaving the event, “Caligula,” the new album by Lingua Ignota was playing in my headphones. She’s currently the prominent voice in extreme music, a woman radiating an entirely different kind of power, and a roar that would flatten Reading 3 with songs like “I Am the Beast,” “Spite Alone Holds Me Aloft,” and “If the Poison Won’t Take You My Dogs Will.”
Raidman is nevertheless frighteningly similar in her frankness to Ignota’s assault, and she rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her tough background with power wrapped in music that’s the total opposite of Ignota’s. Her songs (there were also “Ciao Baby” and “Looking for the One”) are a particularly aggressive combination of election-campaign music and decadent Eurovision chic. Each of these songs could have easily taken Eurovision by storm walking on high heels that cost five times my salary.
I’ll tell you a little secret about anarchists. The slogan “we don’t govern, we aren’t governed” betrays an obsession with control. There are many reasons why some of them believe that all power is necessarily and by definition corrupting and dangerous. When I face power it usually seems absolute and omnipotent to me. That’s why I took the instructions on the invitation to the event very seriously: “black suit and tie only!” I even put a bow tie in my pocket in case the tie I put on wouldn’t be fancy enough for Raidman’s army of bouncers.
However, standing a mere meter and half away from the wife of the (former, wishfully thinking) Prime Minister didn’t arouse no fear or disgust. That’s the stronger side of an anarchist background. In addition to Sara, I’ve stood in the past a meter away from Ariel Sharon (when he was leaving a restaurant), Rudolph Giuliani (when he was walking around Dizengoff Center with then-Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (when he was leaving the Terminator III premiere in Berlin). They all looked human, much too human. Not titans and not monsters.
After the premiere of the three music videos, Raidman went onstage to perform them live. The show started with silent dancers, a blueish mist and a little girl (her daughter?) who said something that I didn’t understand but sounded solemn and philosophical.
The dancers then went crazy, and up went the smoke, explosions and fireworks. The star of the evening, perhaps except for the opening, aforementioned selection about power, sang live. Ultimate trash; caustic and perfect. The woman has charisma, she can hold a note, and she knows how to move.
I enjoyed the performance, a prime example of Eurovision-style pop, which was also demonstrated by the 7-foot drag queens who danced and blocked my view. Then the fresh ex Chernoy went onstage to hand Raidman flowers. A colleague explained: It’s the biggest divorce settlement in history. Then 1998 Eurovision winner Dana International performed.
The entire affair was pretty stunning, but did any of it make me forget about the underground artists I saw on that very stage: Laibach (who are returning in November – yay!), Swans, Blixa Bargeld, Devin Townsend, Toy Dolls, Behemoth, and Gojira? Never! Still, at night I dreamt about the actor who depicted Raidman’s love interest in her videos. In my dream, he approached me and said “love is simple.” True story.